[Strategic Intel] Japan, South Korea considering new aircraft carriers featuring F-35s

The Japanese and South Korean navies are reportedly considering adding new aircraft carriers featuring U.S.-made F-35s with VTOL — vertical take-off and landing — capabilities.

Recently, reports emerged that Japan was considering altering its new Izumo-class helicopter carriers to operate F-35Bs, much to the chagrin and consternation of China, which reminded Japan of its constitutional prohibition against offensive military capabilities (like having aircraft carriers).

Those reports, which were only half-heartedly denied by Japanese defense and government officials, were followed by reports that the South Korean navy was considering modifying its Dokdo class amphibious assault ships to carry the F-35B, as well.

The Japanese carriers are 24,000 tons displaced, which is large enough to pose a credible threat with a group of F-35Bs. The South Korean vessels are 14,000 tons displaced, so they would not be nearly as capable. Plus, they would require significant modification and probably would lose any amphibious assault capability.

Still, in her day, the Spanish Principe de Asturius carried 12 VTOL AV-8B Harriers.

If Japan and South Korea do go ahead with their purchases and modifications, it is likely that Australia will come under pressure to retrofit its Canberra-class amphibious assault ships to also carry the F-35B. [source]

(Analyst comment: What’s driving this? China, of course. As the Chinese military improves its capabilities, including the addition of longer-range and more lethal ballistic missiles, regional powers are reassessing their own defense needs, and the F-35B certainly adds capabilities those regional powers currently do not possess. The thing to remember is that China is also building standard aircraft carriers, and though smaller than U.S. carriers, the Chinese versions give the People’s Liberation Army Navy a capability above and beyond what Japan, South Korea and Australia can currently field. Plus, adding F-35B warplanes to converted amphibious assault ships will serve as a force multiplier for U.S. naval air assets.)

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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