Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force on Wednesday (March 25, 2015 at the Japan United Marine shipyard in Yokohama, south of Tokyo) took delivery of the biggest (24,000 tons) Japanese warship since World War II, the JS Izumo (DDH-183), a helicopter carrier as big as the Imperial Navy aircraft carriers that battled the United States in the Pacific (Source: Reuters).
The Izumo with a crew of 470 sailors is a highly visible example of how Japan is expanding the capability of its military to operate overseas and enters service as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks lawmaker approval to loosen the restraints of Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution.
The 248 meter/813 feet long JS Izumo (DDH-183) resembles U.S. Marine Corp amphibious assault carriers in size and design but it is designated as a helicopter destroyer, a label that allows Japan to keep within the bounds of a constitutional ban on owning the means to wage war. Aircraft carriers, because of their ability to project force, are considered offensive weapons.
The JS Izumo is equipped with an OQQ-22 bow-mounted sonar for submarine prosecution while air defence is provided by two Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile SeaRAM launchers and two Phalanx close-in weapon systems.
«The vessel can serve in a wide range of roles including peace keeping operations, international disaster relief and aid», Gen Nakatani, Japan’s Minister of Defense said standing beside the vessel after a handover ceremony at the Japan United Marine shipyard in Yokohama. «JS Izumo (DDH-183) also helps improve our ability to combat submarines».
Abe’s moves to ease Japan’s pacifist constitution and its build up in defense capabilities is unnerving neighbor China, reported Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly.
Japan is also adding longer-range patrol aircraft and military cargo planes to its defense capability, and buying Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, amphibious assault vehicles and Boeing’s Osprey troop carrier, which can operate from the Izumo.
The JS Izumo (DDH-183) does not have a catapult necessary to launch fixed-wing fighters, but a planned Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing (VTOL) variant of the F-35 could fly from the Izumo’s flight deck.
Based at Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo, also the home port of the U.S. Seventh Fleets carrier battle group, the JS Izumo (DDH-183) will join two smaller helicopters carriers already in service, that are also classed as destroyers.