The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) contracted for two "helicopter destroyers" to replace the previous JDS Haruna destroyer class. The contract was awarded to the Ishikawajima-Harima shipbuilding concern of Tokyo, Japan and the keel of the first ship in the class was laid down in March of 1971. The vessel was bestowed the name of "Shirane" after a mountain group in Japan. The new vessel was formally commissioned in 1980 as the JDS Shirane (DDH-143) Helicopter Destroyer, a defensive-minded surface warship.
For many years following World War 2, the nation of Japan was not allowed a standing army, air force or navy per se - this primarily due to their contributions on the losing side of the Axis powers (to include Nazi Germany and Italy among others). As such, her military power since has been largely relegated to defensive-type instruments and, as such, the government overseeing the modern Japanese Navy requires a defensive presence suitable for protecting the island chain as well as the large maritime fishing interests and cargo fleets in both home and international waters - a stark contrast to the aggressive resource-hungry nature of the Imperial Japanese fleet of the 1930s and 1940s. To date (2012), the Shirane is 32 years old and is expected to be decommissioned sometime in 2014.
The Shirane's design profile is characterized by sharp clean lines even with a bulbous bow sonar. There is a compact superstructure forward of amidships and aft of 2 x 5-inch dual-purpose stepped deck guns. Between the superstructure and deck guns is the ASROC 8-shot anti-submarine torpedo launcher. The fire control system (FCS) is mounted atop of the bridge superstructure and the air-search radar is affixed to a platform extending out near the top of the forward funnel. A small pagoda sits atop the forward funnel housing the surface search radar and applicable weather sensor equipment. Aft of the superstructure is a lower hanger deck for the three helicopters assigned to the ship. The two 20mm CIWS (Close-In Weapon System) Gatling-type guns are located on stands, one to portside and the other to starboard, nearly positioned on the ship's centerline atop the helicopter hanger. The shorter aft funnel protrudes from the hanger deck roof and the Sea Sparrow surface-to-air medium-range missile launcher (a successful navalized version of the air-to-air Sparrow missile) is mounted on top of the hanger deck aft of the funnel. A large flight deck extends rearwards from the two hanger deck doors to the fan tail. An open air secondary deck is located under the flight deck on the fan tail and has stowage space for the towed sonar gear. In all, the Shirane manages four complete decks below the main deck.
As the Shirane was built to defend against all manner of threats including submarines, surface and air threats and she can be further called upon for shore bombardment if needed. Starting from the bow, she fields 2 x 5-inch /54 caliber Mk 42 automatic guns which were designed for air or surface targets (dual-purpose). However, as air targets continued to increase in cruising speeds, the Mk 42 became more of a surface threat counter weapon. The two 5-inch guns are controlled by the Mk 68 Gun Fire Control System (FCS) located at the superstructure and on top of the gun mounts. The entire Mk 42 system weighs 60 tons. Under the gun mount are two drums that hold 40 rounds each of 5-inch shells. each projectile weighing 70 pounds each. However, the guns cannot sustain the manufactured specifications of firing 40 rounds per minute (the actual maximum rpm fired is 33 or about 1 round every 2 seconds per gun, this based on the information provided on the Shirane itself). In each of the two gun mounts, the storage space capacity is 599 rounds of the 5-inch shells. When fired the 5-inch shells travel at a velocity of 2,300 feet per second with a maximum range of 14.9 miles (26,224 yards) at 45 degree elevation.
Aft of the twin 5-inch gun mounts is a MK-112 matchbox-type RUR-5 ASROC ASW system launcher developed in the 1950s. This anti-submarine weapons system is a rocket assisted launcher holding 8 x homing Mark 46 torpedoes (unknown if reloads are carried below deck). Each torpedo weighs 950 with and is 15.1 feet long and has an internal guidance system. The launcher can pivot and fire to port or starboard or forward over the bow of the ship as needed. The superstructure obviously obstructs launching these torpedoes to the stern. Additional ASROC torpedo launchers may be installed. If the onboard ship's sensors or the sonar on the SH-60J accompanying helicopters detect an enemy submarines location, this data is fed into the acoustic homing torpedo for an ASROC attack. The torpedo is then launched into the air by its solid propellant rocket motor until reaching a preprogrammed moment in flight to which the torpedo separates from its rocket booster, lowered into the water by a parachute. The torpedo then actively homes in on its target in the usual sense using active or passive sonar. This quick-reaction delivery system allows the Shirane to attack hostile submarines with minimal warning.
The Sea Sparrow launcher is on top of the hanger deck aft of the funnel. The standard twin 4-pod launcher platform is positioned to fire aft, port, starboard or vertically. The Sea Sparrow can engage aircraft or inbound missiles even those of the sea-skimming type. The Sea Sparrow missile is 12 feet long and weighs 510 pounds including a 90-pound warhead. Its inherent range is 10 nautical miles (19 km) and guidance is via semi-active homing radar. Detonation is through a proximity fuse allowing for a 27 foot kill radius.
Two triple ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) torpedo launchers are located amidships along the outer edge of the ship at port and starboard. The three tubular units can be rotated out to face the sea for launching and each torpedo is thrown into the water using air pressure. This tried-and-true method of compressed air launching of torpedoes has been a staple of naval warfare since the days of World War 1. Each tube is pre-loaded with a Mark 46 torpedo which are the of the current NATO standard type. Each torpedo weighs 508lbs (231kg) and has a range of 12,000 yards (11km) and can dive to 1,200 ft (365m) when hunting enemy submarines. These weapons use a circular search pattern running at 40 knots (74 km/h) while using an internal guidance active/passive acoustic homing system.
The 20mm Phalanx CIWS is the "last chance" anti-ship/anti-aircraft/missile defense short-ranged weapon system. The radar-guided 20mm Gatling can fire 4,500 rounds per minute and is mounted on a swiveling base, integrated to a radar system aboard for acquiring and tracking of targets up to 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) away from the ship.
The Sikorsky SH-60K Seahawk Air Wing
The Sikorsky SH-60J "Seahawk" helicopter is the current multi-tasking rotary-wing aircraft used on the deck of the Shirane. The current (as of 2012) unit stationed aboard is the HS-23 JMSDF "Maizuro" squadron. The standard operating crew of these aircraft is three including two pilots and a flight engineer though mission equipment specialists would be added as needed. The helicopter is 19.8 m (64 ft, 10 in) in length while the tail folds to portside to help reduce overall length by 7 feet and overall height (5.2 m (16 ft 12 in)) by 4 ft, 6 in. The main rotor diameter is 16.4 m (54 ft 6 in) and the max takeoff weight is 9,750 kg (21,495 lb) including crew. Similarly, the main rotor blades can be folded for increased stowage space aboard the space-strapped vessel. The aircraft is powered by 2 x Ishikawa-Harima T700-IHI-401C turboshaft engines producing 1,342 kW (1,800 shaft horsepower) each. This powerplant arrangement allows for a top speed of 264.8 km/h (143 kn, 165 mph) and the ability to reach a service ceiling of 5,790 m (18,996 ft). The range (without refueling) is 584 km (315 nmi, 363 mi).
The SH-60J helicopter maintains two main missions from the Shirane: anti-submarine warfare (ASW)and anti-surface warfare. Secondary missions include Search and Rescue (SAR), communications relay to the ship(s) and vertical replenishment of supplies at sea. She can carry one or two Mark 46 torpedoes on external pylons when required. Additionally, a crew-served 7.62 mm (.30 in) Type 74 machine gun can be added on a pintle mount at the side door for self-defense or security. On the portside of the aircraft are 25 sound navigation buoys that can be released at various locations to help track submarines. If located, the data is transmitted back to the equipment onboard the helicopter and relayed back to the mothership. Further back on the tail section of the helicopter are two chaff countermeasure dispensers to foil inbound homing missiles. Above the crew side doorway is a rescue hoist that can also be used for a dipping sonar unit carried in the cabin. To the rear of the crew door (along the tail section) is a FLIR installation (Forward-Looking Infra-Red) scanner while, further back, is a MAD unit which is lowered into the sea and towed for magnetic anomaly detection. This unit measures the magnetic signature produced by a submarine. Under the nose of the helicopter is an ESM (Electronic Support Measuring) device used for passive listening of electronic signals from enemy ships or aircraft. Under the fuselage is a standard radar unit for radio detecting and ranging. The Japanese Navy has purchased updated models of the SH-60K with additional cabin space and upgraded electronics.
The operational history of the JDS Shirane began at commissioning on February 17th, 1980. In 1981 she was incorporated as the flag ship of Escort Flotilla One based at Yokosuka, Japan. In 1982 Shirane attended her first RIMPAC (RIM of the PACific) exercise - the largest international maritime exercise in the world. In 1984, the Shirane underwent a major refit and modernization program to help keep her viable to new threats of the ocean. In 1985 and 1987 she was involved in US naval exercises in the region. In 1988 she was involved in RIMPAC '88 near Hawaii, USA. In 1992 Shirane was dispatched to the Republic of the Philippines to participate in marine exercises there. In 1993, she was involved with the US Navy on exercise once more. In July 1995 she was called to supply relief during the Hanshin Awaji earthquake.
In August of 1993, she returned to the Philippines to participate in additional marine exercises. RIMPAC exercises then followed in 1998. In 2003, during the Russian federation exercises called SAREX, Shirane was also in attendance. In 2005, exercises in the republic of Singapore, named PSIEX, were on order. On December 15th, 2007, four crew were injured when a fire broke out at the rudder house when at anchor in Yokosuka. In 2009, JDS Shirane was transferred to the Escort Flotilla Three based at Maizuru, Japan. During 2011 she was used to supply relief and cargo during the Great East Japan Earthquake. In May 2012 she was sent to represent Japan in Fleet Week New York, USA.
The JDS Shirane DD-143 at Fleet Week 2012
Every year since 1984 the Fleet Week nautical event is organized by the US Navy in New York waters. A number of coalition and US Naval vessels including "tall ships" complete with sails arrive from different ports to New York Harbor for the week. This year the celebration is in recognition of the War of 1812 - America's "Second Revolution". The author (J.R. Potts) had a chance to walk about the decks of the Shirane when on display.
During this presentation, some interesting details about the ship's data sheet was noted - which was very well done and covered a number of issues. On the lighter side it indicated there were 10 crewmen responsible for cooking meals and having acquired much experience and cooking licenses prior to their arrival. These service personnel prepare meals for the 350 crew members and, on Fridays - which is a popular "Curry Day", they take pride in putting different recipe ideas together for the crew. Food to any single navy force is as important as fuel and bullets.
Despite her 1970s origins and 1980 commission, the Shirane DDH 143 appears in tip top shape to the naked eye, looking as though she was just commissioned in 2012. However, the lower decks, bridge and engineering spaces were off limits during the tour (on 5/27/12) during Fleet Week at the Brooklyn Piers, New York, no doubt due to her operational status within the Japanese Navy.
The End of the Road
During her time at sea, Shirane served as the lead ship of her Shirane-class of destroyers and made her home port out of Yokosuka, Japan. Her sister ship became JDS Kurama (DDH-144) which was commissioned on March 27th, 1981. JS Shirane was decommissioned from service on March 25th, 2015 ending her career on the high seas.