Archive for the 'Japan' Tag

For those that have done a tour with the Forward-Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) in 7th Fleet, it is known especially well that the long-term schedule is taken with a grain of salt. Stateside deployers have the luxury of knowing their deployment timeline years in advance. However, the Japan-based ships in 7th fleet, especially the nine destroyers and cruisers that make up the backbone of the battle force, face uncertainty every day.

Due to rising Asia-Pacific tensions, FDNF operational tempo (OPTEMPO) has increased dramatically and the continued requirements that ships have to meet also continue to increase. It is quite frequent for ships to be called out to sea at little-to-no notice for any number of different missions including anti-submarine warfare (ASW), ballistic missile defense (BMD), and even humanitarian operations! The jam-packed schedule does not allow for any wiggle room – this means that ships are also called up last minute to replace others that are down a warfare area, have an engineering casualty, or need extra time to prepare (or re-prepare) for a major inspection such as Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) or Type Commander Material Inspection (TMI). Unfortunately, Sailors and their families take the blunt of the unpredictable schedule, and in my opinion, it is one of the main reasons one chooses not to do another FDNF tour.

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topics_01In the course of reading Robert Kaplan’s article in the Wall Street Journal, I had to back up and read this twice.

The Japanese navy boasts roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy.

Wait … what?

OK, that reality has sunk in over the last decade – but we are still a bit of an Anglophile navy, and even with the Pacific Pivot, we still give the mother country a lot of heft for historical and emotional reasons.

In their constitutional quasi-isolation, Japan’s very real power has

Here is the context;

… in Asia. Nationalism there is young and vibrant—as it was in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Asia is in the midst of a feverish arms race, featuring advanced diesel-electric submarines, the latest fighter jets and ballistic missiles. China, having consolidated its land borders following nearly two centuries of disorder, is projecting air and sea power into what it regards as the blue national soil of the South China and East China seas.

Japan and other countries are reacting in kind. Slipping out of its quasi-pacifistic shell, Japan is rediscovering nationalism as a default option. The Japanese navy boasts roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy. As for Vietnam and the Philippines, nobody who visits those countries and talks with their officials, as I have, about their territorial claims would imagine for a moment that we live in a post-national age.

The disputes in Asia are not about ideology or any uplifting moral philosophy; they are about who gets to control space on the map.

Silly Transformationalists … dreaming is for kiddies. Get ye back to your history books!

Back on topic though; yes, the facts are clear.

Though you can find +/- difference depending on source, definitions, and recent com/decom; here are the numbers:
Royal Navy:
Helicopter Carriers: 2
Amphibious Ships: 2
Destroyers: 7
Frigates: 13
Submarines: 6-SSN, 4-SSBN

We’ll call that 24.

Japanese Navy:
Helicopter Carriers: 2 (technically 4, all of which are helicopter carrying destroyers. The SHIRANE Class of 2 are only half decks and are really just destroyers. HYUGA Class of 2 are no-kidding helicopter carriers. Two more much larger 19,500 ton ships on the way this decade as well).
Amphibious Ships: 5
Destroyers: 40
Frigates: 6
Submarines: 16-SS

We’ll call that 67. If you are what Salamander defines as “major combatants” then you have 2.8 times, not 4x, but there are lots of ways to count. Perhaps they are looking at smaller ships as well. By either definition though, it should give one pause not only to reflect about the decline of the Royal Navy – but more importantly – the latent and potential power of the Japanese Navy.

Anyone who has worked with the Japanese will agree with me as well that from a professional point of view, they are an exceptionally quality force.

Here is the tie in.

Did you catch this little memo?

Japan’s Defense Ministry will request a second boost to its military budget, according to reports, just a day after the government announced the first Defense budget increase in 10 years.

The boosts, although relatively modest compared with Japan’s overall defense spending, coincide with increasing tensions in the Asia Pacific region.Japan’s Defense Ministry intends to ask for 180.5 billion yen ($2.1 billion) from a government stimulus package – on top of an increase of more than 100 billion yen ($1.1 billion) to its military budget announced earlier this week – in order to upgrade its air defenses, according to the BBC..

Good. Japan needs to continue to do this, and we should welcome the move as long overdue (though don’t get too excited, their larger budgetary problems are even greater than ours). Europe fades, Royal Navy withers … where can the USA look for its major partner at sea?

We don’t have to look far. With the tweaks they are on the road to make in their Constitution – Japan is right there.



Japan’s neighbors have never been comfortable with the island nation’s quasi-Navy, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). JMSDF is legally a civilian service, operating under the famous Article 9 of the Japan’s constitution requiring that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”. But, JMSDF’s de jure status has done little to calm the fears of several nations in the region who have nervously watched every move by the small organization (officially JMSDF consists of only 46,000 personnel) since the JMSDF’s creation in the 1950s.

Recently, the legal limits on JMSDF have prompted some Japanese defense observers to argue for a turn to soft power. Now it looks like Japan might be doing exactly that. This month the United States sent one of its two hospital ships, USNS Mercy, on Operation Pacific Partnership 2010. This soft power cruise is just the latest instance of a new and growing mission for the Navy: health diplomacy. These humanitarian assistance operations started after the positive response to the Navy’s disaster relief mission after the Asian tsunami and gained an powerful advocate in current NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral James Stavridis when he was Commander of SOUTHCOM.

US health diplomacy cruises have always included personnel from ally countries. However, this year Japan has gone a step further, deploying a 13,000 ton Osumi flat-top warship to join the USNS Mercy during ports in Vietnam and Cambodia to support Pacific Partnership. The 584-foot ship, JMSDF LST 4003 Kunisaki, most closely comparable with the US Navy’s Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. Kunisaki’s flat top allows for four helicopters (although some have claimed it was designed as a “pocket carrier”). Below, a well deck contains space for two hovercraft. Kunisaki’s deployment is, as far as I can tell, the one of the largest deployments of Japanese naval power to a foreign port since JMSDF’s creation. JMSDF port visits are uncommon in mainland Asia. In June 2008 a Japanese destroyer made the first port call in China by a Japanese warship since World War II.

Is Kunisaki’s port call the start of Japan’s soft power rising?



In Asia, America has gotta move away from a long-standing habit of engaging in simple, bilateral force measurements. Asia is a multi-polar place, and America’s penchant for strategic over-simplification is going to land the U.S. into serious trouble.

Put bluntly, U.S. Navy-folk need to remember there are a few other countries over on the other side of the Pacific. Some of them are rather formidable. And the U.S. is neglecting them.

So…Let’s take a moment to compare some naval forces in the Pacific Basin. Using the official DOD Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the PRC 2005 and 2009, it looks like China’s Navy is growing. But…when China’s rate of growth is compared with other neighbors, that burst of growth over the past five years looks a lot less daunting.

China: Diesel Attack Subs: (2005 vs. 2009): 51 vs. 54 (+3)
USA: Diesel Attack Subs: (2005 vs. 2009): 0 vs. 0 (+0)

Note: Japan commissioned 4 Oyashio-class, 2 Soryu-class SSKs; South Korea commissioned 3 Type 214s from 2005-2010.

China: Nuclear Subs (SSN only, 2005 vs. 2009): 6 vs. 6 (+0)
USA: Nuclear Subs (SSN/SSGN only 2005 vs. 2009): 58 vs. 56/57 (-2/-1)

China: Destroyers (2005 vs. 2009): 21 vs. 27 (+7)
USA: Destroyers (2005 vs. 2009/10): 46 vs. 54/57 (+8/+11)

Note: Japan brought into service 2 Atago-class destroyers, 2 Takanami-class destroyers, and a Hyuga-class “carrier” destroyer; Taiwan put 4 ex-Kidd-class vessels into service; South Korea put 4 KDX-2-class destroyers into service over the past 5 years.

China: Frigates (2005 vs. 2009): 43 vs. 48 (+5)
USA: Frigates (2005 vs. 2009/10): 30 vs. 30/31 (+0/+1)

Note: Regional Frigate-building programs are proceeding apace.

China: Coastal Missile ships: (2005 vs. 2009): 51 vs 70+ (+19 at least)
USA: Nada. Zip.

Interesting. China’s small missile ships are allowing China’s larger vessels to engage in “blue water” activities, so, while these vessels expand China’s “reach”, a dependence on small ships may prove a vulnerability. The region needs to know more about the small ship programs hosted by Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. What, by way of smaller vessels, can these navies offer? How good are the region’s Air Forces in hunting and destroying smaller craft?

In short, does China’s love of small craft contribute to regional stability or not?

Look. China’s Navy is still awfully small. And with China not exactly on friendly terms with it’s neighbors (who, on the part of Japan and South Korea, are building some very modern navies), the PLA(N) has a lot to do to secure China’s maritime borders. It is a little bit of a stretch to think all this new floating hardware is aimed exclusively at the U.S.A.

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