Japan continues to flex its considerable military muscle

Izumo_vertrekt_uit_Yokohama_voor_deelname_aan_de_vlootschouw_2015,_-18_oktober_2015_aWhen is an aircraft carrier not an aircraft carrier? Probably when it’s one of the capital ships of a navy that’s not a navy. Technically, Nippon Koku (literal translation: State of Japan) doesn’t even have an armed forces, but whatever they’re called, they’re certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Due to the so-called Peace Constitution that was forced upon them by the occupying US Forces at the end of the Second World War, Japan doesn’t officially have an Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps. But what’s referred to as the a Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) is certainly one of the more powerful military machines in East Asia/Western Pacific region. Case in point would be the growing military ties between Japan and Australia as reported by Jesse Johnson of the Manila Times on Apr. 16, 2016, a visiting Japanese flotilla in Australia is of great interest not only to Aussie admirals and generals, but also to their civilian leadership.

As reported, the first Japanese submarine to enter Sydney harbor since World War II, the JDS Hakuryu (SS-503) along with the destroyers JDS Umigiri (DD-158) and JDS Asayuki (DD-132) sailed into their one time enemy’s waters, but this time as allies. As it turns out, the Aussies are hosting their Japanese counterparts in the latest round of Exercise Nichi Gou Trident(Nichi Gou – loosely translated: Australian Sun).

Interestingly enough, this particular anti-submarine warfare naval exercise is being conducted exclusively between the Australians and the Japanese. Unlike the vast majority of war games conducted in the Western Pacific, there will be no American participation by the US Navy’s massive Seventh Fleet home ported out of Yokosuka, Japan.

With the Sōryū-class JDS Hakuryu the latest sub launched by the Tokyo government, this underwater killer is at the cutting edge of Japan’s already legendary technological prowess. So impressed are the Australians, they’ve decided to pass on replacing their aging Collins-class sub fleet not with American, British, German or even domestically constructed vessels, but with 12 brand new Japanese Sōryū-class submarines.

As it turns out, the Japanese may also be on the cutting edge of verbal Jujutsu. As reported by Matthew Gamble of the foreign policy-centric The National Interest, while the Peace Constitution virtually outlaws warships deemed offensive, such as aircraft carriers, there’s nothing wrong with naval vessels categorized as defensive, such as destroyer.

With the daily growing threat from both North Korean nuclear missiles and Chinese incursions on the sovereign Japanese territory of the Senkaku Islands, Japan’s pro-rearmament Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has given a wink and a nod to Japan’s construction and commissioning last year to the JNS Izumo (DDH-183). Officially designated a “Helicopter Destroyer,” the Izumo looks an awful lot like an aircraft carrier.

So much so, the United States Naval Institute (USNI) cites “Izumo is large enough to field 14 helicopters and has the capacity to carry 400 troops. Japan could also field V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from the ship. Ospreys are used by U.S. Marines to deploy troops from the sea and were successfully test onboard Japan’s Hyuga-class DDHs in 2013.”

Other than true helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft such as the Osprey, there have been questions if the Izumo is capable of deploying fixed with aircraft. As the USNI also noted, “It’s conceivable the helicopter carrier could also accommodate the short takeoff/ vertical landing (STOVL) variants of the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) but Japan has said publically it has no intentions of fielding JSFs from the ships.”

While nowhere near the size and displacement of the American supercarriers of the Gerald R. Ford-class or Nimitz-class, the Izumo is comparable to the Invincible-class carriers commissioned by the British Royal Navy. American Jack Tars could best relate to the Nipponese warship as comparable to the Essex-class Fleet Carriers that were the backbone of the American Navy during World War II.

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