22 Mei 2015
The Japanese proposal for the 4200-tonne Soryu would involve using contractors Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, with the bid competing against TKMS’s 4000-tonne Type 216 and a conventional version of DCNS’s 5000-tonne nuclear-powered Barracuda. (photo : Nosint)
Japan is to exploit the easing of its postwar ban on arms exports by entering the race to jointly develop and build a new generation of submarines for the Australian navy.
Members of Japan’s security council this week approved the country’s participation in the bidding process, months after the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, abandoned plans to buy Soryu-class submarines from Japan under pressure from ruling party and opposition politicians.
Instead, Japan will join non-nuclear submarine developers from Germany and France in Canberra’s “competitive evaluation process” to decide who builds the Australian navy’s next fleet of submarines.
South Australian government and defence industry representatives have gone to Europe to convince companies bidding to build Australia’s next fleet of submarines to do the work in Adelaide.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, confirmed that the security council had decided Japanese firms should join the process “in light of the importance of defence cooperation between Japan and Australia”.
Suga told reporters that the decision was in line with Japan’s revised rules on the transfer of arms and defence technology.
In April, Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, eased the country’s self-imposed ban on arms exports as part of wider plans to increase its defence capabilities and give domestic contractors a share of the potentially lucrative overseas market.
Last week, Japan hosted its first international arms fair, showcasing hardware that included Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Soryu submarine technology.
The diesel-electric submarine is still the most likely candidate Japan will put forward for the Australian contract, Kyodo news quoted a senior defence ministry official in Tokyo as saying.
The Soryu, regarded as one of the most advanced non-nuclear class submarines, meets Australian requirements for its stealth abilities, and there are plans to extend its range.
Australian officials estimate developing up to 12 submarines to replace ageing Collins-class submarines will cost at least $50bn (US$40bn).
Abbott is believed to still favour the Japanese option; earlier this month his defence minister, Kevin Andrews, called his Japanese counterpart Gen Nakatani to urge Japan to take part in the evaluation process.
“We have given consideration to defence cooperation between Japan and Australia,” Nakatani told reporters this week. “Australia is a strategic partner that shares common values and security interests [with Japan].”
Reuters quoted Japanese defence officials as saying Tokyo would release classified technical data to enable Canberra to better evaluate Japan’s bid.
It would be the first time Japan has shared such sensitive information with any country other than the US.
Abbott, who has described Japan as Australia’s “closest friend in Asia” is expected to discuss closer defence cooperation with Abe during a visit to Tokyo in July.
South Australia’s defence industries minister, Martin Hamilton-Smith, is visiting bidders in France and Germany this week to outline South Australia’s naval shipbuilding capabilities.
“We have huge credentials as a centre for excellence in naval shipbuilding, underpinned by our highly skilled workers,” Hamilton-Smith said.
Hamilton-Smith said it was important the bidders understood South Australia’s capacity and commitment to deliver submarines.
“The South Australian government has created a world-class facility at Techport Australia and we are determined to see Australia’s future submarines built here,” he said. “About 120,000 man-years of jobs depend on the future submarine program alone.”