The Japanese government is considering a bold plan: converting its largest ships to carry the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in order to shore up a key defense vulnerability. The country’s use of aircraft carriers during World War II, however, has made loathe to actually use the phrase “aircraft carrier,” instead preferring the term “multi-purpose operational mothership”.
In the early years of World War II, Japan had the largest and most powerful aircraft carrier fleet in the world. An island nation bereft of natural resources, Japan needed to procure them abroad, making a powerful navy vitally important. Japan’s carrier force swept across the Pacific, bombing China, attacking Australia, and infamously the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
In the aftermath of the war, Japan became a pacifist country, swearing off the war as a tool of national policy. It banned entire categories of offensive forces and weapons, including bombers, marines, and aircraft carriers. Now, after a 73-year absence, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is looking to bring back aircraft carriers to help protect Japanese airspace in areas where Japan and China have territorial disputes.
China’s air forces have flown repeated missions in and around the East China Sea, including several populated islands in Japan’s Ryukyu island chain. This is an area where Japan’s powerful Air Self Defense Force, the largest operator of F-15 Eagle fighters outside the United States operates at a disadvantage: the densely packed country has just one air base in the Ryukyu chain, a mixed commercial airport/military base on Okinawa.
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