TOKYO -- The Australian government may partner with Japan in the development and design of new submarines.
On Wednesday, Kevin Andrews, minister of Australia's Department of Defense, asked his counterpart Gen Nakatani over the phone if it was possible for Japan to design and construct a new type of submarines jointly with his country. Nakatani said that he would evaluate the offer with officials from the relevant authorities in Japan.
Canberra approached Tokyo largely because it wants to use technologies belonging to Japanese defense contractors. The Australian government plans to purchase up to 12 diesel-powered submarines, which have fewer risks than nuclear-powered ones.
Last September, Canberra reportedly hinted at the possibility of purchasing the silent Soryu-class submarine from Japan. However, last February, it had a change of plan and decided to pick up a supplier from one of three candidates in Germany, France and Japan.
The Soryu is a new class of Japanese diesel-powered attack submarine made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries for the Maritime Self-Defense Force. With a surface displacement of around 3,000 tons, it is one of the largest diesel-powered submarines in the world. Each on costs around 50 billion yen ($413 million).
The vessel, powered by an air-independent propulsion system, technology that allows non-nuclear submarines to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen, makes almost no noise. It can stay submerged for longer periods of time than other diesel-powered submarines, which has enhanced its stealth and operational capabilities. The Maritime Self-Defense Force currently has a fleet of six Soryu-class vessels, which it plans to increase to 11.
The Australian government tried to send Andrews to Japan in March to personally explain the change in policy. He found the visit was not viable due to schedule conflict.
During Andrews-Nakatani telephone call on Wednesday, the Australian minister asked his Japanese counterpart to participate in the process to select a partner in joint development and construction of new submarines. Based on this conversation, Tokyo is expected to hold a National Security Council meeting and officially decide whether it will participate in Australia's selection process.
Military ties between Australia and Japan have been growing fast. Japan's defense officials now see defense relations with Australia as the most important after those with the U.S. Collaboration in defense equipment often results in the exchange of military intelligence, because the technologies used are highly confidential. Joint development and construction of new submarines would reinforce Japan-Australia security collaboration.
Currently, Tokyo and Canberra are arranging a defense ministers' meeting at Asia Security Summit to be held at the end of May in Singapore. Andrews and Nakatani are expected to discuss possible collaboration in development of submarines and other matters at the meeting.
Some Japanese stakeholders are wary of proposed cooperation for a variety of reasons, including possible technology leaks. One defense official is not keen on building submarines in Australia, because the design and construction of submarines is difficult to divide. Others think that Canberra's attempt to build vessels in Australia to ensure job security there goes against Japan's interests.
Japan's defense businesses are waiting and seeing how the situation develops, because they are yet to find which the Australian government would see as a priority--submarine quality or domestic job security. An executive at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said that it was still difficult to determine whether the deal would pay or not at the present.