Battlecruisers may be too big. Japan is considering smaller destroyers

The Japanese government would consider building two 8,200 ton destroyers instead of the two planned 20,000 battlecruisers. This is written by the Japanese news agency Kyodo News based on conversations with sources. The design would be adapted from a platform solely focused on ballistic defense to a multi-deploy destroyer equipped with Tomahawk missiles, among other things.

Japanese naval ships with the Asahi-class destroyer JS Shiranui in the foreground. (Photo: Japanese Navy)

Logistical and operational simplification
The possible adjustment would follow internal consultations within the Japanese Navy with the intention of making the two new ships more deployable to work with the other eight destroyers. The two new destroyers must retain their necessary air defense systems. Kyodo News also mentions in their report the fear of slow ships as the reason for the reconsideration. That would be remarkable. While a 20,000 ton ship is hefty compared to other cruisers, there are larger ships that are quite fast. The British aircraft carriers of the Queen Elizabeth class, for example, have a displacement of 65,000 tons and reach 32 knots with their Rolls Royce gas turbines. Technically it is possible, whether there is a budget for it is another matter.

In any case, the downsizing from a 20,000-ton battlecruiser to a more conventional 8,200-ton destroyer will bring logistical simplification for Japan, as well as greater operational flexibility later on. By moving to a destroyer, Japan is taking advantage of its experience building and maintaining these ships, while relying on existing designs rather than having to design battlecruisers from scratch. Switching to a destroyer also allows for the use of already existing propulsion systems and eliminates the need to develop completely new systems with the risk of prolonged testing in the development of childhood diseases.

The further reduction from 20,000 to 8,200 tonnes also gives Japan more margin to build further additional destroyers, not only in steel allocation but also in the budget. Additional modern destroyers are also a response to the growth of the Chinese Navy, whose numbers in modern ships continue to grow at a rapid pace.

Response to the Chinese threat
The two battlecruisers were originally planned in response to the North Korean ballistic missile threat and concerns that land-based AEGIS systems would cause unintended damage. In response, Japan planned to build two 20,000-ton battlecruisers specifically aimed at the North Korean threat. Since then, the regional geopolitical situation has continued to evolve.

Cooperation between the Japanese, US and South Korean navies has increased and now includes special exercises that share information about ballistic missiles. In addition, Japan was recently given the go-ahead to purchase the SM-6 interceptor missile, which is designed to intercept ballistic missiles. South Korea has also already purchased the SM-6 missiles, which means that the ballistic defense around Korea is already quite a bit stronger than a few months ago.

In addition to the North Korean threat, Japan will also have to focus on other potential threats in the region. In particular, the current trend towards an increasingly aggressive China is a threat that is becoming more and more real for Japan. China also makes no secret of the fact that it sees Japan as a major maritime competitor in the Western Pacific region and regularly operates small squadrons near Japanese home islands.

The Chinese Communist Party appears to be increasingly preparing for an invasion of Taiwan and has sent strong signals in recent weeks. For example, Xi Jinping said that the Chinese armed forces must fully prepare for war. China is expected to have sufficient resources to mount an invasion in 2027. And while Japan is not directly involved in a Sino-Taiwanese war, Chinese control of Taiwan further threatens Japan’s maritime trade routes. Chinese control of Taiwan also means China poses a greater threat to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which China claims as Chinese territory.

Moreover, the threat of hypersonic weapons in the Chinese arsenal is a reason for Japan to further adapt the existing Type-03 interceptor missiles. The two new destroyers must therefore retain the SPY-7 radar from the original battlecruisers to deal with this hypersonic threat.

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