In my previous post, I took a look at the roots of the extremely close level of integration between the U.S. Navy (USN) and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). This post will look at new Japanese naval technology development efforts that compliment USN capabilities, which in turn further the common strategic interests of both countries.
While officially classed as a helicopter destroyer (per the doctrinal focus on anti-submarine warfare (ASW)), Izumo-class ships are aircraft carriers in many respects, not least by the image they project to other countries in the region. In March 2018, Japanese Defense Secretary Onodera announced that a study was underway to determine if the Izumo-class could embark F-35B fighters. This would give the JMSDF a similar capability to the U.S. Marine Corps’ (USMC) Amphibious Assault Ships or the Royal Navy’s (RN) new Queen Elizabeth class carrier, (65,000 tons empty). At only 27,000 tons fully loaded, the Izumo class is roughly half the size of U.S.S. America (44,971 tons, fully loaded).
The ability to generate air sorties at sea is a key capability that drives the acquisition of aircraft carriers. Generating stealth fighter sorties at sea gives a potent strike capability, which could conceivably be used to strike at North Korean missile launch facilities, for example. This contingency plan alone was enough to draw a diplomatic warning from Beijing. Undeterred, the Japanese Defense Ministry just announced plans for F-35Bs to be purchased, as well as hypersonic missile capabilities.
Another example of Japanese maritime power projection capability is the Soryu class submarine, who some have claimed is the “best submarine in the world” (Mizokami-san does good work at Japan Security Watch). Carrying up to 30 “fish,” the Soryu class’s Type 89 torpedo is a formidable weapon, not least of which is its maximum speed of 70 knots, which is faster than the U.S. Mk48 ADCAP torpedo’s 55 knots.
Starting this October, these subs will feature lithium-ion batteries, which can store about double the energy of a lead-acid battery for the same volume, and also offers a weight advantage. This enhances the Soryu’s power projection effectiveness, as the Japanese Ministry of Defense has recently announced deployments to the contested South China Sea.
While these are hailed as a first, it is more likely this was the initial announcement of such deployments, which probably have been ongoing for some time. There is a certain logic to parsing how these information releases are worded:
Demonstrating freedom of navigation, a Japanese submarine for the first time conducted drills in the South China Sea where China is constructing military facilities, according to Japanese government sources. The Defense Ministry secretly dispatched the Kuroshio, a Maritime Self-Defense Force submarine, which conducted anti-submarine drills on Sept. 13 with three MSDF destroyers that were on a long-term mission around Southeast Asia, they said. The ministry had conducted anti-submarine drills only in sea areas around Japan, they added. [emphasis added]
This says nothing about being the first deployment, only the first anti-submarine warfare (ASW) drill.
In accordance with its 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines, Japan is also planning a new type of multi-role frigate. The JMSDF has announced plans “to introduce a new type of destroyer with minesweeping capabilities, with the aim of increasing the number of such vessels to 22 in the 2030s, sources said. In light of the intensifying activities of the Chinese Navy in the East China Sea, including around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, the government aims to improve warning and surveillance capabilities.”
According to Jane’s,
[T]his new frigate class, which is intended to carry out surveillance missions in waters surrounding the Japanese archipelago, will be equipped with enhanced multirole capabilities, including the ability to conduct anti-mine warfare operations, which until now have been performed by the JMSDF’s ocean-going minesweepers. Armament on the frigates, each of which will be capable of embarking one helicopter as well as unmanned surface and underwater vehicles, is expected to include the navalized version of the Type-03 (also known as the ‘Chū-SAM Kai’) medium-range surface-to-air missile, a 5-inch (127 mm)/62-calibre gun, a vertical launch system, canister-launched anti-ship missiles, and a SeaRAM close-in weapon system.
From this, we can see that this weapon system is intended to keep the military balance in place in the home waters, more so than a power projection mission. The purpose for these capabilities becomes more clear when considering the investments by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in mine warfare. “Today, the evidence continues to mount that the employment of sea mines remains a core tenet of Chinese naval war-fighting doctrine.” Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College has written a great white paper on the topic, entiled “Chinese Mine Warfare: A PLA Navy ‘Assassin’ s Mace’ Capability.” More to follow on this in later posts!