In recent years, Japan hasn't maintained a reputation for being an immense military power. A big reason for this is that, after World War II, the country put strong limits on military expenditures. Yet, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces is one of the most modern militaries out there, with the world's second-largest carrier force, a secret UCAV program, and a high-tech aviation industry that has a fifth-generation fighter in the works. They even put the F-16 on steroids. That and other programs combine to create one of the best air forces in the world. Japan may now be making that air force even stronger.
The Japanese government has elected to buy 25 more F-35 Lightnings. This purchase adds to the 38 that Japan ordered to serve as frontline combat planes and an additional four as trainers. The four trainers were built in the United States, but the frontline combat planes are being assembled in Japan by Mitsubishi, who make the F-2 (the souped-up F-16) and the F-15J.
F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) conduct flight operations above Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Becky Calhoun)
TheDiplomat.com also reported that Japan was considering F-35Bs to operate from its Izumo-class helicopter destroyers (technically V/STOL carriers). The reports drew strong criticism from Communist China, which has carried out a series of aggressive actions (including deploying weapons at its island bases) in the South China Sea and near the Senkaku Islands.
While many outlets focus on the Izumo-class carriers as likely candidates to use the F-35B, the slightly smaller Hygua-class helicopter destroyers (Japan's first carriers since World War II) are larger than some "Harrier carriers" that have successfully operated V/STOL aircraft in the past.
A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, descends to the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) during Exercise Dawn Blitz. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Roderick Jacquote)
Another option would be for Japan to operate the F-35B from forward bases on the Senkaku Islands. The V/STOL capabilities of the F-35B would make it possible for Japan to turn those disputed islands into an unsinkable aircraft carrier.