In a move that is likely to be depicted as a further militarization of the Japanese Coast Guard (JCG), the government is considering transferring decommissioned MSDF destroyers to the JCG to “improve patrols around some disputed islands in the East China Sea,” Kyodo News reported in early March. The discussion has been in the works since November 2012 and having cleared the MoD, the ball now lies in the JCG’s court.
Up for grabs are four recently and soon-to-be commissioned Hatsuyuki-class vessels: the Mineyuki and Sawayuki plus two more vessels. (If someone knows which, please tell us in the comments!) Representatives of the JCG conducted an inspection of one of these vessels at Yokosuka in January.
A key concern is how to modify the vessels for civilian use. The Asahi Shimbun discusses the need to remove the vessels’ torpedo and missile launchers, but in addition to the weaponry, there is the issue of the engines: the Hatsuyuki-class uses gas turbines whereas the JCG uses diesel engines. According to the Asahi article, the JCG is asking the Ministry of Defense to bring the MSDF crew over to the Coast Guard to help train the new crew. The article notes that the JCG’s patrol vessels operate with a crew of only 40, whereas the Hatsuyuki-class vessels typically operate with a complement of 200.
The Japan Coast Guard has been boosting its presence around the Senkaku islands since they were nationalized last September. According to the Asahi, since that time, its patrol vessels have all been assigned to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa to deal with Chinese government vessels, even leading to a cancellation of its 2013 Fleet Review.
The JCG is looking to create a patrol unit dedicated to the Senkaku islands by thge end of FY2015. Among those patrol vessels in Okinawa, only seven are over 1000-tonnes. The JCG want another 12 by that time, but they face a three-year lead time and the necessity of extending the service life of some of their current clunkers.
The Hatsuyuki-class is a 4000-ton destroyer and their adoption, assuming the Coast Guard has the available manpower, will allow the JCG to cover the gap left their current procurement and service schedules.
Of course, it seems inevitable that the adoption of the Hatsuyuki-class vessels will lead to a severe diplomatic caution from China and a likely increase in Chinese government activity in the disputed region. Given Prime Minister Abe’s tougher stance on Chinese naval intrusions, that seems to be a risk he would be willing to take.
A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan.
His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch