Report: Japan May Launch Middle East Maritime Security Mission

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force guided missile destroyer (file image courtesy USN)

Published Sep 3, 2019 7:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

Amidst persistent tensions and threats to shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, the government of Japan may send a destroyer to operate in nearby areas, according to a new report. 

Despite pressure from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, Japan has so far avoided committing to an American-led security coalition for the Persian Gulf region. The deployment would be a separate mission, not formally associated with the American effort, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. However, the distinction may be limited: Japan plans to share any intelligence gathered in the operation with forces involved in the American effort. 

The Japanese effort would primarily involve retasking forces already present rather than adding new assets to the region. Like many nations, Japan rotates naval forces through the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy patrols, and it would divert one destroyer to the Gulf of Oman after the vessel's current rotation off Somalia ends. (Australia's surface force contribution for the coalition is comparable - one vessel retasked from Somalia to the Gulf, beginning next year.)

Given the limitations on military activity under Japan's post-WWII constitution, the Japanese government would classify the operation as a survey and research activity intended to collect information, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. For official purposes, it would not involve providing escorts for Japan-linked shipping. Japanese vessels make approximately 1,700 transits of the Strait of Hormuz per year, including 500 tanker transits, according to numbers provided by the Japanese Shipowners' Association. 

The mission's scope would not include the Strait of Hormuz unless Iran consents to a Japanese presence, the paper reported. Japan has a positive relationship with the Iranian government, and it has so far attempted to balance American demands for a contribution to the coalition with its desire to maintain ties with Tehran.