Japan to Bid on Australian Joint Project for Next-Generation Submarines

By Allyson Versprille

Australia's Collins-class submarine

The Japanese government has given its defense industry permission to bid on an Australian attack submarine contract — another sign that the Asian nation is shedding its former pacifistic policies and willing to export weapons of war, an expert said.

Australia is beginning work on its "future submarine program," one of the most expensive weapon development programs it has undertaken at $39 billion ($50 billion Australian dollars). 

"Japan will join the procedures based on the importance of Japan-Australia defense cooperation," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference held after a May 18 meeting of the national security council, an inter-agency policy body that approved the potential bids, the Jiji Press wire service reported.

Japan's new export guidelines have loosened up restrictions on what kinds of defense technologies can be sold overseas. The joint project would be a significant departure from the traditionally pacifistic stance the Japanese have held since the end of World War II. However, the submarine deal, specifically, is a huge leap ahead for Japan because of its potential attack capabilities, said one expert. 

"The idea of selling a surveillance plane ... to India is relatively uncontroversial given its nonlethal nature, but the submarine deal is a big step," said James Schoff, a senior associate in the Asia Program at Carnegie's Endowment for International Peace, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries wanted to ensure that they had the go-ahead from the Japanese government and understood the terms for their participation before they risked damaging their reputation by developing a potentially offensive weapon system, Schoff said in an interview with National Defense. They initially declined to attend industry days hosted by Australia to discuss the submarine program.

Australia's Department of Defence outlined the details of the competitive evaluation process in a February statement. It asked for proposals from three potential partners — France, Germany and Japan — including pre-concept designs that meet Australia's criteria. 

In addition to agreeing to participate in the competition, the Japanese government also endorsed partial disclosure of its submarine technologies to Australia in accordance with the country's selection procedures, according to Jiji Press.

Because judgments on what technology and equipment Japanese companies can export and what joint production projects they can be involved in are still unclear based on the current guidelines, the decision to allow participation in the submarine competition will set a precedent for future ventures, Schoff said.

The Australian government has drafted strategic requirements for the submarines including range and endurance similar to the current Collins-class submarine, improved sensor development and stealth characteristics, and a stipulation that the vessel's main armament is a combat system and heavyweight torpedo jointly developed between the United States and Australia, according to the February statement.

During the evaluation process the Australian government will consider capability, cost, schedule, risk and interoperability with the United States, the statement said. The process will take about 10 months, after which an international partner will be chosen. Australia plans to build as many as 12 new submarines to replace its aging vessels.

The document released in February asks for options for design; specifications for what would be built overseas and locally; an estimate of costs and schedule for each option; and positions on key commercial issues such as intellectual property rights. 

Topics: International, Shipbuilding

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