Japan has become the latest nation to deploy a warship to Middle East waters, where tensions continue to run high.
On February 1 the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) destroyer Takanami set out from Yokosuka on what Tokyo dubs an “intelligence gathering” mission, which is scheduled to include patrols in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman and Gulf of Aden, but not the Straits of Hormuz. Takanami will operate independently, not in company with warships of the American or French-led naval coalitions active in the region.
Prompted by last year’s attack by unidentified forces upon a Japanese tanker, the deployment is a significant one, particularly as JMSDF out-of-area operations continue to be constrained by both domestic politics, and foreign policy considerations. Many Japanese voters are still uneasy, in view of Japan’s long-standing pacifist constitution, about overseas activity by the nation’s armed forces.
Also Tokyo was a major importer of Iranian crude oil before 2019, remains heavily dependent upon oil supplies from the region, and is anxious to maintain good relations with Arab governments.
The 6,400-tonne, 30-knot Takanami is a potent warship, with an armament fit which includes a 127mm gun, Type 90 anti-shipping cruise missiles, Evolved Sea Sparrow air defence missiles and two Phalanx close-in weapon systems. An SH-60J (K) helicopter is embarked for anti-submarine, surface warfare and surveillance missions. Tokyo plans to rotate destroyers through the region until at least the end of 2020, with Takanami due be relieved in May.
Japan is also deploying a pair of P-3C maritime patrol aircraft.
The JMSDF vessel adds a further dimension to the little-known Asian naval presence in the volatile area. Seoul’s Republic of Korea Navy has maintained a destroyer in the region for some years, while last year the Indian Navy began deploying task groups made up of a destroyer, an OPV and a support ship.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.