Japan proposes joint submarine production with Australia

Posted on 7 Jan 2015 by Tim Brown
Artful, the third Astute class submarine, undertaking her maiden dive in Barrow in Furness.
Artful, the third UK made Astute-class nuclear powered submarine, undertaking her maiden dive in Barrow in Furness.

With Australia planning to upgrade its ageing submarine fleet, Japanese news website Mainichi Shimbun has reported that the Japanese Defense Ministry has proposed a plan for the two countries to jointly produce new submarines.

Japan has proposed a production arrangement in which the it and Australia would jointly develop special steel and material that absorbs sound waves, with Japan assembling most of the hull.

According to Mainichi, Australian authorities have expressed enthusiasm for the setup, and if the proposal goes through, it will mark the first time for Japan to participate in submarine production with another country.

The newspaper also reported that it is highly likely an official agreement will be reached before the end of 2015.

Australia, which currently has six aging Collins Class submarines, is set to decide on a partner country within the year with a plan to introduce 12 new submarines to its fleet starting around 2030.

But acting South Australian Defence Industries Minister Jack Snelling told News.com.au that Australia’s next generation of submarines must be built by the Australian Submarine Corporation at Osborne.

“A viable Australian shipbuilding industry should include frigates and submarines in a continuous build cycle, or there will not be enough work to sustain the industry or its sovereign capability,’’ Mr Snelling said.

“Our next generation of submarines should be built in Australia, using Australian steel and the world class expertise of Australian workers – anything else is a compromise and a broken election promise.”

If media focus is anything to go by, Japan certainly seems like a front runner for the submarine contract. Yet little focus has been spent on the potential benefits of Australia’s submarine fleet moving to nuclear propulsion.

The UK has recently successfully deployed three of its planned seven Astute-class nuclear powered submarines. The Manufacturer has contacted the Department of Defence for a comment on whether nuclear could potentially be on the table for Australia’s subs.

In 2013, Ramesh Thakur, director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, told Crikey that nuclear-powered submarines make a lot of sense for Australia. “They can be at sea for much longer periods. They are a lot less noisy and can therefore be much harder to detect by enemy forces,” said Thakur.