By Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan plans to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May, three sources said, in its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two.
China claims almost all the disputed waters and its growing military presence has fueled concern in Japan and the West, with the United States holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.
The Izumo helicopter carrier, commissioned only two years ago, will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and U.S. naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July.
It will return to Japan in August, the sources said.
“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” said one of the sources who have knowledge of the plan. “It will train with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea,” he added, asking not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
A spokesman for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force declined to comment.
The Predator is dead; long live the Reaper. The retirement of the antiquated Predator drone MQ-1, which is to be withdrawn from service in July and replaced by the more capable MQ-9 Reaper, is giving military analysts an opportunity to review the mixed history of a weapon that has long been associated with low-cost war, a sense of disembodiment from conflict, and for inflicting a high number of civilian casualties.
“There’s a perception in large parts of the American political system that drone campaigns are more or less free, but that’s not true,” says Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Like anything that’s perceived as free, it tends to get overused.”
The General Atomics remote-piloted plane entered service in 1995 as the reconnaissance drone RQ-1. But in 1999 it was fitted with Hellfire missiles and re-designated MQ-1, an ad-hoc adaptation that would give it a reputation as a silent assassin.