By HIROTAKA KOJO/ Staff Writer
A shortage of manpower and expanding operations has forced the Maritime Self-Defense Force to adopt measures that allow for fewer personnel to carry out missions.
With cadets in training still falling far short of the MSDF’s annual quota, the service incorporated “personnel-saving” steps into the National Defense Program Guidelines worked out in late 2018.
The program allows the MSDF to function efficiently with fewer members. Officials cited the difficulty of securing the appropriate number of members due to declining birthrates and increased duties and ensuring that personnel have sufficient downtime for rest and recreation.
In recent years, the MSDF’s profile has risen as it keeps tracks of Chinese warships passing through the Miyako Strait between the main Okinawa island and Miyakojima island to reach the Pacific Ocean.
It also monitors the offloading of cargo on the high seas between North Korean vessels and ships of other countries as such “sedori,” or transactions, are prohibited under U.N. sanctions to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
Due to the added duties, MSDF members are increasingly finding it difficult to take sufficient rest periods and engage in training drills.
The new measures worked out late last year allow the MSDF to operate efficiently with fewer members.
For example, it will introduce 12 patrol vessels, each manned by 30 or so members, to take the place of destroyers.
Destroyers traditionally carry a crew of around 200 members, and Izumo-class destroyers require about 470 members.
Destroyers are mainly used to protect Japanese territory from attacks by aircraft or submarines, while patrol vessels specialize in standing guard and keeping watch on the movements of ships from other countries.
Thus, they need only a minimum amount of firepower. Crew members trained to handle guns are unnecessary.
“Patrol ships are enough if we just want to show that we are watching you,” said a high-ranking MSDF officer. “If a more serious situation occurs, then we should dispatch a destroyer.”
The MSDF will also introduce personnel-saving measures and a “plural crew system” to its 22 new-type destroyers.
The measures include installing automated fire-extinguishing appliances and placing key equipment in one location. This made it possible to operate a destroyer with about 100 crew members, or roughly half of the figure that had prevailed previously.
Under the plural crew system, members are not assigned to the same ship all the time. Instead, for example, four crews are set up for three ships. As a result, one of the four crews can take R&R.
By making the layouts in ships the same, MSDF members can work in any destroyer.
The MSDF also plans to introduce three ship-based unmanned aircraft in five years, thereby reducing the burden on pilots of patrol helicopters.
The measures are being taken because of a difficulty in securing sufficient numbers of twentysomething “Jieikan-kohosei” (Self-Defense official cadets).
The annual number of those cadets employed across the Self-Defense Forces has fallen short of quotas for the past four years. In fiscal 2017, it stood at 7,513, or about 80 percent of the envisioned figure.
The percentage for the MSDF was 65 percent, compared with 83 percent each for the Ground SDF and the Air SDF.
The fact that sea duties can last for several weeks or months means that fewer young people are showing interest in joining the MSDF.