Japan's Navy: Sailing Towards the Future
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons (nubobo)

Japan's Navy: Sailing Towards the Future


While Japan's dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has been notable for a number of reasons — mostly negative — one of the few positive elements has been the refusal of either side to send in the military. That may have changed with the recent deployment of Chengdu J-10 and Mitsubishi/Boeing F-15 fighter aircraft after a Chinese Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft headed toward the islands, but so far, at least, the confrontations have been limited to coast guard and other maritime paramilitary organizations.

For military strategists – and defense journalists – that means we are still in the dark as to how the two countries' navies would handle such a contingency. China's development into a full spectrum, blue-water navy is well catalogued, whether it is the commissioning of its Type 071 landing platform docks (LPDs), new Type 52D frigates, Type 51A destroyers or Liaoning, its Kusnetsov-class aircraft carrier. But what about Japan?

Back in October 2012, James Holmes argued convincingly that Japan had a “Cold War navy” designed to fill specific niches in a mutually beneficial partnership with the United States.“Under the division of labor worked out between the two navies, the U.S. Navy supplied the offensive firepower, manifest in aircraft carriers and other high-end implements of war. The defensive-minded JMSDF [Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force] acted as a gapfiller, making itself proficient at niche missions like minesweeping, anti-submarine warfare, and offensive submarine warfare."

I'm not about to argue with that assessment, which brings us to the next point: is Japan doing anything to change this situation, and if so, what?

Speaking to IHS Jane's Navy International in October, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff at the JMSDF, sounded like he was more interested in steadying the ship than bringing new capabilities on board. He highlighted Japan's role in recent international minesweeping drills and new procurements such as a 5,000-ton anti-submarine warfare (ASW) destroyer; two Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs) to replace ageing P-3C Orions; and modernization of the service's Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems.

"The developments in C4ISR and ASW platforms are in line with the JMSDF's goal of improving specific capabilities,” Adm Kawano noted. He also mentioned the upgrade of two destroyers so they can play a part in Japan's SM-3 ballistic missile defense system, along with the expansion of the submarine fleet from 16 to 22 boats.

So far, so low key: no one could accuse the JMSDF of an expansionist agenda – just a steady ramping up of the "defensive-minded" capabilities at which it already excels. But if you are looking for evidence of a slightly more proactive stance to match Japan's new policy of "active deterrence", then some recent procurements and exercises make the picture a little more interesting.

First up are the navy's new 22DDH helicopter carriers, the first of which is currently being built by IHI Marine in Yokohama and will be ready in 2015. At 248 m long and with a displacement of 27,000 tons (full), it dwarfs the 197-m long, 19,000-ton Hyuga-class “helicopter destroyers” that are currently the JMSDF's largest vessels. Like the Hyuga class, two are being built.

John Anderson
July 31, 2013 at 05:44

China did not claim Diayu before 1945 was because she lost the war to Japan – a fact that you should obviously know. Even Taiwan was under Japanese occupation till 1945. Do you mean that Taiwan should belong to Japan too.

After WW2, Diayu was under US administration, NOT Japanese, so what to protest? US reverted the administration to japan in 1971/72. That was when China / ROC starting protesting.

Villanueva Jerecho
July 25, 2013 at 06:10

Hello mate! you're a shame to the the thousands of your countrymen who fought and died during WWII fighting the japanese invaders in the jungles of singapore and malaya, i have deep respect to all kangaro jacks (Australians) who died on distant shores defending freedom and liberty. Now that freedom is in danger to be taken away by the expansionist policy of communist china, they need the natural resources of their neighbors in order to satisfy the insatiable needs of their 1.5B mouths to feed. I bet their hungry eyes, are now in focus to your resource rich continent, down under. Its just a matter of time before these slant eyed barbarians are right in your own backyards. Wake up mate! and do your duty, like your brave compatriots did in the last world war, defending the helpless and the weak and championing the cause of freedom.


robert crowson
July 2, 2013 at 03:56

Its best for all to keep cool heads and buy time. Time will ease the pressures of ones next move. The land dragon guards its gold and the sea dragon its pearls.

[...] United States could help bolster the naval aviation capabilities of both navies. The JMSDF has been expanding its number of helicopter carriers, while the ROKN is expanding its fleet of Dokdo-class landing ships, supposedly capable of carrying [...]

[...] US Marines apparently operate ships very similar in many ways to Japan’s Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers [...]

February 17, 2013 at 13:11

And down here in Australia…we shall just laugh ay the antics of of Asian parners/neighbours and wonder who will emerge with any shipping left to transport food and resources to their starving millions/billions. We dont care which naftions supply our children with Playstations… bjut it would appear none of you care which nation will supply your children with clean food.

Down to the Communist China
February 17, 2013 at 12:14

You think ASEAN countries will support the GREED CHINA? in your dream BE WAY, ASEAN will not support bullying and greediness may be your puppet CAMBODIA will support your Green nation. You always used "Inherent" but how come the South China Sea becomes part of your greed nation? when in fact it is far from your country. China becomes so agreesives in taking Spratley and the Scaborough Shour is because they discovered a huge amount of oil reserve in that area when they were given permission by the past president of the Philippines GLORIA AROYO who earns much on the deal. Hey what if the islands have no oil and gas reserve will your greed china still want to get the islands?

February 8, 2013 at 21:48

In a non-nuclear war China stands no chance at present if the USA were to be involved. Of course there would be no land invasion of the Chinese Mainland but the USA, after a day or two at most, would be in complete control of the air and would be able to hit targets on the ground with relative impunity. The USA would also control the sea lanes. Fortunately or hopefully everyone involved realizes that military action would be a disaster, economically, for everyone involved. The only worry that I have is that Chinese military leaders, expecially the younger officers, are spoiling for a fight. Xi Jinping may have his hads full reigning in "his" military officers.

February 4, 2013 at 07:13

The more successful you are the more haters you attract. Looks at these comments, it's easy to figure out which country is on the rise and which country's losers are here expressing their hate to release their frustrations at their own failing society.

A Thai Flower
March 15, 2014 at 01:35


January 27, 2013 at 13:47

Go back to school and study more dude. Lmfao!

January 27, 2013 at 13:45

Well the US will happily arm those subs with nukes once war is declared or maybe right now it's already nuclear armed.

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Philippine Army
January 27, 2013 at 12:30

The Scarborough shoal of the Philippine is a good for a patrol operation if japan wanted to use in their exercise their newest state of the art navy ship, in ancient history the Filipino were already traveling to Malaysian in the south and to the chinese mainland in the west of WESTERN PHILIPPINE SEA and some of the shoreline in the mainland was own by the native Filipino because chinese in shoreline were selling their property to the native Filipino from the Philippines…

January 27, 2013 at 12:08

Very well written soft power.

January 27, 2013 at 08:18

Everyone seems so happy to argue who would win in a war, when we should be thinking how to avoid one. The Senkaku/Daiyou islands simply aren't worth the massive cost of a war to all sides.
China's, America's and Japan's economies are all so dependent on each other that war would cripple them all. It would send America and Japan into economic depression, and the Chinese economic growth we're all so used to would be literally stopped overnight.
China has a lot to give the world, but its needless sabre rattling over 3 tiny rocks and some apparent oil reserves just shows how diplomatically immature China still is. The rest of the world looks nervously as China seem intent on starting a war over some insiginificant islands. China should be trying to make friends in the region, and would do a lot more for its economy, people, and international standing by handling this situation in a mature and reasoned fashion as opposed to continual escalations. 
Japan has also fumbled its way through this whole dispute, making error after error that is symptomatic of its deeper internal political problems. Japan should unreservedly apologise for its war time atrocities, and hit the reset button with China- but its incapable of acknowledging historical crimes. If Japan needs any friend right now, in its current economic state, its the largest economy in in the region, and second largest in the world.

January 26, 2013 at 11:27

you are an apologist for being chinese. Why don't you declare yourself white or even japanese, quisling! You are despicable.

SC Lai
January 26, 2013 at 09:38

How do you know the Pro – China are paid then?I believe most of them are non China nationals like myself who are really fed up with western MSM's hypocrisy who keeps bashing China on non issues like Tibet but keep totally silent about Westerners robbing of 3rd world nations' territories like robbing of  Arab land for Israel,Israel robbing of Golan Height.American robbing of Hawaii,Japan robbing of Ryuku and Diaoyu

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