Japan Christens a New Naval Strategy
To better patrol the East China Sea, Japan has decided that it needs more warships. Reuters reported Feb. 17 that Japan intends to build two 3,000-ton frigates instead of the single 5,000-ton destroyer planned for this year. The shift toward building less capable but cheaper frigate-type vessels in higher quantity is notable because it reflects Tokyo's growing need to effectively contend with an increasingly powerful Chinese navy. In 2016, for instance, Japan launched a single 5,100-ton Asahi-class destroyer while China launched three 7,500-ton Type 052D destroyers and two 4,000-ton Type 054A frigates, along with several other types of vessels.
The Chinese navy is rapidly improving the quality of its naval forces, of which the buildup of its Type 055 heavy destroyers is proof enough. It will also continue to modernize and expand its combat naval forces while increasing its naval force projection. Japan will try to compete with China as best it can with the resources it can muster.
This is not to say that Japan is abandoning it core of premier fighting ships. On the contrary, the Japanese navy will keep relying on powerful destroyer-class vessels in the years to come, including its six existing 10,000-ton Kongo- and Atago-class destroyers. Absent a much larger defense budget, though, the already significant gap between the number of vessels the Japanese and Chinese navies have will only widen. Nevertheless, Japan will bolster its forces as it can, which for the time being means producing a number of decent warships rather than a few premium ones.