Tag Archives: aircraft carrier

Members’ Roundup: July 2016 Part One

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to Part One of the July 2016 members’ roundup. Through the first half of July, CIMSEC members examined several international maritime security issues, including the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in the South China Sea, Russia’s continued air campaign against ISIS, the U.S. Navy’s procurement objectives for the Virginia-class submarine successor, and the United States’ position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Here is a roundup of their writings. 

Mira Rapp-Hooper and Patrick Cronin, at War on the Rocks, provide an analysis on the long-anticipated Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in the Philippines vs. China case over the South China Sea. Using a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ format, the authors breaks down the different geopolitical and legal implications of the ruling, including potential Chinese responses, political fallout for China–Philippines relations, and the future of maritime and sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. The authors explain that for China to comply with the Court’s ruling it must not claim any water or airspace from the reefs it occupies or make a 12 nautical mile assertion from any claimed land features. With the ruling being highly unfavorable to China’s maritime objectives, the authors highlight that if Beijing begins to prioritize territorial claims while easing off claims to water and air, it would likely reflect a China looking to move beyond its defeat while saving face.

Armando J. Heredia at U.S. Naval Institute News, examines the tribunal’s decision from the perspective of Manila and how the recent election of Rodrigo Duterte as President of the Philippines will impact regional relations. He explains how the previous administration chose to accelerate the modernization process of the country’s military in response to increased hostility from China while opening the way for American forces to return to the Philippines through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). He notes that even under the modernization program the Philippines remain weak in terms of kinetic responses to a Chinese incursion. He also notes that any engagement by the Philippines would have to leverage the country’s poorly equipped Coast Guard, which lacks sufficient hulls to establish presence operations near disputed maritime regions and land features.

Jake Bebber, at the U.S. Naval Institute Blog, discusses the centrality of cyberspace operations in the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) strategy for long-term competition with the United States. He discusses aspects of informationized warfare and how the PLA is seeking to position its sources of information power to enable it to win a short, overwhelming victory for Chinese forces in a notional conflict. He notes that in response to China investing large amounts of time, energy, people and resources towards achieving the country’s cyberspace and information warfare objectives, the DoD must ensure that U.S. Cyber Strategy supports the force planning, training, and equipping of cyber forces while integrating advanced technology into information planning and acquisition.

Kyle Mizokami, at Popular Mechanics, provides an overview of Moscow’s decision to deploy the country’s only aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State until next year. Discussing some of the ship’s features, he explains that the ship’s propulsion system is unreliable and is so prone to breaking down that an oceangoing tugboat always accompanies it on long distance voyages. He also discusses the capabilities the carrier will deploy, including Su-33 air superiority fighters, Su-25UTG ground attack aircraft, and MiG-29KUB two-seater multi-role fighters.

Dave Majumdar, at The National Interest, discusses the U.S. Navy’s procurement objectives for the next-generation SSN(X) successor to the Virginia-class attack submarines. His article argues that one priority, permitting the Navy will have the technological know-how to do so, is to effectively turn the future attack submarine into an underwater platform for unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV). Another objective would be to eliminate noise-generating moving parts such as a propulsor or driveshaft in the propulsion system to decrease the possibility of detection in an increasingly competitive undersea environment.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the first part of July:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies, international law and defense policy.

Featured Image: A view from the deck of the Russian carrier  Admiral Kuznetsov (Wikimedia commons)

Members’ Roundup: June 2016

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to the June 2016 members’ roundup. Throughout June, CIMSEC members examined several international maritime security issues, including increased competition in the undersea environment, the Taiwanese Navy’s pursuit of an enhanced air defense capability, Russia’s modernization of the Black Sea Fleet, developments in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology and carrier based operations, and finally, growing piracy threats off the coast of Libya. 

Beginning the roundup at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Bryan Clark discusses undersea cables and the future of submarine competition. Mr. Clark explains how at least 95% of voice and internet traffic in addition to more than $4 trillion per year in financial transactions travels through about 300 transoceanic fiber-optic cables along the seabed. Due to the likely economic and military impacts a cable break or sabotage would induce on international security and economic dynamics, the ability to threaten or protect undersea cables and their shore landings will become an increasingly important aspect of future conflict – with procurement of advanced submarine and unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) technology being critical for  addressing this evolving threat. Mr. Clark highlights several of these technologies, including the rise of a new predominant sensing technology characterized by low-frequency active sonar, the use of undersea ‘battle networks’ and the deployment of fixed seabed-based sensors and outposts to augment UUV and submarine operations.

Harry Kazianis, for The National Interest, provides an analysis on the proliferation of anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles around the globe and the implications the spread of these weapon systems will have on future U.S. aircraft carrier operations in peace and in conflict. Mr. Kazianis notes that the carrier has been at the forefront of every major U.S. combat operation since World War II, but the short ranges of current carrier based fighter aircraft relative to the longer ranges of certain anti-ship missiles – such as China’s DF-21D, or DF-26 ASBM – may limit the usefulness of the carrier as both an effective deterrent and a reliable platform for power projection in contested areas of operation. The article highlights additional variables affecting the relevance of the flattop in A2/AD environments, including the likelihood of successfully targeting a moving carrier at sea deploying an array of countermeasures.

Ankit Panda, for The Diplomatprovides an overview of a Chinese Naval vessel entering Japanese territorial waters and the incident’s reflection of growing tensions between the two countries. Mr. Panda explains that a Type 815 Dongdiao-class spy ship entered Japanese territorial waters on June 15, a move Beijing has not repeated since 2004, when a Chinese nuclear submarine entered Japan’s 12 nautical mile territorial sea near the Sakishima Islands. The article examines whether the Chinese spy ship was abiding by international law, particularly the provisions governing ‘innocent passage’ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Considering the Chinese vessel was a spy ship and sailed within Japanese waters for several hours, Mr. Panda explains that the Japanese Defense Ministry is investigating whether the PLAN vessel was operating in accordance with international law and if follow-up legal action should be taken.

Michal Thim and his colleague Liao Yen-fan, for Taiwan in Perspective, discuss the restructuring of the Taiwanese Navy, and the goal to acquire enhanced air defense capabilities for the fleet. The authors explain that modernization plans have identified interchangeable Aegis-like integrated combat systems (ACS) that pair powerful radars with advanced anti-air and anti-ship weapons as priority procurement targets. However, the recent breakdown in negotiations between Lockheed Martin and Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) over the acquisition and technology transfer of the Mk.41 vertical launch system may limit the Navy’s ability to deploy ACS. They add that this breakdown and the resulting procurement limitations represent inherent challenges associated with Taiwan’s arms indigenization objectives.

To conclude the June members’ roundup, Sam LaGrone for U.S. Naval Institute News provides an overview of Russia’s first deployment of a new frigate to the Black Sea Fleet since the end of the Cold War. The Project 11356-class Admiral Grigorovich was sent to a Russian naval base in Crimea, which Mr. LaGrone explains is the first of many new surface ships the Russian Navy intends to base in the Black Sea. He adds that the delivery of the multi-mission surface combatant, capable of engaging submarine, air and surface threats, is part of a $2.43 billion Black Sea Fleet expansion program that will allow for increased power projection capabilities throughout the Fleet’s area of operation.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the month of June:

  • Bryan McGrath, for The War on the Rocks, explains how the lack of naval competition in the post-Cold War period has resulted in a U.S. fleet posture with limited offensive power. He explains how the Navy has prioritized a defensive mindset for too long, with survivability and defensive capabilities outcompeting offensive capabilities for platform space, budgetary resources and strategic inquiry. Mr. McGrath emphasizes that by adopting and implementing the distributed lethality concept across the fleet – that is increasing the unit-level lethality of virtually every ship in the Navy – U.S. naval forces will increase their capacity to successfully deter and challenge nations opposing U.S. interests and international law at sea.
  • Jerry Hendrix, for Defense One, advocates that the X-47B should be reinserted into carrier operations before the U.S. Navy begins to spend more time and fiscal resources on a new, expensive carrier-based UAV. Mr. Hendrix identifies that the Navy needs a long-range strike asset similar to the X-47B design, while it does not need a long-range surveillance platform – an asset the Navy seems to be leaning towards even though 68 unmanned MQ-4C Triton broad area maritime surveillance vehicles have recently been acquired. He also notes the possibility of evolving the X-47B into a joint strike-refueling platform, which would provide two useful, additional capabilities aboard the carrier that are more appropriate and necessary than a surveillance UAV.
  • Michael McDevitt, for The National Interest, discusses China’s ambitions as a maritime power by contextualizing the maritime environment from Beijing’s perspective. The article examines how China seeks to position itself in the maritime environment both regionally and globally, with the Coast Guard, PLA Navy, shipbuilding capacity, merchant fleet, distant-water fishing challenges, territorial disputes and both strategic and tactical level operations taken into consideration.
  • Paul Pryce, at Offiziere, provides an analysis on the current state of the Libyan Navy and the growing threat of piracy operations off of the country’s coastline. Mr. Pryce explains that the Navy’s one active ship, a Koni-class frigate, in addition to the lack of command and control governing the Navy – the same issue facing all Libyan security forces – is contributing to the refugee problem in the Mediterranean and the rising volume in piracy incidents throughout the region.
  • Robert Farley, for The National Interest, discusses Canada’s late 1950’s CF-105 Avro Arrow high-performance interceptor and the aircraft’s unsung potential as a dominating platform in early Cold War airspace, if only the program had not been cancelled due to shifts in Canadian technology, policy and security priorities. In a second article at The National Interest, Farley examines Russia’s Type 705 Lyra Cold War submarine that was regarded by the West as a profound threat to NATO’s undersea dominance.
  • Christian Davenport, for The Washington Post, highlights new technological advancements that may be transforming the way the pentagon outlines its defense strategy, particularly developments within the fields of robotics, drone swarms, and artificial intelligence. The article highlights emerging communication channels between the technology industry in Silicon Valley and the Pentagon, with Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter recently meeting with executives at SpaceX and Google.
  • Kyle Mizokami, for Popular Mechanics, discusses the deployment of two U.S. carrier battle groups to the Philippine Sea to conduct exercises following the UN court ruling on China and its claims in the South China Sea. Mr. Mizokami explains that the carrier strike groups (CSGs) consist of two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, two guided-missile cruisers, six guided-missile destroyers and likely two nuclear attack submarines – although their presence was not confirmed by the Navy. He adds that this is the first two-carrier exercise in the Western Pacific in two years.
  • Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, examines the Russian submarine threat to NATO’s maritime forces and U.S. naval forces stationed throughout EuropeThe article explains how Russia has successfully incorporated highly agile, technologically advanced and lethal submarines into their overall A2/AD bubble strategy throughout European waters and the significant threat this poses to U.S. and allied undersea posture in the region.  

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies, international law and defense policy.

Featured Image: Naval vessels of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (RT)

Assessing the Usefulness of the American Large-Deck Carrier

The following article is adapted from a recent Journal of Military and Strategic Studies publication entitled The combat utility of the U.S. fleet aircraft carrier in the post-war period

By Ben Ho Wan Beng

Introduction

Former U.S. president William Clinton once said that whenever a crisis breaks out, the first question that comes to everyone’s mind would be “Where is the nearest carrier?” In the half century after World War Two, Washington employed force in response to some 200 crises, and carriers were involved in two-thirds of them.[1] On the other hand, the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force (USAF) were involved in 38 and 53 of these incidents respectively.[2]

This contrast came about because the large-deck carrier of the United States Navy (USN) offered a number of unique advantages over other combat platforms. Esteemed naval analyst Norman Polmar said: “(The) survival of the aircraft carrier… can be attributed to… territorial independence, flexibility of striking power, (and) mobility.”[3] These three attributes will be explored in this article.

Territorial independence

During times when defense spending is tight and when different branches of the American military vie for the budgetary pie, the aircraft carrier would often be subjected to criticism by other services, especially the Air Force. This is because the vessel is deemed to be a major competitor for scarce resources, owing to its high price tag and a perception that it is taking over some USAF roles. Nevertheless, even some of the harshest critics of the USN have begrudgingly alluded to some advantages unique to the carrier, the most important of which is arguably the territorial independence that allows it to conduct operations unconstrained by political limitations.

For instance, General Ronald Fogelman, the USAF Chief of Staff from 1994 to 1997 and who was known to be a fierce critic of USN expenditure, was cognisant of this attribute when he said: “Aircraft carriers give you the ability to sail into a littoral region and not have to worry about diplomatic clearance… The… crisis during Taiwan’s elections… was an ideal use of… carriers.”[4]

A U.S. carrier strike group, with its own logistical infrastructure and force-projection capabilities, makes an ideal tool for intervention. This is especially so in cases where American interests are not aligned with those of allies, and this could result in Washington not having access to air bases.[5] The carrier’s territorial independence would thus come in handy if local issues were to make it difficult for land-based airpower to be deployed.

csba-range-slide-iran
Illustrative range and persistence for a notional unmanned aircraft with 1500NM range, and last refueled approximately 250 nm from coastline. Image credit: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, September 2010

A related issue is that of friendly air bases being attacked. According to a RAND report, the U.S. has 28 major air bases on the geostrategically and economically critical Eurasian landmass.[6] Although land bases are closer to potential hotspots, they are also closer to likely adversaries and could be targeted more easily during a conflict, making them more vulnerable than carriers. As a USN officer maintained: “I can’t tell you where… our carriers are… but given a few moments of research at Base Ops, I can give you the coordinates of every Air Force runway… and hangar worldwide.”[7] The proliferation of missiles and their enabling systems such as satellites in the post-Cold War period has led to several nations gaining the capability to target U.S. bases.

Indeed, this threat has become more serious with the advent of more advanced weapon technologies in recent years. This is arguably why Washington is realigning forces from Okinawa to Guam and setting up a new Marine contingent in Australia – to hedge against American forces in north-east Asia being targeted by China’s A2/AD systems during a conflict.[8] There have been no studies that do not acknowledge the vulnerabilities of land bases to anti-access threats; furthermore, even the most optimistic of such reports.[9]

Equally troublesome for America in times of crisis is the refusal of nations to grant over-flight [10] and aircraft deployment rights – an issue which the carrier does not face. The denial of over-flight rights to land-based aircraft could complicate Washington’s strategy. During Operation El Dorado Canyon, France, Spain, and Portugal denied over-flight rights to U.S. aircraft; consequently, the USAF F-111 Aardvarks involved had to be refueled in mid-air several times, a problem not faced by the carriers involved in the same operation as the ships were situated contiguously in the battlespace.[11]

As for the constraint of needing political clearance before U.S. aircraft can operate from foreign bases, a 2013 study contended that: “The attitude of host countries… is difficult to predict, raising… uncertainties regarding the basing of aircraft. The United States can bring enormous pressure to bear on a host country to accept U.S. forces, but success… cannot be guaranteed.”[12]

Examples abound of allies being hesitant or unwilling to allow U.S. aircraft to operate from their territory. Even when Iraq was poised to invade Saudi Arabia after taking over Kuwait in August 1990, the House of Saud hesitated before it permitted coalition forces to be deployed on its soil.[13] Similarly, the USAF could not operate out of Saudi Arabia and Turkey for Operation Desert Strike[14], leading a USN official to comment that the air force had been “castrated.”[15] He then extolled the territorial independence of the carrier in this instance: “With an aircraft carrier, you get 4.5 acres of Americana with no diplomatic restrictions.”[16]

The phallic reference may sound exaggerated, but it was a fact that American land-based airpower was effectively emasculated when it could not operate out of its Middle Eastern bases for Desert Strike. All in all, American carriers have proved to be useful for their territorial independence. This characteristic – combined with their mobility – essentially allows them to act as “first responders” to any situation.

Mobility

Our ability to deliver… firepower and generate… high aircraft sortie rates can… impact on… a conflict… during the critical early period of a joint campaign, when… U.S.-based forces are just starting to arrive in theater. – Admiral Jay Johnson, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations from 1996 to 2000.[17]

Owing to their mobility, U.S. carriers are usually the first assets to be deployed to a hotspot. This attribute has made one analyst describe the USN, and for that matter its carriers, as “the… little Dutch boy… (who) can hold a finger in the dike until reinforcements – the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, and allied forces – are in place.”[18]

When the deployment order comes, a carrier group moving at even a moderate speed of 25 knots can cover a significant 600 nautical miles in 24 hours of continuous steaming. To illustrate, a U.S. carrier group near Guam moving at that speed would take just over two days to reach the vicinity of Taiwan in the event of a Taiwan Strait crisis.[19] Suffice it to say that it would reach there even sooner at a higher speed.

The mobility that enables a carrier to act as a first responder was manifested as early as the Korean War. From the invasion of South Korea by the North in June 1950 until the Inchon landings in September, American and British carriers provided the sole tactical aviation assets as the number of South Korean-based aircraft was small and the USAF platforms in Japan were too short-ranged to have significant loiter time over targets.

800px-Aircraft_carrier_at_underway_replenishment
USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69) with Carrier Air Wing SEVEN embarked (right) conduct an underway replenishment with USNS ARCTIC (T-AOE 8) (left). Image credit: MC2 Miguel Contreras, USN.

In a more recent conflict, during the 1990 Gulf crisis, Army General Norman Schwarzkopf said the Eisenhower and Independence battle groups were in range of Iraqi targets within 48 hours of the deployment order being given, adding that: “The Navy was the first military force to respond… and… was also the first airpower on the scene. Both of these deterred, indeed, I believe, stopped Iraq from marching into Saudi Arabia.”[20]

To get such a glowing assessment from a top officer in a rival service undoubtedly attests to the carrier’s unequalled utility in responding first to a crisis. In addition, the aforementioned carriers provided air cover for the deployment of equipment to Saudi Arabia since viable shore-based offensive airpower was available only three weeks after the crisis broke out.[21] Had Iraq invaded Saudi Arabia within this period, the two U.S. carriers on station would have been even more crucial as they were the only assets in theater that could take the fight to the enemy. 

Flexibility

Another inherent advantage offered by the carrier to U.S. theater commanders is that it can conduct a wide variety of operations because of the different types of aircraft embarked on it. To be sure, land bases can accommodate a wide range of aircraft as well, but they simply lack the unique attributes of territorial independence and mobility offered by the large-deck carrier as discussed earlier. The typical carrier air wing (CVW) today consists of 44 F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet fighters, five EA-18 Growler electronic warfare aircraft, four Hawkeye airborne early-warning platforms, and 19 MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.[22] Indeed, during its 50-year service from 1962 to 2012, USS Enterprise operated 43 types of aircraft.[23]

This ability to accommodate diverse aircraft enables the carrier to carry out a wide range of missions. This was evidenced during Operation Deliberate Force when carrier planes participated in the whole gamut of operations: close air support, search-and-rescue, and enforcement of the no-fly zone. Because the carrier is such a large platform, it can integrate assets from other services, even other nations, into its operations.

This is crucial with today’s emphasis on jointness between the American armed services, and interoperability between Washington and her allies. In the current combat environment characterized by fluidity, the capabilities needed in one region or situation may not be the same as another, and thus why the ease of modifying the CVW is useful. [24] To illustrate, during Operation Uphold Democracy[25], USS America and USS Eisenhower carried elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and the aviation component of the 10th Mountain Division, the ship’s organic air wings having being temporarily removed. 

Two F-35s on the deck of the USS Nimitz during the first carrier trials for the aircraft in November 2014. US Navy photo.
Two F-35s on the deck of the USS Nimitz during the first carrier trials for the aircraft in November 2014. US Navy photo.

Conclusion  

The carrier has proved to be an extremely useful platform for the U.S. National Command Authorities, but it must be noted that the deployments delineated above occurred where anti-access threats were at best marginal. In an anti-access/area-denial environment, would the carrier be given carte blanche to project its airpower? Would its survivability be seriously questioned by the submarine and other anti-ship systems? These are but some of the key questions shaping the debate over the utility of the aircraft carrier, and my full article addresses some of them.

Read the full publication here: The combat utility of the U.S. fleet aircraft carrier in the post-war period.

Ben Ho Wan Beng is a Senior Analyst with the Military Studies Programme at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and he received his master’s degree in strategic studies from the same institution. Ben is a CIMSEC member and has published with the likes of The Diplomat, The National Interest, and Real Clear Defense.

Endnotes

[1] Jeffrey G. Barlow, “Answering the Call: Carriers in Crisis Response Since World War II,” Naval Aviation News, January-February 1997, fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/docs/970100-jb.htm.

[2] Reuven Leopold, Sea-Based Aviation and the Next U.S. Aircraft Carrier Design: The CVX (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Center for International Studies, 1998), p. 4.

[3] Norman Polmar, Aircraft Carriers: A Graphic History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events (New York: Doubleday, 1969), p. vii.

[4] Quoted in Leopold, Sea-Based Aviation, p. 5.

[5] Jacquelyn K. Davis, Aircraft Carriers and the Role of Naval Power in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Institute of Foreign Policy Analysis, 1993), p. 34.

[6] Michael J. Lostumbo, et al., Overseas Basing of U.S. Military Forces: An Assessment of Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits (Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 2013), p. 20-30.

[7] Quoted in James Paulsen, “Is the Days of the Aircraft Carrier Over?” (Air Command and Staff College Research Report, 1998), p. 20.

[8] Cheryl Pellerin, “Work: Guam is “Strategic Hub to Asia-Pacific Rebalance,” DoD News, August 19, 2014, defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=122961.

[9] Sam J. Tangredi, Anti-Access Warfare: Countering A2/AD Strategies (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013), p. 68.

[10] It must be noted that this point applies only to states contiguous to the sea where the carrier is deployed; overflight rights are still needed for aircraft seeking to reach countries situated landward of a coastal state.

[11] Leopold, Sea-Based Aviation, p. 4.

[12] Tangredi, Anti-Access Warfare, p. 49.

[13] Davis, Aircraft Carriers, p. 34.

[14] Operation Desert Strike was initiated by the United States in September 1996 in response to the Iraqi military offensive against the city of Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

[15] Quoted in Bowie, The Anti-Access Threat, p. 3.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Angelyn Jewell, Carrier Firepower – Realising the Potential (Alexandra, Virginia: Center for Naval Analyses, 1999), p. 5.

[18] Ibid.

[19] According to the author’s calculation, at 25 knots, it would take some 52 hours to cover the     distance of about 1,300nm between Guam and the waters off eastern Taiwan, which is derived from Google Maps.

[20] Davis, Aircraft Carriers, p. 22.

[21] John Pay, “Full Circle: The U.S. Navy and its Carriers: 1974-1993,” in Seapower: Theory and     Practice, ed. Geoffrey Till (Portland: Frank Cass, 1994), p. 136.

[22] David Barno, Nora Bensahel and M. Thomas Davis, The Carrier Air Wing of the Future   (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Century), p. 8.

[23] Rebecca Maksel, “The Future of Aircraft Carriers,” Air & Space, January 15, 2015, airspacemag.com/daily-planet/future-aircraft-carriers-180953905.

[24] Lambeth, American Carrier Air Power, p.37.

[25] This was the 1994 intervention in Haiti to remove the military regime installed by the 1991 coup overthrew the elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Japan’s Izumo-class Helicopter Destroyer: An Aircraft Carrier in Disguise?

By Matthew Gamble

The Land of the Rising Sun has been quietly strengthening its military capabilities and procuring advanced equipment amid the ongoing debate over whether to amend Article 9 of the country’s constitution. Though officially called the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces (JMSDF), the Japanese Navy boasts an impressive array of hardware and if the country’s ruling party has its way with the constitution, its capability will only get stronger.

To increase the potency of the JMSDF even further, the acquisition of aircraft carriers (CVs) would be a logical next step. Yet, as CVs can best be described as seagoing airbases with significant offensive capabilities, Japan’s pacifist constitution prohibits their use in its navy. Destroyers (DDs) on the other hand rely on speed and maneuverability and are easily employed in defensive roles, criteria deemed acceptable under the Japanese Constitution. Therefore, to accommodate this unique political limitation, the Japanese have designated one of their latest vessels as a “helicopter destroyer” (DDH) but with capabilities akin to those of an aircraft carrier.

izumo-23
American Nimitz class supercarrier besides Izumo and Hyuga class vessels of the JMSDF.

Enter the vessel in question: the JS Izumo (DDH-183), commissioned on March 25th, 2015. Officially classified as a $1.2 billion “helicopter destroyer”, this warship is the largest constructed by Japan since the Second World War, and at first glance bears a striking resemblance to a light aircraft carrier. With an impressive length of 248 meters and a beam of 38 meters, the vessel is larger than short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) carriers operating in the Spanish and Italian navies. Likewise, its fully-loaded displacement of 24,000 tonnes and 7.3 meter draft put the Izumo class in a category similar to that of the Invincible class carriers commissioned by the Royal Navy. Altogether, the scale of these vessels represents a major advance in Japan’s maritime defense capabilities, significantly increasing the country’s ability to project force.

Equipped with the latest in electronic warfare, fire control, and radar systems, the Izumo class has been designed with the battlefield of the 21st century in mind. According to Janes Defense, the Izumo class will carry up to 14 helicopters- primarily Japanese-built MCH-101s and SH-60Ks equipped for anti-submarine warfare or search-and-rescue operations. For closer encounters, the Izumo is equipped with the Phalanx and SeaRam close-in weapons systems (CIWS), capable of defeating most forms of incoming ordnance.

Furthermore, the Izumo class boasts the exceptional capability of supporting amphibious assault operations as the ships have the capacity to embark up to 400 marines and approximately 50 light vehicles. However, unlike the American Wasp-class, the Izumo is not equipped with a well deck and relies on its compliment of helicopters to provide embarked marines with the ability to rapidly deploy in amphibious operations.

Izumo 1
Izumo with helicopters ready on the flight deck.

The Izumo will be supplemented by the JS Kaga (DDH-184), launched in late-August 2015 and expected to be commissioned sometime in 2017. Named after the Japanese province, the second ship of the Izumo class has the dubious honor of sharing the same designation as the infamous IJN Kaga- an aircraft carrier that took part in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and served with the Imperial Japanese Navy until scuttled at the Battle of Midway in 1942. Unsurprisingly, the choice in name has raised eyebrows given the current Kaga’s aircraft carrier-like appearance.

Though the Izumo and her sister ship Kaga lack catapults or a “ski-jump” to assist conventional fixed-wing aircraft (such as the F/A-18) during take-off and arrestor cables for their recovery, the potential for operating STOVL aircraft from these vessels is high. For instance, in addition to greater size, major alterations were made to the design of the flight deck from Japan’s previous Hyuga class of helicopter destroyers. The new Izumos remove obstacles from the flight deck and rearrange equipment that would prevent the launch and recovery of fixed-wing aircraft. The CIWS system mounted on the foredeck of the Hyuga class has been moved well to the side, opening up the much needed space necessary for fixed-wing operations. Moreover, the aft vertical launch silo has also been removed, allowing for greater ease of aircraft recovery. By and large, changes such as these are critical for allowing the vessel to operate fixed-wing aircraft.

Should Japanese leaders decide to include a compliment of fixed-wing aircraft on the Izumo class, STOVL or vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft would be necessary as the ship’s basic design lacks the size of catapult assisted take-off barrier arrested recovery (CATOBAR) carriers. Though currently slated to be delivered to the country’s air force, domestic production of the Lockheed-Martin F-35A JSF is already underway in Nagoya. It is unclear, however, whether Japan will produce or purchase the F-35B- the model of the JSF with the STOVL capability necessary for the aircraft to operate from any Izumo class vessel.

f35-night-landing-19
A F-35B practices vertical take off and landing.

To accommodate the JSF, a few key modifications to the class would be necessary. Thermion coating, like that used on the Wasp class, would need to be applied to protect it from the extreme heat created by the F-35’s exhaust during vertical landing. Second, a ski-jump similar to those employed on most European carriers would likely be needed to assist the JSF during take-off, though this is not an absolute necessity as preliminary testing on the Wasp class has demonstrated. Moreover, since Japan has ordered the V-22 Osprey, its addition to the ship’s complement is likely. Should a complement of F-35’s and V-22’s be added to the Izumo and Kaga, Japan would boast an increased maritime strike capability, signaling Japan’s increasing military power to its rivals.

Overall, the capabilities of the new Izumo class “helicopter destroyers” represent a step up for the JMSDF. Though in their current configuration the vessels are not capable of fielding conventional fixed-wing aircraft, with minor adjustments and a compliment of STOVL aircraft, the Izumo class would boast similar capabilities to light aircraft carriers currently serving around the world.

Given this potential, simply calling these ships “helicopter destroyers” could be construed as misleading, or even deceptive. Therefore, we can surmise that the classification is largely for political purposes, as the inherently offensive capability of aircraft carriers would run counter to the values espoused in Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Whether the JMSDF decides to further develop the capability of these ships has yet to be seen; however, the potential is there and serves as a warning to China and the DPRK that Japan is indeed a maritime power to be reckoned with.

Matthew Gamble is an International Relations student at St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. His interests primarily focus on the foreign policy of Eurasian states, and new developments in warfighting capability.