Naval Industry Boon

Naval Industry Boon

Japan boosts its maritime defense

Sarosh Bana

Japan’s naval industry has been energized by the government’s accelerated warship-building program that redoubles efforts to reinforce its maritime defenses.

As a sea-bound nation formed with four main islands and 6,848 smaller ones, Japan has a formidable task in securing its sea lines of communication by which it receives much of its oil requirement from western Asia, coal supplies from Indonesia and food grains from Australia. Its Defense Ministry is concerned by the “increasingly severe” security situation surrounding Japan.

Across the Sea of Japan lies an intransigent North Korea that unreservedly flaunts its nuclear and conventional clout and a confrontational China determined to dominate the South and East China seas and beyond. China has long sparred with Tokyo in the East China Sea over an island territory it calls Diaoyu and Japan calls Senkaku. Japan also contests South Korea’s control of the Liancourt Rocks, an islet cluster in the Sea of Japan that it calls Takeshima and South Korea calls Dokdo. In addition, it has a 60-year dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands chain that stretches from its northern Hokkaido Island to the southern tip of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Because of this rift, Japan and Russia have not signed a peace treaty to end World War II.

Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines released in 2013 for 2014 and beyond say that “among states, the number of so-called ‘gray-zone’ situations is increasing over such issues as territory, sovereignty and maritime economic interests.” Moroever, “in the maritime domain, in addition to piracy acts, coastal states have been unilaterally asserting their rights and have taken action, thereby unduly infringing the freedom of the high seas.”

Japan is thus taking recourse to rapidly deploy naval and amphibious forces as part of its defense strategy. Its plan now is to produce two agile and heavily armed 3,000-ton frigates a year from April 2018 onward. Through 2017, it had produced one 5,000-ton destroyer annually for Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF). This manifests Tokyo’s aspirations toward a compact but well-armed and advanced fleet, and the frigates can also be deployable for minesweeping and submarine hunting.

Building bonanza

Japanese naval shipyards like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Japan Marine United Corp. (JMU), Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Sumitomo Heavy Industries (SHI) and Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding may vie for the contract to build eight of these 3,000-ton frigates that are estimated to cost U.S. $375 million each. To ensure enough business to keep the yards operational, the Defense Ministry has stipulated that the one awarded the U.S. $3 billion contract will subcontract work to the other bidders.

Contracts have also been parcelled out to multiple bidders in the past — as with MHI, Mitsui, SHI, Hitachi Zosen Corp. and IHI Marine United Inc. (IHIMU). These five companies had been contracted to build the eight Asagiri-class destroyers, commissioned between 1985 and 1991. They were an improved version of the Hatsuyuki-class destroyer and have since been succeeded by the Murasame-class destroyer.

Two Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, JS Kirisame and JS Asayuki, transit with Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin during training in the South China Sea. [REUTERS]

A devastating industry slump during the 1970s and 1980s led many shipbuilders in Japan to diversify, as with Hitachi that reorganized its business domains into environmental, water treatment, and industrial systems and processes. It merged its shipbuilding operations with those of NKK Corp. in 2002 to form the joint venture, Universal Shipbuilding, and the latter got merged with IHIMU in 2013 to create JMU. Hitachi started out as Osaka Iron Works, founded in 1881, and was renamed Hitachi Zosen in 1943.

Worldwide attention has been drawn to two new JMU-built helicopter carriers, Japan’s largest military ships since World War II. The first-in-class 19,500-ton JS Izumo, and its sister ship, JS Kaga, both commissioned in  March 2015, are deemed configurable as offensive aircraft carriers capable of operating unmanned surveillance drones, which can be a prelude to fixed-wing flights with appropriate deck alteration.

Many analysts consider this possibility to be proscribed by the country’s pacifist Constitution, Article 9 of which proclaims that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” Indeed, Japan’s Defense Ministry was not born until January 2007, 53 years after establishing its defense agency in 1954. Its Constitution of 1947 was imposed by the U.S., which as part of the Allied occupation forces at the end of the war until 1952 also dismantled the mighty military-industrial complex of Japan, then a militarist state.

Limited to engaging in weapons research and development, Japan started reviving its armament industry from the 1990s to lessen its dependence on U.S. weapons imports. It had moved in this direction even earlier, compelled by the Cold War and Korean War to rebuild its defenses.

In 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced his intention to draft an amended Constitution by the end of 2017, revoked a decades-old ban on arms exports and in December 2016 raised defense spending for the fifth straight year to a record U.S. $43.6 billion. In June 2016, Washington lifted restrictions on imports of Japanese components for military use, facilitating their supply to U.S. defense projects and allowing U.S. arms vendors to access Japanese military technologies.

The U.S. Foreign Military Sales program allows Japanese firms involved in naval systems to participate with U.S. industry as subcontractors. Components and software they were supplied included TR-343 equivalent replacement sonar transducers for SQS-53C sonar to NEC Corp., and partial Aegis display system application software and hardware to MHI and Fujitsu, respectively.

Maritime traditions

A mighty seafaring economy with a tradition in shipbuilding and strong orientation to technology, Japan has one of the most powerful and flexible navies, its naval industry having produced versatile hull designs that crafted the most advanced vessels enhanced with high-tech battle management and navigation systems, sensors and potent armaments.

This arsenal had its origins in the weaponsmithing techniques that emerged during Japan’s later medieval period (14th to 16th centuries) under the Muromachi shogunate (military oligarchy). These created the high-quality “Japanese steel” blades of the times that motivated the samurai to shift from being archers to swordsmen.

The transition to firearms resulted later with the introduction by the Portuguese of the snap matchlock musket that the Japanese called tanegashima. By the 1860s, Japan was producing artillery and steamships based on British models.

During the years to follow, Japan’s giant naval and civilian shipyards emerged as affiliates of large maritime entities, or zaibatsu, the country’s age-old conglomerates such as Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Sumitomo.

Japan’s naval, and overall military, industry is a system of big corporations that secure contracts directly from the Defense Ministry and delegate much of the work to smaller firms, which often subcontract to more specialized players. Japanese civilian and naval shipbuilders take pride in manufacturing indigenously, relying on locally produced sonar and radar equipment as well as electronic components for submarines. They acquire under license engine technology and vertical launching systems for ships and submarines from U.S. and European suppliers, as well as close-in weapons systems and hull-mounted anti-ship missile systems.

For instance, the two new Atago-class guided missile destroyers (DDGs) and their four Kongo-class predecessors, all made by Mitsubishi, have been fitted with Lockheed Martin’s Aegis combat and underwater warfare system, making them powerful ballistic missile defense platforms with advanced sea, air and undersea threat detection capabilities. The Atago DDGs are among the most powerful surface warfare platforms in the world, and there are options to make two more. Just two of them are believed to fully cover Japan from ballistic missile threats.

In March 2017, Kawasaki delivered the eighth Soryu-class submarine, and two more are under construction. With a displacement of 2,950 tons, this class is the world’s largest conventionally powered submarine and will be the first submarine of the MSDF to be equipped with the Kockums Stirling air independent propulsion system.

Work on their construction is split between Kawasaki and Mitsubishi, both based in the port city of Kobe; they also constructed the 11 Oyashio-class submarines between 1994 and 2006. The first Soryu joined service in 2009, and the Oyashios were commissioned between 1998 and 2008. Japan’s approach to submarine construction has been to introduce a new submarine class roughly every two decades that builds upon previous ones. Soryu builds upon the Oyashio class, and the latter is an advancement on the Harushio class of the mid-1990s.

Mitsubishi and Kawasaki’s Soryu, however, lost out on Australia’s lucrative U.S. $38 billion contract for designing and building 12 next-generation submarines. France’s DCNS (now Naval Group) won the bid in April 2016 for its Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A to be designed specifically for the Royal Australian Navy. The third prime contender was Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), with its Type 216 submarine.


Arms purchases have frequently become a political rather than a military decision, with competition becoming fierce in the global military sweepstakes. DCNS managed to influence Australian officials about the noise levels of the TKMS submarine, according to a May 2016 account on, an Australian news site. Informing Berlin that the Type 216 had an “unacceptable” level of “radiated noise,” Canberra argued that the boat exuded a high acoustic signature at a frequency that was vital to the Royal Australian Navy, implying the submarine’s incapacity to collect close-to-shore intelligence without detection. However, when the Germans inquired about the frequency and why it had not been emphasized in the bidding process or whether it was coming from internal machinery, propellers or the hull, the Australians withheld comment, explaining that such information was classified.

As the bids were under consideration, there was a wide-ranging data leak on India’s underproduction of DCNS Scorpene submarines that was speculated to have been the consequence of corporate espionage.

Australia had also rejected the Soryu as a suitable Collins-class replacement option once before in November 2014. In the recent contract, DCNS had agreed to build submarines in Adelaide under technology transfer, much as with its Scorpenes at Mumbai’s Mazagon Dock. Tokyo has, however, been traditionally averse to transfer sensitive military technologies. It later changed its stance, but by then Canberra had other options.

Mitsubishi and Kawasaki will be offering the Soryu, alongside TKMS, Naval Group, Spain’s Navantia, Sweden’s Kockums and Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, for India’s impending U.S. $8.3 billion tender for six next-generation submarines with air-independent propulsion under the Indian Navy’s Project-75 program.

With its wealth of experience and maritime culture, the Japanese naval industry performs to the highest standards it has set for itself, making effective use of research and technology to meet the exacting requirements of a discerning clientele.

This is of comfort to many of the navies of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This bloc with a combined gross domestic product of U.S. $2.56 trillion and population of 639 million, which turned 50 in August 2017, abuts onto a littoral rendered volatile by a confrontational China determined to dominate the South and East China seas and beyond, and an intransigent North Korea that unreservedly flaunts its nuclear and conventional clout.

Although each of the 10 partners — Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — is independently modernizing its naval defenses to secure its sea lines of communication and safeguard itself from seaborne threats, the group itself has devised no strategy for joint defense, along the lines of a unified maritime alliance.

ASEAN’s Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea and the Joint Statement of the First ASEAN-China Summit are overtly pacifist, not venturing beyond the intent to “promote consultations and strengthen cooperation in addressing threats and challenges that may affect the security and territorial integrity of ASEAN member states.” The summit with China was held in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur, a year after China became a full dialogue partner of ASEAN.

In July 2016, a Hague tribunal ruled on a case brought before it by Manila, holding that Beijing had “violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights” and had “no legal basis” for its expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. China rejected the judgment, terming it “null and void” and one that denied its “territorial and maritime sovereignty.”

Under the circumstances, an overarching presence of the MSDF can prove to be an effective deterrence to any menacing effort across the seas.

Japan has been benevolent in this regard, having sold, loaned or given naval and maritime assets to several of the nations in the region. Under its Official Development Assistance, it has transferred three of 10 newbuild 44-meter, multirole response vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard, the remaining seven to be delivered by 2018. It is usually coast guard vessels rather than naval warships that are initially deployed in troubled waters in the region to avoid inflaming the situation. Tokyo will also provide Manila with two large 90-meter patrol vessels and lease five used Beechcraft TC-90 King Air aircraft for maritime patrol.

Japan is also supplying six new patrol boats to Vietnam, having earlier provided Hanoi with six used fishing craft that were converted into patrol boats for Vietnam’s Coast Guard and Fisheries Ministry. The Japan Coast Guard also donated two of its decommissioned Ojika-class patrol vessels to the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency; the 92-meter platforms have helicopter decks.

In addition to an ocean radar installed in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, which has proved helpful in detecting sea objects, the country’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti sought six more from Japan, saying they were crucial for maritime safety. She added that Jakarta would not need to allocate funding for their procurement if Japan agreed to give its used radars. Pointing out that this radar has a range of 250 kilometers, Susi said such a capability was necessary to determine the presence of foreign ships in Indonesian waters.

Ship for ship, Japan’s Navy is among the most formidable in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, arguably eclipsing China’s navy, and is bolstered by high professionalism and competence. At the same time, it has bonded adroitly with the other maritime powers in the region such as the U.S., Australia and India, casting a sturdy profile in its area of operation.

India’s Defense Technology Enterprise

Innovation in MILITARY research and development

Debalina Ghoshal

To produce indigenously made weapon systems, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation was established in 1958 under the Department of Defence Research and Development and the Ministry of Defence. DRDO formed as an amalgamation of technical development establishments of the Indian Army and the Directorate of Technical and Development and Production with the Defence Science Organisation.

DRDO specializes in aeronautics, armaments, combat engineering, electronics, life sciences, materials, missiles and naval systems.

The Indian Defence and Research Development Organisation displays a BrahMos missile at a Defense Expo in New Delhi. [THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

DRDO’s aeronautics division has created such products as avionic, fighter aircraft early warning systems, light combat aircraft, ground imaging exploitation, model-based fusion systems and parachute recovery systems.

The organization, which started with just 10 research laboratories, grew by leaps and bounds over the decades to comprise 47 laboratories that cover everything from defense agriculture and combat vehicle development to defense bioengineering and artificial intelligence to terminal ballistics and avalanche studies.

The DRDO takes four to five years to deliver a system, after the decision to produce a given product has been made, according to former DRDO Director General Avinash Chander.

The organization also provides technical advice to its services, the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy, that includes formulation of requirements, evaluation of systems to be acquired, fire and explosive safety, and mathematical and statistical analysis of operational problems.

The DRDO has made significant achievements in its efforts to meet the requirements of the three services. Notable developments include: flight simulators for aircraft; reusable rocket pods; brake parachutes for fighter aircraft; lightweight small arms systems; night fighting capability enhancements; cluster weapons systems for fighter pilots; naval mines; next-generation bombs; mountain guns; light field artillery and surveillance radars; advanced ship sonar systems and sonobuoys; torpedo launchers; advanced materials and composites for military applications and parallel processing computers for aerodynamic computations, among other developments.

As India aspires to become self-sufficient in weapon systems and equipment under the “Make in India” program, the need for DRDO to reduce imports from other countries is crucial, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated. For the program to succeed, DRDO Chairman Dr. S. Christopher has also stressed in recent years the need to encourage more private sector production of weapon systems. All the while, DRDO has only grown its ambitions for the future, hoping to tilt the defense trade balance with plans to export its innovative weapon systems such as the BrahMos cruise missile, a short-range supersonic cruise missile launchable from submarine, ships, aircraft or land.


The Defence Research and Development Organisation strives to make India prosperous by establishing a world-class science and technology base and providing India’s defense services with a decisive edge by equipping them with internationally competitive systems and solutions.


  • Design, develop and lead production of state-of-the-art sensors, weapon systems, platforms and allied equipment for the nation’s defense services.
  • Provide technological solutions to the services to optimize combat effectiveness and to promote well-being of the troops.
  • Develop infrastructure and committed quality manpower and build a strong indigenous technology base.