Surface Forces: Japanese Stealthy Multimission

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December 21, 2020: Japan has launched the first of twenty-two 30FFM multimission frigates. The first of these, the Kumano, will enter service in 2022 and will eventually replace some destroyers as well as existing frigates. The 5,500-ton 30FFM ships take the multimission 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 ship has a stealthy (difficult to detect with radar) design and carries 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 is only 90 personnel. There is a lot of automation on the ship, which accounts for the relatively small crew.

The 30FFM ships were originally designed to be destroyers but while planning equipment and weapons layout it was realized that these ships could be multimission 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 destroyer 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 cannon and launcher 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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