TOKYO — The U.S. Navy is aiming to significantly beef up its forward-deployed presence in Japan. As a first step toward that goal, the USS Chancellorsville, a modernized guided-missile cruiser, returned to the naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, June 18.
This is the first time in 23 years the Navy has increased the number of vessels at Yokosuka, its largest overseas naval base. The understood — though unspoken — U.S. aim is to counter the military buildup of China, particularly at sea.
As the beefed-up 172.8-meter Chancellorsville returned to its old home, it was greeted by crowds holding welcoming placards.
The ship’s modernized system supports the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air capability, a linked networking system between anti-air and fire-control systems that allows information on targets to be shared among the Navy’s ships and aircraft. The faster computer processing speed of Baseline 9, coupled with an improved radar system, allows the Chancellorsville to identify and destroy targets beyond the horizon using an array of missiles, including the Standard Missile 6.
The ship’s 350 or so crew members were involved in the new system’s two-year testing program from 2013, making them more experienced than any other crew in the Navy today, Capt. Curt Renshaw, the vessel’s commanding officer, said. “When it comes to the defense of Japan, this is the best ship the U.S. Navy has right now,” he added.
According to the Navy, the Chancellorsville is a multimission air and submarine warfare ship capable of surface fire support and surface combat. Its primary mission is to defend one of the Navy’s newest nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan, which is to join the 7th Fleet later this year. In addition to its primary mission of defending the carrier strike group, the ship can “conduct any mission necessary.”
In the ship’s combat information center, roughly 20 monitors display images and information that are used to watch for possible enemy incursions, whether by sea, land or air. The room is kept chilly to prevent the computers from overheating.
By 2017, two Baseline 9-equipped destroyers, the USS Benfold and USS Milius, will join the fleet at Yokosuka. The base occupies an important geographic location. From Yokosuka, an aircraft carrier can reach the Taiwan Strait, for example, in 1.5 days, as opposed to the 5.9 days it takes from Hawaii, home of the Pacific Command, or the 8.2 days it takes from San Diego, a major Navy port in California.
The Yokosuka base once belonged to the Imperial Japanese Navy and boasted some of the best dry docks in the world. The first dock, still in operation today, opened in 1871. The Allied forces quickly seized the facilities after the end of World War II, and the shipyard was transformed into a U.S. Navy base.