MELBOURNE, Australia – Japan’s defense minister has confirmed that the U.S. ally will base its Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightning II Short Take off and Vertical Landing or STOVL fighter jets at the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands.
Nobuo Kishi, the Japanese minister of defense, said July 16 that the Japan Air Self-Defense Force or JASDF base of Nyutabaru on the east coast of the island of Kyushu was “the best fit” to deploy the stealthy fifth-generation fighter. The base is currently home to an operational and a training squadron of JASDF Mitsubishi F-15J/DJ Eagle interceptors, and is the southernmost JASDF combat base on Japan’s main islands.
He also revealed that the deployment of the F-35B to Nyutabaru will begin in the 2025 fiscal year with six aircraft. An additional two aircraft will arrive in the following year. Japan’s fiscal year runs from the 1st of April to the 30th of March of the following year.
Japan has plans to acquire 42 F-35Bs and a total of 157 F-35s. The remaining aircraft are expected to be the Conventional Take Off and Landing or CTOL F-35A variant. The JASDF is already in the process of standing up its second F-35A squadron at Misawa in northern Japan.
Japan’s defense ministry has already briefed local officials about the planned basing of the F-35B. Kishi noted that support from the local community was vital to its plans, with opposition from local residents already delaying or thwarting the deployment plans of several systems in recent years, including the basing of the country’s Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.
Basing the F-35B at the east coast of Kyushu would be ideal for detachments to join up with Japan’s Izumo-class helicopter-destroyers as they deploy from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force bases at Kure and Yokosuka. Japan is converting the Izumo and sister ship Kaga to operate the F-35B.
The first stage of work to convert the Izumo has already been completed, with the ship emerging from an availability period in June with newly painted lines on its flight deck for fixed-wing air operations. It is also believed a heat resistant coating has been applied to the flight deck to cope with temperatures from the F-35B’s exhaust.
The next stage of the conversion will include rebuilding the front of the flight deck from a trapezoidal to a rectangular shape, along with changes to the ship’s internal spaces to accommodate F-35B operations. These changes will likely create an increase in aviation fuel capacity onboard and provision for armored magazines to store air launched weapons.
The modifications to the Izumo are scheduled to be completed in the 2024 fiscal year. Japan’s Chugoku Shimbun has reported that the resurfacing and reshaping of the Kaga’s flight deck will start later this fiscal year, although the modifications to the second ship’s internal spaces will only take place later.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.