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Politics

Japan to convert helicopter carrier Izumo into aircraft carrier

Plan to be included in new defense program, raising constitutional questions

A helicopter lands on the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force helicopter carrier Izumo: The government's latest defense plan calls for the vessel to be converted to carry F-35 jets.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan plans to convert the Maritime Self-Defense Force's helicopter carrier Izumo into an aircraft carrier under a new basic defense program to be adopted later this month.

The plan was revealed in an outline of the program presented by the government at a national security meeting at the prime minister's office on Tuesday. The outline states that the Izumo will be converted into an aircraft carrier, enabling Japan to deploy the U.S.-built, short-takeoff and vertical-landing F-35 fighters on the vessel.

Critics warn that if the ship is converted it will give Japan the ability to strike military bases overseas, despite the government's repeated denials. The current interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution limits the country's military capabilities to self-defense.

The outline stresses the importance of defense in new areas including space, cyber and electronic warfare. It also calls for the integration of the ground, maritime and air self-defense forces to facilitate coordinated operations.

At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government should "abandon the existing concept of ground, maritime and air defense and carry out reforms at an unprecedented speed."

The government intends to adopt the new defense program at a cabinet meeting on Dec. 18. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, will hold a working-level meeting later Tuesday to discuss the program outline.

Komeito, historically a dovish party, has called on the government to give a full explanation as to why the Izumo needs to be converted into an aircraft carrier, and to eliminate contractions between that policy and the government's remarks on the matter in parliament.

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