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Japan’s Surface Fleet: A Navy Ready for War with China or North Korea? 

Last year, we outlined the submarine capabilities of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF), and we looked at how those subs stack up against those of China’s and North Korea’s navies. In the spirit of logical progression, we shall now take a quick look at the JMSDF’s surface warfare fleet. 

JMSDF Command Structure, Organization, and Mission Statement

Adm. Sakai Ryo assumed his position as the Japanese navy’s 35th Chief of Staff in March 2022. Adm. Sakai commands a force of 50,800 personnel, more than 150 ships (of which 36 are submarines), and 346 aircraft. What is interesting in light of the fact that ...-WWII Japanese Self-Defense Forces have always been known for their small size, is that the JMSDF actually became the world’s fourth-largest navy by tonnage in 2000. 

The fleet is headquartered at Yokosuka, while the Maritime Staff Office is located in Tokyo. From there, the structure divides into five regional district commands, an air training squadron, and various support units such as training schools — including the prestigious Naval Academy Etajima  — and hospitals. 

JMSDF’s Mission Statement is broken down into three primary goals:

1) Defend Japan’s territory and surrounding areas;

2) secure the safety of maritime traffic; and

3) create a desirable security environment.

Izumo and Hyūga Helicopter Destroyer/Helicopter Carrier Class

Aircraft carriers in this age are considered capital ships in the same sense that battleships were in days gone by. The closest thing to capital ships that the Japanese navy possesses now are four vessels that are officially designated “helicopter destroyers” but for all practical purposes are helicopter and light-aircraft carriers. First there is the Izumo class, consisting of the JS Izumo (DDH-183) and JS Kaga (DDH-184) – the latter shares the name of one of the four Imperial Japanese Navy carriers sunk during the Battle of Midway in WWII. The vessels were commissioned in March 2015 and March 2017, respectively.

Then there is the Hyūga class, consisting of the JS Hyūga (DDH-181) and JS Ise (DDH-182), commissioned in March 2009 and March 2011, respectively. 

The Hyūgas have a fully laden displacement of 19,000 tons. Hull length is 646 feet, beam width is 108 feet, and draft is 23 feet. Hyūga and Ise host crew complements of 360 and 371. The vessels’ maximum speed is over 30 knots. These ships have a carrying capacity of 18 aircraft, which include Agusta Westland AW101 and SH-60K helicopters. 

Meanwhile, the Izumos are the biggest warships in Japan’s fleet since World War II. They displace 26,000 tons at full load. These ships are 813 feet, 8 inches long, 38 feet abeam, and 24 feet, 7 inches in draft, pushing through the waters at maximum speed of 30 knots. Crew complement is 520, including flag staff. Currently the ships carry seven antisubmarine warfare (ASW) helicopters and two search-and-rescue choppers, but reportedly they are being provisioned and converted to host up to 12 fixed-wing F-35s.

For self-defense purposes, both carrier classes carry the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System.  

Asahi Destroyer (DDG/DD) Class

The JMSDF hold eight different destroyer classes, but I must limit my analysis to one. The Asahi-class ASW destroyers share their name with my favorite brand of Japanese beer, so Kanpai (Cheers)! The two ships of the class are the JS Asahi (DD-119) and the JS Shiranui (DD-120), commissioned in March 2018 and February 2019. 

Fully laden displacement is 6,800 tons, with a hull length of 495 feet, 5 inches, a beam width of 60 feet, and a draft of 17 feet, 9 inches. Crew complement consists of 230 officers and enlisted sailors, who are transported across the ocean waves at a maximum speed of 30 knots. Armament consists of a single Mk 45 Mod 4 main gun, along with 32 Mk 41 vertical launching system cells for Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles and Type 07 vertical-launch anti-submarine rockets; eight Type 90 anti-ship missile launchers; and two triple torpedo launchers.

According to the Navy Recognition website, “The Asahi-class is uniquely fitted with a COGLAG (combined gas turbine electric and gas turbine) propulsion system, with two GE LM2500IEC turbine engines connected to two 2.5 MW/3,400 hp electric motors. This is a first for a JMSDF surface combatant. The benefit of the COGLAG configuration is that it provides sufficient power at greater efficiency for current and future weapon systems.”

Mogami Frigate (FFM) Class

The Mogami class shares its name with a heavy cruiser that was heavily damaged during the Battle of Midway and finally sunk at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The four present-day Mogami-class ships are considered stealth frigates: the JS Mogami (FFM-1), JS Kumano (FFM-2), JS Noshiro (FFM-3), and JS Mikuma (FFM-4), commissioned between March 2022 and March 2023. 

According to the Naval Technology website, “The stealth technology used in the vessels is based on MHI’s research and development from the Advanced Technology Demonstrator (ATD)-X Shinshin stealth fighter experimental aircraft.”

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Crew capacity is 90 officers and sailors, with a max speed of over 30 knots. Full displacement is 5,500 tons. Length is 436 feet, 4 inches, and beam is 53 feet, 6 inches. Armament consists of the Mk 45 Mod 4 gun, along with 16-cell Mk 41 vertical launching systems for surface-to-air missiles, and eight anti-ship missiles. For good measure, there are remote-controlled weapon stations, torpedo and decoy launchers, and Raytheon’s SeaRAM short-range anti-ship missile defense system.  

Bottom Line

As with her submarine fleet, Japan’s surface navy may not have the sheer numbers that China and North Korea boast. However, from a technological capability standpoint, they can certainly take on all comers.

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. If you’d like to pick his brain in-person about his writings, chances are you’ll be able to find him at the Green Turtle Pasadena in Maryland on Friday nights, singing his favorite karaoke tunes. 



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