Tag Archives: JMSDF

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.

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.

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.

A Bill Too Far? Japan’s Security Legislation and East Asian Security Dynamics

By Justin Chock

Recently, Japan’s parliament approved a set of historic bills: Japan is no longer limited to only defending its own military hardware, and is now able to use its Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) to assist its allies whether through military action or logistical support. The original restriction stems from Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, stating that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” These bills now reinterpret that passage.

The first bill, as explained by the Japan Times, amends ten laws, and includes lifting the previous restrictions on the JSDF’s collective self-defense capability (the ability to defend an ally under attack rather than one’s own units). Collective self-defense will be limited to three conditions however: Japan, or a close ally, must be attacked with a result threatening Japan’s survival and posing a clear danger to people; force must be the only appropriate means available to repel the attack; and the force is the necessary minimum to negate the aforementioned threat.

The second bill is a permanent law that allows Japan to deploy the JSDF overseas to support UN-authorized military operations by providing logistic support (which Japan previously conducted with the US).

But now that the long-anticipated bills are through, how does this change the strategic calculus in East Asia? Will the maritime territorial disputes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands or the South China Sea ignite over a stronger, more capable Japan?

I argue that while the bills strengthen Japan’s alliances, especially the US-Japan Alliance, this change will not lead to conflict as the bill’s opponents suggest.

From Renouncing War to Proactive Peace

A brief look at the history of Japan’s pacifist constitution is in order for understanding these recent developments. During the US occupation of Japan following World War II, America held two complimentary worries in East Asia: a remilitarized Japan and the onset of the cold war, including a stronger Soviet Union and the increasingly popular Japanese Socialist Party. The solution to both concerns was to maintain an American foothold in Japan as was the same in Germany.

But the US presence was in many ways, like the European case, invited; both General MacArthur and the newly appointed Prime Minister, Kujiro Shidehara, agreed that the introduction of the Article 9 peace clause to Japan’s new constitution would be to the benefit of all (although the originator of the idea is still under dispute). Japanese foreign policy soon adapted to Article 9, as seen by Japan’s newly elected government under Prime Minster Shigeru Yoshida. His “Yoshida Doctrine” relied on the US for security while Japan focused on its economy, and subsequent administrations did not stray far from this baseline (for example, the “Fukuda Doctrine” reiterated Japan’s peaceful orientation while adding a focus on development assistance).

But the most recent framework for Japan’s foreign policy, the “Abe Doctrine,” took a dramatic shift. Under Prime Minster Abe, Japan would no longer be held back by concerns over remilitarization, and would deepen engagement with the US while globally emphasizing “value-oriented” diplomacy. Japan as a “Proactive Contributor to Peace” expanded its defense organizations in various ways during the previous few years through the second-ever update of the US-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines (since its last version in 1997), the creation of a National Security Council modeling the American version, the update of the Japan National Defense Program Guidelines, and the recent expansion of Japan’s Defense Equipment and Technology Transfer program, among many other initiatives.

But the projects named above, as expansive for Japan’s defense policy as they were, all came in 2013. Even the 2015 bills were simply a formality to an already accepted change in interpretation by the Japanese cabinet in July 2014, and as noted earlier, there are many restrictions with the bills that keep the JSDF within its typical roles. Thus Japan’s security apparatus was already significantly transformed before any voting took place in the parliament, and the bills are not in and of themselves groundbreaking when seen in the backdrop of all of the other recent changes.

The Chinese Dragon’s Puff?

Supporters in Japan often argue that the bills are necessary in light of China’s growth as an Asian power, to include its military modernization and increasingly assertive foreign policy. So as a response, will China view the Japanese bills as the beginning of a security dilemma with its neighbor and force an East Asian arms race?

The answer is “not likely.” China’s response was actually quite muted. The Chinese government’s solemn but simple “urge” seems beneath its regional power standing, especially when directed to a country that some don’t even rank in the Top 5 militaries in Asia, and even more so when the US comparatively receives “strong opposition” for simply publishing a routine, annual report on China’s Military and Security developments.

But China’s restrained statement supports the idea that, despite anti-Japanese nationalistic protests and extravagant military parades commemorating WWII (read: “War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression”), China’s focus isn’t Japan. If anything, the US and its Southeast Asian partners like the Philippines are China’s true focus with artificial island building in the South China Sea and ships sailing within 12 nautical miles of the US coast in Alaska.

So if China isn’t overly concerned with these bills nor with Japan itself, what do they, if anything, mean for Asia-Pacific security?

Shifting Security Tides?

First, the bills seem to make few changes to the JSDF’s defensive orientation. As noted earlier, the reinterpretation has already been in effect for a year, and although much has happened since July 2014, the JSDF’s operations have remained fairly routine. With the bills, the options for military action increase, but the probability of their implementation remains quite low and only toward the higher-end of the spectrum of conflict. Fears of a remilitarized Japan that stem from the post-WWII era seem similarly unlikely at this point, and a Sino-Japanese arms race seems similarly unlikely given China’s minimal response.

Second however, Japan’s international involvement will become increasingly global in nature in the “proactive” way that Abe hopes. The legal opening to participate in UN operations will allow Japan to send troops to a wider expanse of the globe as a part of these peacekeeping missions. Similarly, seeing the bills as strength for the US-Japan alliance could lead decision makers to begin the proposed joint patrols in the South China Sea, a move to China’s dismay. Japan playing a larger military role in the Asia-Pacific would, in theory, provide a counterweight to recent increases in Chinese military power (although perhaps the upcoming troop reduction is signaling the end of this growth), but it could just as easily create opportunities for friction that lead to an undesired crisis. The implications of a more proactive Japan are up to the future, but the idea of Japan operating in a wider expanse of the globe is quite certain.

Third, the US-Japan Alliance is receiving a legal and psychological upgrade. In addition to Japan’s new capabilities to include intercepting a missile bound for a US warship, the legislation mitigates America’s historic complaint of Japan not pulling its weight in the alliance. In addition, working alongside JSDF forces during UN operations or increased bilateral training supporting a stronger US-Japan Alliance will have a psychological effect on these countries. Trust is already increasing, as 2015 Pew polls show, “two-thirds of Americans trust Japan a great deal or a fair amount and three-quarters of Japanese say they trust the United States.” This trust will only increase as the two forces work even closer together.

Lastly, the political process for reinterpretation is somewhat worrying from a Japanese domestic legal order standpoint. The current bills still came at a substantial political cost; PM Abe’s approval rating now stands at 40 percent, with his disapproval rating at 47 percent. The bill’s disapproval rating was 54 percent (although the cause was linked to a perceived lack of explanation from the government) with only 31 percent approving, and protests outside the building further demonstrated the depth of opposition. The resulting physical “scuffle” within the parliament itself during the signing was also rare for Japanese politics. Despite all of the pushback, the bills still passed, once again demonstrating how Japan is historically adept at reinterpreting rather than amending its constitution. Technically speaking however, the constitution’s Article 96 outlines the amendment process, and requires both a two-thirds vote in the parliament and a majority vote by the public, with no such amendment ever occurring in the constitution’s history. While these current bills maintain the East Asian balance of power, future legislation may go too far; the potential still exists for a future government to reinterpret the constitution through this same process in a way that inadvertently starts a security dilemma.

Admittedly though, reinterpretations aren’t inherently bad. Reading a strict, literal interpretation of Article 9’s stipulation that “land, sea, and air forces… will never be maintained” would have rendered the JSDF unconstitutional a long time ago. Yet the reinterpretation (or rather the “self-defense” title) leading to their creation turned out to be the right decision as the JSDF continues to prove itself in numerous ways to be an incredibly beneficial force (the discussion of the JSDF itself to be saved for another day). Thus on the point of reinterpretations, the responsibility will be up to the Japanese public and government to continue striking just the right balance of force to maintain security for all.

Only time will tell whether the bills will make Abe’s “proactive contribution to peace” or create regional friction. But despite the domestic uproar in Japan over the bills’ passage, the Asia-Pacific relations as a whole looks set to proceed on its prior course.

Justin Chock is currently an MPhil in International Relations student at Oxford University. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Symmetric Warfare – The Return to Symmetry

The torpedo: enabler of an asymmetric attack….

Asymmetry is a very popular word these days and, in my estimation, one applied too frequently to too many things.  Prof. Robert Farley makes the point that asymmetric expectations lie at the foundations of decisions about all battles.  “Combatants engage because they have different expectations about likely outcomes,” he says.  But not every search for gaining advantage in battle is asymmetric.  Using all available means and conditions to throw an opponent out of balance is a core of Liddell Hart’s indirect strategy.  So perhaps returning to symmetry and conceptually focusing on symmetric warfare would help ease understanding of complex problems related to ship roles and design.

Asymmetry is a strategy of weak against strong.  One side has no chance to match its opponent in a blow-for-blow fashion, and instead uses a type of attack for which the stronger opponent has developed ineffective defenses.  This is more of a conceptual framework than anything tied to a particular weapon, and in fact the same weapon can be both asymmetric or symmetric attacks depending on its use.  Torpedoes launched by a destroyer against a battleship constitute asymmetric warfare, but launched against another destroyer screening that battleship becomes symmetric.  PLA Navy anti-access doctrine and capabilities are asymmetric versus the U.S. Navy, but the same capabilities linked to a more Mahanian concept would be symmetric versus JMSD Forces, or overwhelming versus the Vietnamese Navy.  In the last case we would witness a reversal of roles.

Asymmetry is also a transient phenomena.  Use of torpedo boats was seen by Jeune Ecole as an asymmetric strategy aimed at Britain’s Royal Navy and its commerce, but very soon the British were able to control this threat and reinstate the symmetry by creating the destroyer.  The same torpedo, supported by excellent training, was part of an Imperial Japanese Navy asymmetric strategy in night actions against the (locally) numerically superior American counterpart.  Radar soon nullified this concept, although as Capt. Wayne Hughes noted in his Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, it took some time for the U.S. Navy to grasp the concept of using the radar, in spite of the fact that it was already technically in service during the battle at Savo Island.

…and frozen yogurt surprises!

The advantage of conceptually coming back to symmetry as a guiding principle is seen in the way warships were built and designed in the past.  A battleship was supposed to carry offensive weapons able to destroy the battle fleet of an enemy.  At the same time, armor was to give it protection against similar (symmetric) opponents.  In the case of cruisers the story was different, mostly because of Washington Treaty limitations, but the last cruiser designs without such limits returned to the need to fight opponents of the same class.  For modern ships it would be much easier to think in terms of their primary mission, while taking as a rule ability to fight a similar class opponent.

Looking at a contemporary example, the LCS surface warfare mission package’s primary mission is to counter asymmetric threats, like swarm attack, but it lacks capabilities to counter a symmetric opponent like a missile corvette.  My analysis could be viewed as an oversimplification, but could nonetheless help frame part of what should be a rational discourse among people who have no chance get to grips with real-world CONOPS.  I like the way Master Chief Petty Officer Brett F. Ayer explains Offshore Patrol Cutter requirements.


Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country