Meet the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF) newest and largest member, the Izumo (DDH-183). With its 248-meter flight deck and 27,000-ton displacement, the new helicopter destroyer – capable of carrying up to 14 helicopters – dwarfs its 197-meter Hyuga-class cousins (the Hyuga, commissioned in 2009 and its sister ship Ise, which entered service in 2011).
As with Japan’s two other helicopter destroyers, the Izumo does not have fighter-launching catapults and is unable to support fixed-wing aircraft. Even so, eventual conversion of any of Japan’s three helicopter destroyers is not out of the question. Given the constraints of their design (such as small elevators and hangars), the conversion of the two older ships would be more difficult, while the Izumo’s larger dimensions could eventually accommodate aircraft such as the F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the new fifth-generation fighter.
The launch is sure to cause concern in China, which remains embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The islands are administered by Japan, but claimed by both sides. Although Tokyo has been careful to include tasks such as the transport of personnel and supplies in response to natural disasters high on the list of the new ship’s priorities, the destroyer presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF. Crucially, it helps Tokyo keep pace with – or indeed, stay ahead of – China’s own rapidly growing navy. All recent and forthcoming changes to Japan’s defense policy aside, keeping pace with Beijing has proven a challenge as the country continues to feel the squeeze of its frail economy and the limits of its 1%-of-GDP defense spending cap. Even so, the Izumo may provide renewed impetus for those who believe that East Asia is already knee-deep in an arms race, as well as those who believe that Japan is emerging from its long pacifist slumber.
At the time of writing, an official reaction from Beijing has yet to be made, but it will be interesting to read in light of the still-fresh images of China’s second aircraft carrier under construction. Whatever the official line may be, the symbolism of choosing 6 August – the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 – to unveil Japan’s largest post-WWII ‘aircraft carrier’ is sure not to go unnoticed in Beijing.
Below is a comparison of the ship with the Ise in a photograph taken by the author in Kure in March this year.
Despite their different angles, both photographs hopefully provide a decent overview of the two ships and offer sharp eyes enough material for comparison. Even from this distance, the difference in size is apparent. Any insightful observations from our readers are welcome in the comments below.
Miha Hribernik is Research Coordinator at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels and an analyst at the geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
Given the recent tendency of many Japan watchers to focus on some of the more eyebrow-raising news from Japan – ranging from predictions of an ‘Abegeddon’ through possible constitutional changes to historical revisionism – it may be timely to shed light on one particular Japanese multilateral initiative that has seen increasing international interest. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) is the world’s first regional intergovernmental body designed to combat piracy and armed robbery (PAR) against ships. ReCAAP was born out of the Asia Anti-Piracy Challenge Conference held in Tokyo in 2000, which followed in the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the resulting spike in PAR incidents.
A concrete initiative to establish such a body was made by Prime Minister Koizumi during an ASEAN+3 Summit in 2001, and the ReCAAP Agreement was drafted by 16 Asian countries in 2004. It entered into force in September 2006, followed in November by the establishment of an Information Sharing Centre (ISC). This Singapore-based ISC serves as a hub for information exchange on PAR incidents between all contracting states. At present, ReCAAP has 18 such contracting parties, including four from Europe (Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK). As the first framework of its kind, the ReCAAP model has enjoyed significant success and served as a model for the creation of the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC), and is now in the early stages of forming the basis for a similar information sharing mechanism in the Gulf of Guinea.
According to the latest available figures, the number of reported piracy and armed robbery attacks against ships in Asia – most of which occur in the waters, ports and harbors of Southeast Asia – continued to decline over the course of the first five months of 2013. This year thus continues the positive trend from 2011 and 2012 when the number of incidents began to decrease for the first time since their surge in 2009. Although not the only factor to contribute to the decrease, facilitating information sharing has proven invaluable in a region crisscrossed with maritime boundaries, exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and ongoing territorial disputes. Detailing ReCAAP’s information sharing and incident reporting procedure would be beyond the scope of this post, although some of its intricacies may well be addressed in more detail in a separate piece in the future. Until then, a general overview of the reporting procedure can be found here (appendix, page 26).
Despite its relatively modest funding (all of ReCAAP’s funds are obtained through voluntary donations by contracting parties), which will amount to approximately 2.2 million USD in the fiscal year 2013, ReCAAP’s three principal tasks – information sharing, capacity building and cooperative arrangements between contracting parties – have made a tangible contribution towards reversing the rising trend in PAR incidents in the region.
After having authored a paper on PAR in Southeast Asia and the role of ReCAAP back in March, I was glad to have the opportunity to welcome a delegation from the ReCAAP ISC at a round table organized by the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels on 21 June. Their visit coincided with a period of increased international interest in the Agreement and its work, as Australia is set to become the 19th contracting party this August. France and the U.S. have also expressed an interest in joining, which would increase ReCAAP’s membership to 21 and expand the range of its information sharing network from Asia into the Pacific proper. Finally, as the EU contemplates becoming a partner organization over the coming years, the role of Europe within the framework will increase even further.
As its information-sharing model sees increasing adoption in other PAR ‘hotspots’ across the globe, ReCAAP will continue to attest to the capability of Japan to engage with its neighbors in multilateral fora (both China and South Korea are contracting parties) and shape pan-Asian initiatives. With some of the recent changes in the country’s political-security milieu putting its neighbors on edge, perhaps the time is right for Japan to reaffirm this capability. The 2001 ‘Koizumi initiative’ was a success; has the time come for an ‘Abe initiative’? It could build on ReCAAP’s success or outline a new multilateral framework that would help safeguard the global commons, be it in the maritime, cyber, air or space domain. Crucially, such an initiative could assure the participation of Japan’s neighbors while giving Tokyo’s soft power a welcome boost in the process.
CNO’s 30-Year Shipbuilding Strategy Reflects Lessons of his Favorite Book
Armchair Admirals and defense analysts alike lit up the blogosphere when President Obama first announced the strategic “Pivot” from Mid-East counterinsurgency operations to the Pacific, with visions of Surface Action Groups, Carrier Battle Groups, and Amphibious Task Forces the like of which haven’t been seen since former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman’s 600 Ship Navy. Alas, the CNO’s vision of that Pivot leaves many feeling like the victims of a Jedi Mind Trick: “This isn’t the Fleet you’re looking for.”
Afloat Forward Staging Bases (AFSBs), Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSVs), Mobile Logistics Platforms (MLPs), and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) will never be mistaken for surface combatants; however, they represent the product of a refined understanding of what wars we are likely to fight in the future, and a “sabermetric analysis” of what it takes to win the peace in the Pacific—presence, lift, and command and control (C2). While facing significant fiscal constraint, by focusing acquisitions on affordable platforms capable of persistent presence in uncontested waters and afloat forward basing of expeditionary / special operations forces, Admiral Greenert is on the cusp of successfully employing strategic Moneyball in his 30-year shipbuilding plan.
According to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, the purpose of the Pivot is:
“…strengthening alliances; deepening partnerships with emerging powers; building a stable, productive, and constructive relationship with China; empowering regional institutions; and helping to build a regional economic architecture that can sustain shared prosperity.”
Key to achieving these strategic aims is regional stability—a stability that can only be maintained with the confidence of regional power brokers that the status quo is acceptable and not threatened. The U.S. supports freedom of navigation and defense of its allies against rogue actors such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) through deployment of conventional naval forces such as Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)-cruisers and destroyers. However, these ships do not provide an optimal platform for two of our largest mission sets in strengthening alliances and partnerships: Theater Security Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response (HA/DR). Relatively low-cost, an ability to embark disparate and substantive payloads, and a capability to access littoral waters make JHSV, MLP, and LCS the optimal platforms for these missions.
In his recent book, Invisible Armies, Max Boot notes that the most prolific type of war throughout history is the insurgency. Indeed, the last true state vs state war took place over the course of a few weeks in 2008 between Georgia and the Russian Federation, while formal insurgencies continue on every continent save Antarctica and Australia. Since 1945 and the information/media revolutions, insurgent victory rates have increased from 29% to 40% (with caveats). As the ability to access and broadcast information increases and fractures to different mediums, Boot hypothesizes that insurgent success rates will continue to grow; with it, insurgencies will proliferate. The United States has spent the past decade refining our doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) to successfully implement counterinsurgency. Having sacrificed this capability and capacity many times in the past to refocus on building large, conventional forces to engage in rare conventional combat, the Department of Defense has the chance to make a historic deviation and retain some of that urgently needed competence. Bottom line: insurgencies aren’t going away anytime soon, and neither should naval ability to support counterinsurgency operations.
There exists a myth of “credible presence” in some corners of naval strategy. This myth devalues the “sabermetrics” of presence, lift, and C2 for more traditional metrics of large-caliber guns, vertical launch cells, and radar dB. Purveyors of the myth believe that absent a Mahanian armada capable of intimidating the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) to never leave their inshore territorial waters, our presence operations aren’t ultimately successful. The myth operates under the false portrayal of the People’s Republic of China as a monolith, the same fallacy with regards some of our recent adversaries—Ba’athists, Islamists, and Communists. The PRC and the U.S. conduct over $500 billion in trade annually, much of that through PLA and PLA(N) companies that would stand to lose their financial backing should a shooting war break out between the U.S. and PRC—an undesirable outcome despite the testy rhetoric of select PLA generals and colonels. The question is not how to win a war with the PRC—I am confident that we can do that, albeit painfully. The question that should drive our acquisitions in the Pivot is “how do we win the peace?”
The capability and capacity of JHSVs, MLPs, and LCSs to successfully conduct afloat forward staging and presence operations has been demonstrated by their respective ship class predecessors both operationally (Philippines, Africa Partnership Station, Southern Partnership Station, Somalia) and in exercises (Bold Alligator, Cobra Cold). By focusing acquisitions on these platforms, we stand a greater chance of building on both our presence and afloat forward-staging capability/capacity. While the Air-Sea Battle and its high-end carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious task forces is an essential strategy to deter armed aggression by China, the CNO is playing Moneyball to win the peace at a bargain price. Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the OPNAV Staff and a graduate student of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed by this author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Expeditionary Warfare Division, the Naval War College, or the United States Navy
The conflict over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea illustrates a number of issues in the Asia-Pacific region. The People’s Republic of China’s expansive maritime claims is the granddaddy, but there are a number of contributing elements – from the challenges of deep-sea resource exploration to the region’s political relationships. The week before Christmas the Center for National Policy hosted a discussion at their headquarters about a recent Scholars Delegation that took “next generation policy experts and decision makers” to Taipei to meet with officials from the Republic of China, known to most of us as Taiwan. The delegation met with officials who were generally aligned with the current ruling party in Taiwan, the Kuomintang (or KMT). The panel discussion in Washington illuminated the fact that the political relationships in Asia aren’t a simple challenge defined by “alliances” and treaties. Instead, there are cultural and ethnic seams that cut through these relationships based in centuries of history, and encompassing domestic and international politics alike. The President of Taiwan has put forward a peace proposal for the conflict in the East China Sea, setting aside the question of sovereignty and instead focusing on how to share the economic benefits of resource exploitation in and around the islands. Many analysts have indicated that the plan is more of an effort to kick the can than anything else. CIMSEC friend Dr. James Holmes instead has written that “It amounts to hoping that rational calculations of economic self-interest will overrule equally elemental imperatives such as fear of future aggression or the thirst for honor and prestige.” The proposal raises a question: Why is the leadership of Taiwan trying to avoid the question sovereignty? The discussion at CNP helped shed some light on the answer, and it is likely because of those cultural and ethnic seams and centuries of history.
In their comments during the panel discussion, both Dr. Jacqueline Deal and Michael Breen noted that the KMT embodies a strategic paradox that is driving a confused policy for the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The KMT, the party once led by Chiang Kai-shek, believes that the Republic of China (ROC) is the rightful government of all of China, both Taiwan and the mainland. According to their political platform reunification is a given once the People’s Republic of China (PRC) becomes democratic. Because the KMT sees themselves and the ROC as Chinese, not Taiwanese, the foundation of their policy toward the Senkaku/Diauyo is exactly the same as the PRC: the Diaoyu belong to “China.”
This belief creates a strategy/policy disconnect for the KMT. Strategic-level decision making becomes difficult because the party’s fundamental political belief can be at odds with the things that will help ensure the economic, political, and military security of the island of Taiwan. Japan is likely the ROC’s strongest ally in the region, yet on the Senkaku/Diauyo the ROC rhetoric makes it appear that they are siding with the PRC. Their fishing fleets have engaged in some unconventional tactics with the Japanese Coast Guard, similar to the work of the PRC’s maritime assets. This likely strengthens the fact that the PRC prefers the “anti-PRC” KMT over the “liberal” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which believes in Taiwanese independence. Is it any wonder that President Ma Ying-jeou wants to try and avoid the sovereignty issue? Japan has elected a new conservative government with military expansion on their agenda. The PRC has initiated maritime aviation patrols of the islands. Neither side appears willing to set aside the fundamental sovereignty question in the conflict.
There is a large Chinese diaspora all over the world, from the islands of Southeast Asia to the streets of Panama City to Chinatowns of most major U.S. cities. An audience member at the CNP panel reminded the gathering that there is a strong belief in all these places that the Diaoyu are “Chinese” – the political system that controls them is irrelevant. The history of the Pacific and the military and political conflicts between the Chinese, Japanese, and the states of Southeast Asia go back centuries. These cultural realities make the Pacific a complex place. If the U.S. military thinks that trading the tribal cultures of Southwest Asia for the centuries of history in East Asia will make things simpler, it needs to rethink things. Will hoping for modern ideals and economics to overwhelm centuries of culture and history work any better in Pacific waters than it did in Middle Eastern sands?
The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters. Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.