JS Kaga (DDH-184) is a helicopter carrier with a planned future conversion into an aircraft carrier. Her namesake arises from Kaga Province in present-day Ishikawa Prefecture. The ship bears the same name, and is slightly longer in length than the World War II-era Kaga, an aircraft carrier produced in 1928, which participated in the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Kaga and Izumo are the first aircraft carriers built by Japan since the end of World War II. Kaga was built as part of a wider Japanese military buildup, triggered from heightened Sino-Japanese tensions regarding the contested ownership of the Senkaku Islands.
Officially classified as a multi-purpose operation destroyer, she is the second ship in the Izumo class of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), the other being JS Izumo. The ship can host up to 28 aircraft, or 14 larger aircraft. While Japanese nomenclature calls Kaga a “multi-purpose operation destroyer”, its main purpose is destroying enemy submarines. Despite this, only 7 anti-submarine warfare helicopters and 2 search and rescue helicopters are planned for the initial aircraft complement. 400 troops and 50 3.5-ton trucks (or equivalent equipment) can also be carried. Kaga’s flight deck has five helicopter landing spots that allow for simultaneous landings or take-offs.
JS Kaga is 812 feet (247 m) long, and displaces 12,000 tons, making it the largest ship in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. However, it is considerably smaller than other contemporary aircraft carriers – USS George H.W. Bush, for instance, is 1,092 feet (333 m) and over 100,000 tons. The ship is equipped with two Phalanx CiWS (close-in weapon systems) and two SeaRAM CiWS for her defense. In 2018, Abe’s government announced plans to convert the Kaga and the Izumo to launch American-made F-35B stealth fighter jets. The conversion would effectively give the vessels many of the same capabilities as aircraft carriers––also a first for post-war Japan.
Japan’s military buildup, including the future conversation of the Izumo and the Kaga to carry fighter jets, is part of a growing wariness about China, especially when it comes to its outlying islands. The focus of Japan’s concern has been what it calls the Senkaku Islands. Japan says they are sovereign territory. But the Chinese, who call them the Diaoyu Islands, also claim them. The rocky islands are about 560 miles from the Japanese mainland and 255 miles from the nearest Japanese air base on Okinawa. Japan hopes to use the new capability in case its air base in Okinawa is unable to operate, Hornung says. It could also move fighter jets closer to the Senkakus, and other outlying islands, to shorten response times.