Japan owns one of the top defense budgets in the world and, due to the importance of its geographic location concerning trade and the rise in tensions with its regional neighbors, is forced to field an advanced naval fleet. The Atago-class guided missile destroyers were taken into service in the 2000s and currently (2016) number two warships - JS Atago (DDG-177) as the lead and JS Ashigara (DDG-178) as her sister. The class succeeded the still-capable Kongo-class (four ships) and were built from 2004 to 2008. JS Atago was completed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and maintains an active presence in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) inventory.
Compared to the Kongo-class they followed, the Atago-class destroyers improved helicopter functions by adding an onboard hangar and were given additional decks at the bridge superstructure (raising the bridge some). The turreted deck gun was also addressed through better engagement range and inherent firepower.
The American influence in Japanese warships is apparent - indeed the JS Atago takes on a similar form and function to the United States Navy's Arleigh Burke-class of guided missile destroyers. The Atago is also outfitted with the American-made "AEGIS" weapon system offering strong anti-missile capabilities through sophisticated scanning, tracking and engagement of incoming airborne threats. Its helicopter component is also the Sikorsky SH-60K navy helicopter, manufactured locally by Mitsubishi, and the propulsion scheme is a license-produced General Electric system.
As built, Atago displaces 7,700 tons under standard loads and over 10,000 tons under full loads. She showcases an overall length of 541.3 feet, a beam of 68.10 feet and a draught of 20.3 feet. Power is from 4 x Ishikawajima Harima (General Electric) LM2500-30 gas turbines developing 100,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts allowing for speeds to reach 30 knots in ideal conditions. Her crew complement numbers 300 and a full service deck and hangar facility aids in the launching and retrieval of maritime helicopters. The helicopter is further equipped to deal with ship and submarine threats and serve in the Search and Rescue (SAR) role when needed - all the while provided valuable over-the-horizon reconnaissance.
Onboard systems include the AN/SPY-1D(V) Passive Electronically-Scanned Array (PESA) radar, the OPS-28E surface search radar, AN-SQS-53C sonar, three AN/SPG-62 Fire Control Systems (FCSs), AN/SQQ-89 ASW unit, and the Mk 46 Optronic director. Electronic Warfare (EW) is through the NOLQ0-2 system and four Mk 36 SRBOC countermeasures kits are carried.
Armament is led by a 64-cell bank of Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems (VLSs) along the forecastle and a 32-cell bank near the stern. These support the SM-2MR Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM), the SM-3 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) and the RUM-139 ASROC (Anti-Submarine ROCket) system. 2 x Type 90 quad launchers are seated at midships for SSM-1B Anti-Ship Missiles (ASMs). 2 x Type 68 triple torpedo tubes (Mk 46 or Type 73 torpedoes) are carried for anti-submarine work. More conventional armament is had in the single 5" Mk 45 Mod 4 turreted deck gun over the bow and 2 x 20mm Phalanx Close-in Weapon Systems (CIWSs) - one identified ahead of the bridge superstructure and the other near the aft superstructure for good all-round protection at short-range.
Her profile silhouette is consistent with ships of this class and type - the bridge superstructure is found just aft of the turret, an enclosed pyramidal stealth-minded mast is integrated to this structure, and the smoke funnels are of a low-profile and slab-sided design near midships. The aft superstructure contains a hangar facility and is attached to the stern-based helipad. The bow is sharply-pointed and elevated from the turret to the extreme front end.
Should the situations with North Korea and China escalate, the Atago and her sister will no doubt be called to action in defense of Japanese interests in the region.