Japan and South Korea likely to add F35B fighters for aircraft carriers

Japan will convert two helicopter carriers into aircraft carriers by enabling them to launch F35B stealth fighters.

South Korea and Japan are considering having F-35B stealth aircraft launch from the deck of amphibious assault ships.

The F-35B — a fighter jet capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings — would be used on navy vessels originally designed to carry helicopters. The reports come amid increasing threats from nuclear-armed North Korea and as China modernizes its armed forces and demonstrates growing maritime ambitions in the region.

Japan is having some discussions and political drama before they convert the carriers. This is due to Japan’s non-aggression constitution and WW2 history. However, Japan will justify the changes and proceed to develop a stronger navy.

Japan’s Izumo class carrier is 19,500 tonnes empty 27,000 tons fully loaded. The Izumo would be able to operate up to ten F35B aircraft on board.

US Carriers

The US Navy has already modified the 40500 ton LHD to operate the F-35B. The USS Wasp, amphibious support ship, has been deployed in the Pacific. The Wasp is leading the Up-Gunned Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), a beefed-up naval force comprising three amphibious support ships, 2,200 personnel strong Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and some Fifth Generation F-35B stealth fighters.

171210-N-BD308-0001 STRAIT OF MAGELLAN (Dec. 10, 2017) The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) transits the Strait of Magellan. Wasp is transiting to Sasebo, Japan to conduct a turnover with the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) as the forward-deployed flagship of the amphibious forces in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Levingston Lewis/Released)

The second America-class big-deck amphib, the USS Tripoli (LHA 7), is now being engineered with the needed F-35B modifications built in from the start. The USS Tripoli will deliver to the Navy in 2019. America class ships are outfitted with a group of technologies called a Ship Self Defense System. This includes two Rolling Aircraft Missile RIM-116 Mk 49 launchers; two Raytheon 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts; and seven twin .50 cal. machine guns. The ships have upgraded sensors and electronics.

The US has 11 big CATOBAR carriers: Nimitz class: ten 101,000-ton nuclear-powered supercarriers, the first of which was commissioned in 1975. A Nimitz-class carrier is powered by two nuclear reactors providing steam to four steam turbines and is 1,092 feet (333 m) long. The decommissioned supercarrier Kitty Hawk is being held in inactive reserve, and Gerald R. Ford, the first of her class came into service in 2017.

Nine amphibious assault ships:

America class: a class of 45,000-ton amphibious assault ships, although the lead ship in this class does not have a well deck. One ship in service out of a planned 12 ships. Ships of this class can have a secondary mission as a light carrier with 20 AV-8B Harrier II, and in the future the F-35B Lightning II aircraft after unloading their Marine expeditionary unit.

Wasp class: a class of eight 41,000-ton amphibious assault ships, members of this class have been used in wartime in their secondary mission as light carriers with 20 to 25 AV-8Bs after unloading their Marine expeditionary unit.

The 100,000 ton Gerald R. Ford-class carriers cost $12–14.5 billion (plus $12 billion for development and research). The smaller 45,000 ton America-class amphibious assault ships cost $2 billion. The first of this class, USS America, is now in active service with another, USS Tripoli, under construction and 9 more are planned.

USS America will be able to hold up to 20 F35Bs.

Impact Versus China and North Korea

Ultimately Japan’s carrier ship will not matter against China’s Navy. However, Japan’s navy will be more competitive for the next five years. China will then have a couple more advanced super-carriers.

At present, Japan only has the F-35A — the conventional takeoff and landing variant — but is considering whether to purchase the F-35B fighter. Japan took delivery of its first F-35A in 2016 and is assembling more than three dozen others domestically at a facility in the Nagoya area.

Meantime, South Korea also is looking at the F-35B for use aboard a roughly 14,000-ton warship scheduled to get deployed in 2020. The plan would be to essentially refit the so-called Dokdo-class vessel to become medium-sized aircraft carrier. Seoul already has a Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship in operation.

The F-35B could attack ballistic missiles on the ground in North Korea, especially since Pyongyang has been relying mostly on liquid fuel for missiles — and that fueling process can take time and slows down launch time.

John Pike, globalsecurity.com analyst, is confident the U.S. and its Asian allies could monitor large swaths of North Korea’s flat terrain where the TEL missiles could possibly be launched and spot something “pretty quick.” Signs of an ICBM or another ballistic missile launch would in part come from “a caravan” of vehicles, including fuel trucks, as they move toward the TEL with the missile, the analyst said.

“We cannot assume that we’re going to see a 12-vehicle convey strung out on a highway coming out of a tunnel, all nice and lined up,” said Pike. “That would be too easy. The elements of the convoy are going to be dispersed, and you will have a ‘flash mob’ of a dozen vehicles converging simultaneously at a pre-arranged location. So it’s only when the ‘flash mob’ assembles that the ‘kill chain’ will perk up.”