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Japan's helicopter carrier embarks on 4-month Indo-Pacific tour

Izumo To Visit Quad Partners And Pacific Islands In Show Of Force

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The JS Izumo at Yokosuka, Japan, on June 5. The ship is officially classified as a multi-purpose operation destroyer but is in the process of being transformed into a light aircraft carrier. (Photo by Yuki Kohara) 

TOKYO -- Japan's helicopter carrier Izumo left its home port of Yokosuka on Monday, kicking off a deployment in the Indo-Pacific region that will last over four months.

The JS Izumo -- currently in the process of being transformed into a de facto aircraft carrier capable of launching F-35 fighters -- is being accompanied by destroyers JS Takanami and JS Kirisame, an unnamed submarine and several aircraft. The tour includes stops at Quad partners the U.S., India and Australia; various islands in the South Pacific -- the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia -- as well as Vietnam and the Philippines.

This will be the first time a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel visits Vanuatu.

The JMSDF has conducted an Indo-Pacific deployment every year since 2017, but this year's is the largest in size and longest in duration.

The 138 days are more than the 98-day mission of last year and the 41-day deployment of 2020.

The total crew of 980 is larger than the 890 who sailed in 2021, the 650 who went in 2020 and the 800 who participated in 2019 and 2018.

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The JS Izumo's 138-day tour will include stops in the U.S., India, Australia and various Pacific islands. (Photo by Yuki Kohara)

The air unit consists of four ship-based helicopters, a P-1 patrol aircraft, a UP-3D maritime surveillance aircraft and a US-2 short takeoff and landing amphibious aircraft.

Masahiro Matsumura, a professor of international politics and national security at St. Andrew's University in Osaka, said the deployment follows the recent visit to Japan by U.S. President Joe Biden and the Quad leaders summit and is aimed at showing unity among the Indo-Pacific allies and partners.

At the same time, Matsumura said, "the fact that Japan is comfortable deploying such a large fleet for such a long time means that it does not see an imminent threat to the country at this time, regardless of Chinese and Russian activities in nearby waters.

"More important is preparing for the mid- to long-term outlook of the region."

During the deployment, the Japanese vessels will take part in the U.S.-led biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise from June 29 to Aug. 4. The U.S. Navy announced last month that 26 nations, 38 surface ships, four submarines, nine national land forces, more than 170 aircraft and approximately 25,000 personnel will participate in the drill, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.