Tied up with surveillance in waters around the Senkaku Islands due to repeated incursions by Chinese ships, the Japan Coast Guard is looking at using end-of-life patrol vessels and re-employing retired guardsmen.
Chinese government ships have continued to enter Japanese territorial waters around the Japanese-administered islets since the Japanese government effectively nationalized the chain last September. China also claims the islands, which it calls Diaoyu.
“We cannot deal with the situation over the long term (within the current organizational structure),” a senior coast guard official said.
The Japan Coast Guard had 12,671 guardsmen at the end of March 2012, up some 420 from 10 years ago. It had a fleet of 121 patrol ships, down three, while efforts to introduce new models are under way.
It has 51 patrol vessels of 1,000 tons or more, which make up the main fleet patrolling territorial waters, while China has some 40 such ships. The JCG cutters have been deployed to near the Senkakus from across Japan.
China launched the 3,000-ton Haijian 137 marine surveillance ship last November. In view of information that it is converting warships into patrol ships and building new ones, a senior coast guard official expressed concern that China may overtake Japan in a couple of years in numbers of large-scale patrol ships.
The Japan Coast Guard will request the addition of about 150 personnel under the fiscal 2013 budget and plans to bring forward the construction of four patrol ships by tapping reserve funds.
But as staff training requires one to five years and shipbuilding takes three to four years, another official said, “We need stopgap measures.”
The organization is considering the use of 10 patrol ships that have passed their service lives of 20 to 25 years and are destined to be scrapped once new ships are launched. Because 1,000-ton-class patrol ships need 30 to 40 crew members, it is planning to re-employ retired personnel.
The coast guard even considered using mothballed Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers, but dropped the idea due to a new legal foundation needed for diverting destroyers.
U.S. drones eyed
The Defense Ministry is arranging to introduce U.S. spy drones to boost surveillance in territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, government officials have said.
The ministry hopes to write the plan to use Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft into its midterm defense program by fiscal 2015 in a bid to counter China’s growing assertiveness at sea, especially around the Senkakus, which it claims, the officials said Monday.