Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera admitted for the first time that his ministry is studying whether it is possible to convert the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF)'s helicopter carriers into models capable of carrying F-35B stealth fighter jets, during a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on March 2.
The study is aimed at improving the aeronautical operational capabilities of four Izumo- and Hyuga-class helicopter carriers. The MSDF publicly solicited contractors for the remodeling and commissioned the work to Japan Marine United Corp., the manufacturer of the MSDF vessels, for 3.78 million yen in fiscal 2017.
In response to a question by Japanese Communist Party legislator Akira Koike, Onodera explained that the Defense Ministry is currently conducting a basic survey on short-takeoff and vertical-landing F-35B, as well as both fixed-wing and rotating-wing unmanned aircraft.
"It's not been decided how to operate Izumo, or whether the Self-Defense Forces will introduce F-35Bs," Onodera told the session.
The government has traditionally taken the position that Japan will not possess attack aircraft carriers in line with its exclusively defense-oriented policy. Onodera had previously denied time and again that the government was conducting detailed studies of remodeling helicopter carriers or introducing F-35Bs. He effectively revised his previous remarks when he responded to Koike's questions about the details of the government study.