U.S. deploys more advanced aircraft carrier to boost ties with Japan

By Tim Kelly

By Tim Kelly

YOKOSUKA, Japan (Reuters) - One of the U.S. Navy's most advanced aircraft carriers docked in Japan on Thursday at the start of a deployment that will strengthen the capability of the Seventh Fleet in Asia and boost ties between the United States and its closest regional ally.

With a crew of 5,000 sailors and a compliment of around 80 aircraft, USS Ronald Reagan is equipped with the latest targeting and defense radars, integrated weapons systems and command and communications technology.

The USS Ronald Reagan's deployment marks an upgrade, as the USS George Washington, the carrier it has replaced in Japan, had less advanced systems and technology.

"Just like a new car we have the latest and greatest, we have GPS, we have the back up mirror so we can see what is behind us," Captain Chris Bolt, the carrier's commander, told a separate press briefing on the dock at Yokosuka naval base.

"We have some tremendous command and control capabilities."

In a tilt towards Asia, the United States is rebalancing its forces, deploying 60 percent of its navy to the region, including its most advanced vessels.

Last month, in a retreat from 70 years of state pacifism, Japanese lawmakers approved legislation that would enable Japan's military to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pursuing a doctrine of collective self defense with allies meant to give his nation a bigger role in regional security in order to counterbalance the military power of an increasingly assertive China.

The changes enacted last month are expected to lead to enhanced cooperation between the Japanese and U.S navies.

"We have many, many exercises that we do, we are very inter-operable because of our equipment and our training. So, we think that these new measures will deepen that, will strengthen that, and will make us better together," Ray Mabus, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, told a press briefing in Yokohama.

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)