Pacific Partnership 2010, the U.S. Navy’s annual soft power cruise through the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, is now five years old. Begun in the aftermath of the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Pacific Partnership annually sends a U.S. Navy vessel loaded with doctors, dentists, veterinarians and engineers to remote locations to assist local communities on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
Just a few weeks ago, I lamented the lack of effort on Japan’s part in doing the same thing. The reasoning was that a similar mission by Japan could bring it a lot of good will in countries that Japan will need as allies if China’s rise takes a decidedly anti-Japanese turn. I accused Japan of being unimaginative and new-idea adverse.
Boy, was I wrong. Very wrong. I would happily settle down to a meal of crow teriyaki — except that I like crows — so chicken will have to do.
Yesterday Kyodo News Agency revealed that JDS Kunisaki, an Ohsumi-class Landing Ship, Tank (LST), as well as a staff of 40 medical and dental personnel, will be joining Pacific Partnership 2010′s USNS Mercy off the coasts of Vietnam and Cambodia to essentially provide the same services. The ship will also have personnel from 22 Japanese nongovernmental organizations, as well as serve to introduce Japanese culture.
Kunisaki‘s cruise will be the first of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s “yu-ai” (fraternity) boats. The mission was publicized as early as January. There will be more.
Kunisaki is the third of the Ohsumi-class LSTs. She features a 160-meter flight deck and presumably is embarking at least a few MSDF SH-60K helicopters. Globalsecurity describes ships of the Ohsumi class as being capable of carrying “10-20 tanks and about 40 large scale vehicles.” They have a crew of 130 and can transport 330 ground troops. A well deck can hold two LCACs, although Japan also has LCMs and LCUs. With a 60-meter well deck, Kunisaki can presumably handle all three, though not all at once. Kunisaki also incorporates some stealthy, anti-radar features into its design.
This is great news. Hatoyama gets it. Hatoyama is putting all of Japan’s core skills and assets to use in the best way possible.