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Japan considers participation in Australian frigate project; Boost for domestic defense industry expected

Image taken from the Maritime Self-Defense Force website
A Mogami-class destroyer

The government is considering launching an effort to jointly develop new frigates with Australia, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Japan plans to renew the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s most advanced destroyer and export it to Australia if it is selected as a joint development partner, according to multiple sources close to the government. Japan is expected to compete with other countries and if it wins the tender, the joint development project will significantly help develop the country’s defense industry.

When the Australian government announced its plan to purchase 11 general-purpose frigates for its navy in February, it named ships from Japan, Spain, South Korea and Germany as candidates. Australia is expected to release further details later this year, including the required performance specifications, and provide each of the candidate countries with a joint development proposal.

The Defense Department has already begun informal talks with companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., which builds destroyers for the MSDF. The Department is prepared to fully discuss the matter based on the Australian Government’s moves.

The ministry is considering using the MSDF’s Mogami-class destroyer, the first of which entered service in 2022, as a basis for developing the frigate, and then adding all the facilities and features the Australian government requires. Mogami-class ships can be operated with a crew of approximately 90 crew members, half as many as comparable conventional ships, due to the consolidation of onboard systems and other reasons. These ships also possess minesweeping capabilities that do not exist on conventional destroyers. The Department believes these roles can provide great versatility, an area Australia is focusing on.

China has expanded its activities in the East and South China Seas. Under such circumstances, Japan’s joint development of frigates with Australia would strengthen mutual operations and act as a deterrent against China. It is also expected to bring economic benefits to the domestic defense industry.

Japan failed to jointly develop next-generation submarines for the Australian government in 2016. Spain and South Korea, on the other hand, were previously involved in the development of defense equipment for the Australian military. Competition for the bid is therefore expected to be fierce, and the government will closely monitor the moves of the three rival countries and their proposals.

Exporting defense equipment to partner countries in international joint development projects is permitted under the implementation guidelines for the three principles for the transfer of defense equipment and technology, in addition to the following five areas of rescue, transportation, warning, surveillance and minesweeping. As for the export of jointly developed equipment to non-partner third countries, the government decided in March to only allow the export of the next generation of fighter jets, which Japan will develop jointly with Britain and Italy, to such third parties.

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