China's Worst Nightmare? Japan May Sell India Six Stealth Submarines

The Buzz

For years China has excelled at antagonizing Japan. Now Tokyo may have the chance to extract some revenge.

According to Indian news outlets, the Narendra Modi government has approached Japan about building it six stealth submarines.

“New Delhi has forwarded ‘a proposal’ to Tokyo to ‘consider the possibility’ of making its latest diesel-electric Soryu-class submarines in India,” Times of India reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

New Delhi’s Project-75-India to acquire six advanced diesel-electric submarines will be worth more than Rs 50,000 crore ($8 billion), and likely much more. France’s DCNS, Germany’s HDW, Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Spain’s Navantia are all expected to compete for the contract. Since the submarines will be built in India, foreign companies that wish to compete for the contract are expected to form a joint venture with an Indian shipyard.

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India’s proposal comes at a time when New Delhi and Tokyo have been steadily strengthening ties under the leadership of Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Modi and Abe, both nationalistic leaders seeking to expand their respective countries’ regional profiles, are seen as enjoying a close relationship, which could help Tokyo’s chances in the competition. That being said, France, Germany and Russia have all built submarines for India in the past, TOI noted.

The proposal also comes at a time when Japan is seeking to break into the global arms market following the lifting of a decades-old, self-imposed ban on selling weaponry abroad. Since the ban was rescinded, Japan has already discussed selling India ShinMaywa US-2i sea-and-rescue amphibious planes.

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Tokyo is especially keen on breaking into the global submarine market, which is currently dominated by countries like Russia, France and Germany. Defense analysts believe Tokyo’s Soryu-class submarines will be a highly competitive alternative to their Russian, French and German counterparts. As frequent TNI contributor Robert Farley noted last September:

“At 4,200 tons submerged, the Soryu-class is considerably larger than either the [German] Type 214, [French] Scorpene, or improved [Russian] Kilo, and can carry a much heavier weapons load. This size also makes them quieter and longer-ranged than the other boats on the market. At current price expectations of around $500 million, the Soryus are not wildly more expensive than the other boats.”

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Already, Japan has been engaged in intense discussions with Australia over the latter’s program to purchase 12 diesel-electric submarines. Winning the Project-75-India contract would be a further boon to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which manufacture the Soryu-class subs.

Still, don’t expect to see India’s Navy operating Japanese subs anytime soon. India isn’t expected to tender a winner for two years, and it will be at least another 7-8 years after that before the first subs start rolling off the assembly line. Given India’s notoriously cumbersome defense acquisition bureaucracy, these timetables should be viewed as the best case scenario.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey Jay Price.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Japan's Record Defense Budget: Should Asia Be Concerned?

The Buzz

Much has been made in the media (for instance, here and here) about the Japanese government’s “record” defense budget request for Fiscal Year 2015. With ¥4.98 trillion (roughly US$42 billion), it’d be the “largest budget ever,” according to a Defence Ministry official. Yet, while such statements imply a shift in Japan’s defence policy, the increase is much less radical and doesn’t indicate a more assertive strategic approach.

True, defense spending is increasing for the third consecutive year, meeting Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s promise to reverse the decade of declining expenditure.

But defense spending will remain below 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). And the Abe government’s also increasing spending in other portfolios—it’s requested a record-high general budget of ¥96.34 trillion. So the higher defence spending doesn’t indicate Japan’s ‘remilitarisation’ as has been alleged by some of its neighbours, most notably China. Rather, the increase will allow the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) to continue working towards turning into a ‘Dynamic Joint Defense Force’—that is, a more mobile, networked JSDF investing in air-maritime denial capabilities in order to defend Japan’s archipelago whilst increasing interoperability with its US ally.

Consequently, the 2015 defense budget request provides funding for key capabilities already announced in the “National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) for FY2014 and beyond.” Big ticket items include the procurement of up to 20 P-1 maritime patrol aircraft; beginning work on a third Atago-class destroyer fitted with the Aegis combat-system for ballistic missile defence; and the acquisition of six additional F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. It also contains funding to enhance the JSDF’s mobility, ISR, and amphibious capabilities. That includes the acquisition of five tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey helicopters (17 planned in total) and the first of three RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs. The MoD also announced its intention to buy up to 30 AAV-7 assault vehicles (also used by the US Marines) for its emerging amphibious brigade. Further, Japan will continue upgrading its F-15 and F-2 fighters, as well as adding another Sōryū-class submarine to its inventory (including work to improve the propulsion system).

Some critics have argued that the defence budget increase is still insufficient to meet the reform goals. But implementation of those goals is a long-term process and Japan’s defence spending needs to be understood within the current domestic political and economic context. Despite the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) victory in December’s ‘snap election’, Abe’s political mandate for major increases in defence spending remains limited. Importantly, the election strengthened the position of the LDP’s coalition partner, the pacifist Komeito party which opposes more robust defence spending as a basis for a more active defense posture.

As well, while Japan still spends below 1% of GDP on defence, the total amount has to be seen in comparative perspective. Behind the US, China and Russia, Japan is the fourth largest spender in the Asia–Pacific region, and ranks seventh in the world in 2013 (above powers such as Germany and India).

Current spending on defense provides Japan with a significant capacity to maintain a modern, high technology force. Indeed, should Tokyo decide to increase its defence spending if the strategic environment deteriorates dramatically to, say, between 1.5% and 2.0% of GDP, it’d quickly climb up the global rankings. And contrary to conventional wisdom, Japan’s enormous government debt of around 240% of GDP isn’t such a problem for the country’s strategic solvency. Japan’s latent capacity to increase defense spending significantly in the future shouldn’t be underestimated.

Yet, at this point such a development is neither desirable nor necessary for Japan. A major defense spending increase would rattle the nerves of its Asian neighbors. The moderate increase in defense expenditure combined with targeted investments in air-sea denial capabilities aims to send a signal that Japan’s military modernization isn’t about upsetting the regional security order. The goal isn’t to compete with China’s military in terms of platform numbers and spending. Rather, by investing in a smaller, but highly sophisticated JSDF focused on the defense of Japanese islands, the aim is to pose significant challenges to Chinese military planners contemplating offensive operations to seize Japanese islands. Indeed, at present the JSDF would probably be able to defeat such an attempt even without support from the US.

Lastly, while JSDF modernization strengthens Japan’s leg within its US alliance by improving interoperability and boosting its islands defence capability, it can continue to rely on US’ offensive firepower as a means of deterring foreign aggression. That’s not “free-riding” as often implied but an arrangement that’s in the best interest of both parties, and indeed the region. In the absence of a radical shift in those domestic and external parameters, Japan’s defense spending won’t increase dramatically any time soon.

Benjamin Schreer is a senior analyst at ASPI. This first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist Blog here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsJapan

Sorry, China: You Can’t Have It Both Ways on North Korea

The Buzz

Chen Dingding’s recent article, “Sorry, America: China Can't Solve Your North Korea Problem,” argues unconvincingly that China is unable to change North Korea’s behavior—he leaves that job to Washington—but influential enough to shape the orientation of a unified Korea.    

Chen’s article is useful in its summary of the debate in China over how to deal with Pyongyang. He asserts that although some Chinese call for continuing to support the North Korean government and others call for abandoning it, the position that holds sway within the Chinese government is that China should “pressure” Pyongyang to stop nuclear testing, return to disarmament talks, reform the North Korean economy, and eventually dismantle its nuclear weapons. Chinese efforts in this direction would be welcome.

When Chen moves beyond reporting the atmosphere in Beijing to policy analysis, however, he is less insightful. 

The central thrust of his argument is the familiar Chinese line that the United States must do more. Based on his own assessment, however, China has decided to get tougher on the Kim regime during the same period that U.S. policy toward North Korea has been stagnant. More vigorous Chinese intervention has long been a U.S. goal. Therefore the United States is winning by doing nothing, seemingly successfully passing the buck to China to do the dirty job of “pressuring” the DPRK. 

Chen recommends that both China and the United States offer North Korea a “security guarantee plus economic assistance.” From the U.S. standpoint, this recommendation is a total throwaway. Washington has repeatedly stated it has no intention to invade Pyongyang, and this is believable since it has passed on many opportunities. There is zero support in America for economic assistance prior to progress in de-nuclearization. At the same time Chen calls for China to do the exact opposite of offering a security guarantee, saying China should also threaten the Kim regime with a “reform or collapse” ultimatum.

Chen claims that solving the North Korea problem “lies in the hands of the U.S.” because North Korean leaders worry relatively little about a deterioration of relations with China, but worry a lot that “America’s perceived malign intentions could threaten their survival.” This analysis does not jibe with Pyongyang’s repeated use of hyper-bellicose (even nuclear) threats against the United States and its South Korean ally as a tactic to get attention that the Kim regime hopes will lead to negotiations and handouts. A policy of extortion exhibits not fear, but rather confidence on Pyongyang’s part that the wealthy democracies will not opt for war.

Finally, while arguing that China lacks the leverage to discipline North Korea, Chen simultaneously displays disturbing hubris in asserting that a united Korea will not be a U.S. ally because “China has adequate capabilities to influence the eventual unification process.” The Chinese are unwise if they underestimate Korean anxiety about Chinese domination, and overconfident if they assume they can control a reunification process that might happen suddenly and would likely unleash the powerful force of pan-Korean nationalism.  

Denny Roy is a Senior Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu.  He specializes in Asia-Pacific security issues.  His latest book is Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security (Columbia University Press, 2013).


Could Future Submarines Act as Underwater Aircraft Carriers?

The Buzz

After reading Peter Briggs’ excellent posts on why Australia should build its own submarines (here and here), it occurred to me that we may be missing a more important element of the discussion. Recently, I was involved in considering the nature and implications of disruptive or game-changing technologies in warfare. A common theme was the unpredictable interplay of various and sometimes unrelated technologies in creating a capability leap. Often, the technologies driving a leap had existed or been in development for a long time prior to their convergence.

The discourse here in Washington is that we’re on the verge of a tectonic shift in the way military operations are conducted, and that there are important lessons from history that we should heed. Failure to do so risks our platforms becoming prematurely redundant or having to make costly design changes throughout the process.

Major military platforms are getting more expensive and taking longer to develop than ever before. In his article, Peter assumes initial sea trials in 2025 and full replacement of Collins by 2028. To give some perspective on how the world might have changed by then, consider that the kids graduating from college at that point will likely have been born after the release of the first iPhone. Assuming a traditional life cycle of major platforms, the subs will then need to meet Australia’s operational needs until sometime around 2050. In other words, over 100 years after the end of World War II.

Advances in a range of technologies could change the nature of submarine warfare in a number of critical ways. These technologies aren’t yet operational, but neither are they far off and we can be assured that significant resources are being poured into their development.

We’re starting to see the deployment of a range of military capabilities long consigned to science fiction. We can’t, and shouldn’t, define the requirements for our future military capabilities on idle speculation of what we might need in the future. But we should be considering, debating and analyzing the possible operational future environment and its implications for our requirements.

The potential value of the F-35 isn’t the strengths of the plane itself, but the way it networks with other combatants, sharing and coordinating targeting and other data. The design philosophy that underpins it allows for a new air concept that integrates manned and unmanned platforms, leveraging the inherent advantages of each.

Just as new detection technologies threaten submarines’ traditional advantages, developments in unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) create new opportunities. Consider, for instance a networked fleet of smaller manned submarines, optimized for stand-off passive intelligence processing, communications and targeting. They could be supplemented by a variety of unmanned UUVs that could safely penetrate deeper into denied areas and act as active intelligence gatherers and weapons platforms.

The manned platform could stay in an operational theater for longer, but at a safer distance from a target while the unmanned systems put themselves in harm’s way. The design philosophy and technical requirements for such a sub would be very different to the current generation. In some wargames I’ve participated in, it has been proposed that future submarines could act as underwater aircraft carriers for drones—not that it’s a new concept, or necessarily what Australia would be looking for.

No one can say exactly how any of a range of technologies could impact the operational requirements of future submarines, and we’re not alone in facing those challenges. If the operational lifecycle of the Collins fell in a different timeframe, we could try to extend its service life and wait to see how warfare evolves in the coming years. But our window for action falls on the precipice of change, burdening us with the need to apply even greater rigour to the process.

As we debate the best location and approach to manufacturing our next-generation submarines, we should be investing equal intellectual resources into considering alternative submarine operational concepts and design philosophies. Otherwise, we risk building a state-of-the-art, homegrown fleet of cutting-edge obsolescence.

John Watts is a senior consultant with Noetic Group, Washington DC, and is currently engaged in work on future warfare for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This piece first appeared in ASPI’s Strategist blog here.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 


Hey, America: Give the Balance of Power a Chance

Paul Pillar

President Obama and his team scored an early success in the president's visit to India that didn't really require any effort on their part. The first 45 minutes of the president's meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was devoted to discussing China, with the U.S. side pleased to find Modi sharing their own concerns about implications of China's rise for the strategic situation in the region. Not only were the U.S. and Indian assessments about China congruent; Modi took the initiative in suggesting revival of an informal security network that included the United States, India, Australia, and Japan.

Modi's posture on this subject was much different from what has characterized India's overall strategic posture for most of its history since independence. Throughout the Cold War a major element of Indian diplomacy was what bore the label of neutralism, and later was more often called nonalignment. Neutralism did not sit well at all with U.S. policymakers, some of whom—most notably Secretary of State John Foster Dulles—sharply criticized it. In 1956 Dulles stated, “These neutral governments do not seem to realize that the Communist intentions are so diabolical and so hostile to their freedom and independence.” He said that neutralist countries “would eventually succumb unless they could develop a crusading spirit against the evil forces of Communism.” Dulles especially angered the Indians by referring to their variety of neutralism as “immoral”.

Dulles may have been more unrestrained than most in the language he applied to this topic, but he was reflecting a strong and recurring American outlook that has been applied as well to other situations in international politics. That outlook is one of seeing the world divided fairly clearly between good guys and bad guys, of becoming impatient with those who do not see it the same way, and of using U.S. initiative to get the laggards to take their proper place in the good-vs.-bad lineup. That outlook manifested itself years after the Cold War when President George W. Bush told everyone else in the world that they were either with us or with the terrorists.

Two basic problems have limited the effectiveness of this habitual American approach. One is that many people and governments do not see the global lineup the same way, and they have good reasons not to. International conflict is just not that simple, and cannot be reduced to such orderly lines. The other reason is that most people and governments do not like being prodded by the United States into standing in particular spots in the lineup as the United States defines it. They would rather reach their own conclusions and make their own decisions in acting on those conclusions. Certainly this last consideration has been for many years a major factor in shaping Indian policies.

A different and better approach for the United States would be more often to let the natural rhythm of the balance of power work. This would be understood by serious realists, for whom balancing in international politics is a core concept. There is something of a hidden hand at work, akin to how such a hand works economically in free markets. The hidden hand does not write the same script each time, and political scientists have explored the conditions under which balancing rather than bandwagoning is most likely, and vice versa. But if something a would-be hegemon is doing worries us, it probably is worrying others as well.

And thus expansion of Chinese power, including into India's own ocean, naturally makes Modi worry, without our having to tell him that he should be worried, and makes him willing to do something about it. The favorable result at the New Delhi meeting demonstrates how a balancing approach that relies on others' own interests and conclusions usually will be more successful than lecturing people, pushing and prodding them into our preferred position, or casting moral aspersions on them.

Image: White House Flickr.                         

TopicsIndia China RegionsSouth Asia