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Japan’s New F35 Aircraft Carrier Kaga Draws Ire from China

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Japan’s new aircraft carrier Kaga has ruffled feathers in China and called into question the country’s commitment to a pacifist constitution. The ship’s name has previously been criticized in China since it carries the same name as an imperial vessel that destroyed Shanghai in the 1930s.

The Kega helicopter carrier was refitted to carry F-35B fighters, making it Japan’s first aircraft carrier since World War II.

Japan ‘s introduction of the modernized Kaga at Hiroshima’s Kure Naval Base represents Japan’s efforts to strengthen its maritime force. Robert Dujarric, co-director of Temple University’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies on the Tokyo campus, stressed that, while the Kaga may not significantly alter Japan’s military dynamics, the sophisticated aircraft it carries improves operational capability.

“The broader advantage it will provide is the greater ability to operate and interact with US and other forces in the region, giving Japan some of the same toys as the big boys,” he said.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Kaga, which was originally launched in 2015 as part of Japan’s Izumo class, the largest battleships built since WWII, has been refurbished for Lockheed Martin F-35B fighters at a cost of 115 billion yen (US$758 million). This signifies a departure from its original capacity of up to eight helicopters. The upgrade consists of a revised bow section and a new heat-resistant deck coating to withstand the F-35B’s engine heat during vertical takeoffs and landings.

The operational concept of deploying the Kaga as an aircraft carrier is still under consideration. Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, an assistant professor of international relations at the University of Tokyo, highlighted the logistical subtleties, considering that the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-35Bs will not be continuously stationed on the Kaga. The carrier’s strategic role, whether for sea control or assisting amphibious units, has yet to be properly defined.

Despite its sophisticated capabilities, many remain doubtful of the Kaga’s capacity to drastically alter the regional power balance, particularly in light of China’s growing aircraft carrier fleet. Hinata-Yamaguchi indicated that, while the rebuilt carrier may impede any territorial ambitions in the South China Sea or the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, China is unlikely to regard it as a significant threat.

The Kaga, along with its sister ship Izumo, enters active duty, demonstrating Japan’s commitment to strengthening its maritime defense and improving interoperability with partners.

This photograph shows a US Marine Corps F-35B taking off from the Izumo during interoperability trials in October 2021. (US Marine Corps)

This photograph shows a US Marine Corps F-35B taking off from the Izumo during interoperability trials in October 2021. Photo US Marine Corps

How will the F-35 Lightning II improve Japan’s defense capabilities?

The F-35 Lightning II, particularly in its vertical take-off form deployed aboard the newly improved Kaga aircraft carrier, considerably improves Japan’s military capability thanks to three critical advancements:

Stealth Technology:

The F-35 is well-known for its stealth characteristics, making it difficult for enemy radars to identify. This lets Japan to conduct surveillance and strikes with a lower risk of discovery from opponents, giving it a strategic edge in retaining aerial superiority.

Advanced avionics and sensors:

The F-35, equipped with cutting-edge avionics and sensor systems, can collect and disseminate important intelligence in real time. This capacity provides Japan’s Self-Defense Forces with comprehensive battlefield information, allowing them to make informed decisions and plan strategically.

Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL):

The F-35B variant’s VTOL capabilities allows operations from a number of platforms, including the Kaga, without the use of regular runways. This flexibility enables rapid deployment and repositioning of airpower in response to threats, improving Japan’s capacity to protect its maritime interests and defend its territory.

Interoperability among allies:

The F-35’s incorporation into Japan’s military improves interoperability with major allies, particularly the United States, which also operates the F-35. This commonality enables seamless cooperative operations and boosts the region’s collective defense capabilities.

JS Kumano (FFM-2) launch on Nov. 19, 2018. JMSDF Photo

Japan Navy launches the JS Kumano (FFM-2) on Nov. 19, 2018. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force JMSDF Photo

Japan avoids discussing its naval capabilities due to its historical sensitivity to offensive powers following its defeat in World War II. This is defined in Article 9 of the post-war constitution. However, as an island nation and naval power, it has been able to create a modern version of a large gun fleet, albeit for defensive purposes.

However, over the last two decades, China’s emergence as a global power and North Korea’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear missiles have posed a dual threat to the island nation.

Japan has recently prioritized the development of unmanned systems to improve the fleet’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. The Japanese Ministry of Defence is likewise considering expanding its firepower, with plans for new underwater-launched cruise missiles based on VLS for its submarines.

In July 2021, ATLA announced plans for a new fleet of 12 next-generation Offshore Patrol Vessels. The ships will initially displace up to 2,000 tons, operate with a small crew, and have a huge sensor payload for a specialist surveillance mission.

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The CTNNews editorial team comprises seasoned journalists and writers dedicated to delivering accurate, timely news coverage. They possess a deep understanding of current events, ensuring insightful analysis. With their expertise, the team crafts compelling stories that resonate with readers, keeping them informed on global happenings.

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