According to Kishi, the new ships will include one medium-sized Logistics Support Vessels (LSV) capable of carrying about 2,000 tons of cargo and two smaller Landing Crafts (LCU) capable of carrying several hundred tons of cargo and operating in shallow waters. Although the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has been basically responsible for the operation of the vessels, these vessels will be operated by a joint unit as the focus is on supporting the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and other forces operating in remote islands.
This plan was specified in the Medium Term Defense Program (FY 2019 – FY 2023) announced in December 2018 and is aimed at enhancing the JSDF’s ability to transport troops to remote islands in peacetime. Currently, the JSDF is planning to deploy JGSDF units to islands west of Okinawa in response to China’s maritime expansion. The troops were deployed to Yonaguni Island in 2016 and to Miyako and Amami Oshima in 2019. It is also scheduled to be deployed to Ishigaki Island in the future. One of the challenges in deploying these units is the transportation of supplies during peacetime. While a certain amount of ammunition and food can be transported by JGSDF helicopters, large vehicles cannot be transported. Therefore, the decision was made to introduce vessels that could carry large amounts of supplies and vehicles at once.
At present, the detailed specifications and manufacturers of the ships to be introduced have not been determined, but according to Ministry of Defense documents, the ships envisioned are likely to be those with capabilities equivalent to General Frank S. Besson-class LSVs and Runnymede-class LCUs.
BMT’s Caimen landing craft ?
If Japanese domestic manufacturers were to participate in this plan, Mitsui E&S could be a very important player. At MAST Asia in Japan in 2019, British ship design company BMT and Mitsui E&S were showcasing the Caimen 90 landing craft, with the newly created JGSDF amphibious brigade in mind. However, since the CAIMEN-90 has a smaller payload than the vessels planned for this plan, the CAIMEN-200 announced by BMT may be proposed for the LCU. In addition, Mitsui E&S had displayed an image drawing of Landing Craft (LCT) at the 2017 MAST Asia held two years earlier.
MHI acquiring Mitsui E&S
However, on March 29, 2021, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) announced that it has signed an agreement with Mitsui E&S Holdings to be transferred the Naval and Governmental Ships business from Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding. According to MHI, “Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding’s products and technologies fully complement those of MHI. MHI, by taking over both Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding’s technologies accumulated over many years and its outstanding human resources, will be in a solid position to further strengthen the operations of its Naval Ship & Maritime Systems Division”. Therefore, it is expected that the plans regarding LCT, etc. presented by Mitsui E&S above will be transferred to MHI in the future.