Key point: No matter what Toyko calls them, having ships with flat tops and F-35 fighters means Japan has carriers once again.
Meet the Izumo—the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force’s largest ship, displacing a gargantuan twenty seven thousand tons. The vessel’s lengthy, flat deck measures the length of two-and-a-half football fields at 248-meters. The Izumo typically hosts seven SH-60K helicopters designed to comb the seas for hostile submarines, plus another two search-and-rescue models—though it can carry as many as twenty-eight choppers if necessary. The Izumo also has several elevators to lower the helicopters to an internal hangar deck.
But by no means call the Izumo an aircraft carrier. She, and her sister ship the Kaga, commissioned in 2017, are “helicopter destroyers.”
This distinction is especially dubious because unlike the predecessor of the Izumo-class, the Hyūga-class, which was armed with torpedoes and medium-range anti-aircraft and anti-submarine missiles, the Izumo does not carry any longer-range weapon systems to perform regular “destroyer” roles. Its only armament is a couple short-range Phalanx and SeaRAM self-defense systems designed to shoot down incoming missiles seconds before they impact.
Yet the distinction remains because—at least until recently—the consensus in Tokyo was that “carriers” are offensive weapon systems, and offensive weapons are forbidden to Japan’s Self-Defense Forces by Article 9 of its constitution.
Though the distinction between “offensive” and “defensive” weapon systems is arguably a bit arbitrary—aggressive powers still need to defend themselves, defensive powers may want offensive weapons for deterrence or counterattack—there’s no denying that carriers can and have been used as floating airbases to wage offensive wars on foreign countries.