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The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) is to introduce a new crew system which will be implemented on the second ship of the new FFM class of frigate. This is the means to increase the operation rates of ships by assigning a number of crews which is more than the number of the same type of ships. Under this system, when one crew finishes duty, another goes onboard so the period of the ship being unavailable for operations is reduced. This model has already been adopted by the US Navy, the British Royal Navy and the Japanese Coast Guard.

From 2017, the JMSDF introduced the crew system for the HIBIKI class Ocean Surveillance Ships operated by the Ocean Surveillance Division 1 as part of the trial programme. Currently, three crews are operating the two ships of the class.

Chief of Staff Hiroshi Yamamura, said, “For overseas missions such as anti-piracy in [the] Indian Ocean, it will be possible to send a replacement crew by plane to the local port for a crew change. For example, you need a month voyage to go and return to Indian Ocean from Japan. [The] crew system eliminates that voyage, even fuel consumption and fatigue of crew members will be reduced. Currently, the anti-piracy is being done by changes of ships by six months, however it is possible for changes by two or three months by crew system.”

Difficulties with Wider Use

According to a JMSDF spokesman, it is undecided whether the crew system will be expanded to other surface combatants and submarines in the future. This will be decided based on operations with FFMs. The spokesman added that the crew system could be difficult to apply new AEGIS ships, even if rigs and equipment are uniform, because of different home ports.

According to the reference for “Expenditure Reform Subcommittee” held by the Ministry of Finance (held on October 26, 2020 in FY 2020), “The number of Self Defence Force (SDF) personnel is about 250,000 in recent years, but due to the declining birth-rate and the increase in mid-career retirement, the actual number of personnel (current employees) has remained at about 230,000.”

The reference added, “While increasing the number of SDF personnel, however, the number of mid-career retirees of SDF personnel due to personal reasons has increased by about 40 per cent in 10 years to about 5,000 SDF personnel, which is equivalent to about one-third of new hires each year.”

It is extremely difficult to secure the crew members for JMSDF ships due to the harsh working environment. Therefore, the crew system for surface combatants will be introduced as key to improve the working environment and recruitment of crew members.

Shinichi Kiyotani