Soryu-class submarine. Note x-shaped tail.

So, last week me and this “conflict reporter” guy were hanging out in my backyard, shooting the breeze, and I mentioned that I thought Japan would fortify the Senkaku islands with land-based missiles. Missile, maybe in silos, I said. Something with a permanent presence.

No, conflict reporter guy said, submarines. They’ll built more submarines.

I didn’t dislike the idea as much as I liked the idea of anti-ship missiles in land-based batteries even more.

Well, as he said a few hours ago, “Told ya.” Damn him.

Japan today announced plans to expand its fleet of diesel-electric attack submarines from 16 submarines to 22. This will represent a postwar high for the Japanese submarine fleet. The decision was made as part of the FY 2011-2015 five year Basic Defense Program.

In the new guideline, Japan plans to expand the MSDF submarine fleet and put it into writing due to the need to increase its maritime surveillance amid heightened naval activity by China in waters surrounding Japan and in the Pacific, the officials said.

The plan also reflects Japan’s growing wariness of China following last month’s run-in involving a Chinese fishing boat and Japan Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands, which are under Japan’s control but claimed by China. (Link)

Japan currently has a fleet of 16 submarines in the fleet, plus two trainers:

Harushio: 3 still in service, oldest is 17 years old (class being retired)
Oyashio class: 11 in service, oldest is 12 years old
Soryu class: 2 in service (replacing Harushio-class)
+
Harushio: 2 in service as training boats

Each class of submarines was built successively, and as a result the Soryu boats are the only ships still in production. I’ve only seen notes pointing to the construction of six Soryu boats, but that number will have to increase, depending on whether or not they intend to retire more Harushios. It’s worth noting that by the standards of most navies, the Harushio boats are far from old: the oldest boat still in active duty is only about fifteen years old.

Soryu-class submarines are an incremental improvement over previous generations, with the biggest change being the addition of Air Independent Propulsion. They’re also the biggest postwar submarines Japan has fielded, displacing 4,200 tons submerged, versus 2,800 tons for the Harushio boats.

It’s interesting to speculate how much impact the various incidents chalked up over the last six months had on this naval buildup, or if Japan would have continued to hold the line at 16 attack boats even if China had not grown confrontational.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch