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28 Aug, 2015 21:02

Japan launches new helicopter carrier named after WWII ship

Japan launches new helicopter carrier named after WWII ship

Japan has launched a new helicopter carrier, which is one of the country’s biggest warships since World War II. The name of the ship has stirred controversy, as it’s the same as that of a vessel that participated in the 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks.

Japanese second largest naval vessel – the helicopter carrier “Kaga” – was launched at the Japan Marine United shipyard in Yokohama on Thursday and is due to be commissioned in March 2017, Sputnik reports.

The 24,000 ton vessel is the second and the final ship of this class, following another helicopter carrier named “Izumo,” which was launched in August 2013 and came into service in the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) in March 2015.

Officially named after the Japanese province of Kaga, the new ship has sparked controversy, since it shares the name of an aircraft carrier that was deployed by Japan during WWII.

The original Kaga took part in the bombardments of the China’s eastern coast including the cities of Shanghai and Nanjing in 1937. Later, it also was a part of the naval group that attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Eventually, the ship was sunk by the US navy in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

The Chinese found the choice of the name offending, with the countries’ media outlets reminding of the bombings carried out by planes launched from the original Kaga warship. This name “might be perceived as a symbol of resurrected militarism,” said chinanews.com.

China’s media also reports that another Japanese new helicopter carrier – Izumo – also has a controversial predecessor – a cruiser lending artillery support to the Japanese troops during the capturing of Shanghai in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese war.

Japanese officials said that the primary roles of the two modern helicopter carriers are peaceful, such as humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations. However, they have also mentioned that the ships could be used in anti-submarine warfare.

The ships “heighten our ability to deal with Chinese submarines that have become more difficult to detect,” a JMSDF officer told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper in March.

Kaga will carry seven Mitsubishi-built SH-60k anti-submarine patrol helicopters able to detect sophisticated Chinese submarines as well as seven Agusta Westland MCM-101 mine countermeasure helicopters, according to the US Naval Institute's News.

However, the ships also have potential to launch American the built assault transport MV-22 as well as Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter with the short takeoff and vertical landing.

Japan denies any plans for the helicopter carriers to host any Joint Strike Fighters with some Japan’s neighboring countries claiming that the ships’ configuration itself allows them to serve as aircraft carriers.

The aircraft carriers are considered to be offensive weapons and are banned under the Japanese constitution.

Kaga will become Japan’s fourth helicopter carrier as, apart from Izumo, two 18,300-ton Hyuga-class helicopter carriers are also in operation with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.