Pictured above is Japan’s Hyuga-class “helicopter destroyer” (different angle) alongside the USS George Washington (see opposite angle here). It is hard to see from this angle but there is a significant size difference. The George Washington is a Nimitz class carrier weighing in at 97,000 tons and capable of 85 aircraft. The Hyuga is just 13,950 tons and carries only 11 helicopters. Still, the Hyuga is the MSDF’s biggest ship to date.
The above is a pretty historic scene. The Hyuga is the first of its class and was commissioned earlier this year. As Scoop Deck notes: “it’s neat that the last time Japan and the U.S. both fielded aircraft carriers, they were at war”.
The Hyuga, like the earlier commissioned Osumi class LST, is a controversial ship. Both have carrier-like capabilities despite Japan’s 1988 declaration that it would never build aircraft carriers again. Thus, these ships are carefully designed to have little to no power projection capabilities. The Hyuga is described as a “destroyer” in Japanese (護衛艦) because of its role as an escort ship. This is in contrast to the central command and control role that US aircraft carriers play. Yet unlike traditional DDH the Hyuga has a longish flat-top, which makes it controversial. This means it can handle VSTOL aircraft such as Harriers and F-35s (which, by the way, Japan does not have). Here is a clip of it in action:
The Hyuga is for deploying helicopters in conducting amphibious operations, humanitarian missions and anti-submarine warfare. Rather than a revolutionary procurement in terms of Japan’s constitution, this is more of an evolution in terms of the kinds of operations Japan currently conducts (ie. sweeping sea lanes for the USN, disaster response in Southeast Asia, etc.). The Hyuga is a sign of Japanese innovation under military restriction. Simultaneously, it can be viewed as practice run for any carrier building program Japan may potentially decide to pursue in the future. Despite these controversies, the above picture is still pretty amazing.