Sunday, May 14, 2017

For long and distant service: JMSDF Admiral explains JS Izumo's Singapore stopover and deployment to regional sea lanes

Flying the flag for Japan: Rear Admiral Yoshihiro Goka, Commander, Escort Flotilla One, flanked on his left by Captain Yoshihiro Kai, Izumo's commanding officer, and Commander Hirotaka Okumura, commanding officer Sazanami, aboard Izumo at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, 13 May 2017. 

When Japan's largest warship, the Izumo, left its home port on 1 May 2017 for distant seas, her departure was described by some reports as a show of force.

The warship and the destroyer assigned to escort her, carrying some 700 sailors in total, arrived at Changi Naval Base on Friday afternoon (12 May'17). Singapore is the first port call on her 100-day journey, which is the largest deployment of Japanese naval power to the region since the Second World War.

Analysts have been abuzz over the intended audience for this demonstration of naval power. The timing of the deployment also fuelled speculation as maritime security in the Sea of Japan and the debate over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have been hot topics recently.

Some thought the deployment was directed at the North Koreans. But after early reports on Izumo's role in escorting an American naval supply ship and speculation she might team up with the United States Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, the Izumo is long past the Korean peninsula.

As she ventured south, others thought the Izumo's journey through the South China Sea was meant to send a signal to China.

At 248 metres long (almost five Olympic-length swimming pools) and displacing 27,000 tonnes when fully loaded, the Izumo is more than just a big ship.

With a flight deck and an island superstructure offset to the right side of the warship, Izumo has the form and function one would expect from an aircraft carrier. This class of warship is operated by a handful of Asian navies - Australia, China, India and Thailand - and is viewed as a symbol of naval power, prestige and influence.

The Japanese are keenly aware of the signature Izumo could inadvertently project and the brochure on the ship is devoid of any suggestion it is an aircraft carrier. Izumo is described officially as the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) - itself a navy in all but name - "largest and most sophisticated destroyer".

In his first interview since arriving in Singapore, the JMSDF admiral leading the Izumo and her escorting destroyer, the Sazanami, downplayed speculation over her deployment. The interview was conducted aboard JS Izumo, berthed at Changi Naval Base, on Saturday 13 May 2017.

Rear-Admiral Yoshihiro Goka, Commander of Escort Flotilla One, outlined these reasons for the deployment.

First, the Izumo's visit to ASEAN countries is meaningful from a Japanese perspective and timed with the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping, which was formed in August 1967. Describing her deployment as a "great honour and opportunity" to reach out to friends in the region in this milestone year, the admiral said ASEAN members are among Japan's closest trading partners.

"The ASEAN people are a great partner for Japan. We provide great support for each other." the admiral said.

Second, RADM Goka's 25-year career at sea has impressed upon him why "the ocean should be free for everyone to use". Choosing his words carefully and without naming any maritime state, the admiral described the seas as a "public area". As such, he contends that "everybody has the right to use the public area".

He  noted that maritime links are vital to Japan as about a third of the world's trade transits regional sea lanes. Furthermore, almost all the oil and gas that Japan imports is delivered by tankers who use the region's maritime highways.

"One third of the world’s maritime trade passes through the South China Sea. Japan and many of countries benefit from freedom of the seas and maritime trade in the South China Sea. Japan Defence Minister Inada has expressed the 'Vientiane Vision' as a guideline for ASEAN-Japan defence cooperation last November.In accordance withVientiane Vision, open and stable seas based on rule of lows is important for peace and stability in the region. We look forward to contributing to regional peace and stability with all-ASEAN Navies by participating this fleet review and defence exchanges with port visit nations," said RADM Goka

"This is a very important area where mutual support is needed," he added.

The Izumo's role in naval diplomacy ties in with her port visit here.

On Monday, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) will stage the International Maritime Review as part of celebrations commemorating its 50th year. The JMSDF warships are among 30 warships from 20 countries taking part in Singapore's first ever maritime review at Changi Naval Base. Interactions with officers and men from different countries will allow the JMSDF to share more about its role even as the Japanese learn about foreign naval forces.

The third reason underlines the pragmatic nature of the Japanese. Being far from home takes the 700 JMSDF personnel aboard Izumo and Sazanami out of their comfort zone. Sending the Izumo away for about 100 days, with air and naval operations taking place in unfamiliar sea lanes, exposes the crew to fresh challenges and is a valuable training opportunity

"When we train around Japan, it is easy to get support," said RADM Goka. "However, deploying for a long time and long distance overseas will allow us to test how to train our people and maintain the equipment. That is a challenge."

So there you have it: The deployment is calibrated to demonstrate Japan's support for the 50th anniversary of ASEAN and will also test the mettle of sailors and airmen as Izumo embarks on her furthest and longest voyage from Japan.

With more than two months to go before Izumo returns home, the Izumo's journey to regional destinations, all the way to the Indian Ocean is likely to be closely-tracked by analysts.

All will be eager to see if the Izumo was sent by Tokyo to project its hand of friendship, or whether it is indeed a show of naval power projection.


西北怪狼 said...

Did any of the IJN flat tops dock or base itself out of Syonan-To during WW2?

David Boey said...

The carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku made stopovers here. Am unaware any IJN carriers were based here although some heavy cruisers operated from Singapore.

Brunei Bay was also a popular port of call.

Sadly, Singapore's wartime history suffered from a double whammy: The British destroyed most of their documents prior to their surrender in 1942 and the Japanese did the same in 1945.


in-tell-fro said...

News from 18/7/2017 __ China Xi Jinping offered Malaysia to install “Air Defence Systems and Surface to Air Radar System” believe to be either HQ-12 or the HQ-10(Russia equivalent system S-300PMU) in southern Malaysia close to Singapore. So now the question is “How and what will the Singapore Military and Government going to do abt it if/once they deploy ?". China provocation and it behaviour towards Singapore is clearly be seen by now if one follow their every move.