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 Japan?s ties with Taiwan have become much
The primary surface vessels in the JMSDF are the destroyers.
Japan?s 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).
Japan?s 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 Japan?s 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 Japan?s 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, Japan?s 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.
JMSDF also has problems with political support. Often, Japan?s 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
Japan?s experience under submarine blockade in World War II. Also, Japan?s had
problems getting sufficient personnel ? it has been under authorized strength in
the past (a shortfall of 3.5 percent existed in 1992). Ultimately, Japan?s
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