U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly been invited to tour the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF) largest flattop, the Izumo-class helicopter carrier JS Kaga, during his visit to Japan in late May.
According to “bilateral sources,” Trump will be accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the inspection of the Kaga, The Mainichi newspaper reports. The visit is set to take place at the Yokosuka JMSDF base in Kanagawa Prefecture during the U.S. president’s state visit to the country from May 25 to 28.
Abe and Trump’s inspection of the JS Kaga will “send a message to China,” a Japanese government source was quoted as saying by The Mainichi daily. Trump and the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, will be Japan’s first state guests in the new imperial era “Reiwa” following Emperor Naruhito’s ascension to the throne on May 1.
Trump was expected to board the JS Kaga’s sister ship, the first-of-class JS Izumo during a state visit to Japan in October 2017. However, the inspection did not take place. The JS Izumo is part of the JMSDF’s Escort Flotilla 1, based in Yokosuka, which is also home to the U.S. Navy’s only forward deployed aircraft carrier, the Nimitz-class flattop USS Ronald Reagan.
The two Izumo-class carriers, built from 2012 to 2017, are Japan’s largest surface combatants each displacing around 27,00 tons when fully loaded. The class has been principally designed for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations. Each carrier can accommodate up to 14 helicopters including Mitsubishi-built SH-60k ASW and AgustaWestland MCM-101 mine countermeasure helicopters, five of which can simultaneously take off and land.
The cabinet of Shinzo Abe approved in December 2018 the conversion of warships into full-fledged aircraft carriers capable of launching the F-35B, the vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The flattops will each be capable of carrying around a dozen F-35Bs following the planned conversion. No F-35B squadron is expected to be permanently assigned to the carriers.
Notably, the new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), which set out Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) capability targets over a period of about 10 years, re-designates the Izumo-class as a multi-purpose escort destroyer to comply with Japan’s pacifist constitution that limits JSDF capabilities to self-defense.
“The Izumo was originally designed as a multipurpose escort ship, so it wouldn’t pose any threat to other countries if fighter jets are deployed on it,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya was quoted as saying by The Japan Times on December 11. Iwaya also said that the converted flattop would not be an “attack aircraft carrier” capable of offensive military operations.
China has repeatedly rejected this characterization of the warships and sees their conversion as yet another sign of growing Japanese militarism.