TOKYO -- With tensions on the Korean Peninsula running high, Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted an operation to safeguard U.S. vessels for the first time since the country enacted new security legislation allowing such actions in March last year.
The MSDF helicopter carrier Izumo left the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, on Monday morning. The mission, ordered by Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, is aimed at deterring the North Korean regime, which attempted to test fire a ballistic missile on Saturday, from further provocations by demonstrating a robust U.S.-Japan alliance.
The carrier is scheduled to join a U.S. supply vessel in the Pacific on Monday and escort it on its journey to waters off the island of Shikoku in western Japan.
Under the new legislation, Japan's SDF can provide protection for U.S. forces in ordinary times using a limited, minimum number of weapons to the extent needed to carry out a mission.
The U.S. ship is expected to supply, among other things, fuel to U.S. Navy vessels currently in waters near Japan in preparation of a possible ballistic missile launch by North Korea.
Fuel may be supplied to vessels of the U.S. Navy's carrier strike group led by the Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which entered the Sea of Japan on Saturday.
Japanese MSDF vessels and the U.S. aircraft carrier conducted a joint drill that wrapped up on Saturday. But Japan did not provide any protection to U.S. vessels at the time.