Japan's Izumo class helicopter carrier will be sent on an unprecedented three month long patrol the the tumultuous South China Sea. The Izumo will call on ports in Singapore, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia ahead of joining the large scale "Malabar" international naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. These exercises usually include India and the US as primary players. With the addition of Japan's helicopter carrier and its escorts, the exercise could see carriers from the three most powerful navies in the region, aside from China, working together in joint drills—a revelation that is sure to perturb Beijing. Yet it was the People's Liberation Army Navy that sent its own carrier to the region on a similar operational proof of concept and show of force cruise just three months ago.
The Izumo is 814 feet long and displaces 27,000 tons. Although Japan likes to downplay its capabilities, even calling it a "helicopter destroyer" instead of a helicopter carrier, the ship can theoretically deploy dozens of helicopters far from Japanese shores. These include anti-submarine, utility, and attack helicopter variants, of which Japan has some of the most capable models around, including Merlins, Black Hawks and Chinooks, as well as Cobras and Apaches. Even if the massive helicopter carrier just focuses its mission on anti-submarine warfare, it would pose an increased threat to China's highly-active submarine operations in the region.
Although Japan doesn't have any claims over the South China Sea, it has its own separate maritime squabbles with China and the one surrounding the Senkaku Islands has gotten especially tense in recent years. Both issues—China's claims on the South China Sea and the Senkaku islands—will likely come up next month when Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with President Trump for the first at Trump's Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
For post WWII Japan, whose constitution limits itself from procuring and deploying "offensive weaponry," the massive Izumo, as well as her sister-ship Kaga that will be commissioned very soon, are another reminder of Japan's changing geopolitical and military role in the eastern hemisphere and beyond.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com