Japan & Australia consider submarine deal that could rattle China

TOKYO/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Japan will get the chance to pursue an unprecedented military export deal when its defense and foreign ministers meet their Australian counterparts in Tokyo next month.

Japan is considering selling submarine technology to Australia – perhaps even a fleet of fully engineered, stealthy vessels, according to Japanese officials. Sources on both sides say the discussions so far have encouraged a willingness to speed up talks.

Any agreement would take months to negotiate and remains far from certain, but even a deal for Japan to supply technology would likely run to billions of dollars and represent a major portion of Australia’s overall $37 billion submarine program.

It would also be bound to turn heads in China.

Experts say a Japan-Australia deal would send a signal to Asia’s emerging superpower of Japan’s willingness, under nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to export arms to a region wary of China’s growing naval strength, especially its pursuit of territorial claims in the East and South China seas.

A deal would also help connect Japanese arms-makers like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to the world market for big, sophisticated weaponry, a goal Abe sees as consistent with Japanese security.

A final decision on the type and number of submarines Australia will build is expected to be made after a review due in March 2015.

Australian officials have expressed an interest in the silent-running diesel-electric propulsion systems used in Japan’s Soryu diesel submarines, built by Mitsubishi Heavy and Kawasaki Heavy. Those vessels would give Australia a naval force that could reach deep into the Indian Ocean.

More recently, Japanese military officials and lawmakers with an interest in defense policy have signaled a willingness to consider supplying a full version of the highly regarded Soryu to Australia if certain conditions can be met. These would include concluding a framework agreement on security policy with Canberra that would lock future Australian governments into an alliance with Japan, the officials said.

ULTRA-QUIET

The Soryu’s ultra-quiet drivetrain could avoid a problem that makes Australia’s six current submarines prone to detection, said sources with knowledge of the discussions in Australia.

The Australian government has committed to building the A$40 billion ($37 billion) replacement for its Collins-class submarines at home. However, a government-commissioned report from U.S.-based think-tank Rand Corp found that Australia lacked enough engineers to design and build a vessel it said would be as complex as a space shuttle.

Full article: Japan & Australia consider submarine deal that could rattle China (Yahoo!)

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