Japan's "Carrier Revolution" in the Interwar Period
Abstract: Carrier aviation has been considered as one of the most successful
cases of revolutions in military affairs (RMA) in the period between the Frist and Second
World Wars. During those two decades, only three navies, Japan, the United States, and
Great Britain, successfully built and operationalized large fleet carriers. However,
compared with the U.S. and British cases, the Japanese ca... read morese has been understudied in the
literature of RMA. In order to fill this void, this dissertation considers two related
research questions. First, what factors made the "carrier revolution" possible for the
Japanese Navy, and second, to what extent do the different approaches account for their
relative degrees of strategic success achieved by aircraft carriers? This study argues
that, while technological opportunities and the external environment provided an initial
push for the "carrier revolution," organizational innovation is a critical intervening
variable in accelerating the process of RMA. Given the lack of civilian control over the
military and the relative autonomy enjoyed by the Japanese Navy during the interwar period,
senior officers in the Japanese Navy recognized a structural change in the security
environment, invented a "new theory of victory" and adapted their organization by their own
initiative. The Japanese Navy underwent a process of innovation by expanding its officer
corps through creating a new career path and establishing their organizational base, the
Naval Aviation Department. A distinctive organizational culture developed within naval
aviation encouraged vigorous training and experimentation, which drove military innovation
more profoundly than in any other branches of the Japanese Navy. However, the specific ways
the organizational innovations were implemented critically affected the degree to which the
Japanese Navy achieved the RMA during the Pacific War. In particular, the Japanese Navy's
practice of funding personnel only after its procurement budget was approved and the
commitment to ensuring the promotion of Naval Academy graduates up to the rank of Captain
contributed to limiting the organizational representation of aviators within the navy,
which, in turn, had serious adverse implications for the development of carrier
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2016.
Submitted to the Dept. of Diplomacy, History, and Politics.
Advisor: Toshi Yoshihara.
Committee: Robert Pfaltzgraff, Jr., and Stephen Rosen.
Keywords: International relations, and Military studies.read less