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Japan and Australia to Cooperate on New Submarine Design

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Japanese Soryu-class class submarine. JSDF Photo

Japanese Soryu-class class submarine. JSDF Photo

Japanese and Australian leaders plan to sign an agreement Tuesday that would clear the way for the two countries to collaborate on a future submarine design as Japan seeks to export its military technology against the backdrop of a rising China. 

Following a recent revision in Japan’s post World War II pacifist constitution, Japan and Australia are expected to sign a “marine hydrodynamics” technology sharing agreement that could lead to the development of a new submarine design to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) six Collins-class (Type 471) diesel attack boats (SSK).

The RAN has been planning to replace the six boats with a dozen improved submarines that would be quitter with longer ranges, according to an Australian 2009 white paper.

Australia has shown interest in Japan’s Soryu-class SSK, among the largest and most capable non-nuclear submarines in the world, displacing 4,200 tons submerged. The subs are fitted with an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system, allowing the ships to travel longer underwater without snorkeling to exchange air in the boat.

Aussie Defence Minister David Johnston visited one of the Japanese boats in June.

The defense collaboration — the Agreement on the Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology — could open the door for companies like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to market their military hardware to other countries.

“When the agreement comes into force, it will create new opportunities for joint development of defense equipment and technology, which involves their transfer between the two countries, including opportunities for the transfer and joint development of defense equipment and technology,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a written statement to The Australian newspaper.
“Japan and Australia already have an agreement on fundamental scientific and technological research in the area of hydrodynamics. Technology derived from this field of research can be applied to a wide range of vessels, including submarines.”

The tighter binding of ties between the Japan and Australia has been a major news story in the Western Pacific for months and commentary has been focused on China’s reaction to the greater military cooperation.

In June, Chinese Forigen Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that, “China always maintains that countries in the Asia-Pacific should carry out friendly cooperation without harming the interests of the third party and jointly safeguard regional stability, peace and prosperity.”

The Chinese embassy in Australia recycled the quote in response to a separate story in The Australian on Chinese reaction to the tightening of trade and defense ties.

Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG-77) near the Sydney Opera House. RAN Photo

Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG-77) near the Sydney Opera House. RAN Photo

At least one regional defense expert told Reuters the deal could enflame relations with China.
“There’s a clear danger that aligning [Australia] closely with Japan on a technology as sensitive as submarine technology would be read in China as a significant tightening in what they fear is a drift towards a Japan-Australia alliance,” said Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in May. “It would be a gamble by Australia on where Japan is going to be 30 years from now.”

The new avenues for defense cooperation are possible due to a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution that allows the country to come to the aid of allies.

As part of the American-imposed 1947 post-World War II constitution, Japan could only defend against a direct threat to its holdings.

The new interpretation — approved by Japan’s Cabinet on July 1 — allows for a greater degree of collective self-defense.
On Sunday, Abe announced there would be a new cabinet minister to oversee the changes in the legislation to formalize the arrangements, according to a Monday report in Jane’s Defence Weekly.

“For example, the Self-Defense Forces law will be revised to allow weapons to be used to protect US military vessels engaged in surveillance activities and exercises with Japanese troops during peacetime,” read the report.

China has been a vocal regional opponent to the change in interpretation.

“Beijing opposes Japan’s act of hyping the China threat,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in an Associated Press wire report following the July policy change saying the shift, “raises doubts about Japan’s approach to peaceful development.”

  • KenPrescott

    Japan will design the submarine.

    Australia will provide the beer.

  • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

    Australia should have talked to America in building a Virgina class SSN for them.

    • Secundius

      @ Nicky.

      The problem is, outside of the UK. The US, Navy doesn’t share or give Nuclear Technologies to foreign navies, even friendly ones! Besides that, I think the Australians probably have the technology too build one themselves.

      • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

        I know we have used 688I’s that we an give them instead of Decommissioning them.We need the cash and Australia and maybe Canada needs Subs. Maybe we can make a deal that they can’t refuse.

        • 2IDSGT

          We’re talking about nuclear-powered submarines, not Alumacraft jon-boats.

        • Matthew

          Unlikely to go for second hand boats. Even if talked into a nuclear boat option the 688i’s are approaching 30 years of age, At that time they would need major over hauls and doing so can actually end up costing more per a boat once all new tech is incorporated then what it costs to build a new Virginia class.

          Unless the 688i’s are being given away they would likely be rejected. Last time Australia bought second hand ships from the US the refurbishment and upgrades ended up costing what it would have cost to build the ships new.

    • 2IDSGT

      Australia has neither the infrastructure nor the inclination to handle nuclear boats.

      • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

        What about a German type 212,214,216 and A26 submarine

        • 2IDSGT

          Too small.

          • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

            What about the French Barracuda SSN

          • 2IDSGT

            Already told you; Oz won’t touch nukes… period.

          • Matthew

            212, 214 are too small, The 216 is the size we want. The A26 is too small but is also a Swedish design not German.

      • Secundius

        @ 2IDSGT.

        You may not be all-the-way-up to current events. But the Royal Australian Navy, just finished refurbishing the K 407 Novomoskovsk. Russian Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine of Delta 6 (Delfin) class for the Russian Federation Navy. They to have drydocked it somewhere to do the refurbishing work.

        • Ctrot

          A Russian nuclear ballistic missile submarine being overhauled in an Australian shipyard?? I think you’re confused.

          • Secundius

            @ Ctrot.

            Check out. http//www.nti-org/…refurbished-russian-ballistic-miss-sub-returns-service/

          • Ctrot

            Link no good.

          • Secundius

            @ Ctrol.

            Step 1. Google (russian ballistic missile submarine in australian service),

            Step 2. Go to 2nd paragraph down (Refurbished Russian Ballistic Missile Sub Returns to Service).

          • Ctrot

            Done. No mention of work being done in Australia.

          • Secundius

            @ Ctrol.

            Work was completed in 2013. Look Harded.

        • 2IDSGT

          Eeeeeeek… a troll!

      • Matthew

        Actually we are now about 50/50 on public opinion as to handling nuclear boats, As to infrastructure you don’t need as much specialized facilities as in the past, With the Current Virginia class submarines the reactor life before needing refueling is longer then that of the actual boat (Based upon standard boat life times, Usually 30 years or less).

        In any case for Australia nuclear boat’s would be something down the track and would be best served along side an AIP boat since the shallow waters north of Australia make them more effective.

  • http://www.kcharlesbadoian/ Ken Badoian

    The IJN had some excellent boat during WW2. You can get more bang for the buck with non-nukes. Same capabilities but non-nukes are cheaper. The Japanese boats are large because of the size of the Pacific. Also the USN dose share nuke tech with foreign navies, examples being the Royals Navy’s nukes. MMCS(SS)(SW) USN Ret.

    • 2IDSGT

      SSKs don’t have the legs and are nearly useless for any missions requiring speed and/or distance. However, improvements in endurance (AIP) have made them extremely dangerous in short/medium-range ops (their weeks-long underwater loiter times make them ideal for defense/planned-ambush).

      The relationship between the US and its allies is such that they don’t really need SSNs because of our fleet, and we don’t need SSKs because of their’s.

      • Matthew

        SSK’s are useless for speed no doubt however range all depends on the distance of your opponent. Australia for example with the Collins class for all of the bad press they receive (Most of it unjustified since they are bagging the class for faults that have been fixed years ago) can actually make it as far as Vladivostok in Russia and stay on station for several weeks.

  • http://www.kcharlesbadoian/ Ken Badoian

    4200 ton SSK should have the range. Also the boats could carry tomahawks, etc. Our SSN’s are excellent but the numbers are too small. We are building the LCS’s – little crappy ships for shallow costal waters why not either build an diesel electric boat or buy a design fro a foreign source. Germany, Holland, “the Japanese”, and others make excellent submarines of that type. Could they all be wrong or could the “nuke” club in the US Navy be afraid. Nuke is great – but why not Zumwault a DD the same size as the Battleship Dreadnought. MMCS(SS)(SW) USN Ret.

    • Matthew

      This 4200t SSK actually doesn’t have the range. Japanese Soryu has range of 11,000km, Australian Collins class has range of 21,000km..