March 8, 2016

Japan's Navy and Aid Become More Active in the South China Sea

In what amounts to a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) Japan will sail 2 of its warships and a submarine from Subic Bay, Philippines (see map above) to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. This will cross China's "nine dash line" (see map below) the vast sea-space (most of the South China Sea) that China claims.

First reported March 6, 2016 in Japanese newspapers and then to other news agencies March 7, 2016 in several news sources herehere and here is news of a Japanese Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) set for April 2016

Pete's summary - These newspaper and news agency reports have likely come from Japanese military sources who say Japan will be sending an (Oyashio class?) training submarine and 2 destroyers(?) to visit the Philippines. They are likely to set out in late March 2016 on Japan’s normal patrol route of the Bashi Channel (Luzon Strait) and reach Subic Bay (now a civilian port) in the Philippines in early April 2016. They will then sail across the South China Sea to Vietnam’s largest naval base at Cam Ranh BayThis will be the first Japanese submarine visit to the Philippines in 15 years.

China has, by itself, decided to claim most of the South China Sea within its artificial "Nine dash line" (Map above) (Map courtesy GeoGarage).


In answer to “It is reported that Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force plans to send a submarine to the Philippines along with two warships that will then sail on to Vietnam. What is China's comment on that?”  The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs March 7, 2016 answered

“It needs pointing out that cooperation among relevant countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability instead of targeting a third party, still less harming the sovereignty and security interests of other countries. Japan once illegally occupied China's islands in the South China Sea during WWII. We are on high alert against Japan's attempt to return to the South China Sea through military means.”


Rather than confronting China in such a direct way, Japan instead wants to build the capacity of nations that need help in the region (particularly the Philippines and Vietnam) to improve their surveillance of Chinese forces. 

Japanese Defense Minister Nakatani is traveling to the Philippines in April 2016 to discuss cooperation. This includes providing the Philippines with several used Beechcraft TC-90 King Air for surveillance of the South China Sea. Japan and Vietnam have also discussed holding a joint naval exercise

A Japanese TC-90 King Air (photo courtesy planespotters)

Advice received in early March 2016 on the TC-90 is that Japan is leasing not granting the TC-90s to the Philippine Navy with Japan and Philippines to agree on a lease contract in several months. The Japanese government will not grant aircraft to the Philippines using overseas development assistance (ODA). This is because ODA is limited to non-military areas and current Japanese law bans give away Japanese government-owned assets. So the Japanese government decided to lease the TC-90s which will remain Japanese Navy (JMSDF) property. The value of the lease is millions yen (US$10,000s) per year.

The TC90s will have no search radars or other devices but rely on visual monitoring of the Spratly Islands. The TC90 will extend the Philippines' aerial coverage of the Spratly Islands from the current 300kms to 600kms – see (in Japanese). A future Submarine Matters article will talk about Japan's provision of patrol boats to the Philippines.

As the Japanese submarine will be a "training" submarine it may be an older Oyashio class (middle submarine, above). An Oyashio would have slightly less sensitive features than the latest Soryu class (top). Japan can expect that a Chinese (Yuan, Kilo or Song class) submarine will be posted in the Bashi Channel (Luzon Strait) to put the Japanese submarine under surveillance, if possible. (Diagram courtesy Shipbucket)


The US Navy has been doing fairly regular submarine and ship visits to Subic Bay, Philippines. On March 9, 2016 GMA News Online reported that US Los Angeles class submarine, USS Charlotte (SSN-766), moored at Subic Bay on March 9, 2016. US cruiser, USS Antietam, docked in Manila Bay on March 8, 2016 and 7th Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge, docked at Subic Bay on March 4, 2016.

Please connect with Submarine Matters December 4, 2015 article Japanese Concerns About Philippines Alliance Building and Providing Military Aid.



Anonymous said...

A port visit to Cam Ranh bay clearly represents a shift in Vietnamese thinking. Vietnam 5 Kilos are also based there.

Peter Coates said...


I think Vietnam has been hosting ship visits to Cam Ranh Bay for several years - including US, Indian and Russian ships. It just doesn't go reported much.

This is also noting "Ba Ngoi port is an international commercial port located in inside Cam Ranh Bay"