Japan builds Asia’s largest warships for self-defense

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  • Japan is preparing to build two 20,000 ton super destroyers, the largest in Asia.
  • The two ships will protect Japan from ballistic missile attacks from China and North Korea.
  • The ships will join a reinvigorated Japanese fleet that includes some of the best submarines in the world and a new pair of aircraft carriers.

    Japan is preparing to build two of the largest surface warships in Asia, arguably the largest deployable surface warships in the world. The two unnamed destroyers will protect Japan from ballistic missiles from North Korea and China, missiles that could be armed with chemical or even nuclear warheads.

    The two destroyers, United States Naval Institute News reports, will be specially built to carry the Aegis combat system, radar and SM-3 missile interceptors. Each ship will weigh around 20,000 tons, with a length of 690 feet and a width of 130 feet, the news site reports.

    USS Lyndon B. Johnsona Zumwalt class destructor. The two new Japanese ships will be up to 70 feet longer and displace 4,000 tons more.

    Portland Press HeraldGetty Images

    The largest US Navy surface combatants, the three Zumwalt class stealth destroyers, are smaller than the ships planned by Japan. The American destroyers displace 16,000 tons each, with a length of 610 feet and a beam of 80 feet. Japanese ships will also dwarf those of China Type 055 renhai-class cruisers. Currently, the largest surface warship in the world is the Piotr Veliky battle cruiserwhich is attached to the Northern Fleet from Moscow, and it is 827 feet long with a beam of 94 feet.

    Both destroyers are exceptionally large for several reasons. For one, the ships will likely carry the Raytheon-made SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR)being installed on US Navy ships Arleigh Burke– class destroyers. Second, ships have to carry a relatively large number of SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptors provide a sustained defence. Third, both ships will spend very long periods at sea, their radars constantly beaming, waiting to detect incoming threats. Ships will need large fuel tanks for propulsion, combat systems and radar.

    umbrella over romania
    The Aegis Ashore missile defense facility in Romania, 2016.

    DANIEL MIHAILESCUGetty Images

    Over the past twenty years, Japan has gradually built up a shipborne missile defense capability. Japan has built eight guided missile destroyers, each with the same missile defense capabilities as the burk-class ships. The expansion of North Korea and China’s missile and nuclear weapon arsenals has taxed this small fleet, which is also responsible for anti-submarine warfare, anti-aircraft warfare and other traditional destroyer missions. The two new ships will free up existing destroyers to do destroyer things again.

    The missile defense capability provided by the two ships was originally to be provided by a high-tech land base, known as Aegis Ashore. Aegis Ashore is putting radar and missiles ashore, but Japan’s notorious scarcity of useful land and the “not in my backyard” attitude of many local governments has forced Tokyo to put the entire system at sea. Japan is essentially taking a system initially carried from ships to land and puts it back into ships again.

    china navy type 055
    The Chinese Type 055 destroyer is the largest in Asia…yet.

    MARK SCHIEFELBEINGetty Images

    The two unnamed ships join a larger and bolder Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Japanese equivalent of a navy. In the late 2010s, in response to China’s maritime expansion, Japan expanded its fleet from 16 attack submarines to 22, including the new lithium-battery engine Taigei-class submarines. He also began the conversion of “helicopter destroyers” Izumo and kaga into full-fledged aircraft carriers that will operate the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. When completed, the two aircraft carriers will be Japan’s first since World War II.

    Japan’s uncomfortable proximity to North Korea and China is forcing it to expand its defenses. The Maritime Self-Defense Force will be responsible for submarine, surface, air and space threats, the latter through missile defence. The two new ships will essentially be tasked with placing a protective bubble over 125 million people. Rarely has so much depended on so little.

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