Australia increasingly likely to pick Japan for huge submarine order, experts say

by

Staff Writer

With Australia’s release of its defense white paper last week, the race to build the country’s next generation of submarines enters the home stretch — and some experts say the Japanese bid appears to hold an insurmountable lead.

“The DWP (Defense White Paper) strongly stresses the importance of further strengthening U.S.-Japanese defense relations and is also quite vocal about China’s challenge to the rules-based order in maritime Asia,” Ben Schreer, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, said.

“In my view, it’s highly likely that the Turnbull government will choose the Japanese design for strategic and technological reasons, and the DWP has added weight to this,” he said, referring to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The white paper says the country’s submarine force will be increased from six to 12 “regionally superior submarines with a high degree of interoperability with the United States.”

Requirements include the submarines having “a range and endurance similar” to the Collins class of vessels that the Royal Australian Navy currently operates, as well as “sensor performance and stealth characteristics superior” to its current subs.

Experts note that Japan’s diesel and electric-powered Soryu subs either meet or could be specially designed to meet most of these requirements. A decision is expected sometime this year.

“First and foremost, we’ve made a big strategic commitment to Japan based on this view of where the region is heading,” said Nick Bisley, a professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. “There is bipartisan support … both sides think this is a really good idea. … That plus the operational side — the Japanese submarine is most similar to ours — will tilt the balance very heavily in their favor.

“And the Japanese are also saying they are now open to the construction process in Australia, so that the government will be able to present a package that says ‘we’ve got jobs, we’ve got something we want, and we’ve got this friend in Japan.’ Together, I think that makes it overwhelmingly the choice that will be made.”

Japan has said it is willing to build at least some of the submarines in Australia, a key economic factor that until recently Tokyo had been apparently unwilling to commit to. Tokyo has also reassured Canberra that if it wins the sub bid Japan will also share with Australia its naval crown jewels — its most secret stealth technology.

While France and Germany are also participating in the so-called Competitive Evaluation Process to build the subs, Japan has long been thought of as the front-runner. Prior to the implementation of a more transparent bidding process, the Japanese bid was widely expected to be a lock under the administration of Tony Abbott, the former Australian leader who had close ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But more than the technical aspects, Canberra’s strategic goals could prove key as Japan seeks to outflank the French and German bids for Australia’s largest-ever defense procurement offer, worth an estimated 50 billion Australian dollars ($36 billion).

Australia’s new defense paper lauds Japan as “a major power in North Asia” and “an important contributor to regional and global security.” It goes on to say that Canberra “welcomes the prospect of Japan playing a larger role in international security and will continue to deepen and broaden” its growing security cooperation with Tokyo.

During a visit to Tokyo last month, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country’s relationship with Japan is at an “all-time high,” and acknowledged that the Japanese side has “emphasized the strategic importance” of the submarine bid.

The push to cement closer defense ties began in 2007, during Abe’s first administration, with the signing of the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation. This was upgraded in 2014, under Abe’s current administration, to a “special strategic” partnership. That same year, Abe’s Cabinet approved new rules on the export of arms, ending a nearly five-decade-long self-imposed ban.

Now, much of the strategic debate in Australia is focused on China and how such a deal will build on Canberra’s “quasi-alliance” with Tokyo. A winning bid by Japan will likely see the two nations working hand in hand over at least the next 30 years, as the subs are built and maintained.

Sam Bateman, a former Australian naval commodore and adviser at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said a deal with Japan “would not be well received in China.”

“It would be seen in Beijing as Australian participation in the U.S.-Japan effort to contain China,” Bateman said, adding that such “cooperation is actively promoted by both Tokyo and Washington as part of balancing an ascendent China.”

But with any Japan sub deal, China would likely be less worried about the submarines themselves and more concerned about the precedent set by such an agreement.

“China, ultimately, doesn’t really care about the submarines — their number and function is of little concern,” said Bisley. “What it doesn’t like is the political connection between Japan and Australia and of course the U.S., which they perceive to be intended to constrain China.”

A European deal, on the other hand, would be a transaction less encumbered by geopolitical considerations, as well as one that offers Canberra more strategic independence, analysts say.

“Although the European options would provide longer-term strategic flexibility, it seems likely that the final decision will go the way of the Japanese,” Bateman said, adding that Australia will face difficulties sustaining the subs if not acting in concert with Japan.

“It is a matter of grand strategy to determine whether that is acceptable,” Bateman added.

Macquarie University’s Schreer said that picking Japan for the deal would signal that Australia has an interest in East Asian stability and that it would be more likely to side with Tokyo in the event of a conflict.

“And it would signal that Australia is an independent nation which makes choices on its vital defense technologies based on its national interests and not based on Chinese interference,” he added.

The Competitive Evaluation Process itself is unlikely to factor in strategic aspects in its recommendation. It is instead expected to focus on technical merits and value.

“If the strategic relationship angle is to play a role, that will most likely happen at the government level, when they weigh the results communicated by the Defense Ministry,” said Andrew Davies, director of research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in the capital, Canberra.

“There is a precedent for that — the government of (former Prime Minister John) Howard chose to override the department’s recommendation for the Collins combat system in order to select an American one, on the basis of greater alliance value.”

Critics of the Japanese bid say picking the Soryu class could see Australia pulled into an unwanted fight, most likely in the disputed waters of the East or South China Seas.

The East China Sea is home to the uninhabited, Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China. Australia, the U.S. and Japan have all condemned China’s November 2013 declaration of an air defense identification zone over those waters, and for now the conflict there has somewhat died down.

The South China Sea, where several nations — Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia among others — have overlapping territorial claims, is a different case altogether.

In those waters, most of which are claimed by Beijing, there has been a marked ramping up of tensions in the wake of China’s massive dredging program to create artificial islands. Some of those man-made islands are now home to military-grade airfields as well as powerful weapons and radar systems.

These moves, too, have been roundly condemned by Canberra, Tokyo and Washington, which has conducted what it calls freedom of navigation operations near the disputed islands. Fears of an accidental clash between China and other claimants in the South China Sea have proliferated as tensions have grown fraught.

Bisley, however, said the argument that by picking a Japanese sub, Canberra could be dragged into a battle it may not want to fight, is a nonstarter. He said Australia’s strategy in the region has long been to maintain the status quo, which has seen the United States as the dominant military power.

“Those who argue that the J-option will tie Australia into a quasi-alliance with Japan are wrong” Bisley said. “In this case, the technological link will follow a strategic choice that has long been made.

“The submarine decision will flow from Australia having committed itself to an extremely close long-term strategic relationship with Japan — not the other way around.”

  • TV Monitor

    Soryu is a non-starter because of Japan’s whaling and a strong opposition to Japan’s bid by China. Only Japanese don’t understand what’s wrong with their bid.

    • GBR48

      If they want to boost the US/JP/Aus pact in the face of Chinese island building, they will ignore the whales, both in the decision and in the years ahead. These are politicians remember: Ethical considerations have a very low priority.

      • TV Monitor

        GBR48

        China is Australia’s no. 1 export destination, where Australia’s export value to China is twice as large as Japan’s. Australia’s very much fearful of China’s economic retaliations when it could entirely be avoided by buying French. China already expressed it’s fine with Australia buying European subs, because Australia would simply be buying subs and not a military alliance with China’s primary enemy.

        Secondly, the current Australian Prime Minister is considered Pro-China, and has a half-Chinese grandson and a high-ranking communist party official as an in-law.

        Thirdly, Australian Parliament is very much against the Soryu bid because they feel Australia has been greatly insulted by the Japanese resumption of whaling even after Australia took Japan to ICJ and won a whaling ban.

        So the most likely outcome is Australia buying French subs, which is diplomatically kosher with China and endorsed by the Australian parliament still angry with Japan’s whaling resumption.

      • GBR48

        Well, it’ll be interesting to see which one they pick then.

      • Tachomanx

        At this stage of China’s own flagging economy I doubt it will shoot itself on the foot just to tray and harm it’s good relations with Australia.

        And so far Mr. Turnbull has been quite vocal of it’s criticism to China. Remeber he called China the greatest threat around. So the man knows how best to split family from duty to the country.

        That’s just the greens and they are a yapping minority. Australia didn’t even handed the coordinates of the whaling fleet to Green Peace after it didn’t even bother to follow the ships southwards. There goes how much Australia’s government actually cares or feels insulted.

        Also, you failed to mention tha the U.S. has given it’s choice regarding to who would it hand over it’s weapon systems to. France and Germany are a no go despite the lip service.

        So accept reality already little guy.

    • Tachomanx

      Must burn you really bad that all winds go in Japan’s favor on this one little guy.

      I mean, your best arguments as of late is the submarine’s space, whaling or threats from China (Which are actually counter productive to it’s intentions)

      I advice you just breathe, go out to the real world and accept that some things don’t go your way no matter how much you wish they did.

  • CaptainAsia

    Get over it China, the decision has been made. You can whine all you want but things ain’t gonna change. Just remember, you are the one who started the whole thing in the first place. You asked for it and now you got it.

  • Tachomanx

    Ever since the U.S. declared that it wanted it’s advanced weapon systems on the japanese sub the bidding went straight for Japan.

    • TV Monitor

      Tachomanx

      Remember, Australia decides whose system gets into its submarine via a competitive bidding, not the US.

      The US already pledged neutrality, and the US sub combat system vendors also confirmed it did not matter whose hull their combat systems went in.

      • Tachomanx

        And the U.S. can refuse to deliver the goods, like it did with Korea remember? The U.S. made it’s pick and it looks like Australia will follow.

        The U.S. paid lip service little guy. You know what it is? Telling others what they want to hear to save appereances.
        The U.S. has large vested interests in seeing it’s allies work closely together and already made it’s position clear on the matter.

      • TV Monitor

        Tachomanx

        And the U.S. can refuse to deliver the goods, like it did with Korea remember?

        Actually Lockheed Martin never promised to deliver the integration source of US-made AESA radars and sensors, and they were substituted with local ones instead. What Lockheed Martin promised to deliver in writing were cleared by the US state department.

        he U.S. has large vested interests in seeing it’s allies work closely together

        Are France and Germany not allies? Is it not the French forces who’s battling ISIS in Syria alongside the US? Which other major allies have joined the ISIS fight alongside the US? Japan? Heck, the US owes its existence to France.

      • Tachomanx

        France and Germany aren’t allies in the Asia-Pacific region and also countries that have started to turn their backs on the U.S. with several subjects.
        Hence the U.S. distrust in them when it comes to such projects and the tech involved. France afterall already attempted to undermine the U.S. F-22 stealth capabilities.
        Not so Japan and Australia which the U.S. has a real interest to see working together closely on regional affairs.

        And again, the final say is in the U.S. hands and since it has stated it’s preference for Japan, on all accounts, military, poliitical the deal seems done given how Australia has doubled down on it’s alliance with the U.S. as of late.
        And this despite the so called pro-China Turnbull who has actually come quite strongly against China on many aspects and even sent her defense minister to Japan first instead of China.

        And since these kind of deals are mostly political and geostrategic on nature, it seems Asutralia is leaning heavily to follow the U.S. once again.

      • TV Monitor

        Tachomanx

        France and Germany aren’t allies in the Asia-Pacific region

        The US doesn’t think regionally.

        France afterall already attempted to undermine the U.S. F-22 stealth capabilities.

        And who doesn’t?

        since it has stated it’s preference for Japan

        The US absolutely has not. The US is officially neutral, assured at the presidential level. Both US combat system vendors in the contest also pledged their neutrality.

        And this despite the so called pro-China Turnbull who has actually come
        quite strongly against China on many aspects and even sent her defense
        minister to Japan first instead of China.

        Read my the other post on Soryu killing Abbott-Turnbull political nuclear war and weep.

      • Tachomanx

        So the Asia pivot and all the regional deals it has reached aren’t a regional strategy? The U.S. has NATO secured, but doesn’t have such an architecture in Asia.
        So it wants it’s allies to work closer together, hence the pressure for Japan and Korea to overcome the comfort women issue, the interest in seeing Japan involve itself more with Asia and the pressure to see Australia and Japan becoming security partners as to cover both the SCS and the ECS in a more seamless manner.
        No brainer there little guy.

        That kind of moves generally anger a nation and creates mistrust. The U.S. wont let France get anywhere close to it’s weapon systems. Be it in “secured” boxes or otherwise.
        Germany has also been quite dissapointing for the U.S. given it’s lack of support and involvement in many conflicts and regional standoffs.

        The U.S. paid lip service as it’s known it’s actively lobbying for Japan to get the deal. Remember they are just keeping appearances. Like China saying they aren’t militarizing anything when they are actually full speed on it.
        The U:S. vendors can’t sell without the U.S. government approval so their pledge can’t even be considered lip service, more like empty talk.

        The article you posted relating the conflict between Abbott and Turnbull hardly mentioned the japanese, or the european, bid and mostly focused on the internal fight the two have. National interests are above such concerns and any Australian PM knows that keeping the U.S. alliance strong is paramount regardless of anything else.

        If anything, it simply shows how fragile Turnbull’s grip on his party is and how strong Abbott remains in it as the conservatives refuse to follow Turnbull blindly, no wonder the current PM has hardly touched or reverse any of Abbot’s policies. We could see a return to power for Abbott if we consider Australian politics history.

      • TV Monitor

        Tachomanx

        France and Germany aren’t allies in the Asia-Pacific region

        The US doesn’t think regionally.

        France afterall already attempted to undermine the U.S. F-22 stealth capabilities.

        And who doesn’t?

        since it has stated it’s preference for Japan

        The US absolutely has not. The US is officially neutral, assured at the presidential level. Both US combat system vendors in the contest also pledged their neutrality.

        And this despite the so called pro-China Turnbull who has actually come
        quite strongly against China on many aspects and even sent her defense
        minister to Japan first instead of China.

        Read my the other post on Soryu killing Abbott-Turnbull political nuclear war and weep.

      • Tachomanx

        And the U.S. can refuse to deliver the goods, like it did with Korea remember? The U.S. made it’s pick and it looks like Australia will follow.

        The U.S. paid lip service little guy. You know what it is? Telling others what they want to hear to save appereances.
        The U.S. has large vested interests in seeing it’s allies work closely together and already made it’s position clear on the matter.

      • Greatland Downunder

        The US wont come out with such an aggressive statement-obviously. Thats very bad PR. However, lets take a look at what US’ capabilities are in this situation and what is the most important for them.

        In this case, as @tachomanx:disqus said, US can refuse to deliver the goods, especially since its a matter of security and defence-very easy to justify.

        Now lets analyse US interests-to have a strong US-Japan-Aus alliance in the Asia-Pacific with all the rising tensions is the best hand the US can play, and in this case they have all the control.

        The cherry on top of all of this is that the current Australian administration has been going on about innovation, and what screams innovation progress more than strengthened ties with Japan?

      • TV Monitor

        Greatland Downunder

        US can refuse to deliver the goods,

        The US promised to deliver the goods at the highest level.

        lets analyse US interests-to have a strong US-Japan-Aus alliance in the Asia-Pacific

        But that’s not in Australia’s best interest; Australia is not being directly threatened by China, and does depend on China as its no. 1 export market.

        Australia’s interest is to maintain a neutrality and make sure Australia gets to stay out when China and Japan go to war.

        what screams innovation progress more than strengthened ties with Japan?

        Huh? Nothing innovative comes out of Japan in 2016.

      • TV Monitor

        Greatland Downunder

        US can refuse to deliver the goods,

        The US promised to deliver the goods at the highest level.

        lets analyse US interests-to have a strong US-Japan-Aus alliance in the Asia-Pacific

        But that’s not in Australia’s best interest; Australia is not being directly threatened by China, and does depend on China as its no. 1 export market.

        Australia’s interest is to maintain a neutrality and make sure Australia gets to stay out when China and Japan go to war.

        what screams innovation progress more than strengthened ties with Japan?

        Huh? Nothing innovative comes out of Japan in 2016.

  • Aussie Andrew

    Probably the POW head-choppers will get the submarine contract..
    Young Australians have forgotten the war and the the old ones like me just shake out heads.

    • TV Monitor

      Aussie Andrew

      You can prevent that from happening by mocking Japanese nationalists like Tachomanx on what Australians don’t like Japan and all things Japanese.

    • Tama 5 A Oak

      still living in past ?

      grow and move on

      Good on OZ for buying Japanese Quality

      which is about 10 times better than chinese junk

      go and clean your Toyota Camry pops

      good boy

  • Tama 5 A Oak

    Good on OZ

    Investing in quality Japanese Subs is a smart move .

    Look how china cries about it