MSDF commissions its biggest helicopter carrier yet


Staff Writer

The Maritime Self-Defense Force commissioned its largest-ever helicopter carrier Wednesday in Yokohama as officials denied that the massive vessel could be used as a conventional aircraft carrier or represents a prototype for one in the future.

The 248-meter Izumo, which has a displacement of 19,500 tons and is officially classified as a “helicopter destroyer,” resembles an aircraft carrier at first glance.

It has a flat flight deck with a single superstructure, which contains the bridge. The deck is large and robust enough to permit the operation of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, MSDF officers said.

The U.S. military has deployed Ospreys in Japan and the Ground Self-Defense Force is considering procuring the aircraft.

Addressing reporters after the commissioning ceremony in Yokohama on Wednesday, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani emphasized that the ship is designed to carry patrol helicopters, not fixed-wing aircraft such as fighter planes.

“We are not thinking about using this as an aircraft carrier,” Nakatani said.

For years, the government has interpreted the war-renouncing Constitution as allowing Japan to possess the minimum necessary forces for self-defense, not offense. This means the nation is not permitted to operate aircraft carriers designed to attack foreign adversaries, the government has said.

Still, experts and media outlets in China and South Korea have speculated Japan may be aiming to operate such an aircraft carrier without declaring it as such.

Nakatani pointed out that the Izumo doesn’t have a runway from which multiple airplanes can take off. It also lacks the hangers and workshops needed to service airplanes.

Instead, it is equipped with equipment for nonmilitary rescue missions, such as surgical theaters and rooms to accommodate evacuees and aid supplies, Nakatani said.

Military experts support this view, saying the vessel would require a comprehensive refit before it could operate jet fighters or other attack airplanes.

The Izumo is the first ship in the Izumo class of helicopter carrier. It can carry seven anti-submarine patrol helicopters, plus two rescue and transport helicopters. Its total crew will number 470.

The ship took three years and two months to build at a cost of ¥120 billion. Its home port will be the MSDF base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

In a speech to the crew, Nakatani said he believes the Izumo will greatly enhance the MSDF’s capabilities to cope with military threats and contingencies as well as contribute to international peace-keeping and overseas rescue missions.

“In reality, now no country alone can maintain peace and safety on its own,” Nakatani said as crew members stood on the flight deck.

For Japan, “it’s more important than ever to actively contribute to peace and stability of the world,” he said.

The MSDF’s previous largest helicopter carrier was the Hyuga class, at 197 meters in length and with a displacement of 13,950 tons.

The Hyuga class can carry three patrol helicopters and one rescue and transport helicopter, according to the MSDF.

Asked why Japan requires a helicopter carrier larger than the Hyuga class, Nakatani said a larger ship is needed to accommodate facilities and equipment for joint operations involving the air, ground and maritime branches of the Self-Defense Forces.

“With joint operations, we can more quickly and flexibly cope with situations,” he said. “The ship should have command functions for such an operation. That’s why (the Izumo) must be this large.”

  • timefox

    It’s that Democratic Party of Japan authorized building of an escort ship in Izumo class for the only achievements.

    As it’ll be the some help which prevents Chinese invasion and sea lane destruction.

  • ostkrieg

    Relax. It is not an aircraft carrier, and it is not as dangerous as it looks.

    What this is: a multi-functional vessel that can launch helicopters for anti-submarine operations, or for rescue and disaster relief, carry troops, or civilians, function as a mobile hospital, etc. Its not built for jets. It does not have hangars, and crucially, no elevators to bring aircraft up to the deck. Even if, which is unlikely, it will carry the F-35B (vertical take-off version), it can only carry a small number and will not be a game-changer in East-Asia.

    It does boost Japan’s anti-submarine defense capabilities (China has been building a large submarine fleet, and North Korea is building some too), and boost Japan’s disaster relief capabilities.

    • Texas 4 Ever

      Aircraft carriers don’t do well if they are not defended, so its safe to say that helicopter carriers need to be well defended. Here’s hoping that there are cruisers and destroyers in the JDF’s future. So far as I am concerned they can have battleships and full aircraft carriers too. The criminals who thought Pearl Harbor was a really good idea have been dying out for 70+ years and with China and N. Korea around and flexing its muscle Japan is in a truly bad position if it does not rebuild its military. What are they supposed to do depend upon a Washington that crawls to the United Nations for permission to do the things that sovereign nations traditionally have turned to their parliaments and congresses to do? That’s stupid! Its bad enough that the US has lost its mind — for Tokyo to wait around for foreign powers and especially for the meddlers in the UN to defend Japan is not right.

  • Texas 4 Ever

    Two thumbs up to Japan! I believe that the restrictions imposed upon the Japanese need to be re-evaluated in the light of the 21st century dangers in which free nations face today. I can’t tell you how naive it would be for a foreign state to depend upon the US as presently led for its defense. I have been watching the conduct of the PRC with alarm for many years as well as that of the North Koreans . In short, right now Japan and its neighbors are living in a very dangerous neighborhood. Japan may actually need to re-write its constitution completely with neighbors like these and friends like the District of Columbia.