The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) commissioned the first of a planned fleet of 22 Mogami-class multirole frigates in a ceremony held on March 22 in Okayama Prefecture in western Japan.
Named Kumano (with pennant number FFM-2), the 132.5 meter-long vessel was inducted into the Mine Warfare Force, whose headquarters is located at the Yokosuka naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture, shortly after being handed over by shipbuilder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Maritime Systems at its facility in Tamano City.
As neighboring China expands the size and capabilities of its naval forces, Japan plans to defend the southwestern Nansei Islands, including the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, by boosting its patrol activities. The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Equipped with compact hulls, JS Kumano was built for about 46 billion yen ($382 million) under a contract awarded in October 2018, according to the JMSDF. As with the other ships of the class, the 3,900-tonne vessel will have a crew complement of about 90, a beam of 16.3 m, and a hull draught of 9 m.
Kumano, which was launched in November 2020, is actually the second vessel of the class ordered by service. The first – named Mogami (pennant number FFM-1) – was originally scheduled to also be launched the same month, but construction of the ship at the MHI’s facility in Nagasaki City has been delayed due to issues with the frigate’s gas turbine engine. JS Mogami is expected to enter service with the JMSDF next month.
The JMSDF still regards Kumano as the second of this class, although it was commissioned first. For this reason, Mogami is the name-ship of the class.
Kumano was named after the Kumano River running through Nara, Wakayama, and Mie Prefectures in central Japan. It also was the name borne by a heavy cruiser in the Imperial Japanese Navy.
A JMSDF spokesperson said the new frigate class will require fewer crewmembers and that, compared with other JMSDF ships, construction costs will be lower due to its compact size.
Powered by a combined diesel and gas (CODAG) propulsion system featuring two MAN 12V28/33D STC diesel engines and one Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine, the Mogami-class warships are expected to be capable of attaining a top speed of at least 30 kt.
Armament on the frigates is expected to include the navalized version of the Type-03 (also known as the Chu-SAM Kai) medium-range, surface-to-air missile, a 5-inch (127 mm)/62-calibre gun, canister-launched anti-ship missiles, and a SeaRAM close-in weapon system that is expected to use upgraded RIM-116C Rolling Airframe Missiles.
The ships, each of which will be capable of embarking one helicopter as well as an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), will also be equipped with a vertical launch system (VLS) and an unmanned surface vehicle (USV), both of which will see the first installment on any Japanese frigate ever.
The frigates will also be equipped with variable depth sonar and towed array sonar systems for anti-submarine warfare operations.
According to the JMSDF, this new frigate class, which is intended for surveillance missions in waters surrounding the Japanese archipelago, including the East China Sea, will be equipped with enhanced multirole capabilities, including the ability to conduct anti-mine warfare operations, which until now have been performed by the JMSDF’s ocean-going minesweepers.
The JMSDF spokesperson said Tokyo plans to build 10 ships of the Mogami class under its Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP) for fiscal years 2019–23, which was approved in December 2018. The service has plans to eventually field a total of 22 such frigates.