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

Although a Japanese naval vessel may be retrofitted to carry fighter jets, the ruling parties will call the Izumo a "multi-purpose operation destroyer" to avoid criticism that use as an aircraft carrier would violate the pacifist Constitution.

Members of the ruling parties’ working team on revising the National Defense Program Guidelines, which the government expects to approve later this month, reached a consensus on what to call the Izumo-class destroyers during a meeting on Dec. 5.

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

However, an issue on how to maintain compatibility of the use with the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution will likely remain a problem with the Izumo becoming a de facto offensive aircraft carrier, the first in the Japanese fleet.

The 248-meter-long vessel would be reliant on its complement of F-35Bs, resulting in exceeding the defensive nature as specified in the Constitution.

In the meeting, Defense Ministry officials explained the plan of thickening the decks of two Izumo-class destroyers, which carry helicopters, and making other adjustments so that F-35Bs can be launched from there, according to a source who attended the meeting.

The government has taken a stance that Japan is not allowed to operate an attack aircraft carrier, which would mark a departure from the principle that the nation should be limited to maintaining necessary self-defense capabilities. Lawmakers therefore discussed an official name of the new carrier in keeping in line with the Constitution.

A proposal to call the vessel a “defensive aircraft carrier” also emerged from the Liberal Democratic Party but Komeito, the ruling LDP's junior coalition partner, opposed the idea, arguing that using the term of “aircraft carrier” is unacceptable.

The LDP’s proposal for the National Defense Program Guidelines compiled in May features a term of “multi-purpose operation mother ship.” However, Komeito frowned on the idea, saying that the expression of “bokan" (mother ship) conjures up the image of “kubo" (aircraft carrier).

The LDP and Komeito finally agreed on calling the Izumo-class destroyer a “multi-purpose operation destroyer,” according to participants at the meeting.

“(The LDP and Komeito) shared a common view of enabling the carrier to be used for multi-purpose operations within the scope of recognizing the vessel as a destroyer,” said Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister who heads the ruling parties' working group dealing with the guideline revisions, after the meeting.

The two parties also shared their views and opinions over the need to introduce 100 or so F-35s in the future during the meeting.

Approximately 40 of the fighters are expected to be models that can take off from short distances, with an eye to operating them off the deck of the retrofitted Izumo.

The Defense Ministry explained that the LDP has no intention of using the Izumo as an “attack aircraft carrier,” a person involved in the LDP said.

Meanwhile, a government panel of experts on revising the National Defense Program Guidelines also called “a meeting on security and defense capabilities” on Dec. 5.

The government presented a draft of elements of the National Defense Program Guidelines, citing its preferential policy of “acquiring and strengthening capabilities in the fields of space, cyber and electromagnetic waves” in a bid to bolster defense capabilities.

The government is scheduled to adopt the guidelines as early as Dec. 18 in light of views and opinions of the experts’ meeting as well as ruling parties.