YOKOHAMA, Mar. 18, 2009 (Kyodo News International) --
(Editors: ADDING AKAHOSHI'S TITLE, FIRST NAME IN 11TH GRAF)
Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force commissioned its largest helicopter-carrying destroyer with an eye-catching flight deck on Wednesday, amid concerns about its resemblance to a light aircraft carrier.
Setting another precedent, the Hyuga has women officers and sailors on board a destroyer for the first time since the Self-Defense Forces' was established in 1954.
At a ceremony at IHI (OOTC:IHITF) Marine United Inc.'s shipyard in Yokohama on Wednesday, Parliamentary Defense Secretary Ryota Takeda handed the MSDF's rising sun ensign to the skipper, Capt. Katsunori Yamada, to hoist on the destroyer.
Sporting a 195-meter full-length deck with the ability to carry up to 11 helicopters on board, the 13,950-ton destroyer looks imposing and is one of the largest vessels ever built for the MSDF.
The roughly 105-billion yen flattop enables up to four helicopters, such as the SH-60K antisubmarine helicopters, to take off and land almost simultaneously using corresponding number of spots on the deck, according to the MSDF.
With its sophisticated command, control and communications system, the Hyuga will serve as the nerve center for operations ranging from antisubmarine warfare to anti-disaster efforts at home and abroad, and to rescue Japanese nationals overseas, they said.
Among the Hyuga's roughly 340 crewmembers are 17 women -- two officers and 15 sailors. Their presence on a destroyer reflects the MSDF's effort since last year to expand the role of women in the force to make up for the chronic personnel shortage.
The Hyuga is to head for the MSDF base in Yokosuka, also in Kanagawa Prefecture, later on Wednesday, where it will become the flagship for the force's 1st Escort Flotilla.
The flattop replaces the old 4,950-ton destroyer Haruna. The second Hyuga-class destroyer is to be commissioned in March 2011 to replace a similar destroyer.
Despite the Hyuga's look and feel of a light aircraft carrier, the MSDF says it is anything but.
''An aircraft carrier, I believe, has a fair degree of offensive functions. Based on that definition, this Hyuga falls a little bit outside of the frame,'' MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Keiji Akahoshi told a news conference on Tuesday.
The acquisition of a destroyer that could project the force far from Japan's coast, however, raises concerns in Asia. It may even spur rivalry with countries like China, which is rumored to build an aircraft carrier of its own.
Japan denies itself offensive capabilities under its war-renouncing Constitution. But the government interprets the supreme law to mean that it can possess the minimum level of armed force necessary for its self-defense.