The F-35B Gives Asia’s Mini-Carriers Teeth

by admin on August 8, 2013

22ddhLove it or hate it, the F-35B is positioned to be–at least until a small combat-ready VSTOL UAV arrives–a critical piece of the Pacific Arsenal.

It is no mistake that the start of F-35B sea trials and the launch of Japan’s large flat-topped destroyer Izumo (DDH-183) came the same week.  The fate of the two platforms are undeniably entwined.

China knows that once the F-35B is operational, the list of strike-capable flat-tops in the Pacific will grow dramatically–in theory, Japan, Australia and the US could, if pressed, fly fixed-wing combatants from up to sixteen big deck amphibs.  And outside of the 2 Hyuga, 2 Izumo, 2 Canberra, 8 Wasp and 2 America Class gator flatops, there is also the less-capable Dokdo, Osumi, and San Antonio Classes that might field a plane or two for special occasions.  (And I won’t even mention Russia’s Mistrals…)

A sudden proliferation of capable, fixed-wing ready handy-sized flattops complicates China’s targeting challenges.  In conjunction, these ships, if armed with F-35Bs, may be able to relieve CVNs–either by helping reduce the CVN’s operational tempo or covering gaps elsewhere so CVNs can operate freely well out in the deep Pacific. (And even if the F-35B is–as some hope–cancelled, a VSTOL UAV would quickly come along as a replacement.)

These baby carriers also fuel China’s naval modernization.  I mean, what would we do if the shoe was on the other foot?  Imagine, just for a second, if we had no aircraft carriers and, say, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Greenland were busy building flattops while, at the same time, growing increasingly friendly with a dominant naval power and building the framework for a regional containment-oriented security alliance?

That’s simple–America would be building aircraft carriers as fast as we could.

Laugh if you want, but that sort of thought exercise helps put China’s naval modernization into a certain perspective–which certainly may help us better manage China’s rapid naval growth over the years to come.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Blacktail October 22, 2014 at 3:09 am

They won’t be so enthusiastic when the F-35B’s thrust column starts drilling holes in the flight decks;


dj March 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm

While the PLAN navy is certainly well behind, its definitely not 100 years behind and is catching up fast. It now has a viable and operational aircraft carrier for example & is building its own based on what they have learned. While the USA navy is much bigger, it is also operating in other oceans which means they are well spread out. Also surface ships are basically no faster today than they were 100 years ago, so it takes weeks not days to transfer a fleet from say the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Pacific itself is huge & if the 7th fleet were to find itself in the Eastern Pacific instead of the Western Pacific with a sudden invasion of Taiwan for example it could be all over bar the shouting by the time they arrived. You also need to remember that the South China Sea has more overlapping multi nation claims than any other part of the world that I know of as well as a web of defence treaties which can drag other nations in such as USA (Taiwan & Philippines), Britian (Brunei & Malaysia), Singapore (Brunei & Malaysia), Australia (Brunei & Malaysia) etc


John Jay February 4, 2014 at 10:54 am

There is a problem with the F-35B. It “might” be a good fighter. But the Western People don’t need it. China’s PLAN is hardly a threat. The Seventh Fleet, and our allies are a century ahead of Beijing, when it comes to the sea. The US Navy of fifty years ago dwarfs the 2014 PLAN (the Enterprise, 41 Nuclear subs, etc). Today, the F-18 Hornet, AEGIS – surface array, cruise missiles, and so on far outweigh the straits of Taiwan, Korean Penisula, and South Chinese Sea two hundred -to one – in “power projection.” The investment is better spent on advancements in the P-3 Orion (ASW) dredging new ports, and merchant hull designs.


dj November 27, 2013 at 5:50 am

It also allows nations like Japan, S.Korea & Australia to involve themselves in areas like the South China Sea without directly basing fighters in nations like Philippines & Malaysia who militarily are at a disadvantage currently. While individually, these small flattops can only handle 12 to 18 fighters each, 6 – 8 of them can field more modern aircraft than both of the mentioned countries can field combined (modern or not). Australia 2, Japan 4, S.Korea 2, gives a total of 8, plus Thyland & potentially Singapore in the future. Its important to not look an individual ships potential, but the combined potential of multiple ships.


Chuck Hill September 4, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Assuming the Japanese DDHs will be used as a convoy escorts, the F-35s can play the same role (CAM) Catapult Armed Merchantmen played in the Battle of the Atlantic, shooting down hostile maritime patrol aircraft scouting for submarines and land-based bombers like the Xian H-6, attempting to attack the convoy.


admin August 9, 2013 at 5:57 am

No complaint there about how the ground-based aircraft are going to play a pivotal role in the territorial disputes, and no complaint over the value of the Izumo as an LPH. However, I do suspect that Japan will be playing a larger role in the wider Pacific than most expect, and that having some modest fixed-wing ability (and the flexibility to operate that sort of platform when necessary) will be an enabler in those situations where it may be operating outside the umbrella of Japanese mainland aircover


BSmitty August 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Where are you thinking? IIRC, Japanese territorial disputes with China are within fighter range of both parties. I don’t recall any ongoing Chinese/Australian disputes.

IMHO the Izumo’s more important advancement for the JMSDF is its ability to act as a mini LPH, not as a CVL.


admin August 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Agreed, agreed. But there’s a lot going on in places where Japan’s (and China’s) land-based aircraft can’t reach (at least for very long). The lessons from the Falklands are still valid!!!


BSmitty August 8, 2013 at 2:17 pm

If F-35Bs might give these tiny carriers “teeth”, they are baby teeth. A handful of STOVL fighters on a few small carriers shouldn’t impress anyone. Hyugas and Izumos don’t even have a ski jump. How much payload can they regularly get off these deck with? A few AAMs maybe?

Just MHO, but land-based, Japanese fighters constitute a far greater capability in the context of China.


TWN Reformer April 5, 2018 at 9:28 am



TWN Reformer April 5, 2018 at 9:47 am

TAIWAN (TWN) do needs following for TAIWANESE AIR FORCE not F-35 nor F-18:

66 F-15 2040C to replace MIRAGE 2000-5

66 F-16V to replace F-5


CATOBAR is in reality superior than STOBAR and also than STOVL….. CATOBAR of USA NAVY also carried 80 JET FIGHTER AIRCRAFT…. I think that at least 40 JET FIGHTER AIRCRAFT are really needed to TAKE OUT on ANY ONE of AIR BASES on LAND….. ANYHOW….. I don’t think TAIWAN (TWN) needs AIRCRAFT CARRIERS nor LHDs….. and that means TAIWAN (TWN) don’t need F-35B and F/A-18E/F in reality….. HOWEVER….. PRO-CHINA PARASITES lived inside of TAIWAN such as CHINESE NATIONALISTS (ROC) and WAI SHENG REN (KMT) would want to secretly give STEALTH TECH and AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT TECH from WEST to CHINA (PRC)….. I think TAIWAN (TWN) needs ARTICLE 9 just like JAPAN to keep TAIWAN (TWN) from WASTEFUL MILITARY SPENDING

Marcus Tullius Cicero said, ” The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct. ”


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