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Japan Considers Building Two Super-Sized Destroyers As An Alternative To Aegis Ashore

As noted, the reported Japanese plan is for the new warships to be equipped with the same AN/SPY-7 radars that were to have been used in the Aegis Ashore system, which Japanese authorities had already agreed to buy. The additional requirements of this new system, in terms of space and manpower, may demand a revision of the superstructure of the existing Maya class, which could, in turn, demand changes to the hull. 

Some funding for the two additional destroyers will be allocated from the fiscal year 2021 budget, Nikkei Asia reports, although additional costs will be involved in modifying the AN/SPY-7 for installation on warships. It is important to note that Lockheed Martin is already supplying versions of this radar for the future Canadian Surface Combatant, a class of ships based on the BAE Systems Type 26 frigate design, and Spain’s forthcoming F110 class frigates, both of which are smaller than the proposed destroyer Japan is now considering building.

Japan has considered alternatives to create special-purpose ships or offshore platforms dedicated to intercepting missiles, which were judged to be cheaper than procuring more “super-destroyers.” However, these options were too judged to be too vulnerable to attacks from the air or by submarines. Unlike both these options and Aegis Ashore, a new class, or sub-class, of full-scale destroyers also offers a greater degree of flexibility, being able to take on a range of missions in addition to missile defense.

The ships will also be a key node in the U.S. missile defense shield, which makes their procurement a priority for the U.S. as well as Japan.

Whatever the vessel ends up looking like, it will eventually field the SM-3 MkIIA interceptor. The missile will have extended engagement capabilities against more missile types over the currently fielded SM-3 variants. You can read all about this missile and the U.S.-Japan consortium that developed it here, here, and here.

Beyond the ship’s design questions and weaponry, this plan raises additional questions, especially around personnel issues, which could still present a problem. It’s worth recalling that the decision to procure Aegis Ashore systems in the first place was originally based on concerns about the limited number of available JMSDF crews to man traditional ships. Fielding another two major surface combatants will accordingly increase the pressure on the Japanese naval arm to expand its personnel numbers.

The pressures on the available crew have already led to plans to introduce a new class of smaller, multi-mission “destroyer,” known as the 30DX, or FFM, a categorization that highlights that this is actually more of a frigate-type warship. With a displacement of 3,900 tons, these ships have been specifically tailored to cope with the JMSDF personnel shortage and the first example is expected to be launched imminently. While cheaper than Aegis-equipped warships, and with a crew around a third the size, the multi-mission design is unable to perform the anti-ballistic missile role. 

Providing the new Aegis-equipped destroyers are approved, they could provide a valuable means of defending against threats emanating from North Korea, as well as projecting power in the East China Sea and elsewhere. Japan’s defense budget request for the 2021 fiscal year was the biggest on record, at around $55 billion, and reflects the growing importance assigned to the country’s military, to face off threats from both North Korea and China. 

Whatever shape and size the proposed new warships take, it is clear that the JMSDF destroyer fleet is in the ascendancy. Buoyed by increasing budgets, the defense ministry plans on boosting overall destroyer hull numbers to 54, compared to just below 50 at present. Cost, however, will still be a factor, reflected by the fact that ultimately 22 of Japan’s destroyers are planned to be the less-expensive 30DX/FFM warships, rather than full-scale destroyers like the Maya class.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

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