Japan should be flexible in Australian submarine tender: retired Japanese admiral

Thu Mar 26, 2015 2:34am EDT
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By Matt Siegel

ADELAIDE, Australia (Reuters) - At least some of Australia's new submarine fleet should be built in the country, an influential retired Japanese admiral said on Thursday, signaling a possible softening in Japan's position on the controversial A$50 billion ($39 billion) project.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference of Australian naval officials, defense contractors and industry groups in Adelaide, retired Vice Admiral Yoji Koda said Japan should work with Australia to develop and maintain a submarine capability.

"At least some boats should be built in this country," said Koda, who is close to Japan's defense establishment.

"I used to be heavily involved in defense force planning ... Maybe the best way is proportional to the number of ships to be built," Koda told Reuters at the Future Submarine Summit, suggesting that perhaps only the first of up to a dozen submarines would be built in Japan.

Japan had been the frontrunner to replace Australia's aging Collins-class submarines with an off-the-shelf version of its 4,000-tonne Soryu-class vessel after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agreed to cooperate on military technology with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe last June.

But during an internal challenge to his leadership in February, Abbott promised something closer to an open tender to be completed by the year-end in an attempt to shore up political support.

Japan, Germany and France have now been invited to join a 10-month "competitive evaluation process" after which the Defence Department would advise the government on preferred bidders.

Asked in Tokyo about Koda's remarks, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Self Defence Forces' Joint Staff, told Reuters he had little to say on the issue.   Continued...

A Rivercat ferry passes by the Royal Australian Navy's newest Collins class submarine, HMAS Waller, as it leaves Sydney Harbour in this May 4, 2000 file photo. REUTERS/David Gray/Files