In an increasing sign of Japan’s resurgence as a military power in the Pacific region, the country unveiled its newest warship on Tuesday which is the largest produced by the country since World War II.
The ship is technically considered to be a destroyer, but possesses a flight deck nearly 820 feet (250 meters) long. Among the design features in the new vessel is the ability to carry up to 14 helicopters.
In an attempt to reassure neighbors in the region who could become nervous about a revitalized Japanese military, officials say the ship is intended to be used strictly for national defense. Among its primary uses are anti-submarine warfare and border area surveillance missions as well as providing the ability to transport supplies and personnel quickly to areas hit by large-scale natural disasters such as the region struck by the devastating tsunami and earthquake in 2011.
The ship’s construction has been ongoing since 2009; however it comes amidst a time of tensions between China and Japan over East China Sea islets that are uninhabited.
Tensions around the disputed islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are to the west of Okinawa’s main island have arisen because the waters around the islands are rich fishing grounds and could possibly hold rich oil and gas reserves beneath the sea floor.
Last year Japan purchased three of the disputed islands from a private business owner. Since that time patrol ships and aircraft from both countries have been shadowing each other in the waters and skies around the islands.
The tensions come at a time when the Chinese government is engaged in a massive military buildup that includes building missiles capable of sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier. China has also recently begun operating a refurbished aircraft carrier of its own that it purchased from Russia and is reportedly in the process of building another domestically produced carrier.
While the new Japanese ship is officially classified as a Destroyer, which is a smaller class of naval vessel compared to heavier ships such as cruisers and battleships, some experts have speculated that Japan could readily convert the ship so that it would have the capability to launch fixed wing aircraft or other fighters that can take off vertically.
If it were to do so the move would be a radical departure for the nation, which although it has one of the best equipped and trained navies in the Pacific region, has not shown a desire to build any aircraft carriers of its own since World War II because of restrictions in the country’s constitution which limit its military to a purely defensive role.
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