Helicopter carrier commissioned

MSDF's largest combat vessel may raise concerns within Asia

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) The Maritime Self-Defense Force commissioned on Wednesday its largest helicopter-carrying warship amid concerns its eye-catching flight deck makes it look like a small aircraft carrier.

The acquisition of a combat ship that can project force far from Japan raises concerns in Asia and may even spur rivalry with China, which is rumored to covet an aircraft carrier of its own.

Setting another precedent, the ¥105 billion Hyuga will have female officers and enlisted personnel, the first combat ship to have a mixed-sex complement since the Self-Defense Forces were created in 1954.

At a ceremony at IHI Marine United Inc.’s shipyard in Yokohama, Parliamentary Defense Secretary Ryota Takeda handed the MSDF’s rising sun ensign to the skipper, Capt. Katsunori Yamada, to hoist on the Hyuga.

“I recognize that people’s expectations for the Hyuga are high,” Yamada told reporters after the event, saying his crew will try to live up to them so the ship can be up to “fighting strength” soon.

Sporting a 195-meter deck and the ability to carry up to 11 helicopters, the 13,950-ton ship has an imposing look and is one of the largest vessels ever built for the MSDF.

Although the MSDF classifies the Hyuga as a destroyer, its size makes that designation something of a misnomer.

Up to four helicopters, including the SH-60K submarine hunter, can take off and land almost simultaneously, according to the MSDF.

With its sophisticated command, control and communications systems, the Hyuga will act as the nerve center for operations ranging from antisubmarine warfare to antidisaster efforts at home and abroad, and to rescue Japanese nationals overseas, the MSDF said.

Among the Hyuga’s roughly 340 crew members will be 17 women — two officers and 15 sailors.

Their presence on a warship reflects the MSDF’s effort since last year to expand the role of women to make up for the chronic personnel shortage.

The vessel will be based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, where it will serve as the flagship for the 1st Escort Flotilla.

The Hyuga will replace the old 4,950-ton destroyer Haruna, which carries up to three helicopters.

The second Hyuga-class ship is to be commissioned in March 2011 to replace a similar destroyer.

Despite the Hyuga’s look and feel of a small aircraft carrier, the MSDF says it is anything but.

“An aircraft carrier, I believe, has a fair degree of offensive functions. Based on that definition, the Hyuga falls a little bit outside of the frame,” MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Keiji Akahoshi told a news conference Tuesday.