Photo/IllutrationThe Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Izumo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is poised to cross a line in the nation’s security policy that has been deemed uncrossable by successive Cabinets.

The Abe administration is laying the groundwork for introducing an aircraft carrier into the nation’s weapons system for the first time since the end of World War II.

The move is unacceptable since it would be a clear break from Japan’s strictly defensive postwar security policy.

The Abe administration has been considering remodeling the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s 248-meter-long destroyer Izumo into an effective aircraft carrier that can deploy U.S.-made F-35B stealth fighter jets, which can take off and land vertically.

The government plans to include a passage to pave the way for the step in the revised National Defense Program Guidelines, expected to be unveiled by the year-end.

Even though it is called a destroyer, the Izumo, which went into commission in 2015, is actually a helicopter carrier with a long flight deck stretching from bow to stern.

It was designed with the possibility of being modified to operate fighter jets in mind.

In line with the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, successive Cabinets have maintained the position that Japan is not allowed to operate an offensive aircraft carrier that would mark a departure from the principle that the nation’s defensive power should be limited to minimum necessary self-defense capabilities.

But the Abe administration and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been seeking to create established facts that amount to crossing the line while claiming that the Izumo is not an aircraft carrier.

One typical example of this approach is the LDP’s proposal that the government should introduce a “multi-purpose operation carrier” that is also capable of deploying Self-Defense Forces troops for such nonmilitary missions as disaster rescue and relief operations.

In a Nov. 27 news conference, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said, “It’s desirable that the Izumo can be used for multiple purposes as much as possible.”

Resorting to its familiar linguistic sleight of hand, the Abe administration is trying to fudge the fact that it is introducing an aircraft carrier just by adopting a different term.

Some SDF officers and military experts question the strategic and cost-effectiveness of introducing an aircraft carrier for Japan’s defense.

The government and the LDP are stressing its usefulness for defending Japan’s remote islands and airspace over the Pacific.

But a decline in the Izumo’s anti-submarine defense capabilities due to its conversion into an aircraft carrier could hurt the nation’s overall defense capabilities in a way that more than offsets the benefits brought about by the envisioned conversion.

The most logical step for enhancing air defenses over the Pacific would be to improve the SDF’s operations of radar and patrol aircraft.

In a security emergency, how could the aircraft carrier be protected from enemy missile and submarine attacks?

It is said that effective aircraft carrier operations require at least three vessels--one for actual operations, one for maintenance and one for training. It is obvious that the SDF does not have the financial and human resources required to operate three aircraft carriers.

It is necessary to take measures to counter China’s aggressive naval expansion. But Japan would start treading a dangerous path if it tries to counter Chinese aircraft carriers by introducing its own aircraft carriers.

By introducing an aircraft carrier, Japan could make itself look more enthusiastic about a military buildup than it actually is.

Buying a large number of U.S.-designed weapons would not make a direct contribution to regional stability.

It is, to be sure, a tough challenge to develop an effective strategy for dealing with China’s rise as a major military power. The strategy should be underpinned by Japan’s security alliance with the United States.

The government needs to map out a well-thought-out plan to achieve the goal that will not trigger a futile arms race in the region.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 30