The Submarine Problem - Deeper Than Meets the Eye
It’s been said so often but never actually examined in great detail - the Future Submarine Program is strategic for Japan and Australia. In speaking to the submarine community, past and present, what comes through is that cooperation with Japan results in a Future Submarine that can approach the performances of Collins but only with a completely new design and one that will definitely not be regionally superior post 2030. This is alarming and requires pause for thought.
The root-cause of this problem is that Japan does not have any technology that is, well, regionally superior. Indeed, it is the reverse situation - Japan’s relative submarine capability is improved by the Future Submarine Program but not Australia’s.
The Future Submarine is strategic for Japan, but not for Australia.
The Australian Government tells us that the next generation of RAN submarines will be regionally superior because they will have higher performances in stealth, sensors, range and endurance, and of course the US-origin combat system and weapons. With superior performances in these areas, the Future Submarine can outmatch any other submarine the RAN might conceivably fight, including the nearly silent nuclear attack submarines emerging from Russia and in the future, China. In the decades to come these submarines will hunt, and be hunted by, Australian submarines and it’s important to note that the RAN may not get to choose who to fight or when – they might choose us.
But what if the international partner for Australia has no better technology than we already have access to? The undeniable logic is the Future Submarine will offer performances no better than the Collins Class Submarine it replaces. An ‘Australianised’ Soryu will not be regionally superior beyond 2030. This is the critical issue.
To say it in plain English, if the Collins were to fight the Soryu today Collins would kill it every time. And there is no technology offered by Japan to suggest any evolution of the Soryu can change this situation in the future.
In lobbying Australia to accept their submarine, Japan has disclosed enough about its own capabilities in open literature to prove this. The Soryu Class, Japan’s most modern submarine, offers no improvement over Collins in any capability area – not stealth, not sonar, not range nor endurance and not combat system or weapon. Moreover, there is no objective evidence that Japan can overcome these problems with a new design. Let's examine the case for the Soryu point by point.