Japan's position in the world, and its general geographic makeup, force it to field a considerable ocean-going force made up of various carriers, support vessels, submarines, destroyers, and the like. Among this inventory is the Atago-class, designed to the specifications of a guided-missile destroyer to support fleet actions or operate as an independent submarine/ship hunter or airspace deterrent platform. The Atago-class, consisting of just two ships - JS Atago (DDG-177) and JS Ashigara (DDG-178) - is a evolved offshoot of the preceding Kongo-class inducted into service in the 1990s.
JS Ashigara (DDG-178), named after Mount Ashigara, was ordered in 2003 and built by the craftsmen of Mitsubishi heavy Industries (MHI) of Nagasaki. Her keel was laid down on April 6th, 2005 and she was formally launched on August 30th, 2006 to complete her testing, sea trials, and final outfitting. On March 13th, 2008, the warship was officially commissioned into service with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and currently (2020) homeports out of Sasebo, Japan.
JS Ashigara is notable as the first JMSDF warship to feature the "JS" prefix where others before it were assigned JDS (for "Japanese Defense Ship").
The warship has a displacement of 7,700 tons under standard load and 10,000 tons under full load. A length of 560 feet is combined with a beam of 68.9 feet with a draught of 20.3 feet make up her measurements. Power is from 4 x Ishikawajima Harima (General Electric) LM2500-30 gas turbines developing 100,000 horsepower to 2 x Shafts allowing the vessel to make headway at 30 knots. Range is a useful 4,500 nautical miles.
Ashigara houses a crew of 300 personnel and can field a single helicopter form its stern helipad, typically a Sikorsky SH-60K navalized helicopter equipped for the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role and Over-the-Horizon (OtH) work. The combat suite is the AN/SPY-1D(V) series fit.
Armament includes a 5" (127mm) /L62 Mk 45 Mod 4 turreted deck gun, 2 x 20mm Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWSs), and 2 x Missile launchers supporting the Type 90 (SSM-1B) missile (8 reloads provided). Beyond this is the bread-and-butter of the design: a 64-cell Vertical Launching System (VLS) at the forecastle and a 32-cell VLS towards the stern. Supported missile types include the SM-2MR, SM-3, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC. The armament suite is rounded out by 2 x Type 68 triple-torpedo tubes to counter the threat posed by surface and undersea combatants.
The ships profile is consistent with modern designs: the forecastle is largely unobstructed with just the turret being featured. The 64-cell VLS is directly aft at the base of the hull superstructure. The forward section of the superstructure contains the bridge and mast works and utilizes slab sides. The structure is stepped leading to the low-profile, wholly-enclosed smoke funnels seated inline. The aft-superstructure is attached aft of the second funnel group and steps down to the helipad.
Since commissioned, JS Ashigara and her crew assisted in recovery efforts related to the Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. In April of 2017, she was featured as part of a U.S.-led deterrence force (that included the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson) near the Korean Peninsula as North Korea continued to push its nuclear program.