Japan Launches Carrier…Sorta


The Japanese Navy — officially the Maritime Self-Defense Force — has launched an aircraft carrier. At least the Hyuga, launched at Yokohama on August 23, looks like an aircraft carrier — she has a flush flight deck and a large, starboard-side island structure. But the Hyuga is a relatively small ship as carriers go, with a standard displacement of 13,500 (metric) tonnes and will displace 18,000 tonnes full load. That is about the size of the planned U.S. destroyers of the Zumwalt (DDG 1000) class.

The Hyuga is classified as a helicopter-carrying destroyer (DDH 181) by the Japanese. She will carry an Aegis-type air defense system, with the U.S.-developed AN/SPY-1 multi-function radar; her principal weapons armament will be 64 advanced ESSM-type Sparrow missiles. She will also be fitted with two 20-mm Phalanx Gatling guns for close-in defense against anti-ship missiles, and she will have six tubes for anti-submarine torpedoes.

(EDITOR: Thanks to DT reader “Camp” for links to Hyuga pics…)

More significant from an aviation viewpoint, the Hyuga will normally operate three SH-60J Blackhawk-type anti-submarine helicopters and one MH-53E Super Stallion multi-purpose helicopter. Reportedly, the ships hangar can accommodate 11 of the smaller aircraft.

Ironically, the U.S. Navy briefly, and mostly at congressional insistence, looked at similar aircraft-carrying destroyer designs in the 1970s. Based on the U.S. Spruance (DD 963) design, such ships could have operated Harrier VSTOL aircraft as well as helicopters on a modified destroyer hull. (Congress voted funding for two such ships, but instead the Navy simply built another conventional destroyer.)

The Hyuga, the largest warship constructed in Japan since World War II, is considered by some observers to be the first step toward the development of a large aircraft carrier. Japans constitution, imposed by the United States after World War II, permits Japanese to have only self-defense forces. Many Japanese, recalling the effectiveness of Japanese aircraft carriers in China in the 1930s and against U.S. forces in the Pacific in the early stages of World War II, consider carriers to be offensive weapons.

Japan was a leader in carrier development in the 1930s and early 1940 with their short-lived carrier Shinano, which was converted during construction from a battleship. It was the worlds largest carrier to be built prior to the USS Forrestal (CVA 59), completed in 1955.

The overwhelming dependence of Japan on oil from the Middle East, with tankers having to transit long ocean distances, and the increasing Japanese political-economic involvement in the Middle East and Africa, has led many Japanese leaders to look at the utility of naval forces in a new light.

In this context, the innovative design of the Hyuga raises the question: Whats next?

Norman Polmar

  • Camp
  • Rob Farley

    I would probably say that the Taiho, rather than the Shinano, represented the zenith of Japanese carrier design. Shinano was very large, but was considered a carrier support vessel rather than a true carrier (she had numerous machine shops, supplies, and other capabilities necessary to the operation of a carrier force), and carried very few aircraft for her size.
    Like Shinano, Taiho was sunk by a US sub.

  • ajay

    That displacement isn’t far off an Invincible-class carrier – which were originally described as “through-deck cruisers” for political reasons as well…

  • ohwilleke

    It sounds like the right ship for Japan’s needs.
    ASW is a crucial need for Japan, since North Korea and China, its biggest likey adversaries, both have large submarine fleets that could be a threat to Japan’s import dependent economy in large areas of the West Pacific and the East China Sea. This ship would pack a lot of ASW punch using the same basic platforms that the American Navy plans to use (but more concentrated), now that the U.S. Navy has abandoned an ASW role for the S-3, and not yet gotten a P-3 successor ASW platform up and running. If Japan begged, borrowed or stole a few Harriers or F-35Bs in the future, it could even have a forward platform for a small strike mission against say, North Korean nuclear sites.
    Jet fighters have more range than helicopters, particularly if there aren’t on ASW missions that may require them to patrol back and forth around are particular suspected threat region. Japan’s fighters, with tanker assistance, at least, can go anywhere it needs them to go for its military objectives. Japan, unlike the U.S. has no ambitions to project military force to Latin America, North America, Africa, Europe or South Asia, and why should it use its resources to keep the oil flowing out of the Arabian Pennisula when the European and American militaries are more than happy to oblige on that point. Even it did want to use its military abroad it would probably be in the expatriate evacuation role traditionally served by the U.S. Marine Corps in the third world which this ship is also well suited to carrying out. If you don’t need to project power over great distances you don’t need a true CV class aircraft carrier.

  • mike

    my goodness, that “Son Of Zero” sure is a nice-looking piece of airplane, especially in profile…
    camp posted:
    This reminds me of Japans Mitsubishi ‘Stealth Fighter’ being developed.

  • Brian

    Japan and aircraft carriers, bad combo! Long live the Imperial Navy!

  • Flea

    Ironically, the U.S. Navy briefly, and mostly at congressional insistence, looked at similar aircraft-carrying destroyer designs in the 1970s.
    Forgive me if I am being dense: In what way is this ironic?

  • Mike C,

    The irony in it is the fact that the very same design the Japanese just built for “self defense” the United States had previously considered using a similar design for offense. The Japanese say it will only be for helicopters when the reality is it can easily be converted to house small aircrafts, thus going from a defensive role to an offensive one. You know what they say, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

  • Pat Hickey

    Hyuga – Ain’t that the sound a Sub Makes before it goes nose over?

  • navbb62

    Japan and carriers, hmmmmmmmmmm, where have I heard that before.

  • Black Lion


  • supergrunt

    Irony…sooner or later the Hyuga will make a port call to Hawaii. Just picture a Japanese carrier flying her full colors, docked in Pearl Harbor

    • 0pilot

      It’s 2011, not 1941. Times have changed, that wouldn’t be a big deal.

  • AnjinSan

    I’m sorry – wasn’t that constitution replaced by one actually developed by the people of Japan? And parked as close as it is to : Korea, Russia, China, Taiwan, Malasia, etc., etc., I think one stinking carrier is a measely step in an OBVIOUS direction…Let ’em have it, geeze…

    • 0pilot

      The age of the carrier is over. It doesn’t matter who has carrier’s anymore. The DF21 solves that problem.

  • RTLM

    Looks like a good Osprey platform.

  • political forum

    Japan has several of these helicopter carriers in service. This is nothing new. Helicopters are good for fighting submarines, which probably means Russia and China.

  • Graham Strouse

    Based on the limited information available, Hyuga strikes me as a well-purposed design. I like the concept of the souped-up ASW platform. That flight deck is clearly too short (and flat) and the ship is far too small to launch anything like an air superiority fighter–hence the hefty SAM battery. I get the feeling there’s a little Russian influence here: the Russians have for a long time built their surface ships on the assumption (assuming they can afford to maintain them) that they will have to be able to take care of themselves against 3-D threats & not rely too much on escorts.
    I agree with ohwilleke that Hyuga is probably designed with NK & CHN subs in mind. Korea has subs & extremely unstable leadership. The Chinese, although they generally behave quite rationally in affairs of state, have quite likely not forgotten Nanking. If there was one country I could see China moving aggressively on in some way, it would be Japan or (more likely) Japanese interests. And China has a pretty decent array of (mostly) Russian built subs.
    Anyway, like I said, Hyuga strikes me as a good design. It’s got a mission that it’s well-equipped to perform & it’s economy-to-utility value is high.

    • 0pilot

      it’s a half hearted attempt. Japan will continue to be bullied by everyone around them because their too busy throwing up the peace sign and bowing to everyone. The true test will come when NK loses it and missiles start flying or China decides to take control of an island or two. Frankly, I just see more dialogue, bowing, and peace signs…someone give me a manga comic.

  • Graham Strouse

    Just a wild thought: Why don’t we take some of those Tarawas & Wasps we’re phasing out & re-purpose them as souped up ASW carriers/interdiction ships rebuilt after the fashion of Hyuga (but on a larger scale) and use them as the core of a TF tasked with watching out for our interests in South America & our little slice of the Pacific? Wouldn’t be that hard. Cheaper then scrapping them & they’d be operating mostly an area where ASW & spec force deployment–something else they’d be good at, could come in handy. I’m talking to you, Hugo Chavez. A lightened ASW ex-phib with hopped up engines would also make a could CVN escort. Just thinking aloud again.

    • 0pilot

      um, just more gas guzzling targets for submarines.

  • JMMC62

    It is about time… Japan should be a strong power again in a part of the world where we need a powerfull friend. WW II ended long ago as did the military-political atmosphere that set the Pacific ablaze. All of the obsolute resraints on Japans militerization are out of date.

    • 0pilot

      I agree. The Americans smacked the manhood out of Japan back in the 40’s and 50’s. Japan needs to man-up and ‘be’ the heavy mover and shaker in the region. But of course not, they’re more concerned with cute things, manga, and fake eyelashes. Not enough time to cultivate the shogunate spirit.

  • edosan

    I really think this is a good move for Japan and beneficial for us.
    I still cannot trust a communist CHINA, their Navy is making an attempt for “blue waters” thanks to the Russians and French “sold” technology and the North Koreans are out of control on the conventional side, they still kidnap Japanese Nationals and do pretty regular incursions in Japanese waters…those are not North Korean “fishing” trawlers… they are fishing alright…
    more power to the Japanese Self Defense Naval Forces

    • 0pilot

      agreed. Take the “Self Defense”.

  • Andes Tang

    >>I really think this is a good move for Japan and beneficial for us.
    While beneficial to the United States, since they wouldn’t have to waste as much resources to “defend” Japan if China attacks, the recent military build up in Japan could “hardly” be called as peaceful. The construction of a pocket aircraft carrier (the precursor of a full STOVL) would mean that Japan has blue water ambitions, something that goes against their supposed peaceful stance.
    I am all for Japan to get defensive weapons, but this can be seen as Japan’s changes towards its military intentions. Something the US should be wary about. Since the Chinese doesn’t even have anything close to this sort, and the fact that don’t even have enough transports to even attack a small nation such as Taiwan, I think Japan’s gone way over board.
    >> more power to the Japanese Self Defense Naval Forces
    More power to Japan, also means higher tensions between China and Japan. Is this something you should really be looking forward to? I’d rather the Chinese just keep making their brown water navy (which won’t even come close to that of the United States or even Russia and Britain) than invoke them into creating a blue water navy capable of striking us from anywhere.
    If China actually becomes determined to build aircraft carriers in the next few years, I am going to blame the Japanese for being warmongering (when they keep spewing their non-sense about being peace keepers).

    • 0pilot

      yeah if you’re not cheating or lying you’re not winning. Just ask the Chinese and the Americans. I’m curious to see how the events play out.

      History repeats itself…
      will you be ready?

  • Anonymous
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  • Carney

    The Japanese more than most have suffered greatly from dependence on foreign oil. In fact, just before World War 2 when the US (which had most of the world’s oil production and known oil reserves at the time) embargoed oil to Japan in the wake of Japanese aggression in China, the Japanese were desperate for another source. The Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) was and is oil-rich, but sitting smack in between the Indies and Japan is the Philippines (then a US colony). Thus we were astride their sea lanes and had a knife to their oil jugular. Japan decided it had to conquer the Philippines as well and thus fight the US. The best plan for that was to sink our entire fleet at once after which we would make a deal – thus Pearl Harbor. Of course it all ended in utter ruin and disaster for Japan.
    Now they’re making the same mistake again – deciding that the key is to build up a powerful navy to protect their sea lanes and access to oil.
    Instead they should just read the book “Energy Victory” by former NASA rocket scientist and nuclear engineer Dr. Robert Zubrin and “The Methanol Economy” by Nobel Prize winning chemist Dr. George Olah.
    Zubrin advocates nuclear power (for responsible 1st World nations) for electricity and alcohol-based fuels for land and sea transportation needs.
    Cars and similar light-duty vehicles can be flex-fueled, a small and cheap ($130 for automakers) change from current specs, but which would add compatibility with ethanol, methanol, propanol, and butanol to gasoline-burning vehicles. Methanol can be made from coal, natural gas, or any biomass without exception, including fast-growing weeds, crop residues, trash, and even sewage. It’s clean burning (no smog), biodegradable in water, higher octane than gasoline, and because its resource base is so vast and varied, cannot have its market “cornered” and the price jacked up – methanol is and will always be cheap.
    Diesel class vehicles, such as trains and heavy duty trucks, as well as seagoing vessels (including warships), can use di-methyl ether (DME) instead of petro-diesel. DME is made from reacting methanol to itself.
    Also, DME can be used as a source material for polypropylene and polyethylene, the two major forms of plastic that are ubiquitous today.
    Thus, Japan can liberate itself from much of its need for oil, and its need to build aircraft carriers that add to regional tensions.
    This of course is true for China, India, and the rest of the world as well.

    • 0pilot

      This is all good stuff. But come on!!! Do you think that the oil company’s will go for that or the Japanese lawmakers that are in bed with them? It will not end until a major event happens.

  • Rohit

    India should buy F-35 Ligntenings. The IN can operate in the South China Sea in tandem with future American and Japanese naval assets, and IN F-35s can land, refuel, rearm on friendly carriers and vice versa. The future pacific conflict is democracy (US, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, , Taiwan, Singapore) against the communist threat (PRC)

    • Kevin

      Hm. Straight out of the cold war rhetoric. First it was the Soviets. Then it was terrorists. Now it is China. Stop trying to dress up China as some bogey man. The US has been more belligerent than China.

      • Chris Mrak

        How can you say that? The Chinese are the ONLY belligerent ones in the region. I know, because I have personally witnessed them being belligerent. Don’t act like an expert when you have no clue what you are talking about.

    • Dennis

      Japan should have Nimitz Class size carriers. The U’S Carrier Fleet has the full burden of the Pacific and it is time for the other country’s (Japan and Australia) to help with that burden.
      Not sure about India. They seem to be playing the fence. There was times they could have been closer as allies but elected to buy Russian Military hardware instead. If they would have bought the KityHawk even if just to look at the ship for design considerations they would have been so far ahead as they are now in Carrier design.
      Would like to see Japan name their first true Carrier Akagi. LOL

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