National / Politics

Security council OKs disclosing sensitive submarine info to potential customer Australia

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The National Security Council of Japan on Monday approved disclosing some technical data on the nation’s submarine technology to Australia, which is conducting a feasibility study on possible joint development and production of its next-generation submarine fleet.

The data to be disclosed will include specifications and performances of a submarine that Japan could develop with Australia, a senior Defense Ministry official said.

The scope of disclosure will be decided through negotiations, but it will be limited to what Canberra would need for its feasibility study, the official said.

Australia, looking to replace its aging Collins-class submarines, is interested in Japan’s state-of-the-art Soryu class, touted as one of the world’s quietest long-range, non-nuclear submarines.

Japan plans to propose joint development and production with Australia, based on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s earlier decision to ease the nation’s self-imposed regulations on arms exports.

Complicating matters, though, many aspects of the nation’s submarine know-how have likely been classified as top secret.

Exporting submarines to Australia would mark a dramatic departure from national policy and would greatly expand the scope of such exports under the new weapon export guidelines Abe adopted in April 2014.

The Defense Ministry said it made Monday’s decision because Australia is a “strategic partner” and the disclosure alone would not enable Australia to build a submarine in whole or in part.

“We have given consideration to defense cooperation between Japan and Australia,” Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters later Monday.

“Australia is a strategic partner that shares common values and security interests” with Japan, he said.

The decision came after a teleconference May 6 between Nakatani and Australian Defense Minister Kevin Andrews.

Andrews reportedly asked Nakatani to participate in a competitive process to become a possible participant in a joint development project.

Australia has named France, German and Japan as candidates for joint development.

The United States, Japan’s main military ally, has been promoting joint defense cooperation between Japan, Australia and the U.S.

Military analysts say Washington probably wants to strengthen trilateral military cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region to ease the heavy burden on the U.S. fleet.