YOKOSUKA, Japan --- Journalists on Wednesday were given a guided tour of the Izumo — Japan’s largest flat-topped helicopter carrier — for the first time since the Defense Ministry revealed a controversial plan late last year to convert it so that it could handle fixed-wing aircraft — which critics and some opposition lawmakers say could make it capable of offensive operations.
The pacifist postwar Constitution bans the possession of “attack aircraft carriers,” and calls for an exclusively defense-oriented posture. However, under a five-year defense build-up plan adopted in December, the 248-meter, 195,000-ton vessel will be undergoing a major remodeling to accommodate jet fighters, likely U.S.-developed F-35B stealth planes, which are capable of short take-offs and vertical landings.
The Defense Ministry has refused to call a remodeled Izumo “an aircraft carrier,” saying it would not regularly carry jet fighters and would also be used for missions including anti-submarine missions and rescue operations.
“My understanding is that aircraft carriers are designed specifically for the operation of aircraft only, like U.S. aircraft carriers,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in mid-February at a Lower House budget committee meeting. “The Izumo is not designed for this purpose, and therefore is not an aircraft carrier.”
According to the ministry’s definition, “attack aircraft carriers” are those “to be used only for the carrying out of missions of mass destruction in other countries.” A remodeled Izumo would not fall within this category and thus would not be unconstitutional, according to the ministry. (end of excerpt)
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