The Yomiuri Shimbun
Control tower urgently needed for export of defense equipment
It is important to scrupulously examine the reason Japan lost its bid for the contract and rebuild the government’s preparedness for exporting defense equipment.
With Japan, Germany and France competing to build next-generation submarines for Australia, Canberra selected a French company as its partner.
In accordance with the three principles on the transfer of defense equipment and technology, the Japanese government, jointly with the private sector, had proposed building a fleet based on the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s most advanced Soryu-class submarine, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and other companies.
Soryu-class submarines are equipped with the world’s most advanced technology. They excel in cruising capability, silent running to evade detection when navigating underwater, sonar detection and other attributes.
The huge contract, worth about 50 billion Australian dollars (¥4.3 trillion), was for the construction of 12 submarines. It would have become Japan’s first full-fledged export of defense equipment. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “It was a disappointing result.”
It is reasonable for Defense Minister Gen Nakatani to have indicated his intention to seek an explanation from Australia as to why Japan was not awarded the contract and learn lessons for future bids.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “The French offer represented the capabilities best able to meet Australia’s unique needs.”
As Australia’s economy has slowed, uncertainty over the country’s employment situation is spreading. France had emphasized it would make a full-scale technology transfer, help foster Australian companies and create jobs in that country.
As Turnbull intends to dissolve Parliament shortly, his selection may also reflect his decision to focus on the economy with the election in mind.
But for building submarines, a military perspective is important under normal circumstances. We cannot agree with the choice if it was made by placing priority on the political situation.
Meanwhile, it is undeniable that Japan, while being overconfident in its high level of technology and paying little heed to its ratio of local production in Australia, failed to accurately comprehend either Australia’s needs or the moves taken by France and Germany in their bids, and did not exercise flexibility in taking the measures needed. This failure may have stemmed from the little experience MHI and other companies have in negotiating defense equipment deals with foreign countries.
It is crucial to build within such offices as the national security secretariat of the Cabinet Secretariat a framework to comprehensively analyze and assess business chances and domestic political circumstances of countries concerned, in addition to security issues, and establish a control tower to carry out such tasks.
Sufficient manpower should be mustered from such economy-related ministries as the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry as well as from private companies. Also needed is to have a vision on implementing a growth strategy.
Needless to say, measures to prevent the leakage of technologies to third-party countries are essential. We can understand that cautious views were expressed within the MSDF and other entities over Japan’s provision of technology to Australia.
Also worrisome is that China is said to have urged Australia not to accept Japan’s proposal this time. If Canberra turned down Japan’s bid by giving too much consideration to Beijing, we cannot overlook it.
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had recognized the importance of security cooperation among Japan, the United States and Australia. The Turnbull administration should explain what sort of role it will assume for the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 28, 2016)