Japan to launch first aircraft carriers since WWII as Government notes ‘national rivalries are surfacing’
The Japanese helicopter carrier, the Izumo, will be converted to an aircraft carrier. (AP: Eugene Hoshiko)
Tokyo will launch its first aircraft carriers since the end of World War II to accommodate a growing number of stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment adding to the Japan Self-Defence Forces.
- Two helicopter carriers will be modified to become aircraft carriers
- The announcement forms part of a 10-year defence program outlined by Tokyo
- Pacifism is enshrined in Japan’s constitution
The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan’s ambition to become a regional power as China’s military build-up and a resurgent Russia put pressure on its ally the United States.
It also comes amid the nation’s move away from the Pacifist guidelines set out in its post-war constitution.
“The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognise the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” a 10-year defence program outline approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Government says.
The United States, followed by China, North Korea and Russia, are the countries that most influenced Japan’s latest military thinking, the paper says.
China, the world’s second biggest economy, is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfil a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.
Russia, which continues to probe Japanese air defences, has built new barracks for troops on a northern island it captured from Japan at the end of World War II.
Japan to add 87 F-35 stealth fighters to defence force
The Royal Australian Air Force has also ordered F-35s, dubbed the “most lethal acquisition” in history. (Kyodo News via AP: Takuto Kaneko)
Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighters worth about $4 billion, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan.
These stem from the same class of fighters procured by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), labelled the “most lethal acquisition in the Air Force’s history”.
The new planes will include 18 short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea.
The islands are part of a chain stretching past Taiwan and down to the Philippines that has marked the limit of Chinese military dominance east of the disputed South China Sea.
“Japan’s decision to acquire more F-35s is a testament to the aircraft’s transformational capability and its increasing role in promoting regional stability and enhancing the US-Japan security alliance,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
The navy’s two large helicopter carriers, the Izumo and Kaga, will be modified for F-35B operations, the paper said.
The 248-metre-long Izumo-class ships are as big as any of Japan’s aircraft carriers in World War II.
They will need reinforced decks to withstand the heat blast from F-35 engines and could be fitted with ramps to aid short take-offs, two defence ministry officials said.
Japan has eighth-strongest military in the world
Article nine of Japan’s constitution explicitly rules out the use of force, but speculation is mounting Tokyo may change this. (US Army: Markus Castaneda)
The new F-35 order may also help Japan avert a trade war with the United States.
US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs on Japanese car imports, thanked Mr Abe for buying the F-35s when the two met at a summit in Argentina this month.
Other US-made equipment on Japan’s shopping list includes two land-based Aegis Ashore air defence radars to defend against North Korean missiles, four Boeing Co KC-46 Pegasus refuelling planes to extend the range of Japanese aircraft, and nine Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early-warning planes.
Japan plans to spend 25.5 trillion yen ($315 billion) on military equipment over the next five years, 6.4 per cent more than the previous five-year plan.
Cost-cutting will free up another $24.7 billion for purchases, the procurement paper said.
Japan only spends about 1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, but the size of its economy means it already has one of the world’s largest militaries.
In 2018, the Global Firepower index rated Japan as having the eighth-strongest military in the world.
Wary of North Korean promises to abandon ballistic missile development, Japan’s military is buying longer-range Raytheon SM-3 interceptor missiles to strike enemy warheads in space.
“The budget is increasing and there has been an acceleration to deploy capability as soon as possible,” Robert Morrissey, head of Raytheon Co’s unit in Japan, said.
The defence papers assessed non-traditional military threats as well.
A new joint-forces cyber unit will bolster Japan’s defences against cyber attacks. More electronic warfare capabilities are planned.
Japan’s air force will also get its first space unit to help keep tabs on potential adversaries high above the Earth’s atmosphere.