The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is planning the construction of two small aircraft carriers, although the new ships are referred to as "destroyers" in an effort to blunt criticism from Japan pacifists, as well as wary neighbors in China and the two Koreas. Most observers remember the term "Japanese carrier" in terms of Pearl Harbor and the epic Pacific Ocean battles of World War II. However, since the Carter administration the US has encouraged Japan to do more for its own defense and obviously, the Japanese are quietly leaving their postwar pacifist attitudes behind. In its 2003 White Paper on defense, the Self-Defense Agency asserted that the nation must build up its fundamental defense capabilities to ensure its independence.
Yet the Japanese are still engage in the Kabuki dance of international respectability. While this "multipurpose hi-tech ship" will not carry vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL) aircraft like the Sea Harrier, the fact that it could conceivably support fixed-wing aircraft is what gets Japan's neighbors nervous. The Japanese destroyer-carriers can act as command and control ships, giving the JMSDF a limited ability to project power into the sea lanes that are vital to Japan's economy, although the Japanese stress the ships' ability to support evacuations during emergencies and help with United Nations peacekeeping operations or disaster relief missions.
There were two designs floating around, the less-threatening with its bridge at its center and separate flight decks in front and behind. The Japanese chose a continuous deck design with it's "island" bridge structure along the starboard edge because it is easier for helicopter pilots to use.
This class of helicopter-carrier destroyer will be able to make better than 30 knots and have a displacement of 13,500 tons, with about 16,000 tons fully loaded. The Japanese plans are squarely between the Spanish 16,700-ton Principe De Asturias (carrying 17 planes) and Thailand's 11,500-ton Chakri Nareubet (with 12 planes). The heliport ship is slated to carry four SH-60J antisubmarine helicopters and an MH-53E mine countermeasures or four MH-53 transport helicopters. Below the flight deck is a hangar large enough to house helicopters and vehicles. The vessel will be armed with a vertical missile launcher and two air defense weapons, but not the surface guns found on other JMSDF destroyers.
The Japanese have earmarked approximately $1 billion from the next fiscal year budget, since the cost of this design is nearly double that of other destroyers and equivalent to an Aegis-equipped ship. Funds for the first ship have been included in Japan's defense budget for fiscal year 2004 (which begins on April 1). The first ship is to be commissioned in 2008, replacing the helicopter destroyer "Haruna". The second carrier is scheduled for fiscal year 2005 and two more may be built later, replacing two Shirane and two Haruna-class flagship destroyers.
The Japanese have also built the 13,000-ton, 22-knot Osumi-class dock landing ship, which looks like a mini-aircraft carrier and provoked predictable responses from regional skeptics. While the Japanese insist that they can only accommodate two CH-47 Chinook helicopters, the 584-foot Oosumi has a long, uncluttered vehicle parking deck with a blocky "island" superstructure offset somewhat to starboard. Their stern wells can each hold two LCACs. Three more of the class may be built later to complete the replacement of the current six LSTs, whose normal employment is in resupply of Japanese offshore island facilities. But they're not aircraft carriers. Really. - Adam Geibel
Conceptual drawing of split-deck design, online at:
Comparative designs, with Japanese text, online at: