Japan is upgrading its naval forces.
And it just launched another of the new class of diesel-electric submarines, one year to the day after the first boat of Japan’s lithium-ion powered submarine line entered the water, according to a recent press release from Kawasaki.
And it’s called the Hakugei, which means White Whale.
Japan’s lithium-ion battery-powered submarines are lower maintenance
The new submarine was launched on Thursday from the city of Kobe, from the Kawasaki Heavy Industries shipyard. The next step for Japan’s newest submarine is final construction efforts and sea trials before eventual commission into the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), slated for March 2023. As the second Taigei-class submarine, the Hakugei is a 3,000-ton diesel-electric attack submarine. It’s 275 feet (84 meters) long, and was initially known as the 29SS class, named in remembrance of the 29th year of Emperor Akihito’s reign. The first boat of this class, the Taigei itself, launched in October 2020, and started sea trials this past July. Assuming nothing goes wrong, it’ll be fully commissioned in March 2022.
This represents the latest in an overarching effort from the MJSDF to recapitalize its submarine fleet. This involves some older boats remaining in service while the total number of submarines in service is lifted to 22. The decision to bring the country’s submarine force from 16 to 22 boats was reached during the 2010 national defense program guidelines, according to a DefenseNews report. The country’s last two boats of the earlier Soryu-class also featured a lithium-ion battery power source, which is a technology Japan has researched considerably since the early 2000s. These are preferred because they are less maintenance-intensive than lead-acid batteries, which don’t endure high speeds while submerged as well as their lithium-ion successors.
China’s submarines indisputably outnumber Japan’s
To public knowledge, Japan is the only country in the world that possesses operational submarines powered by lithium-ion batteries. And, once the new series of Taigei-class submarines are complete, the entirety of Japan’s force will consist of eight older Oyashio-class boats, twelve Soryus, and one more Taigei-class boat, the latter of which Japan has already begun constructing, having already received funding approval for two more. The latest one saw $602.3 million dedicated to one more boat. But Japan isn’t investing so heavily in expanding its submarine fleet for no reason. Among the most significant contextual cues for continuing this buildup are the mounting tensions between Japan, the U.S., and their allies on the one hand, and China and Russia, on the other.
In case you missed it, China has an enormous submarine fleet, with 57 diesel-electric submarines and five nuclear attack submarines in 2015, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. And Beijing’s undersea fleet could grow at incredible rates, reaching 60 diesel-electric boats and at least 16 nuclear attack submarines by 2030. In this light, it’s easy to see that Japan is already and will continue to be totally outnumbered by China’s underwater forces. But Japan’s ally, the United States, has 56 Seawolf-, Los Angeles-, and Virginia-class attack submarines, in addition to Ohio-class cruise-missile submarines, according to a Forbes report. And, amid a rearmament of its own, the U.S. fleet will shrink to 52 attack boats in 2026, and then add a few more to reach present-day numbers sometime in the 2030s. This means, at least for Japan, the U.S., and its allies, the need for more submarines is growing amid rising tensions with China.