What defines a navy? What characteristics does a modern navy possess? Obviously one characteristic is possession of major combatant vessels. However, there is another characteristic that normally accompanies this first characteristic and that is power projection. Power projection is simply the ability to project naval combat power beyond a country’s bordering seas. In the age of sail, power projection was limited by crew provisions. Using what was provided by nature a sailing ship could go anywhere the wind would take it. As long as the crew had food and water, it could continue with its mission.
The introduction of steam propulsion changed the equation. By the mid 19th century coal fed boilers allowed ships to shape a course independent of the wind. This in turn imposed its own limitations. Coal burners were hungry and coal fed boilers had to be continuously fed. Ships had limited storage capacity for their fuel. For decades warship design was caught between two stools. Warship designers and admirals wanted the almost unlimited range conferred by sail but also wanted the ability to steam independent of the wind offered by steam plants. It was not until close to the end of the century that steam totally supplanted sail and sailing rigs disappeared from warship designs.
With a squadron or fleet of steam warships, any navy had to have other resources with which to project naval power beyond territorial waters. This could be accomplished in one of two methods. One method was to set up a network of coaling stations. To do this a country needed colonies. The Royal Navy had been supreme in the Napoleonic Wars and ever since Trafalgar in 1805, had been the undeniable master of the seas. Great Britain had bases on every continent but Antarctica and built a world-wide network of coaling stations. The warships of the Royal Navy could steam from port to port and coal at their leisure. The other method of providing coal for hungry boilers was to take extra coal with you. The solution to this was a collier, a merchant ship designed to carry coal. The Royal Navy had plenty of these as well to supplement her network of colonial naval bases. However, of the other naval powers, only France had anything close to the number of world-wide colonies, as was enjoyed by the Royal Navy.
At the end of 1904 and into 1905 Imperial Russia mounted an expedition that would test the method of carrying coal with you to its limits. In October 1904 the 2nd Pacific Squadron left Russian harbors in the eastern Baltic to begin an epic voyage halfway around the world to relieve the besieged 1st Pacific Squadron at Port Arthur on the Chinese coast. This voyage showed the extreme negative aspects of operating a coal fired fleet far from friendly ports. With no ports of its own along the course to the Pacific, Russia employed her own and rented colliers to bring the needed coal with the fleet. The fleet had to coal at sea on many occasions and the backbreaking job of coaling a warship was made even more difficult by the lack of sheltered waters in which to do so. By the time the Russian fleet reached the narrows between Korea and Japan near the island of Tsushima, the crews were exhausted and the ships were in a deplorable condition. To make matters worse, the battleships had to carry so much extra coal themselves that their armored belts were to a large extent submerged. The Russian disaster at Tsushima to the fresh Japanese fleet operating in their home waters was in large measure the result of using the limited and inadequate means of supplying the Russian warships with material to keep them steaming. In the era of coal fired warships, power projection was clearly limited by resupply resources.
The era of fuel oil started in the second decade of the 20th century when Great Britain laid down the oil fired battleships of the Queen Elizabeth Class. Fuel oil was far superior to coal as a source of fuel. It was more efficient and far easier to load. No longer would a crew of a battleship spend the better part of a day carrying sacks of coal from a collier to the numerous coal scuttles on the deck to dump the coal down scuttle chutes to the coal bunkers below. With the rapid adoption of fuel oil among the world’s navies, the collier disappeared and the oiler appeared. With fuel oil underway replenishment became possible. A warship did not have to stop to refuel but could take on fuel lines from an oiler and pump in new fuel while still steaming. With this technology, bringing your own source of fuel with you became the preferred means of naval power projection and a far flung net of naval bases lost its former utility. During World War Two fuel oil was secured from oilers, ammunition from ammunition ships and provisions and spare parts from other specialized vessels. One post war development was the development of the multi-store replenishment ship. Like a seagoing grocery store, a replenishment ship carried not only fuel but also provisions, parts and often ammunition. There was not need of a number of specialized resupply vessels, as the replenishment ship carried everything needed to allow warships to operate far from a friendly base. Not only could a replenishment ship offer liquid and solid resupply from fixed point in ship to ship transfer, but also the larger replenishment ships had flight-decks for vertical resupply through helicopters. Replenishment ships still are the mark of a blue water navy. They are true indicators that a naval force is able to operate far from territorial waters and comprise a true navy, rather than a coast defense force.
Following the destruction of the Japanese Imperial Navy in World War Two, a new Japanese Constitution renounced offensive weapons. Included in this was the renouncing of a blue water navy capable of far-flung operations. The new Japanese naval force was the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). Given the years that it took for the USN to overcome the IJN, most American politicians as well as the public were in favor of this. Japanese naval construction would be limited to smaller, coast defense vessels aimed at patrolling Japanese home waters. By the 1950s the picture had changed. The US was in the midst of a cold war with Soviet Russia and needed allies. The most significant allie in Asia was Japan and it quickly became apparent that Japan could use a naval force with more capabilities that mere home water security. Larger and more capable warships were built and also Japan picked up assets for naval power projection, which mark a blue water navy.
As part of the 1960 building program the JMSDF made its first step to power projection. In that year’s program was funding for a support tanker. Laid down in 1961 the Hamana was only 2,900-tons light but 7,550-tons full load. One small tanker for the entire naval force was not that much but it was a start. The next ship built for the same mission was Sagami AOE-421 laid down in 1977. Instead of just supplying oil, the Sagami was a fully functional replenishment ship. The ship was of 5,000-tons, 11,600-tons full load, and had two liquid and one solid supply transfer points on each side. Also built into the design was a helicopter pad at the stern for vertical replenishment, although the ship had no hangar. The Sagami could replenish not only fuel but also provisions, and replacement parts. This multi-supply capacity is what sets a replenishment ship apart from an oiler, which is limited to fuel replenishment. However, only one Sagami was built. The real expansion of modern Japanese naval power projection capabilities came in 1985 when the Towada class replenishment ship was laid down. This time the new design was not just a single ship but one of three. The Towada AOE-422, Tokiwa AOE-423, and Hamana AOE-424, almost doubled the size of the Sagami. The class displaced 8,300-tons and at full load came in at 15,850-tons. The design was an all-purpose replenishment ship for fuel oil, provisions, ammunition and repair parts. The class had the same three replenishment points as was built into the Sagami and top speed was 22 knots. Again the Towada class had a helicopter pad at the stern but no hangar.
In January 2002 the JMSDF made the next leap in replenishment ship designs when the Mashu AOE-425 was laid down. Mashu was launched February 5, 2003 and commissioned on March 15, 2004. A sistership Omi AOE-426 followed one year later, laid down February 7, 2003, launched February 19, 2004 and commissioned on March 3, 2005. Again, size almost doubled over the previous replenishment ship design. The ships displace 13,500-tons standard and far more full load. They are said to have a vastly improved replenishment capacity over the previous Towada class. With an overall length of 221 meters (719-feet) and a beam of 27 meters (88-feet), the Mashu and Omi are undoubtedly large ships. The main engines are two Kawasaki Rolls Royce Spey SM1C gas turbines, providing 40,000shp for the two shafts for a top speed of 24-knots. The much larger size also allowed the Mashu to have not only a flight deck but also a hangar for her own organic aircraft. The JMSDF may be called a self-defense force but in capabilities, warships and power projection assets, it is a true blue water navy.
The FleetNet Mashu
The FleetNet Mashu is a large resin model. The hull measures 12 3/16-inches, which is spot on of being 1:700 of the length of the actual ship. At first glance the hull has the block design of a modern civilian containership. However, then you notice the bow. The Mashu has an extraordinarily strong knuckle running the first half of the length of the ship. Below the knuckle the bow flares outward dramatically as it rises. After the knuckle is reached the hull sides continues upwards almost vertically but still slants outward to a small degree. The ship has a sharply slanted cutwater that distinguishes her more as a warship than a blunt bowed merchant ship. Near the start of the knuckle on each side is found a prominent anchor hawse fitting. Down the length of the hull there are a few portholes/scuttles and aft of the superstructure are cutouts one deck lower than the main deck. At the aft end of the ship, the hull curves sharply inward as it nears the transom stern. Also at the stern are slots on both sides for propeller guards.
On the hull casting the mass of deck detail is found at the raised forecastle and low quarterdeck. With this modern design anchor chain is not found on the forecastle. Anchor chain apparently runs from the chain locker straight to the hull anchor hawse without running across the forecastle. There is still plenty of detail on the forecastle. There are three cable reels, two winches, three deck plates or coamings and a small detailed deck house. Eleven set of small twin bollards are also present. At the other end of the ship is a low quarterdeck. Thus deck had eight support structures because the aft end of the flight deck rests atop the supports and covers the quarterdeck. On the quarterdeck are three cable reels and four sets of bollards. The long main deck in between the raised forecastle and low quarterdeck is mostly smooth resin marked with three raised panels. One is offset to port on the flight deck and may mark an elevator platform for movement of supplies onto the deck for vertical replenishment missions. Two more raised panels are found near the port and starboard deck edges in the middle of the forward cargo area. A rectangle is incised in the deck as a locator for attachment of the bridge. Fourteen locator holes are also present for attachment of deckhouses, kingposts and other fittings. The casting quality is absolutely excellent. The hull casting is finely formed with zero defects. Not only are there no pinhole voids on the visible portions of the model but also there are no voids to be seen even on the bottom of the casting. There is no flash, no resin over-spill, no cracks and no defects of any description to mar this casting.
Larger Resin Parts
After the hull casting, the larger of the six resin pieces are the two superstructure blocks, aft flight-deck, and three forward deckhouses. These are cast through sprue vents rather than on casting blocks. Using this process, which is normally used only for the smallest resin parts, creates parts that require only removing the part from the sprue with a quick smoothing of the attachment point. The bridge is massive. The front face is almost vertical but the sides and aft face slant inwards as they rise at a greater angle. At the lowest level there are passageway cutouts of each side. On the front face there is a control position with overhang and seven square portholes. At the top of the bridge is a platform, which overhangs the bridge on both sides. A solid bulkhead is found along the front edge and along about the forward 30% of this platform. The forward bulkheads also have wind baffles on the forward facing edges. Two equipment base plates are found midway down each side of the top deck. Centerline is the navigation level deckhouse. On each side of the superstructure are two more square windows and a slot on the forward edge for a platform high up on the superstructure. Also at the top life rings are found on the outside of the top platform bulkhead.
The aft superstructure, stack casting fits flush with the aft face of the bridge casting. To fit flush you’ll need to sand smooth the attachment point from the resin pour vent. This blocky part has multiple levels and is dominated by platform overhangs and ventilation louvers. The large platforms cast on either side are for boat positions. Although thin, these platforms have no defects in casting. There are eight ventilation louvers and seven doors on each side at this level. The port side has four other fittings and the starboard side has a life ring, a couple of other fittings and at the very top the port side windows for flight control station. The aft face is the most detailed. It is dominated by two very large hangar openings with roller doors with etched lines showing the door segments. On the lower portside is a recessed alcove for a control station and at the upper starboard side are the windows for the flight control station. This piece is asymmetrical with the deckhouse for flight operations flush with the starboard side-wall of the superstructure. As well as having windows on the flush starboard side there are also windows on the port side of this position overlooking the superstructure deck. Across the top deck of this piece are mounting brackets for various equipment fittings. The stack is a steep pyramid slanted inward on all four sides as it rises. More ventilation louvers are found on the stack sides and the top opening is hollow for placement of a stack cap. The aft flight deck piece is the part that fits over the low quarterdeck.
There are three large deckhouses that fit centerline on the forward cargo deck. Each of these parts is heavily detailed. The forward one has two raised control positions on the forward corners of the part. Surrounded by solid bulkheads these positions have entry openings on the inward sides. Each side has a hose, entry door and other fittings cast on the part. The forward bulkhead also has two life rings and two access ports. There is quite a bit of detail on the deck of this housing with six standard cable reels and two very large cable drums. There are two very thin resin bulkheads rising from the center of this deck. The largest of the deckhouses is the center structure. Two large platforms on the front edges of this piece that extend on each side over the cargo deck. Both sides have numerous fittings and the deck has similar fittings to the forward deckhouse. There are four normal cable reels, two large drum reels and the same two centerline, freestanding bulkheads as found on the forward deckhouse. The aft deckhouse has more fuel lines on the side bulkheads and doors, life ring, access ports and other detail on the rear face. The deck of this piece has six cable reels, two large cable drums, two freestanding bulkheads and also two cradles for cargo booms.
Smaller Fittings and Parts
FleetNet provides a resin sprue with 59 of the smaller resin parts for Mashu. This sprue is designed just like an injected plastic sprue as one mold is used for all of these small parts. This efficiency in casting is another aspect of resin casting that distinguishes the FleetNet Mashu. The tall pyramid four-sided mast is the most unique of the smaller resin parts found on this sprue. Cast with four integral platforms, it is an excellent resin casting that provides for a complex architectural feature in one part. Also located on the same run with the mast are four cargo deck kingposts and the boat/flight-deck crane mounted on the top of the aft superstructure. Located at the opposite end of the sprue are two more runners of larger parts. One has the navigation bridge, hull cutout overheads, mast yardarm and two cargo deck cranes mounted on top of the middle deckhouse. The runner next to this has the eight exhaust funnel cap that fits inside the hollow opening at the top of the stack, two large kingposts, two small kingposts, open launch and two smaller fittings for the middle deckhouse. Four other runners on the sprue provide all of the smaller resin parts. Included in this mix are parts for davits, cargo control platforms, superstructure platforms, anchors, and a host of other fittings, including a large cylinder that attaches to the top deck of the aft superstructure. Also included on this resin sprue are a few optional parts that are used only in building a model of sistership Omi.
Another unique aspect of the FleetNet Mashu is the inclusion of an injected plastic sprue. This sprue is from the plastic Pitroad Towada kit. FleetNet purchased this sprue from Pitroad for inclusion in the FleetNet Mashu kit. It is included for the smaller equipment, machinery and fittings found on the sprue, which was the same design in Mashu as in the preceding Towada design. Most of the plastic parts on the sprue are not used aand the FleetNet instructions clearly indicate which parts come from the plastic sprue.
The FleetNet Mashu comes with a decal sheet that provides key deck and hull markings for Mashu and Omi. The largest decal is the spectacular four-color flight-deck markings with a red circle outlined in white in the middle of a yellow X outlined in black. This decal alone will add more than a dash of color to the model. The ships’ names for the transom stern are also provided. Of course the ships’ names are in Japanese but the instructions clearly show which decal is for Mashu and which one is for Omi. Included are three sets of shaded white hull numbers, 425 for Mashu, 426 for Omi and 427 for a follow on ship. Likewise there are three sets of large white two digit numbers for the aft end of the flight-deck. Mashu has 25, Omi 26 and 27 for a third unnamed member of the class. Decal quality appears to be very good.
FleetNet supplies three pages of single-sided instructions. The company apparently produces a Japanese language set for the home market and an English set of instructions for the export market. All text instructions for the kit are in English. The first page has the statistics for Mashu, FleetNet contact information and a display of all resin parts in which the smaller resin parts are identified by a number that is used in the assembly. At the bottom of this page are two construction modules. One is for the bridge assembly and the other for the attachment of bow parts, including the first two deckhouses. In the instructions resin parts are identified by a white number within a black circle and plastic parts by text with the number of the part from the plastic sprue. Another interesting aspect of these instructions is inset drawings alerting the modeler to possible pitfalls as far as alignment of particular parts. As an example, in the module for attachment of parts to the middle deckhouse, an inset calls attention that the cargo control parts should be attached with entryway forward.
The second page contains three large modules. One is for the aft deckhouse and bridge attachment. Another contains cargo handling equipment attachment for the deckhouses and cargo deck. The third has aft superstructure assembly and attachment. Support posts for the boat platform to be added by the modeler with plastic rod are clearly shown. The last page has a module for assembly for the stern parts. This page concludes with directions for decal placement and painting instructions. For painting FleetNet indicates that JMSDF Grey Colourcoat M14 is the color of the vertical surfaces and JMSDF deck gray Colourcoat M15 the color of the horizontal surfaces. Three other colors are needed, flat black, flat white and light gray. All of the instructions are very clear and well presented. FleetNet has anticipated possible pitfalls and alerted the modeler to their presence in the instructions. The assembly of the FleetNet Mashu appears to be an easy process. The kit does not come with any photo-etch so some generic railing could come in handy, as well as possibly other parts.
FleetNet has produced a large resin model of excellent quality of the large Fast Combat Support Ship Mashu AOE-425 in 1:700 scale. The resin casting is top drawer with no casting defects and includes not only outstanding smaller resin parts but also a sprue of injected plastic parts. The concise instructions in English and colorful decal sheet add further luster to this model. Although no photo-etch is included, it appears that only generic items such as railing would be required to further detail the FleetNet Mashu.