The US Navy has decided to strengthen its naval presence in Japan with powerful destroyers capable of challenging Chinese submarines. The overhaul of its defenses and new deployments come against the backdrop of Chinese belligerence against Taiwan and its increased maritime maneuvers near Japan.
The US Navy has hinted at a change in its Asian policy as any threat to Taiwan’s sovereignty poses a security risk to Japan.
On several occasions, China has warned that it intends to unite Taiwan at the heart of China and by force, if necessary.
In what could be seen as a show of force and bullying tactic against Taiwan, the Liaoning-led Chinese Air Battle Group was sent to carry out combat training in the Philippine Sea east of Taiwan and south of Japan, two regions vital to his plans to capture the self-governing island state. According to American reports, the Chinese ships were sailing very close to Japan.
Against the backdrop of these bold actions by the PLA Navy, Japan’s closest ally, the United States is deploying advanced destroyers with built-in hangars for anti-submarine helicopters to secure its borders and to create an effective deterrent.
For the first time in March this year, the Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted a torpedo exercise in Tokyo Bay. An inert practice torpedo was launched into Japanese waters by an MH-60R helicopter, simulating an attack on a submarine.
The drills were important, because before that all similar torpedo drills took place off San Diego, USA.
The drills came as the US Navy secretly revamped its ship roster in Japan, bringing newer, more powerful ships closer to the Taiwan Strait and reflecting shifting priorities, Nikkei Asia reported.
The original post claims that the Taiwanese fishing boat “Sheun Fu Yu 83” filmed the Liaoning near the disputed Senkaku Islands. pic.twitter.com/A2DFYIubch
— Lia Wong (@LiaWongOSINT) May 6, 2022
The United States has also beefed up its presence in the region, conducting military exercises with allies Japan and South Korea, and carrying out freedom of navigation operations that have angered China.
Last month, a US destroyer USS Sampson transited through the hotly contested Taiwan Strait which was allegedly tracked by the PLA. China has repeatedly flagged the US presence in the region and its aid to Taiwan as a provocation.
At the same time, as reported by EurAsian Times, the United States is unprepared for a full-scale battle with China due to weak logistics in the region and the reduced number of supply bases that would be essential in an armed conflict with the PLA.
Thus, the overhaul of its naval presence in Japan could be seen as a move to compensate for deficiencies in military readiness in the Indo-Pacific.
American destroyers to hunt Chinese submarines
The newer ships to be deployed to Japan are expected to be multitasking, unlike older ships that focused on ballistic missile defense as a deterrent against North Korea.
The new ships will be capable of combating China’s superior jets, tracking submarines and protecting against the latest anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as watching out for ballistic missiles.
Four of the new destroyers to be deployed are of the Flight IIA type, which comes with helicopter hangars. These can fit the MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters used in the torpedo exercise.
The MH-60R can detect, track and destroy all underwater threats with its sonobuoy launcher, various radars, torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. It is the main weapon for hunting enemy submarines.
Taiwan recently announced that it couldn’t afford US MH-60R Sea Hawk anti-submarine helicopters. Therefore, deploying them in Japan might be the second best option against China.
“The U.S. Navy’s Flight IIA destroyers, with helicopters and crews aboard, greatly expand the scope and capabilities of anti-submarine warfare throughout the Indo-Pacific with their ability to transport helicopters in areas out of range of ground helicopters,” Lt. Mark said. Langford, the assistant public affairs officer for the US 7th Fleet, told Nikkei Asia.
“A primary difference between the older Arleigh Burke-class ships and the newer Flight IIA ships is the helicopter hangar,” a US naval analyst told Nikkei. The analyst explained that while the early ships also had a helicopter landing pad and could refuel helicopters, “they cannot board a helicopter for an extended period of time,” the analyst explained.
“With its hangar, a Flight IIA ship can carry its own helicopter and thus always have one on hand.”
Along with the flagship USS Blue Ridge, the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan – and three guided-missile cruisers, there are currently eight Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in Yokosuka.
Yokosuka is widely considered one of the US military’s most strategic locations, with 13 US warships. Its importance has only grown under the Joe Biden administration, which sees China as a “rhythmic threat” and fears that Beijing will want to unite Taiwan with the mainland at some point.
According to the US Congressional Research Service, it takes a day and a half to sail from Yokosuka to the Taiwan Strait at a speed of 30 knots.
In the southwest Nagasaki prefecture of Sasebo, the US Navy has its other main facility in Japan. This location is significantly closer to Taiwan, with nine additional US ships stationed there.
Five of these ships are large amphibious ships tasked with ferrying hundreds of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to the battlefield in the event of an emergency.
Recent Chinese and Russian maritime activities have increased the urgency of US naval operations. Last October, ten Chinese and Russian navy ships crossed through a narrow choke point in northern Japan, heading east toward the Pacific Ocean.
During a May 3 congressional hearing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, the highest-ranking military officer, said that “it would always be nice to have more ships.
But the fact is that the most important thing is to have the ships that we have, to have them in a state of readiness, to have them with manpower, training and equipment, to have them in a state of very important preparation.”
China has the world’s largest naval fleet in size and the “home advantage” because any battle fought between the United States and China will be closer to the latter’s home. Having advanced destroyers and anti-submarine helicopters in Japan will give the US a significant advantage in challenging the dragon.