Japan Just Launched Its First “Big Whale” Lithium-Ion Battery Powered Submarine

Japan on Wednesday unveiled a new naval submarine amid flaring tensions with China. The 3,000-ton Taigei, or big whale, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will be put into service by March 2022, Kyodo News agency reported.

Japan Just Launched Its First “Big Whale” Lithium-Ion Battery Powered Submarine

Manned by 70 crew members, the Taigei will be the 22nd vessel in Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force’s submarine fleet. It will be 84 meters (276 feet) long and 9.1 meters (30 feet) wide, costing Japan around $720 million. The vessel’s announcement comes amid tensions in the East China Sea, where Tokyo blames Beijing for violating the country’s territorial waters.

China claims the Japanese-controlled islands, which it calls Diaoyu, and routinely sends its warships to the surrounding waters. Under these increasing tensions, Tokyo aims to increase the number of its submarines from 16 to 22 as part of its 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines. Currently, Japan runs nine 2,750-ton Oyashio-class submarines and 11 2,950-ton Soryu-class warships. It plans to add a 12th Soryu-class submarine next year.

The unveiling of the Tagei comes days after Chinese ships set a new record for the amount of time spent in Japanese waters near the islands. Two Chinese Coast Guard ships entered waters near the island on Sunday and approached a Japanese fishing boat, the Japan Coast Guard said Tuesday.

The Chinese ships eventually left Japanese territorial waters after 57 hours on Tuesday evening, Japan Times reported, having previously ignored repeated orders from their Japanese counterparts to do so. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday the incident was "very regrettable" and said he had "strongly protested" the action to Beijing via diplomatic channels. Kato also said Japan was determined to protect its territories.

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters: "It is China's inherent right to carry out patrolling and law enforcement in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands, and Japan should respect this." He did not elaborate on why the Chinese ships entered Japanese waters, nor why they stayed for a record length of time.