By Zhang Qiang
BEIJING, March 14 (ChinaMil) -- New progress has recently been made on conversion of the Izumo, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force's (JMSDF) largest helicopter destroyer, into an aircraft carrier. Shinzo Abe said that all discussions on the expansion of defense capabilities are reasonable when responding to relevant developments. His remark is believed to be a confirmation that the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer will be converted to an aircraft carrier.
The Izumo is the latest destroyer of the JMSDF. Its standard displacement is 19,500 tons and its full-load displacement is 27,000 tons. "If Japan really implements the refitting, this will be a major breakthrough in the development of JMSDF's military preparations," said military observer Zhang Haixiong.
"Japan has made adequate preparations in advance. The Izumo was designed to meet the aircraft carrier level from the beginning. It has a displacement of about 20,000 tons, and it has a large direct flight deck, an island-style control tower, and a huge hangar and a large lift that provide enough room for the aircraft carrier conversion. At the same time, the conversion work is relatively less difficult and does not require any major movement. With Japan's technical capabilities, the conversion is expected to be completed soon," said Zhang.
Zhang pointed out that "Generally speaking, large ships with a displacement of more than 10,000 tons have the potential to be converted into aircraft carriers. The world's first aircraft carrier was converted from a coal carrier." The world’s first truly modern aircraft carrier, Argus, was converted from a passenger liner.
"This is because they have large displacement and ample space for the deployment of flight decks and hangars, and they can also carry sufficient aviation fuel. At the same time, the conversion is cheap and has a short construction period. It is easy to quickly expand the size of the fleet during war. However, after the World War II, designated aircraft carriers that were designed and built directly became the mainstream, and converted aircraft carriers were no longer favored," said Zhang.
What needs to be done if the Japanese Izumo-class helicopter destroyer is to be converted to an aircraft carrier? Zhang said that "The first thing is to refit the flight deck and replace the current straight flight deck with a ski-jump deck to facilitate the short-range take-off of the F-35B carrier-borne aircraft and increase the take-off weight. It is also necessary to lay high-temperature materials at the take-off and landing points, otherwise the high-temperature tail flame of the carrier-borne aircraft will easily ablate the deck."
“Then, it is necessary to add fixed-wing carrier-based take-off and landing commanding systems and signal systems and enhance the operational capabilities of aviation personnel. Heavy weights will be added to the ship's tail to balance the shift in the center of gravity caused by the installation of the ski-jump deck. At the same time, the ammunition depot and ammunition elevator must be modified to accommodate the storage and transportation capabilities of the diverse carrier-based aircraft weapons," said Zhang.
Japan has not provided a clear answer to the possible aircraft to be carried by the Izumo, but public opinion is that the US F-35B stealth aircraft is the most likely option.
"This is because the deck length of the Izumo is limited. Even if they install a ski-jump deck in the future, they can only use a short-range fixed-wing aircraft like the F-35B. Currently, there are only two types of fixed-wing aircraft with short-range take-off and vertical landing capability. The first is the F-35B of the US and the second is the UK's Sea Harrier ship-borne aircraft. However, the Sea Harrier was discharged and discontinued. Of course, many drones with short-range take-off capability are also important options that the JMSDF may consider in the future," said Zhang.
It is also difficult for the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer to become an attack aircraft carrier after the completion of the conversion. "Because the deck length of the Izumo is limited and it cannot carry fixed-wing ship-borne early warning aircraft, only helicopters can be used. However, Japan does not have appropriate equipment at present," Zhang explained.
Russia and the UK are the world’s only providers of ship-borne early warning helicopters. They are unlikely to sell such key equipment to Japan based on diplomatic relations, stagnation of the production line, and the attitudes of the neighboring countries. Zhang believes that even if the Izumo has a strong aviation strike capability, the lack of an early warning capability at sea will greatly reduce its comprehensive combat role.
Zhang said, "Of course, its aerial strike capability is also relatively limited. The Izumo's hangar has limited capacity as it can only carry about 10 F-35B fighter jets and the necessary maritime search and rescue equipment and anti-submarine helicopters. This number is undoubtedly very low in high-intensity naval battles. The Izumo’s combat effectiveness is lower than that of professional light aircraft carriers."