The Ministry of Defense (MOD) is considering introducing unstaffed patrol vessels to strengthen the monitoring capabilities of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), the Sankei Shimbun learned on Oct. 30. Initially, a crew of about 30 will operate the new vessels, but the MOD hopes to make them fully automated at a later date.
Given that the Chinese Navy has more ships than Japan, the MSDF wants to boost its capabilities but is challenged by a severe labor shortage. The MSDF hopes to solve the problem by automating vessels.
Funds to design the new patrol vessel, 400 million yen in total, are included in the MOD’s FY 2022 budget request. A call was issued on Oct. 29 for applications from firms interested in designing and building four new ships, including the lead ship. The new patrol ship is expected to be approximately 90m long with a standard displacement of 1,900 tons.
The MSDF is at a disadvantage compared with China in terms of number of vessels, as China is rapidly building its naval power. As of the end of March this year, the Chinese Navy possessed 71 modernized destroyers and frigates, 1.5 times the number held by the MSDF (47). In addition to China’s military provocations in waters southwest of Japan, a total of 10 Chinese and Russian ships conducted an unusual exercise in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean in November, almost circling the entire Japanese archipelago. Faced with such challenges, Japan urgently needs to strengthen its monitoring and alert systems.
The current National Defense Program Guidelines call for strengthening defense capabilities, stipulating that Japan should introduce 12 more patrol ships. “These patrol ships will function as sensors (to detect movements of military ships belonging to neighboring countries),” stressed a senior defense official.
In addition to increasing the number of vessels, the MSDF must also take steps to save labor and automate ship operations, in light of the severe shortage of sailors. A new type of destroyer (FFM), which the MSDF is introducing separate from the aforementioned patrol ships, will be operated by about 90 servicemembers, less than half the number needed to operate a multipurpose destroyer (crew: about 200 sailors). The patrol ships are expected to require only one-third the crew needed to operate an FFM.
The MOD is enthusiastic about introducing the patrol ships, particularly because unstaffed ships could remain at sea for a longer period of time, and they could engage in more dangerous missions.