ChinaSMACK has a post up on Chinese netizens’ reaction to a Japanese magazine article. The article in question included an artist’s impression of the ATD-X/Shinshin/F-3 fighter downing a Chinese J-20 fighter. Netizen reactions ranged from nationalistic to bemused.

Of more interest however is the article the image was taken from, which depicts an indigenous Japanese aircraft carrier. It should be noted that as good as production values are, this is not an official design, nor has the Japanese government even hinted that it is interested in building a fixed-wing aircraft carrier. This is someone’s speculation, and it’s some pretty good speculation at that.

The pics are too low resolution to read many details, but we can read a few, and we can infer others. (If anyone can figure out more things, or has access to the original article, please feel free to post in comments.)

The design is an evolution of the Hyuga/Ise helicopter carriers, and the larger, follow-on 22DDH series. Note Hyuga on top and this new carrier on the bottom. The picture with the Green Shirt says that this ship would use steam catapults–apparently just two. Another picture says the ship would be powered by General Electric LM2500 gas turbine engines, the same used in USS Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and JS Atago-class Aegis destroyers. The engines are built under license in Japan by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries. I can’t determine how many engines the carrier is supposed to have, but 3 LM2500s would give the ship roughly 90,000 shipboard horsepower. (Compare with USS Nimitz at 100,000 tons and 260,000 horsepower, and USS America at 45,000 tons and 70,000 horsepower.) Perhaps you’d want a fourth LM2500 to generate steam for the catapults.

Ship length is 285 meters, or 935 feet. This is just slightly longer than HMS Queen Elizabeth, but about 70 feet shorter than the PLAN’s ex-Varyag. I think we can safely put this in the same displacement category as Queen Elizabeth, or 65,000 tons.

Here we see where the Japanese graphic designers got inspiration for their flight deck.

The ship appears to be carrying 20 F-35Cs, the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. However, since the authors have helpfully provided a comparison image of the similarly-sized Queen Elizabeth, which is being designed with 40 aircraft in mind, we might infer that the Japanese ship is capable of also carrying 40 aircraft.

There is no sign of any Airborne Early Warning, Carrier Onboard Delivery, or Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft, the lack of which would seriously hamper the carrier’s effectiveness. A lack of an AEW capability would even call into question the basic usefulness of putting fighter aircraft at sea.

The inset graphic seems to suggest the carrier battle group would be formed by Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers, Kongo-class destroyers and whole new classes of tumblehome hulled naval vessels. (Perhaps we can assume that helicopter destroyers could assume battle group ASW, and maybe even AEW.)

Basic point defense would be provided by Phalanx CIWS.

Oh, and the name of this new carrier? Hosho. If it sounds familiar, it’s because the original Hosho was the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier. It was one of the few Japanese carriers to survive the Second World War.

40 F-35 fighters and two catapults for what would be a staggering sum of money (even by Japanese procurement standards) hardly seems worthwhile. That points to the larger problem for Japan and aircraft carriers: would it be worth it? Although such a project would likely see American collaboration (and, thanks to the recent agreement, likely U.K. collaboration), the idea of Japan spending an enormous sum just to put a small number of aircraft to sea just seems improbable. It would be different if, like the U.S. and U.K., Japan had an interventionist foreign policy. It doesn’t. Japan has a defensive strategic outlook, and for such an outlook Japan itself is the aircraft carrier.

A more likely use for Japanese carriers would be to place airpower closer to the Senkaku Islands. At the extreme southwestern tip of Japan, the Senkakus can only be covered by air assets stationed on Okinawa and to an extent Kyushu. This also makes air cover over the islands predictable. Placing airpower aboard a moving airfield would turn that on its head. But would forty or even eighty be enough to make a difference in China’s front yard?

Once again, this is not an official design. But with Japan building progressively larger “helicopter destroyers” it is clearly moving in a direction where “fixed-wing destroyers” eventually become an option. A real Japanese aircraft carrier might again be possible 100 years after the construction of Japan’s first carrier.

The necessity of such a ship, however, depends on Japan’s politicians.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch