Author's Note: The How Best to Employ Fighter aircraft Part II - the American Perspective, is 90% completed and will likely be published sometime after Wednesday. In the meantime, here are some of my quick thoughts on Japan's New Flat Top.
As China continues to assert itself territoriality and expand its military, other regional powers will come together to curb the expansion of China's influence. While US and European defense budgets decline, non-China Asian defense budgets have risen at consistent rates in response to China; India and Japan's renewed effort to expand their naval capabilities should come as no surprise to Chinese observers.
The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) recently launched the largest Japanese warship since World War II, the 820 foot long 24,000 ton Izumo "helicopter destroyer". The response from China's collective media outlets was to characterize the deployment of the Izumo as evidence of Japan's "aggressively militaristic foreign policy".
(1) Helicopter Destroyer?
The Izumo is clearly distinct in to both appearance and functionality to what is widely accepted as a conventional destroyer design. Some observers assert the Izumo is a carrier rather than a destroyer but this assertion is also incorrect. By US Navy hull qualifications, the Izumo is actually a landing helicopter assault (LHA)/landing helicopter dock (LHD) class ship which is colloquially referred to an amphibious assault ship. Amphibious assault ships are typically much smaller than an aircraft carrier and serve a distinctly different role in the fleet. LHA/LHD ships are typically in the 20,000 ton range and accommodate helicopters, hundreds marines, a dozen or more amphibious landing vehicles (e.g. landing craft air cushion) and sometimes a few fixed winged aircraft while aircraft carriers often weigh in upwards of 40,000 tons and can host an entire carrier air wing. The primary mission of LHA/LHD vessel is amphibious warfare and anti-submarine warfare operations not the projection of extensive air power over vast distances.
“Chinese A2/AD abilities that have attracted attention are China’s increasing submarine fleet, the DF-21D [anti-ship ballistic missile], anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as China’s new Type 052D destroyers with enhanced air defense capabilities...To deal with the subs, Japan already has a lot of what it needs in place. Japan’s past emphasis on ASW and other capabilities for assuring the integrity of its maritime perimeter gives it a base from which it could easily recalibrate its [Navy] to help clear the way for the [US Navy] to insert itself into any conflict relating to Taiwan or Okinawa" - Corey Wallace, 2013
If I had to guess the reasoning for the term "helicopter destroyer", I'd say it has something to do with the fact that the Japanese military is constitutionally mandated to serve only in a self defense capacity with almost no offensive abilities. Under the direction of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the JMSDF has expanded its roles to include amphibious assault as the defense of disputed islands becomes a higher national priority. The justification for new amphibious assault ships is Japan needs to be able to retake or rapidly reinforce disputed Japanese territories. Even with the aforementioned justification, assault ships have historically served as offensive platforms so the name "helicopter destroyer" might be a way to dodge the offensive capabilities issue as conventional destroyers have already served in a defensive capacity in the JMSDF for decades.
Some media outlets have stated the Izumo is a carrier and could someday host F-35B aircraft. At the moment, Japan has only ordered 42 conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A aircraft to replace its F-4 Phantom fleet. It is likely Japan will order more F-35A's in the near future for the F-XX program (~100 aircraft) but F-35B purchases are not as likely. Corey Wallace from the New Pacific Institute thoroughly examines why the Izumo design is poorly suited to accommodate the F-35B among other practical limitations that make the acquisition of the F-35B unlikely for Japan.
"Japan has not yet purchased the F-35B, committed to a purchase,  and may not be able to afford to. Anyone who proposed as a policy option, and/or signed off on purchasing an 'aircraft carrier' (for $1.2 billion) like the Izumo for the specific purpose of it launching jump jets that may not materialize, would deserve some kind of award for idiocy given the uncertainty about whether Japan will in the next decade even have planes it could use on such a vessel...So, the Izumo has no ski-jump, no specialized landing pads, no angled flight-deck allowing for simultaneous launch and recovery missions, the SDF has no F-35Bs, and the Izumo is too small to accommodate more than a handful of F-35Bs anyway. As an 'offensive' aircraft carrier, it is a little weak."
The V-22 Osprey is more likely to serve on board the Izumo in the immediate future. Japan has already expressed interest in acquiring the V-22 Osprey and has practiced operating the V-22 from smaller Hyuga class helicopter destroyers with the USMC in operation Dawn Blitz of the coast of California earlier this year.