Two warships of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) have arrived in the UK at a time when the Anglo-Japanese defence relationship is growing closer.
The officer cadet training vessel JS Kashima and the destroyer JS Shimakaze left Japan in late April for a training cruise that will see the ships circumnavigate the globe. Before arrival in the UK they made port calls in Timor, Colombo, Djibouti and Toulon. They will subsequently cross the Atlantic to visit Norfolk in the US before heading through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to return home in August. Although the Kashima made a similar visit to London in July 2016, this port call is seen as particularly special on the 120th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty and a reciprocal visit after the UK Carrier Strike Group was in Japan last year.
JS Shimakaze is one of two Hatakaze-class destroyers commissioned in the 1980s. In 2021 she was formally re-designated as a training vessel with a new pennant number. Although ageing, she is heavily armed by European standards for a 4,650 ton warship mounting two 5-inch guns, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Standard air defence missiles, an anti-submarine rocket launcher (ASROC) and twin Phalanx CIWS. The JMSDF designs its own warships but they are predominantly armed with US-made weapons and sensors.
The Kashima is a dedicated training vessel built in 1995 and is equipped with comfortable accommodation for this purpose. She was designed to develop seamanship skills, provide an international perspective for trainees and promote relations with other nations. Between the two ships, the training squadron is carrying 160 officer cadets that were promoted to Ensign in March 2022 after completing basic training. Other than the P2000 patrol boats and specialist navigational courses hosted by HMS Severn, the Royal Navy no longer has dedicated training ships and officer cadets get their first experience at sea on board active warships.
Anglo-Japanese entente is not new, the nations were allies in the first world war and the Imperial Japanese Navy was initially modelled on the RN. Other than the terrible second world war period, there has mostly been healthy relations between the two island nations with maritime dependency in common. Defence cooperation has been slowly increasing and the Japanese Ministry of Defence (JMoD) and British MoD signed a joint memorandum on defence cooperation in 2012.
On 5th May 2022, the Japanese Prime Minister met with the British PM and signed a formal defence agreement. Precisely what aspects of defence this pact covers are unclear but there are clearly common interests in keeping a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” motivated by concerns about China and Russia. In the naval sphere, there are clearly shared interests, especially as Japan is purchasing up to 42 F-35Bs to operate from its light aircraft carriers/helicopter destroyers. There are also moves to include Japan in developing the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) / Tempest aircraft.