Pal Craig Hooper at NextNavy writes about the possible termination of the F-35B, the short-takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 multirole fighter. Hoop notes that many of America’s Asian allies have built platforms apparently in anticipation of the F-35B becoming available, and that termination of the program would leave a number of countries in the lurch.

For a lot of Asian Navies, the F-35B offers the only viable means to match China’s first steps into carrier aviation.  As a vote of confidence in America’s ability to deliver a fancy next-gen STOVL aircraft, big carrier-like flat-decks proliferated throughout the region.  We’re talking billions of dollars–The South Korean’s ROKS Dokdo, Australia’s Canberra class, Japan’s 22DDH and smaller Hyuga Class all aspire to operate the F-35B, and regional defense planners have built scenarios around it. (Link)

I’ve gone over it in my head many times, and tried to rationalize away the reasons why Japan might build a 20,000 ton ship with a full-length flight deck. I don’t buy the idea that such a ship would be restricted to anti-submarine warfare. Only two reasons really make sense: a helicopter landing platform for amphibious operations, and fixed-wing aviation. China pushing on the Senkakus can only drive Japan to explore the carriers idea further, because Japan’s options for defending their airspace are limited. Come to think of it, to defend the Senkakus, ideally Japan could use both types of ships.

I try not to think about Japan putting F-35Bs on its helicopter destroyers. I worry about a world where Japan thinks it needs them. If you’re in a bar with a tense atmosphere and even the pacifist starts eyeing an empty barstool…look out. Japan didn’t need carriers for the more than fifty years of the Cold War, but it does now? What does that say about how dangerous the world has become?

But hey, let’s look on the bright side: if the U.S. cancels the F-35, it may be forced to restart the F-22 production line to bulk up on 5th generation fighters. And, in the constrained fiscal environment we Americans find ourselves in, taking advantage of economies of scale by offering the F-22 to our allies would be very appealing.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch