According to several sources, Japan is gearing up to deploy its largest warship to the South China Sea for a three-month naval show of force, the biggest since World War II.
China claims almost all of the disputed waters and its growing military presence has fueled concern in Japan, as well as in the West, with the United States holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.
Commissioned two years ago, the Izumo helicopter carrier, will make ports-of-call in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, before joining the joint naval exercise known as Malabar with Indian and United States ships in July.
The Izumo will return to her homeport in August.
“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” said one of the sources who has knowledge of the plan. “It will train with the United State Navy in the South China Sea,” he added, asking to remain anonymous.
A spokesperson for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) declined to comment.
The 816 foot-long Izumo is as large as Japan’s World War II-era carriers and can operate up to nine helicopters. It resembles the amphibious assault carriers used by the United States Marines, but lacks their well dock for launching landing craft and other vessels.
Japan in recent years, particularly under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist constitution. It has designated the Izumo as a destroyer because the constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons. The vessel, nonetheless, allows Japan to project military power beyond its territory.
Based in Yokosuka, near to Tokyo, which is also home to the United States’ Seventh Fleet carrier, the USS RONALD REAGAN, the Izumo’s primary mission is anti-submarine warfare.