The purpose is to protect the safe navigation of civilian vessels related to Japan in the Middle East, where tensions have been increasing since last year.
In June 2019, an attack on the “Kokuka Courageous”, a tanker operated by a Japanese company near the Strait of Hormuz, attracted Japanese attention to this strategic area. The United States has determined that the attack was committed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and has conducted “Operation Sentinel” to protect the security of civilian vessels and ensure freedom of navigation, and Britain and other countries have also sent naval vessels under this framework. However, in light of the friendly relations with Iran, Japan decided not to participate directly in this framework, but instead deploy JMSDF vessel and patrol aircraft under its own framework. In addition, the Strait of Hormuz has been excluded from the areas designated by the Japanese government where JMSDF assets will operate.
Equipment of Takanami
Takanami is a general purpose destroyer that can handle a variety of missions, and is equipped with well-balanced weapon system for anti-surface, anti-air, and anti-submarine warfare. However, in the sea area that will be deployed this time, equipment that can respond to asymmetric threats such as small armed boats will be required rather than equipment for full-scale combat. For this reason, the Takanami will be equipped with bulletproof glass and bulletproof plates on the bridge, as well as a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) that is effective at driving away approaching boats. It is also equipped with a 12.7 mm machine gun to repel attack from these boats.
Legal framework of deployment & its restrictions
For now, the purpose of Takanami‘s deployment in the Middle East is to gather information and to understand the local situation. However, if there is any unforeseen situation, such as when a civilian vessels related to Japan encounters danger, the Minister of Defense will order “Maritime Security Operations” (MSO) under Article 82 of the Self-Defense Forces law.
The MSO is a JMSDF maritime police activity, which can be ordered by the Minister of Defense after approval by the Prime Minister in cases where the Japan Coast Guard is unable to handle. If ordered, the Takanami will be able to escort Japanese-flagged vessels, foreign-flagged vessels with Japanese nationals, foreign-flagged vessels operated by Japanese company, and foreign-flagged vessels carrying cargo that is important to the Japanese economy.
However, the Flag State Jurisdiction Principle under international law allows Takanami to use weapons to protect only Japanese flagged ships.For raids on Japanese-flagged ships, Takanami can use weapons in proportion to the opponent’s level. But, if a foreign-flagged ship is attacked, Takanami can only respond to the raid with measures that do not involve the use of weapons. For example, the use of LRADs, audible warnings, and approaches. According to the Japanese government, about 650 Japanese-flagged vessels and about 2900 foreign-flagged vessels operated by Japanese companies have passed the Strait of Hormuz in 2018.
According to the Japanese government, the JSDF’s activities in the Middle East, including Takanami, will last until December 26, 2020, but this period can be extended if necessary.