The Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier Izumo was deployed May 1 to escort a U.S. Navy supply ship, showcasing a new role in Japan's security operations while bringing the SDF even closer to the U.S. military.
Japan's navy has dispatched its largest destroyer to escort a U.S. military ship off the Japanese coast amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula.
The 249m-long Izumo can carry up to nine helicopters, and resembles USA amphibious assault carriers, reported The Japan Times.
North Korea has yet to meet its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the USA mainland, but analysts believe its current arsenal is capable of striking the 50,000 US troops stationed across Japan.
Under revised security laws, members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces are allowed to use their weapons to protect armaments and other equipment of the units of U.S. forces and armed forces of other countries that are engaged in activities contributing to the defence of Japan.
"First of all, Japan, which is the US forces' logistics, launch and sorties bases, would be blanketed with radioactive clouds if a nuclear war occur on the Korean Peninsula", the Rodong Sinmun, an official daily of the North's ruling Workers' Party, said in a commentary titled "Japan's Reckless Act Which Drives Itself into Ruin".
The mission is clearly a show of force by President Shinzo Abe, who has been keen to expand Japan's military role over the years.
North Korea conducted another missile test on Saturday, its third launch in April alone, which reportedly failed soon after launch, and its Foreign Ministry said Monday the country will speed up measures to bolster its nuclear program "at the maximum pace".
But shortly after the plan was announced, reports emerged that the carrier group was actually heading in the opposite direction of the Korean Peninsula, moving southwest to join the Australian Navy for joint exercises in the Indian Ocean. So far, only two others Yamagata in the north and Nagasaki, home to Sasebo naval base, in the south have started to make concrete plans for drills in the coming months.
For Japanese government officials, the timing and conditions were flawless.
Critics say this violates Japan's post-World War Two pacifist constitution and could lead it into unnecessary wars overseas. The letters on top left, reading "North Korea fired a ballistic missile".