The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is set to launch an armada of new patrol ships which will primarily be deployed in the waters surrounding the Senkaku (Diaoyu) archipelago in the East China Sea, whose sovereignty remains a combustible issue despite a recent thaw in ties between Tokyo and Beijing.

The new warships will be designed for reconnaissance and surveillance and replace the destroyers that have been deployed for such missions, according to the South China Morning Post and Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun.

Under the Japanese government’s plan, work on the first three ships in the new class will begin in the 2020 financial year and Tokyo aims to commission 12 ships within a decade. The new ships would have a displacement of about 1,300 tons and a crew of 30.

If confirmed, these new warships will be significantly bigger than the six, 240-ton Hayabusa-class guided missile patrol boats now in service with the Japanese navy.

Japan’s Hayabusa-class patrol ships. Photo: WikiMedia

The main armaments on the Hayabusa ships include ship-to-ship missile twin launchers and a 76 mm gun on the front deck. Data link systems aboard these ships also support data sharing with other ships and aircraft and can feed data into the larger Maritime Operation Force System of the Self Defense Forces.

It is believed the new patrol ships will feature more advanced reconnaissance systems to keep watch on the People’s Liberation Army’s activities in the East China Sea.

Over the years Chinese ships have come into close contact – sometimes collisions – with Japanese warships near the Senkaku islands, causing public uproar and diplomatic rifts between both countries.