By: Project 2049 Institute |
On November 23rd, Japanese mediaÂ reportedÂ that the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) is planning a 248m long helicopter destroyer â€“ DDH22 â€“ which will be the largest of its kind with a displacement of 19,500 tons. Equipped with a full-length flight deck, it will be able to transport up to 14 helicopters, 4,000 people and 50 trucks.
Japanese officials say the ship will help refuel other vessels, transport personnel and equipment, and conduct surveillance of surrounding waters. Beyond this, some observers alsoÂ predictÂ that such a destroyer will allow Tokyo to â€œproject its influence and military forceâ€ beyond surrounding waters and the wider region to protect its interests and secure global lines of communication. These interests include supporting natural disaster relief operations and international peacekeeping missions, and perhaps even more ambitious future activities modeled on Japanâ€™s recent participation in UN-authorized counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast in line with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyamaâ€™s principle of â€œyuaiâ€ (fraternity).
Furthermore, some media sources areÂ speculatingÂ that the acquisition is at least partly directed at Chinaâ€™s increasing presence in the East China Sea and training exercises around the disputed Senkaku Islands. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defense concluded that Japanâ€™s defense posture against potential incursions by surrounding nations was â€œinadequateâ€. However, one destroyer will only be a dent in Japanâ€™s naval capabilities vis-Ã -vis Chinaâ€™s rapid military buildup.
The destroyer has undoubtedly reignited media and public debates over Japanâ€™s naval posture. In accordance with its post-war pacifist constitution, Japanese law presumablyÂ prohibitsÂ the possession of aircraft carriers since they are deemed to â€œexceed the war potential needed for a minimal level of self-defenseâ€. Yet the Japanese media has alreadyÂ raised concernsÂ that the new destroyer â€œlooks like an aircraft carrierâ€ and numerous bloggers have compared the design of the DDH22, as well as its Hyuga-class predecessors, to the British Invincible and Italian Cavour class aircraft carriers.
Even so, this development does not signal a substantive naval buildup. The DDH22 is intended as a replacement to the decommissioning of five Shirane-class destroyers, thereby reducing the size of MSDFâ€™s overall force. Furthermore, the ship lacks potential offensive capabilities, like a ski-jump ramp which would allow it to be deployed as a light aircraft carrier. The Defense Ministry has alsoÂ specifiedÂ the destroyerâ€™s mission scope and offensive limitations, insisting that â€œthe ship will be incapable of having fighter jets land on and take-off from the deckâ€.
Nor does it portend a significant shift in Japanâ€™s military ambitions. Even in a more uncertain and complex post-Cold War security environment amidst crises such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Japanâ€™s capabilities have so far been increasingÂ only incrementally. Though Tokyo plans to commissionÂ an additional destroyerÂ in the future, enduring domestic pacifism and mounting budgetary constraints indicate that one should not expect a major military buildup anytime soon.