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Japan Rising in the Asia-Pacific?


Many of the BT’ers are well aware of my post regarding Japan’s “defensive” military capabilities and the need for Japan to step up and do more than open the fat checkbook when it comes to defense contributions. Some may also remember my posts on Japan’s steady rise in the Asian-Pacific region and Japan cautiously testing the waters for constitutional reform.  Well the news below bolsters my stance that Japan is sending signals to its largest trading partner, China, that there is/will be a new sheriff (or at least deputy) in town. I will follow-up to this story with additional analysis. 

The August 23, 2007, launching ceremony of the Hyuga, a Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer, made the August 30, 2007, issue of the Asagumo, the Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces newsletter. The newsletter also described the 13,500-ton, 197-meter-long destroyer as one of the largest vessels the MSDF has.

The Hyuga, the largest warship constructed in Japan since World War II, is considered by some observers to be the first step toward the development of a large aircraft carrier. Japan’s constitution, imposed by the United States after World War II, permits Japanese to have only “self-defense” forces. Many Japanese, recalling the effectiveness of Japanese aircraft carriers in China in the 1930s and against U.S. forces in the Pacific in the early stages of World War II, consider carriers to be offensive weapons.

Bearing a close resemblance to an aircraft carrier, the Hyuga is comparable to the British aircraft carrier Invincible (209 meters) and Italia’s Giuseppe Garibaldi (180 meters) in size. The destroyer is capable of carrying up to 11 helicopters.

More significant from an aviation viewpoint, the Hyuga will normally operate three SH-60J Blackhawk-type anti-submarine helicopters and one MH-53E Super Stallion multi-purpose helicopter. Reportedly, the ship’s hangar can accommodate 11 of the smaller aircraft.

The procurement of the Hyuga was determined in 2003 by the then Defense Agency. The agency cited the need to flexibly carry out overseas missions, such as long-term support for the U.S. military in the Indian Ocean, as the reason for building large vessels.

The “16DDH”-class ship has attracted significant media and Diet attention, owing to its resemblance to an aircraft carrier. The vessel’s design features a starboard-side island superstructure and an uninterrupted flight deck, prompting observers to speculate that Japan may be eyeing a carrier capable of handling Harrier-like aircraft. Notes one analyst, “The configuration of the Osumi and the new DDH class indicates that Japan is rehearsing carrier-building technology to reserve for itself this potential military option; and thus, that it is considering discarding the constitutional prohibition on the acquisition of power-projection capabilities.”

In the meantime, the 16DDH (Hyuga) would fulfill many of the peacetime and wartime missions elaborated in the NDPG. As a wartime flagship, the 16DDH would serve as a command-and-control platform, coordinating the activities of other units while its organic helicopters conducted ASW operations. During peacetime operations, or “military operations other than war” (MOOTW), the 16DDH would join the Osumi-class ships for peacekeeping and relief operations, as well as the “diverse situations” Japan foresees confronting on the high seas.” [Yoshihara & Holmes, Summer 2006]

The Hyuga cost 105.7 billion yen. The ministry has begun building another Hyuga-class destroyer for 97.5 billion yen. The MSDF also has large refuelers comparable to the Hyuga: the Mashu and Oumi (both 13,500 tons in displacement and 221 meters in length).

The two vessels have repeatedly been dispatched to the Indian Ocean to provide naval vessels of the Untied States and other countries in the Indian Ocean with fuel and water free of charge. One Indian Ocean tour lasts five to six months. The Mashu has made three tours since it was commissioned in March 2004 and the Oumi two tours since March 2005. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were commissioned for refueling operations in the Indian Ocean.

It cost the country 85.5 billion yen to build the two refuelers that have been ridiculed as free gas stations in the Indian Ocean.

Besides those vessels, the MSDF possesses three 8,900-ton, 178-meter transport vessels — Osumi, Shimokita, and Kunisaki — that sea-lifted vehicles and supplies to Iraq for the Ground Self-Defense Force.

Building the three vessels cost 115.4 billion yen. The construction cost of five vessels, including the two large oilers, ran up to 290 billion yen.

The government once declared that it would not possess any air tankers. Reversing its policy course, the government has now decided to introduce five KC-767 air tankers. It has already concluded contracts on four air tankers for 89.2 billion yen.

Air tankers are designed to refuel fighters and other aircrafts in the air. They make it possible for fighters to fly further and attack other countries. Equipped with transport functions to be used in international cooperation activities, the government also envisages using the KC-767 as aircraft for transporting troops overseas. 

The cost of building four P1 next-generation patrol planes for the MSDF was incorporated for the first time in the fiscal 2008 budget with the aim of enhancing the country’s overseas deployment capability. The government has decided to introduce a total of 65 P1 next-generation patrol aircraft. The government is also trying to introduce next-generation transport planes sharing some frame structures with the P1 for the ASDF in the name of international cooperative duties.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the SDF’s international peace activities are on the decline with the failure of the Bush administration’s preemptive strike strategy.

In the face of growing national opinion opposing the MSDF’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, some in the ruling bloc think the new antiterrorism law, the legal basis for the refueling operation, must not be extended beyond next January. The UN resolution backing the ASDF’s Iraq airlift mission is also scheduled to expire at the end of this year. The government is desperately trying to find new overseas missions, such as one in Sudan, but there is a huge inconsistency between its intentions on the one hand and the Constitution and popular will on the other.

Major armaments for overseas deployment and their procurement costs: 

Helicopter carriers: (203.2 billion yen)


  • Destroyers carrying helicopters, Hyuga, 105.7 billion yen
  • Hyuga-class second helicopter carrier, 97.5 billion yen


Large refuelers: (Total 85.5 billion yen)


  • Mashu, 45.3 billion yen
  • Oumi, 40.2 billion yen


Large transport vessels: (Total 115.4 billion yen)


  • Osumi 45 billion yen
  • Shimokita 35.3 billion yen
  • Kunisaki 35.1 billion yen


KC-767 air tankers: (Total 89.2 billion yen)


  • No.1, KC-767, 22.3 billion yen
  • No.2, KC-767, 21.1 billion yen
  • No.3, KC-767, 22.3 billion yen
  • No.4, KC-767, 23.5 billion yen


P1 next-general patrol aircraft


  • Four aircraft 92.4 billion yen
Sources: Various


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