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Rear Admiral Kawakami (ret.) Japan-U.S. Mine Warfare Cooperation

On July 6, 2022, Rear Admiral Yasuhiro Kawakami (ret.) gave a presentation as part of the YCAPS-SPF Community Conversations series entitled "History of Japanese Mine Warfare and 'Kizuna' of Japan-U.S. Mine Warfare Forces." Kawakami began his talk with an overview of naval mine warfare, including its history–going back as far as the War of 1812, the physical and psychological threats of sea mines, and the different aspects of mine warfare, including minelaying, mine hunting, and minesweeping. Kawakami stressed the continued need for robust mine countermeasures even during peacetime, as roughly 100 nations have sea mine stockpiles, including several of Japan’s neighbors.

Kawakami then went on to discuss the history of Japanese mine warfare in more detail. Both minelaying and mine countermeasures began for Japan during the Russo-Japanese war, when mines damaged and sank vessels on both sides. Mines were also a major part of the Pacific War. Japan laid roughly 55,000 defensive mines while the U.S. laid approximately 12,000 mines to block Japanese sea routes. After the war, mine countermeasures during the Korean War were among the first operations of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). The JMSDF went on to assist the U.S. Navy with mine sweeping during the 1991 Operation Gulf Dawn, discovering and disposing of 34 mines. Today, JMSDF continues to find and dispose of sea mines from earlier wars while confirming the safety of key sealanes.

Lastly, Kawakami described the lasting “kizuna” (relationship ties) of U.S.-Japan mine warfare cooperation. The longest running joint maritime exercise between the U.S. Navy and JMSDF is the Special Mine Exercise (MINEX/EODEX), which has been held jointly three times a year since 1955. The U.S. minesweepers stationed in Sasebo also have sister-ship relations with counterpart mine countermeasure ships in the JMSDF. Through these sister ship relationships, crews have cross-deck exchanges and joint leisure activities such as barbecues, sports, and games. These professional and interpersonal activities maintain a lasting kizuna between U.S. and Japan minesweeping operations.

LCDR James Billings (USN) began his remarks as discussant by elaborating on U.S. mine countermeasure ships and capabilities. He went on to share some of his own experiences of kizuna and cooperation with the JMSDF while commanding USS CHIEF in Sasebo. Billings then opened the Q&A period by asking how Kawakami thought the JMSDF would be involved in mine countermeasure operations in the event of a Taiwan Straits crisis.

During the Q&A session, Kawakami and Billings discussed the differences between minesweeping and mine hunting, hurdles and opportunities for mine countermeasures in the Baltic Sea to clear Russian sea mines, treaties and laws on minelaying, means of communication between U.S. and Japanese minesweepers, the dangers of both “smart” mines and cheap mines, as well as the continuing importance of mine warfare today. Meanwhile, a very active text chat between participants discussed key terms and technology in mine warfare as well as different countries’ mine warfare capabilities.

Kawakami closed the event by reiterating the importance of the JMSDF’s kizuna with U.S. minesweepers. Many participants exited the chat professing a greater understanding of and appreciation for mine warfare around Japan and beyond.

-by Jenna Lindeke Heavenrich for YCAPS