Surface Forces: Japan Does What America Could Not


July 10, 2022: So far in 2022 Japan put into service two of twenty-two Mogami-Class 30FFM multi-mission frigates. The first two ships, the Mogami and Kumani began construction at the same time (October 2019) but the yard building Kumani took the lead, putting their ship in the water 11 months later, four months before the Mogami. The rival builder closed the gap and was ready for service in April, one month after Kumani. The Mogami class will eventually replace some destroyers as well as existing frigates. Japan, along with China and South Korea are the largest shipbuilding nations in the world and produce, in terms of tonnage, over 95 percent of the commercial shipping built annually. For centuries the major manufacturer of commercial ships tended to develop and build the most innovative and numerous warships. This is how the United States became the leading warship supplier after World War II (1945).

European nations rebuilt their shipbuilding industries after World War II and became and remain major competitors. Later in the 20th century China, Japan and South Korea became (and remain) major commercial shipbuilders and that enabled them all to design and build their own warships. The U.S. is now a minor component of commercial shipbuilding and having problems building world-class warships and doing it on time and under budget.

The 5,500-ton 30FFM ships are an example of successful innovation and speed in implanting the new concepts The Mogamis take the multi-mission angle seriously. They are equipped for mine-hunting as well as mine-laying. In addition to a 127mm gun, each ship carries eight anti-ship missiles, there are eleven SeaRAM anti-aircraft/missile missiles with a range of ten kilometers and 16 VLS cells that will eventually carry larger Chu-SAM anti-aircraft missiles with a range to 50 kilometers. Some VLS cells can also contain cruise missiles. There are twelve lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes. There is a ramp in the rear for launching and recovering UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vessels) USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels) and RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) for boarding parties. A helicopter is also carried and that can be replaced by two or more UAVs.

The Mogamis are a stealthy (difficult to detect with radar) design and carry active and passive (heat sensing) radars. There are ASW (anti-submarine warfare) and mine-hunting sonars. The active radars can also carry out jamming and other EW (Electronic Warfare) tasks. All these sensors are integrated into a single fire control system. There are two autocannon equipped RWS (Remote Weapons Stations). For defense there are electronic and chaff decoys to defend against incoming missiles or aircraft.

Top speed is 55 kilometers an hour and crew size about half (at 90 personnel) what ships this size used to require. There is a lot of automation on the ship, which accounts for the relatively small crew. The Japanese automation works because as a major shipbuilder crew automation is a key component of success in world markets. Japan pioneered many of the earliest ship automation technologies. The U.S. tried to use automation in their LCS type ship. The first of these entered service in 2008 and had so many problems that it was retired early in 2021, months before the first Mogami entered service. LCS was designed to replace the Perry class frigates, the last of the post-World War II American warship designs. The first Perry entered service in 1975 and 71 were built by 2oo4. About half the Perry’s are still in service with export customers. Admitting the LCS was a failure. The U.S. Navy selected one of several European frigate designs t0 finally replace the Perry.

The 30FFM ships were originally designed to be destroyers but while planning equipment and weapons layout it was realized that these ships could be multi mission ships and the designation was changed to frigate. The 30FFMs will be built in batches, with an initial batch of eight, followed by two or three more batches, each improving on the earlier batch. The 30FFM already has one export customer. Indonesia will get four modified (to Indonesian needs) batch one ships with another four built in Indonesia with Japanese assistance.

The Japanese Navy is the second largest in East Asia, second only to China. Its combat ships are all of modern design with well trained and experienced crews. This force includes 30 destroyers with six equipped with the Aegis air defense system that can also intercept ballistic missiles. Two more Aegis destroyers are on the way. There are also four “helicopter destroyers” that look like small aircraft carriers, which is what they actually are. The post-World War II Japanese constitution prohibits Japan from having aircraft carriers but the “helicopter destroyers” are being modified to use the vertical takeoff F-35B stealth fighter.

Japan is making a big investment in these aircraft both for operating from land bases and from seagoing ones. Since 2017 Japan has had operational two 27,000 ton “destroyers” (DDH type ships) that look exactly like an aircraft carrier. These Izumo class ships can carry up to 28 helicopters or up to ten vertical takeoff aircraft (F-35B). The carriers are armed only with two 20mm Phalanx anti-missile cannons and launchers with sixteen ESSM missiles for anti-missile defense. The DDH have powerful engines capable of destroyer-like speeds of over fifty-four kilometers an hour. There are also more medical facilities than one would expect for a ship of this size. Izumo does have considerable cargo capacity, which is intended for moving disaster relief supplies quickly to where they are needed. Some of these cargo spaces can be converted to berthing spaces for troops, disaster relief personnel, or people rescued from disasters, as well as additional weapons and equipment needed to support F-35B fighter-bombers. Izumo can carry and operate at least ten of the vertical take-off F-35B stealth fighters once modifications were made to the flight deck to handle the extremely high temperatures the F-35B generates when taking off or landing vertically, like a helicopter. When the first DDH entered service in 2015 Japan made no mention of buying F-35Bs or modifying the LPH flight decks to handle the F-35B. The Izumos already have an elevator (to the hangar deck under the flight deck) powerful enough to carry an F-35B fighter.

Japan also has a submarine force of very quiet and lethal diesel-electric boats, most with AIP (air-independent propulsion) that allows submerged operations lasting several weeks. This submarine force is being expanded to 22 boats.

There are 16 smaller (frigate and corvette) surface warships plus 30 minesweepers, three landing ships and lots of support ships. The current frigates are six 2,600-ton ships delivered in the 1990s. In the 1980s, when these frigates were designed 11 were planned. With the end of the Cold War in 1991 the number was cut to six.




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