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Japan to deploy helicopter carrier for two-month Indo-Pacific mission

The crew of the JS Kaga attend the helicopter destroyer's commissioning ceremony in Yokohama, Japan, Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

COURTESY OF JAPAN MARITIME SELF-DEFENSE FORCE

By HANA KUSUMOTO AND CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 23, 2018

TOKYO — A Japanese helicopter carrier is scheduled to deploy Sunday for a two-month mission in the Indo-Pacific region, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force said in a statement this week.

The JS Kaga, which was commissioned in March of last year, will sail through the South China Sea and Indian Ocean carrying five aircraft, the statement said. Escort ships JS Inazuma and JS Suzutsuki will join the carrier for the deployment, and about 800 personnel will be spread throughout the vessels.

The mission will last through Oct. 30, with the ships making stops in India, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, the statement said.

While a JMSDF spokesman said the service hopes the mission will contribute to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, he refused to call the deployment a patrol mission. The JMSDF is instead referring to it as a training mission with other countries in the region to improve tactical skills and strengthen coordination.

The deployment comes during a tense time in the region over China’s militarization of reclaimed land in the South China Sea, and as Japan and China continue to dispute the sovereignty of the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands.

During a trip to India earlier this week, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met with his Indian and Sri Lankan counterparts and agreed to strengthen Japan’s coordination with the countries to support free and open navigation.

“I believe that a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ is applicable not only to Japan and India, but is a shared recognition and value across East Asia,” Onodera told reporters Monday in India. “By sharing it between Japan and India, which are both influential in this region, as well as with the U.S. and Australia, going forward, I believe that it is important to ensure that this rule takes root firmly in this region.”

The United States’ only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, is already patrolling the region. The carrier left its Yokosuka homeport last week for its second patrol this year.

The JS Kaga is about 814 feet long, 27,000 tons and bares the same name as the Imperial Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga that was used in World War II.

kusumoto.hana@stripes.com
doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com

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