March 5, 2015

Abbott's Choice of Japan Possibly Influences Defence Testimony

Australia's Senator Nick Xenophon. He comes to Senator Committe meetings well prepared with research. He then asks questions defence officers would prefer he forgot.

As the Abbott Government has already chosen Japan's Soryu even the most senior defence officials are limited in what they can say to Australian Senate Committees. To provide full and accurate answer to Senators risks being considered disloyal to Australia's (current) Prime Minister Abbott's decision - increasingly know as the Captain's Pick. Put another way accurate information should be avoided if it potentially provides ammunition for politicians who oppose the Japan decision.

Australia has stated a preference for the US submarine AN/BYG-1 combat system (made for US weapons) and US Admiral Thomas is enthusiastic that Australia buy the Soryu. The implication from this is that the US is more likely to supply its combat system with associated US weapons if Australia chooses Japan's Soryu, 

Like many countries Australia has a number of Senate Committees that seek answers from defence civilian and armed services officers. In late February 2015 in a Senate Committee meeting Senator Nick Xenophon (from South Australia) asked questions concerning Australia's known preference in “competitive evaluation process” for a submarine that is highly compatible with, or already uses US weapons. The relevant US weapons include the Harpoon (short-medium range) cruise missile, Mark 48 heavyweight torpedo, and, in future, the Tomahawk (longer range) cruise missile.

More specifically Senator Xenophon asked Australia’s Chief of Navy and the head of the Defence Material Organisation (DMO) whether Australia's defence sector could reply to the Senate Committee's Question on Notice 171. See Committee Meeting transcript 3/4s way down. Question 171, (d)(iii) was:

"Do any German designed submarines carry US weapons (e.g. Mk 48s torpedoes [any variant] or Harpoon missiles)?" 

To this they responded that:

 “Defence is not aware of any German designed submarines that carry US weapons”.

Senator Xenophon then pointed out that a range of Wikipedia articles and official US government documents confirmed that a number of German designed submarines used or can use some US weapons, including those owned by South Korea (in Australia’s region) Greece, Turkey, Israel and Brazil.  

.. Senator Xenophon commented"Would you understand, Mr King [Head of DMO], that I would be concerned of an error of that nature given the significance? I am concerned that, with such a fundamental error, are you not making decisions on a preferred combat system with US based weapons on the presumption that other combat systems are not compatible with US weapons, which in turn could influence the choice of submarine? You can see my point."

Most have accepted the response to Senator Xenophon as ignorance or oversight, but there is an equally likely explanation.

The head of the Navy and the head of DMO would have been aware that those who oppose "build in Japan" (such as Senator Xenophon) would have been able to use "German built submarines can use US weapons" as an argument for "build German designed submarines in South Australia". 

Naturally Abbott does not want Xenophon or the Labor opposition to be able to say "but the Navy  and DMO have already indicated that "compatibility with US weapons" is a non-argument when claiming Japan's Soryu is preferable to the German contender". 

The defence heads therefore had to rely on seeming ignorance. To provide political ammunition to Senator Xenophon would be entering into the highly political submarine selection issue, after all... 

Another possibility is that the Prime Minister's Office took carriage of the question, provided the wrong answer and the defence heads were forced to live with it. It has already been established that the Prime Minister's Office has taken much of the political carriage of the Soryu issue. After this office handled the Senate Committees questions the defence heads had to wear the acute embarrassment at the Senate committee meeting on the day.

So all this mean's that Abbott's Captain's pick of Japan's Soryu, for the sake of alliance with Japan and the US's advocacy of the Soryu, is influencing otherwise expert testimony on Australia's multi billion (taxpayer) dollar submarine selection.

This is the testimony in question given to Senator Xenophon, on US weapons on German designed submarines, at the Senate Committee meeting.


Anonymous said...

Dear Pete,

this is also interesting and it includes Senator Xenophone's question:;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Festimate%2F1486edb6-e155-4c4a-a05d-be340ad16eec%2F0003;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F1486edb6-e155-4c4a-a05d-be340ad16eec%2F0001%22

Senator GALLACHER: You say that the Spanish had not exported a design. I think the Japanese have had to reinterpret their constitution to actually export a design. Aren't we in very much the same position as Navantia?


Peter Coates said...

Thanks MHalblaub

For the Senate Committee meeting transcript;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Festimate%2F1486edb6-e155-4c4a-a05d-be340ad16eec%2F0003;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F1486edb6-e155-4c4a-a05d-be340ad16eec%2F0001%22 .

While the Committee meeting is a legitimate forum to advise Senators it is not a decision making venue like Abbott's Cabinet meetings.

Some Defence heads at the Committee meeting are claiming it is a free and open selection process. This leaves France and Germany hopeful but excludes Abbott's track record with Japan. Abbott, more publically, has chosen Japan.

Abbott was next to Abe half way through 2014 talking about joint Australia-Japan submarine research and much closer security ties with Japan. See July 7, 2014 .

Abbott established no such links with France or Germany.

So formally France and Germany have a chance. Perhaps giving France and Germany a chance is a way of extracting better price and concessions from Japan?

Australia's problems building the AWDs with Spain-Navantia's plans can be seen as a good argument for Japan-Mitsubishi-Kawasaki being extra cafeful not to mess up the design plans when working with Australia. The defence sectors of these Japanese companies will need to draw heavily on the consumer-customer skill of their corporate civilian sectors.

For example Mitsubishi was able to build a whole car factory in South Australia.

I think Japan needs to pass some "regular" laws for defence exports but not actually change the constitution. Japanese readers of this comment are invited to help on this issue.



Anonymous said...

(1) “The Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology”
(2) It’s guideline “Implementation Guidelines for the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology”
“Guidelines”provision 1,2)A” wll be applied in possible Soryu or related technology transfer to Australia.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous (of March 3)

Thankyou for:

1. “The Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology” of April 1, 2014 and

2. The Implementation Guidelines for 1 “Implementation Guidelines for the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology”
This was adopted by Japan's National Security Council on April 1, 2014 .

Within the Guidelines I understand that Provision 1,2)A will be applied in possible the Soryu or related technology transfer to Australia. The Provision is:

1. Cases in which Overseas Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology may be

2) Overseas transfers that contribute to Japan’s security, only if the transfers have positive meaning from the viewpoint of Japan’s security, and that:

A. are related to international joint development and production with countries
cooperating with Japan in security area including the U.S.,"

It will be interesting what legislation the Abe Government will push through the Diet to get broader agreement to these Principles and Guidelines.