On Sunday, Japanese defense minister Tomomi Inada gave orders to send the helicopter carrier Izumo to sea as an escort to protect a U.S. Navy supply ship, which is on its way to provide fuel to the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group. On the sidelines of a diplomatic visit in Turkmenistan, Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida emphasized that the mission would demonstrate the "deterrent force" and preparedness of allied American and Japanese forces.
According to Japan's constitution, written under American occupation after the end of the Second World War, the Japanese government may only use force in self-defense – a limitation enshrined in the name of the "Japan Self-Defense Forces." Last year, Japan's legislature passed a controversial new law that allows the SDF to defend allied U.S. forces as well. The deployment of the Izumo, with orders that allow her to use the minimum amount of force necessary to protect the American ship, is the first Japanese mission to use the authority of this new law; it is also the first Japanese mission of its type in 70 years.
Vinson Strike Force Arrives at Last
The refueling mission is necessary because of the arrival of the carrier USS Carl Vinson and her escorts off of the Korean Peninsula. NHK reported her presence in the Sea of Japan on Saturday, and Pacific Fleet confirmed her arrival in a statement to ABC. Vinson was redeployed from regularly scheduled exercises in the Indian Ocean in order to deter North Korea from conducting further nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.
Vinson had just been off the Korean Peninsula in March, conducting a series of exercises with the South Korean navy. Her command canceled a series of port calls in Australia in order to head north once more – but not before creating a minor controversy over the timeline for her departure.
So far, the Vinson's arrival has not prevented North Korea from conducting ballistic missile testing: Pyongyang ordered another launch on Saturday, and the missile failed shortly after liftoff. The New York Times reports the existence of a covert American program designed to increase the failure rate of North Korea’s test launches, but U.S. defense officials have not confirmed any connection between a possible sabotage program and the launch failures.