Lately there’s been a big brouhaha concerning the Senkaku/Diaoyu/Diaoyutai Islands that are claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan. A bunch of activists from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China landed on the main island, claiming them for China. They were duly arrested by the Japanese authorities and later deported back to China. A few days later, a bunch of Japanese activists landed on the same island claiming them for Japan, who currently administrates the territory. They were detained by the Japanese authorities, questioned and released. Access to these islands, even by Japanese, are restricted by the Japanese government. Since then, riots have sprung up in China with Japanese autos being overturned and wrecked, Japanese restaurants attacked and general anti-Japanese sentiment in several Chinese cities. Suffice to say, tensions have been building for several years between China and Japan concerning these islands.
The reason I bring this up is that if push comes to shove, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) might encounter the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), which is the current name of the Japanese Navy. So, what are the capabilities of the JMSDF? Can it handle a confrontation with the PLAN? How would it rate among the world’s navies?
This is a question that most Japanese citizens could not answer accurately. Recently in The Diplomat website, I saw this article about how Japan sees it’s military. The gist of the article is that, though most Japanese see their military as being small and lacking, in reality it is in the top 10 militaries in the world and that their Navy is particularly sophisticated. It’s one of the world’s largest navies and the second largest navy in Asia.
It’s built around helicopter destroyers, which are more like helicopter aircraft carriers that are also capable of handling F-35 Lightnings and V-22 Ospreys. They currently have four helicopter destroyers, 8 destroyers, 30 frigates, 6 light frigates and 21 submarines. But those are just numbers…
I live in San Diego, which is a Navy town. In various conversations with career naval personnel, one of my questions has always been, “Who do you think is the second best Navy in the world?” I just figured it was the Brits but when I first asked, the answer was “the Japanese”. I continued to hear this no matter who I asked and that’s when I realized that the JMSDF was far more capable than I had imagined.
So it’s pretty interesting to me that the Japanese public doesn’t really understand how professional and capable their Navy is, nor does most of the world’s population. Rather than being built around aircraft carriers, their major emphasis is anti-submarine and minesweeping operations. They accomplish this with the aforementioned helicopter carriers along with their own submarine fleet and patrol planes. It’s a home waters fleet, without the capability of projecting power beyond the Japanese home islands but within those parameters, it is extremely capable.
The PLAN is very aware of these capabilities and that’s why I think the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands situation will be resolved diplomatically. The current confrontation is just posturing on both sides. Obviously, Japan has the advantage since she has administered these islands for many decades but the Chinese claim is not without merit, so some sort of accommodation would serve both sides in the long run. My point in writing this is to highlight the capabilities of the JMSDF so when you do read about the conflict between both sides, you also understand that Japan is not in a position of weakness but rather, is bargaining from a position of maritime strength.