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Japan Launches Carrier…Sorta

by Ward Carroll on August 28, 2007

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The Japanese Navy — officially the Maritime Self-Defense Force — has launched an aircraft carrier. At least the Hyuga, launched at Yokohama on August 23, looks like an aircraft carrier — she has a flush flight deck and a large, starboard-side island structure. But the Hyuga is a relatively small ship as carriers go, with a standard displacement of 13,500 (metric) tonnes and will displace 18,000 tonnes full load. That is about the size of the planned U.S. destroyers of the Zumwalt (DDG 1000) class.

The Hyuga is classified as a helicopter-carrying destroyer (DDH 181) by the Japanese. She will carry an Aegis-type air defense system, with the U.S.-developed AN/SPY-1 multi-function radar; her principal weapons armament will be 64 advanced ESSM-type Sparrow missiles. She will also be fitted with two 20-mm Phalanx Gatling guns for close-in defense against anti-ship missiles, and she will have six tubes for anti-submarine torpedoes.
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(EDITOR: Thanks to DT reader “Camp” for links to Hyuga pics…)

More significant from an aviation viewpoint, the Hyuga will normally operate three SH-60J Blackhawk-type anti-submarine helicopters and one MH-53E Super Stallion multi-purpose helicopter. Reportedly, the ships hangar can accommodate 11 of the smaller aircraft.

Ironically, the U.S. Navy briefly, and mostly at congressional insistence, looked at similar aircraft-carrying destroyer designs in the 1970s. Based on the U.S. Spruance (DD 963) design, such ships could have operated Harrier VSTOL aircraft as well as helicopters on a modified destroyer hull. (Congress voted funding for two such ships, but instead the Navy simply built another conventional destroyer.)

The Hyuga, the largest warship constructed in Japan since World War II, is considered by some observers to be the first step toward the development of a large aircraft carrier. Japans constitution, imposed by the United States after World War II, permits Japanese to have only self-defense forces. Many Japanese, recalling the effectiveness of Japanese aircraft carriers in China in the 1930s and against U.S. forces in the Pacific in the early stages of World War II, consider carriers to be offensive weapons.

Japan was a leader in carrier development in the 1930s and early 1940 with their short-lived carrier Shinano, which was converted during construction from a battleship. It was the worlds largest carrier to be built prior to the USS Forrestal (CVA 59), completed in 1955.

The overwhelming dependence of Japan on oil from the Middle East, with tankers having to transit long ocean distances, and the increasing Japanese political-economic involvement in the Middle East and Africa, has led many Japanese leaders to look at the utility of naval forces in a new light.

In this context, the innovative design of the Hyuga raises the question: Whats next?

Norman Polmar

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