Japanese Defence Minister Gen* Nakatani throws himself from a parachute training simulator. Can Nakatani face the probable submarine sale to Australia challenge?
* Note that Gen (his first name not a previous rank) used to be a Captain in the Japanese Army's ranger-parachute corps. He can do things that no other Defence Minister would dare attempt. (Photo Courtesy Getty Images)
As an aside Japanese-Australian relations have been formalised in the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation of March 2007 and the more recent Agreement Between The Government Of Japan And The Government Of Australia Concerning The Transfer Of Defence Equipment And Technology of July 2014
On the Andrews-Nakatani telephone call Japanese media reports include NHK on May 6, 2015 and Japan Today on May 7, 2015 and Australian reports of May 7, 2015, included AFR and SMH so far.
Some issues arising from these articles and also previous issues raised in Submarine Matters include:
- the phone call is a major stage in an established series of Australian indications that Australia has already picked Japan. Major indications started during Prime Minister Abe's July 2014 visit to Australia.
- The Japan Today article puts a different emphasis on the phone call. It appears much more like Andrews is asking for Australia to become part of the future Soryu Mark 2 (Lithium-ion battery) Project.
- As Australia will be Japan's first major defence customer Japan will be unused to a defence sales process.
- Japan would certainly be unused to the concept of "jointly develop[ing] a submarine with another country". There can be no pure "off-the-shelf" one-size-fits-all submarines as country customers always request a range of adjustments for specific mission needs.
- Within the sales process Japan is probably suffering indecision regarding when and how to supply sensitive technical information to sell a major weapons system. The Japanese Government wants to know that Japan has been selected before it supplies all of the technical information desired. Perhaps Japan is already confident it has been selected so is happy to supply almost all.
- Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) and removal of Stirling air independent propulsion (AIP) will be the most major technical changes in the Soryu Mark 2 "28SS" (first one probably lauched in 2020). Japan cannot be certain how LIBs will perform operationally in a submarine let alone one not built. It is unknown whether Japanese submarine (JS) Asashio TSS-3601, previously an AIP testbed, has been refitted as a LIB testbed?
- As LIBs will be lighter than existing lead-acid batteries and Stirling AIP removed this will (or should) allow more diesel fuel to be carried to provide Australian Soryus with the approximately 12,000 nautical mile range required by Australia.
- Japan and Australia cannot be certain how efficiently the US combat system (sensors, database and weapons) will operate when mated to a Japanese submarine for the first time.
- Japan's political-military-industrial establishment will need resolve and sometimes muddle-through all the political, legal, Japanese public relations and procedural processes that will arise in the sale of Japan's first major weapons system to a foreign country.
- Communication, language and cultural differences between Australia and Japan need to be faced and resolved. 10,000s of technical manual pages will need to be translated - not just at a literal level but the level of nuance for certain understanding. This would include many Australian managers, technicians and naval officers learning Japanese and visa versa. Ideally 50? Australians will need to train in operational Japanese submarines. This will be much harder than English speakers understanding French and German language and personnel.
- Against these possible differences it must be noted that Japan has proven a creative and reliable business partner in the commercial sector (from car factories in Australia to ships and iron ore and coal buying) so partnering Australia in the defence sector is not impossible. Also the Japanese military would be used to liaising in English with their American allies (since 1951). So this can extend to Japan-Australia liaison.
- A possible stumbling block so far is Japan getting used to the idea that China is more important economically to Australia than Japan is. If Japan bought more minerals and resources from Australia then:
= Japan may surpass China in economic importance to Australia, and also
= a sort of balance of trade dynamic "submarines for minerals/energy" could develop between Japan and Australia. A precedent exists in the trade dynamic of American weapons for Saudi oil.
Even if Germany or France win this all represents Australia's greatest defence acquisition challenge. Whether the abolition of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) makes the acquisition easier remains to be seen.