F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters sit secured to the deck of the USS Wasp. Photo: US Navy via AFP

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported in a scoop last week that the government may buy up to 40 F-35B vertical takeoff stealth fighters from the US that could operate from helicopter carriers, island bases and commercial airports.

“The government is considering operating F-35B fighter jets from about fiscal 2026, in an effort to utilize airports on remote islands and thereby improve the nation’s capability to defend the isles,” the newspaper said in a February 12 story.

The F-35B is the maritime version of the advanced US warplane that can perform vertical take-off and landings (VTOL) from the decks of warships.

The Yomiuri quoted government sources as saying that Tokyo is also weighing whether to deploy the F-35Bs aboard Izumo-class Maritime Self-Defense Force’s “destroyers” which carry helicopters and are built as de facto aircraft carriers.

The US military already operates F-35B squadrons in Japan. And the Japanese government is already buying 42 F-35A standard takeoff fighter jets to replace older-generation US fighters like the F-15 and F-4 Phantom.

“As for the F-35B, the government is planning to indicate the number of aircraft to be procured in the next Medium Term Defense Program, which is to be compiled at the end of this year. It is also mulling including related expenses in the fiscal 2019 budget plan, with a view to starting the delivery of F-35Bs from around fiscal 2024,” the Yomiuri cited its sources as saying.

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