September 4, 2009:
Japan is now planning a second, larger class of 763 foot long, 25,000 ton aircraft carriers. How can that be? Japan's post-World War II constitution specifically forbids its navy (ah, make that, "Naval Self-Defense Force") from having aircraft carriers. Very simple, Japan has already built two "helicopter-carrying destroyers" that happen to just look like aircraft carriers. A class of "helicopter-carrying cruisers" would apparently keep the constitutional lawyers quiet.
Japan recently launched its second aircraft carrier ( the Ise) since World War II. This past March, it commissioned the first of these ships, the "helicopter-carrying destroyer" Hyuga. These are 610 foot long, 18,000 ton warships 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 third Hyuga class ship 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. During World War II, there was also a Japanese battleships named Ise, which was the lead ship of a class of ships that also contained the Hyuga. Both were 35,000 ton warships, and both were sunk, in the same week, in late July 1945. The Ise was also rebuilt, during the war, as an aircraft carrier (actually a hybrid battleship/aircraft carrier.)
The Japanese are apparently quite pleased with their new carriers, and much relieved that there was not a worldwide uproar over how they circumvented their own constitution. The Japanese Navy is apparently back in the carrier business, 64 years after the last of their World War II carriers went to the bottom.