Tokyo (diplomat.so) - The United States and Japan are on the verge of finalizing an agreement that would see Japanese shipyards play a pivotal role in the regular overhaul and maintenance of U.S. Navy warships. The collaboration aims to ensure a sustained and formidable American naval presence in Asian waters, addressing concerns over potential conflicts, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel revealed during a press conference on Friday.
Highlighting the visibility of naval activities as a crucial deterrent, Emanuel stated, "China watches what ships are coming in and out. It is not like this is a secret; they know what's happening. So therefore, they take an evaluation of your deterrence," emphasizing the strategic significance of maintaining a robust and responsive naval force. The announcement was made at the Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo.
While the U.S. Navy has enjoyed supremacy in Asian waters for decades, the surge in Chinese naval capabilities, fueled by shipyard advancements, poses a challenge. The Pentagon's annual report in October revealed that China's naval strength now exceeds 370 ships and submarines, marking it as the world's largest numerically.
To alleviate maintenance backlogs in U.S. shipyards, some of which reach up to 4,000 days, the proposal includes the use of Japanese dry docks for routine maintenance tasks. This shift is expected to relieve pressure on U.S. facilities, allowing them to concentrate on shipbuilding initiatives and the expansion of the U.S. Navy fleet, according to Ambassador Emanuel.
Washington and Tokyo have established a joint council to formulate a comprehensive plan for the collaborative maintenance efforts. Japan, a key U.S. ally, currently hosts the largest overseas concentration of U.S. military power, including the only forward-deployed carrier strike group operating from Yokosuka. The Seventh Fleet, with its headquarters at the Japanese naval base, commands a fleet of up to 70 ships and submarines.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, renowned for producing warships and submarines for Japan's Self Defense Forces, operates commercial dockyards in Yokohama. These dockyards have previously conducted maintenance work on U.S. Navy ships, making them potential contributors to the collaborative effort between the United States and Japan.