Developments in Japan

Many of my blog articles are borne from reading articles on the BBC News website, and this is the latest. On May 26th, Alexander Neill, (described as the Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow at the IISS Asia) wrote an article entitled “Japan’s growing concern over China’s naval might” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39918647). He described a couple of interesting developments in Japan’s Self-Defense forces, especially in the light of Japan’s relationship with China.

1. The JMSDF has an aircraft carrier? Well, not really. Well, maybe. JS Izumo is  officially classified by Japan as a helicopter destroyer. The Wikipedia article notes that the ship is as large as any aircraft carrier of the Second World War, but it’s called a destroyer because the Japanese constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons.  It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see the Izumo embarking some kind of STO/VL aircraft even though the Japanese Self Defense Forces don’t have any just yet.

Helicopter Destroyer JS Izumo

JS Izumo (DDH-183) in December 2016
Kaijō Jieitai (海上自衛隊 / Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) – http://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/formal/jmp/201612.html (CC BY 4.0)

2. Indigenous Maritime Patrol Aircraft?  The news of the Izumo was interesting,  but what also caught my attention was the reference to the Kawasaki P-1 Maritime patrol Aircraft – two of which were apparently demonstrated in the UK at the RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) in 2015.  it seems that Kawasaki thought it was worth putting in a bid to the UK Ministry of Defence  to supply the P-1 as a replacement for the Nimrod.  The Japanese bid was unsuccessful, however.  The UK is going to buy the Boeing P-8 Poseidon  instead.  The Poseidon is a patrol variant of the Boeing 737-800ER and has been in service for about 5 years in the US Navy. International customers so far consist of the Indian Navy,  Royal Australian Air Force,  Royal Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Several other countries have expressed an interest. Poseidon deliveries to the UK are supposed to commence in 2019.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon and Kawwasaki P-1

A U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon next to a Kawasaki P-1 of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
(US Navy – Public Domain)

The P-1 is a pretty interesting aircraft which Japanese officials have claimed is more capable, (but more expensive) than the P-8, having been purpose-built for the maritime patrol mission.  It is noteworthy for its pioneering use of a fly-by-light flight control system using fiber optic cables, which decrease electro-magnetic disturbances to its sensors  in comparison with fly-by-wire control systems, which are more electrically “noisy”.   Speaking as a dinosaur who thinks fly-by-wire was a huge advance over control cables, servos, and rods,  fly by light is a pretty amazing (albeit logical) application of fiber-optic technology.

All this technology needs to be seen against the increasing military posturing from Japan and China over territorial claims in the East and South China Sea, which are in themselves related to access to natural resources.  All progress comes at a cost,  and sadly some of the advances in flight and defense technology may be driven by a degree of rising tension between two nations.   We have certainly been in this situation before.

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