March 20, 2009:
Japan recently commissioned its first aircraft carrier since World War II. Sort of. The new, "helicopter-carrying destroyer", the Hyuga, is a 610 foot long, 18,000 ton warship that operates up to 11 (mostly SH-60) helicopters from a full length flight deck. Although called a destroyer, it very much looks like an aircraft carrier. While its primary function is anti-submarine warfare, the Hyuga will also give Japan its first real power projection capability since 1945. The Hyuga is the largest warship built in Japan since World War II. The Japanese constitution forbids it to have aircraft carriers, which is the main reason it is called a destroyer. That, and the desire to not make the neighbors anxious. East Asian nations still have bad memories about the last time Japan had lots of aircraft carriers.
The Hyuga also has 16 Mk41 VLS (Vertical Launch System) cells for anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. There are also two 20mm Phalanx anti-missile cannon and two triple 12.75-inch torpedo mounts. There is a crew of 350 and a top speed of about 60 kilometers. Vertical takeoff jets like the Harrier and F-35B could also operate from the Hyuga. A second Hyuga is under construction and a third is planned.
The last Japanese warship to be called the Hyuga was a World War II battleship that entered service in 1918, and was converted to a hybrid battleship/aircraft carrier in 1943. The new Hyuga will be used for peacekeeping missions as well, and for that role its many helicopters will be most useful.