The brand new Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer Izumo will undergo a refit to serve as the command center for defending remote islands in the southwest, sources said.
By deploying a vessel with front-line headquarters functions, the Defense Ministry aims to strengthen the integrated operations of the Self-Defense Forces in the event coordinated actions are needed to retake remote islands that have been captured, the sources said.
The move reflects the outline of a new defense program mapped out in December that calls for creating an amphibious unit in the Ground Self-Defense Force whose main task would be to take back islands.
The ministry expects to start operating the revamped Izumo late in fiscal 2014, the sources said.
Launched last August, the 248-meter-long vessel, with a standard displacement of 19,500 tons, is the MSDF’s largest destroyer. The destroyer has a flat deck for helicopters and will be equipped with an electronic conference room that can command individual units and an advanced communications system, the sources said.
The new setup will allow the ship to gather all information from ships transporting the proposed amphibious unit and any Air Self-Defense Force aircraft supporting it so precise instructions can be issued in response to changing situations.
The flight deck allows for five helicopters to take off and land simultaneously.
The ministry plans to deploy the MV-22 Osprey to the Izumo as well. The GSDF is scheduled to receive 17 of the tilt-rotor transport aircraft by fiscal 2018.
Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which devastated the Pacific coastline of the Tohoku region, the Izumo was built to be dispatched to respond to major natural disasters.
The ship can accommodate some 450 people for a long stay, in addition to crew members, and is equipped with a surgery and sick bay.
The refit comes as the government faces the challenge of defending remote islands and conducting integrated operations for the three SDF branches during its review of the previous defense program outline.
The uninhabited, Japanese-held Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea have been claimed by China and Taiwan in recent decades, and in recent months, Japan Coast Guard vessels have confronted Chinese government vessels near the territory amid efforts by Beijing to expand its military reach.