F-35C Jets and Electromagnetic Catapults: Will This Be Japan’s New Aircraft Carrier?

Michael Peck

Japan’s two Izumo-class “helicopter destroyers” are supposed to be converted from helicopter carriers into small aircraft carriers, flying a dozen or so F-35 jump jets off newly fitted ski-jump flight decks just as British and Russian aircraft carriers do.

But what if the Izumos could be converted into catapult-equipped aircraft carriers like the Nimitz- and Ford-class vessels?

A defense Web site has posted a photo – apparently a leaked Powerpoint slide – that shows an Izumo modified into a carrier that flies catapult-launched F-35C fighters – the same jets flown off the U.S. Navy’s carriers.

Interestingly, the bottom of the slide is marked General Atomics Electromagnetics. While best known as the manufacturer of America’s Reaper and Predator drones, General Atomics also makes the   Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) that will replace traditional steam catapults and arresting gear on the new Ford-class carriers.

There isn’t much detail on the slide (General Atomics did not respond to a National Interest query at press time). But at the top is a list marked “JMSDF [Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force] Aircraft: E2-C/E-2D Hawkeye, F-35C Lightning II, H-60 Seahawk, V-22 Osprey, Others?” A top and side view of a modified Izumo depicts a familiar carrier flight deck: two F-35s are placed amidships waiting to be catapulted, what looks like seven F-35s and an E-2 are parked on the starboard bow, helicopters are parked near the bridge, and what looks like two V-22s are planted on the stern.

The Izumo and her sister Kaga are odd ships, to say the least. They have flattop flight decks rather than ski jumps, so they can’t launch short-takeoff aircraft. But they also lack a catapult and arresting gear, so they can’t launch and recover conventional carrier-based aircraft like a U.S. F/A-18 Super Hornet.

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