February 19, 2005
The JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force) is arguably the second-best navy in the Pacific, trailing only the United States Navy. The JMSDF has a large number of modern surface warships and the third-largest submarine force in the Pacific, and it could be a potential player in any fight in the Formosa Strait, due to the fact that Japans ties with Taiwan have become much closer.
The primary surface vessels in the JMSDF are the destroyers. Japans had a long tradition of building a superb destroyer force in World War II, their destroyers were arguably the best in the world. The best destroyers in the JMSDF are the Kongo-class DDGs. These 7,250-ton ships carry 90 vertical-launch cells for SM-2MR missiles (with a range of 111 kilometers), and are equipped with the Aegis system. They are, in essence, copies of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in U.S. Navy service, with a few small exceptions (no Tomahawk capability, an Italian 5-inch gun, and some Japanese electronics). It is probably the best surface combatant outside the United States Navy. Japan also has a smaller force of older guided-missile destroyers, the Hatakaze and Tachikaze classes. These two destroyer classes are roughly equivalent to the Charles F. Adams-class destroyers. Japan also has four helicopter-carrying destroyers, primarily used for anti-submarine warfare.
Two other modern destroyer classes are entering service: The Murasame (4,550 tons) and Takanami-class (4,600 tons) destroyers both have vertical-launch cells, but both primarily focus on anti-submarine warfare. They usually carry a mix of vertically-launched ASROC and Sea Sparrow missiles. The two ship classes will comprise fourteen ships total. The major difference between the two ship classes are their main guns. The Murasame has a 76mm gun, the Takanami, a 5-inch gun. Two other classes of destroyer, the Asagiri and Hatsuyuki are also present in strength (20 ships between the two of them).
Japans other major asset is its large force of advanced diesel-electric submarines (eighteen subs). The Yuushio, Harushio, and Oyashiro classes displace anywhere from 2,450 tons to 3,000 tons. Each carry six 21-inch torpedo tubes, with a total of 20 weapons (either Harpoon anti-ship missiles or Type 89 torpedoes). These subs would be a potent force against the Chinese Navy.
The JMSDF has some problems. Training is difficult, since Japans waters have many commercial fishing and merchant vessels. Japan is usually able to squeeze in only about ten days of training for mine warfare, when fishing is not so good. The JMSDF also is short on underway replenishment vessels a total of four such ships are available to refuel forty-seven destroyers. The new submarines have also been expensive ($500 million apiece), a problem when the Japanese Constitution limits defense spending to one percent of Japans Gross National Product. Similarly, the Kongos were built to mercantile standards to save money which means they cannot take as much damage as a Burke-class destroyer. Furthermore, Japans efforts to build an aircraft carrier have run into opposition. The official design for the replacement for the Haruna and Shirane-class DDHs have shown a full superstructure and forward and aft helicopter pads. However, alternative designs have looked like a small aircraft carrier. At 13,500 tons, these are not much smaller than an Independence-class light carrier from World War II.
The JMSDF also has problems with political support. Often, Japans security needs (such as the ability to protect oceangoing trade) have been subordinated to concerns about whether a posture is too aggressive. This has gone back to 1981, when proposals to ensure defense of sea lanes was controversial despite Japans experience under submarine blockade in World War II. Also, Japans had problems getting sufficient personnel it has been under authorized strength in the past (a shortfall of 3.5 percent existed in 1992). Ultimately, Japans ability to overcome the political issues and to get an adequate number of trained personnel will determine how well it can carry out its mission of defending Japan. Harold C. Hutchison (email@example.com)