Japan Commissions 1st Helicopter Carrier
YOKOHAMA — Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force commissioned its largest helicopter-carrying destroyer, with a 195-meter full-length flight deck, on Wednesday amid concerns about its resemblance to a light aircraft carrier.
One of the largest vessels ever built for Japan’s MSDF, the 13,950-ton Hyuga can carry up to 11 helicopters aboard by using the deck and the hanger deck beneath it.
The Hyuga also enables up to four helicopters, such as SH-60K antisubmarine helicopters, to take off and land almost simultaneously.
The government has taken the position that Japan cannot possess an offensive aircraft carrier due to its war-renouncing Constitution. The MSDF denies that the Hyuga is an aircraft carrier, saying the vessel does not have offensive capabilities like attack aircraft.
At a ceremony at IHI Marine United Inc.’s shipyard in Yokohama, Parliamentary Defense Secretary Ryota Takeda handed the MSDF’s rising sun ensign to the skipper, Capt. Katsunori Yamada, to hoist on the destroyer.
”I recognize that people’s expectations for the Hyuga are high,” Yamada told reporters after the event, saying his crew would try to live up to them so that the ship can be up to fighting strength soon.
With its sophisticated command, control and communications system, the Hyuga will serve as the nerve center for operations ranging from antisubmarine warfare to anti-disaster efforts at home and abroad, and for rescuing Japanese nationals overseas, the MSDF said.
Among the Hyuga’s roughly 340 crew members are 17 women — two officers and 15 sailors — who have become the first servicewomen on board a destroyer since the Self-Defense Forces were established in 1954. Their presence on a destroyer reflects the MSDF’s effort to expand the role of women in the force to make up for the chronic personnel shortage.
The flattop replaces the old 4,950-ton destroyer Haruna. The second Hyuga-class destroyer is to be commissioned in March 2011 to replace a similar destroyer.
Despite its look and feel of a light aircraft carrier, MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Keiji Akahoshi said Tuesday at a news conference, ”An aircraft carrier, I believe, has a fair degree of offensive functions. Based on that definition, this Hyuga falls a little bit outside of the frame.”
The acquisition of a destroyer that could project the force far beyond Japan’s coast, however, raises concerns in some quarters, with some experts fearing it could spur rivalry with countries like China, which is rumored to be building an aircraft carrier of its own.
Japan denies itself offensive capabilities under its pacifist Constitution, but the government interprets the supreme law to mean that it can possess the minimum level of armed force necessary for its self-defense.