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Japan asked to share submarine technology

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Australia has asked Japan to consider providing highly advanced propulsion technology to be used in the navy’s planned 12 new submarines.

Australian Defence Minister David Johnston has told The Weekend ‘Australian’ newspaper, Japanese officials had visited submarine maintenance facilities in Adelaide and talks were continuing.

In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Senator Johnston spoke about the Abbott government’s wish to cement closer defence ties with Japan, including much closer defence-industry ties.

Senator Johnston said later he was particularly interested in the use of Japan’s extremely effective submarine technology in Australia’s future submarine, which is most likely to be an evolution of Australia’s existing Collins-class vessels.

Japan’s Soryu-class is the world’s biggest and possibly the best diesel-electric submarine and Senator Johnston is particularly keen on its “drive train” – the whole propulsion system, from the propeller through to the electric motor and the diesel engine that charges the boat’s batteries.

He said he hoped Japan would consider sharing its “back-end” technology. The new Australian submarine’s “front end” includes the same combat system and torpedoes as the US Virginia-class, nuclear-powered attack submarines and near-silent propellers developed in the US.

Senator Johnston said “a serious exchange” about submarines had already begun with the Japanese navy and Japan’s Defence Department.

“They visited ASC (the Australian Submarine Corporation in Adelaide),” he said, noting that the Japanese motors “are obviously something very special”.

Japan’s constitutional ban on the export of military equipment is gradually being relaxed. Talks about a defence-technology transfer pact between the two countries began under the Labor government two years ago.

It would be a landmark deal for Australia to secure access to the Japanese submarine technology, as Tokyo doesn’t share defence technology with any nation other than the US.

It has also been suggested that Japan might be asked to provide technology to help extend the lives of the six Collins-class boats.

That would take the pressure off development of the replacement class of submarines for the Royal Australian Navy and reduce the likelihood of a “capability gap” if the Collins-class subs reach the end of their lives before the 12 new submarines are ready.

The future submarines are expected to cost about $40 billion.

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