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Community Conversation. Why Yokosuka Hosts an Aircraft Carrier & Why it Will Host a Second

On March 7th, 2022, over 125 participants attended the YCAPS-SPF co-sponsored webinar presented by professor Tetsuo Kotani. Professor Kotani discussed “Why Yokosuka Hosts an Aircraft Carrier & Why it Will Host a Second.” Tetsuo Kotani is a professor of global studies at Meikai University and a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA). The webinar was moderated by John Bradford, Executive Director of YCAPS. VADM Koda (JMSDF, ret.) provided comments and discussion following professor Kotani’s remarks. They were joined by a wide range of participants, including current and former service members, locals in the Yokosuka community, scholars, and many others with a keen interest in Yokosuka and its aircraft carriers.

Professor Kotani began with a brief history of Yokosuka Naval Base and the US and Japan dynamics that led to Yokosuka hosting America’s only aircraft carrier with a home port outside of the US. Given geopolitics at the time, a demand for rotating US carrier presence in Asia coupled with the long transit time from US bases ultimately brought the USS Midway and later carriers to Japan. Yokosuka was chosen as the home port because of its robust repair facilities, proximity to Atsugi airfield, and availability of family housing. Kotani further described how the arrival of US carriers and other support ships shaped the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF) role in carrier support and maritime defense, as well as the deep strategic partnerships between the US Navy and JMSDF for Asia-Pacific maritime security that continue today. Finally, Kotani described Yokosuka’s second aircraft carrier: the JS Izumo, a Japanese helicopter carrier that is currently being converted to a light aircraft carrier. He concluded by describing future implications of JS Izumo’s conversion for anti-submarine warfare, Japanese homeland and maritime defense, as well as joint cooperation within the Self-Defense Force (SDF) and between the US and Japan.

Vice Admiral (ret.) Koda opened the discussion portion of the event with his comments on US-Japan maritime cooperation from the post-war period onward. He particularly commented on the opportunities and limitations of converting JS Izumo into a light aircraft carrier.

During the question and answer section of the event, questions from participants covered a variety of topics, including carrier air wing basing, the possibility of hardened airfields in Japan’s southwest island chain, the current evolution of joint capabilities within the SDF, the need for Japanese anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and Japan’s balance of homeland defense versus sea lane defense. Also discussed was the available budget to support the F-35B fighters the JS Izumo is planning to acquire when it becomes capable of accommodating such planes and the costs of fuel and general maintenance. 

The event closed with reflections on what the presence of two carriers in Yokosuka means for the future of Japanese defense and joint capabilities, as well as for the US-Japan alliance. This webinar demonstrated the value of proactive discussions like these on Japan’s maritime security postures in both the public and security forces, and lends a call for continuing discussions to deepen Japan’s domestic dialogue on the subject.