In late May, a conspicuously large naval vessel entered into Kure Base of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) in Kure City [in Hiroshima Prefecture]. It was “Kaga,” one of the largest MSDF escort ships, which returned to its home port after the vessel had been opened to the public in Osaka. The ship is 248 meters long. Five helicopters can simultaneously take off and land on its flight deck. The deck extends from the bow to the stern, which makes the ship almost look like an aircraft carrier.
“Kaga,” which was commissioned last March, is the second “Izumo”-class destroyer that carries helicopters. The Chinese media were critical of the commissioning of both “Izumo” and “Kaga.” The points of criticism were Japan’s “revival” of the former names of Imperial Japanese Navy warships and its “possession of aircraft carriers.”
From a constitutional standpoint, Japan has maintained that “the country is forbidden to possess an attack carrier.” However, the MSDF does not view the Izumo class destroyer as an aircraft carrier because it does not possess the functions that allow fighters to take off and land.
Mulling logistic support for the U.S. military
The Kure base is about 20 km from Hiroshima City as the crow flies. The government still plans to “transform Izumo-class vessels into aircraft carriers.”
In late April, the Defense Ministry released a research report that looked into whether the U.S. military’s state-of-the-art stealth fighter, the F-35B, can be operated on Izumo-class ships. In addition to studying the “transformation of an Izumo-class destroyer into an aircraft carrier, the research assumed that Japan will provide logistical support to the U.S. military. Among U.S. forces bases in Japan, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni (in Iwakuni City) is the only base where the F-35B, capable of vertically landing, is currently deployed.
“The Izumo-class warship has high potential for improving aircraft operational capability,” the report said, giving the ship high marks. However, in order for an Izumo-class ship to be able to carry F-35B fighters, the deck needs to be modified at the minimum, but the cost of the modification, the duration of the construction, and the details of the modification were redacted from the report.
The Defense Ministry entrusted the compilation of the report to Japan Marine United Corporation, the shipbuilding company that built the Izumo-class vessels. “The report is part of broad research and information-gathering on the future defense capability rather than a concrete study on transforming Izumo-class ships into aircraft carriers or the introduction of the F-35B,” explained the ministry.
Professor Toshiyuki Ito (60) at Kanazawa Institute of Technology Toranomon Graduate School, a former MSDF Kure District Headquarters commandant, believes that “the research is part of an investigation regarding the possibility of using Izumo-class warships as a central off-shore base for the U.S. military in accord with the Japan-U.S. alliance.” The professor went on to say, “If F-35Bs conduct training on Izumo-class vessels from now, it will give the impression of an enhanced Japan-U.S. alliance to the international community and send the global message that the bilateral alliance will not start a war and will not allow any country to start a war.”
First mission of the U.S. military is asset protection
A total of 37 naval vessels, of 12 different types, are deployed to the MSDF Kure base. This is the largest number of ships among MSDF bases. The vessels include “Kaga,” the destroyer “Sazanami,” and the transport ship “Shimokita.” Last May, “Sazanami” joined the MSDF’s first-ever mission to “protect U.S. military assets in accordance with the security legislation.” The mission was conducted in the Pacific and the assets were American naval vessels . In April this year, “Shimokita” conducted training together with several U.S. military vessels in waters west of Kyushu.
There are plans to increase the number of submarines deployed to the Kure base in the future. As a base playing a role in cooperation between Japan and the U.S., Kure will enhance its presence.
Hideki Nitta (54), a representative of the citizen’s group “Peace link Hiroshima, Kure and Iwakuni,” said, “As the Kure base is closely connected with Iwakuni, there is a growing possibility that it will play a role in providing logistical support to the U.S. military,” expressing concern. The Kure base conspicuously examples the undermining of Japan’s “strictly defensive national defense.”
Escort ship Kaga: 248 meter longs, 38 meters wide, 19,500 tons. The ship was commissioned on March 22 last year as the second “Izumo”-type naval vessel. It has a crew of about 470. The ship carries a total of nine helicopters including patrol helicopters and rescue and transport helicopters. Five choppers can simultaneously take off and land on the deck. Osprey transport aircraft can also be operated on the ship. The vessel is capable of carrying a total of about fifty 3.5-ton trucks, giving it a greater transport capability than the same type helicopter carrier destroyer “Hyuga.” As the ship is equipped with a function for refueling other vessels and with medical facilities, it can serve as an off-shore base for disaster relief operations. The construction cost was about 120 billion yen.