by Richard Tomkins
Washington (UPI) Oct 22, 2014
Two U.S. Navy destroyers with ballistic missile defense capabilities are being forward deployed to Japan, the U.S. Navy announced.
The ships with Aegis systems are the USS Benfold (DDG 65) and USS Milius (DDG 69), both of which are currently homeported in San Diego, Calif.
The two ships will become part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces based at Yokosuka, Japan.
The USS Benfold will deploy to Japan next summer, while the USS Milius will make the move in the summer of 2017.
"The move directly supports the announcement made by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in April of this year that the Navy would commit to sending two additional BMD-capable ships to the defense of Japan by 2017," the Navy said in reporting the re-basing.
The Navy said the two destroyers will have completed all midlife modernization before the change. They will be equipped with the latest Aegis Baseline 9 combat system, which includes state of the art air defense, ballistic missile defense, surface warfare and undersea warfare capabilities. Other upgrades will include a fully-integrated bridge, improved machinery, damage control and quality of life improvements, an advanced galley and commercial-off-the-shelf computing equipment.
"As part of their Aegis combat systems, each ship is outfitted with the Mark-41 Vertical Launch System for multiple types of guided missiles and is capable of defensive and offensive operations against aircraft, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, surface ships, submarines and shore targets, the Navy said.
"These U.S. BMD-capable forces, combined with the sea-based missile defense systems operated by their counterparts in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, as well as the new TPY-2 radar at Kyogamisaki, Japan, scheduled to start operations later this year, provide the U.S.-Japan alliance a regionally responsive missile defense capability.
"They also represent a significant improvement in capability and will provide the FDNF with greater capacity in all mission areas including regional ballistic missile defense and ballistic missile defense of the Homeland."
In addition to the two ship augmentation of the Navy's 7th Fleet forward operating force, the Navy intends to send another Aegis-equipped destroyer to Japan in early 2016.
The USS Barry (DDG 52) will swap out with the USS Lassen (DDG 82), which has been based in Japan for about a decade.
The announced movement comes as the Navy continues a strategy to focus naval capabilities on the Asia-Pacific region, where vital sea lanes, potential gas and oil deposits and a growing Chinese navy feature prominently.
China and Japan are in dispute over ownership of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China is also in dispute with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Japan and the United States are currently in the process of revising their guidelines for mutual defense, which will feature enhanced capabilities and responsibilities in the face of shared threats in the region. Part of that equation is a decision by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reinterpret the country's pacifist constitution to allow Japan's self-defense forces to physically defend its allies and officially engage in collective self-defense.
In other Asian news, South Korea's military is reportedly considering the procurement of two additional early warning aerial surveillance aircraft.
The country's Yonhap news agency said the intention to augment the air force's fleet of Boeing 737-based Peace Eye airborne early warning and control aircraft is apparently aimed its new air defense zone and claims of sovereignty over a reef and islands off its southern coat.
The possible acquisition appears a response to China last year unilaterally declaring an air defense identification zone that included the reef and islands as well as the Senkaku Islands. In declaring the zone, China imposed regulations governing the use of the air zone and maritime waters within it.
"For surveillance over the KADIZ (Korean Air Defense Identification Zone), we are seeking to secure two more such planes over the long term," the agency quoted an unidentified air force official.
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