Step by step, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been revising Japan’s post-war pacifist defense policies. The latest move involves plans to deploy an aircraft carrier for the first time since 1945.
Japanese aircraft carriers hold a special place in history. A six carrier strike force lead the attack on Pearl Harbor. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Abe visited Darwin, Australia to commemorate the hundreds killed there in a devastating raid by the same Japanese carriers in 1942.
Japan’s post-war constitution is interpreted as prohibiting “attack carriers;” like modern American carriers which weigh more than 100,000 tons and carry as many as 90 planes. By contrast, Japan recently built two 20,000-ton helicopter carriers – the Izumo and the Kaga. With a few changes, they could be converted to carry the U.S. Marine Corps variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B, which can take off and land vertically. According to Japanese media, the cabinet will authorize the purchase of 100 additional F-35s next month, including F-35Bs.
Asked by the Japan Times whether the Izumo would be upgraded to handle them, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said, “It is desirable that it will be used for as many purposes as possible.” Such a vessel would greatly increase Japanese capabilities around the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China.
Japan has already ordered 42 F-35As, the air force variant; Joint Strike Fighters cost about 85 million dollars each and a hundred more would go a long way toward meeting President Trump’s demand that Japan spend more on American weapons.