MSDF 16-sub fleet to get six more to up presence

Kyodo News

The Defense Ministry will boost the Maritime Self-Defense Force submarine fleet to 22 from the current 16 as part of the fiscal 2011-15 basic defense program, ministry and MSDF officials said Wednesday.

The program is set to be compiled in December amid increasing Chinese naval activity near Japan.

The ministry has determined that the MSDF should have a bigger submarine fleet to reinforce its vigilance in nearby waters, especially the East China Sea, the officials said on condition of anonymity, before an official decision is made on putting the plan in the appendix of the new defense policy guideline.

Japan has never had a fleet as large as 20 submarines or more since the government adopted its first defense program in 1976.

The current defense policy guideline, adopted by the Cabinet in December 2004, notes that “attention must be paid” to developments, including moves by China, which is forging ahead with modernizing its navy and air forces and trying to expand the scope of its naval activities.

In the new guideline, Japan plans to expand the MSDF submarine fleet and put it into writing due to the need to increase its maritime surveillance amid heightened naval activity by China in waters surrounding Japan and in the Pacific, the officials said.

The plan also reflects Japan’s growing wariness of China following last month’s run-in involving a Chinese fishing boat and Japan Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands, which are under Japan’s control but claimed by China.

In addition to the anticipated 22 submarines, the MSDF has two submarines used for training purposes.

China has been increasing its submarine force, which is estimated to total about 60. Among recent developments, an underground base has been constructed on Hainan Island to accommodate a nuclear-powered attack sub.