Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi went aboard the Maritime Self-Defense Force's Izumo helicopter carrier on Monday to see progress in retrofitting the ship into an full-fledged aircraft carrier.
Kishi inspected the deck of the Izumo, which has been reinforced to withstand the heat emitted by F-35Bs during short landing and vertical takeoff procedures, and was briefed on test runs using U.S. aircraft conducted last month.
"It is absolutely necessary that we are capable of launching and landing F-35Bs at sea in order to successfully carry out defense policy, so that we can deal with the new security environment and be prepared to defend our territory, which includes a wide area in the Pacific Ocean," Kishi told reporters after boarding the ship at the MSDF's base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo.
Japan plans to introduce a total of 42 F-35Bs, with the first to enter service as early as fiscal 2024. It is modifying its two Izumo-class helicopter carriers -- the other is the Kaga -- to house the advanced stealth fighter jets, including by changing the front of the ships into a squarer shape.
The plan is aimed at countering China's growing assertiveness in regional waters and improving interoperability with the U.S. military, which already operates F-35Bs out of one of its bases in Japan.