| SYDNEY, July 28
SYDNEY, July 28 Australia should discuss
building its next-generation fleet of submarines overseas, the
Department of Defence said on Monday, a shift that could open
the door to a partnership deal with Japan that carries political
risk at home and abroad.
Australia is looking for partners to help it build about a
dozen diesel-electric submarines to replace its aging Collins
Class fleet and help to extend its maritime surveillance deep
into the Indian Ocean.
The proposed A$40 billion fleet of submarines is at the core
of the nation's maritime defence strategy over the next two
decades. Successive governments have pledged to build the
vessels in Australia, creating much-needed manufacturing jobs.
The Department of Defence's 50-page Defence Issues Paper
2014, issued on Monday, is part of a public consultation process
on a major strategic forces assessment due out next year.
In it, the department echoed previous concerns about cost
raised by Defence Minister David Johnston.
"There is significant debate emerging about the future
submarine and whether it should be built in Australia. This
debate must consider the cost, risk and schedule as well as the
benefits of the different options," the department said in the
"What other military capability might be forgone if monies
are committed to industries that do not meet international
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has struck a tough stance towards
struggling industries, declining to bail out anaemic auto
manufacturers in a move that deepened acrimony between his
government and trade unions.
Any decision to move construction of the submarine fleet
overseas would likely cause a further backlash from working
MADE IN JAPAN?
Japan is considered one of the most likely beneficiaries if
Australia does change its stance.
This month, Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
signed an agreement on military equipment and technology
Mirroring a partnership concluded with Britain a year ago,
it establish a framework for industrial cooperation that could
pave the way for a submarine deal with Australia.
Abe has been forging a more assertive defence posture in his
year-and-a-half in office. In April, he eased a four-decade ban
on military exports, which could allow Japan to ship submarine
components or even completed vessels to Australia.
A deal would also help connect Japanese arms-makers like
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy
Industries to the world market for big, sophisticated
It is also possible that Australia could purchase submarine
hulls from Germany or Sweden and then opt to buy Japanese drive
trains for the vessels.
Participants in a joint-development deal could include
Britain's BAE Systems and state-owned Australian
Submarine Corp, which maintains the nation's current fleet.
Experts say a Japan-Australia deal would send a signal to
China of Japan's willingness to export arms to a region wary of
Beijing's growing naval strength, especially its pursuit of
territorial claims in the East and South China seas.
They warn, however, that the deal may not be viewed
favourably in China, Australia's biggest trading partner and the
region's emerging superpower, adding a layer to the political
considerations for Australia.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)