Japan is to acquire at least one aircraft carrier for the first time since World War II as it attempts to counter Chinese maritime expansion in the Pacific.
The government is to upgrade its two existing Izumo-class helicopter carriers so they can transport and launch fighter jets, media reported.
The plans are expected to be included in defense guidelines to be released next month.
The Nikkei Shimbun on Tuesday reported that Japan is to buy 100 F-35 stealth jets from the US for more than US$8.8 billion, a year after US President Donald Trump urged Tokyo to buy more US-made military equipment.
The reported order is in addition to 42 F-35 jets it has already bought from the US.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September told Trump that high-spec military equipment would be “important to strengthen Japan’s defenses.”
By refitting its two 248m-long Izumo-class vessels, which can each carry up to 14 helicopters, Japan would in effect be acquiring its first aircraft carriers since the end of the war — a move critics have said contravenes its constitutional commitment to a purely defensive role for the military.
Previous Japanese governments have ruled out acquiring aircraft carriers, adhering to the postwar consensus that the vessels’ capabilities could be interpreted as offensive.
In its latest defense white paper, Japan said that China had acquired and built aircraft carriers to enable it to expand into Pacific waters near Japan’s outlying southwestern islands.
“It’s desirable that the Izumo can be used for multiple purposes,” Japanese Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya told reporters on Tuesday.
The carriers would be deployed to defend Japan’s remote southwestern islands, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
The white paper, published in August, also voiced concern about Chinese military spending and activity in the South China Sea.
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