A number of important aspects of the modern international policy touch on the seemingly specific issue of Japan’s potential participation in a tender for supplies of six diesel-electric submarines (DES) to the Indian Navy by the middle of the next decade.
Early this year, India’s Ministry of Defense sent out invitations to Japan, as well as France, Germany, Spain and Russia, to participate in the coming tender.
The future contract value is estimated to exceed $8 bn. For the Indian government, this contract ranks second most expensive, that it is ready to undertake in the course of refurbishing the national armed forces with the state-of-the-art materiel from abroad.
Foreign companies have, as they say, something to fight over. All the more so since state defense orders, when being fulfilled, have the tendency to increase in value (typically increasing several times).
This appeared, for example, in the final phase of the contract concluded with the French Dassault in regard to supplying 126 Rafale fighter-jets to the Indian Air Force. A year ago, the French said they failed to stay within a $12 bn budget in the contract initially accepted by the Indian government, which they then proposed to increase to $20 bn.
Naturally, this wasn’t welcomed by the customer, and the contract completion procedure was postponed. At least up until the middle of March, the Indian media described the current situation as a dead-end.
However, the results of the visit that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid to France on this April 10 show that both parties are seeking (and finding) a compromise settlement for the encountered problem. The same was the case formerly with the drastic modernization of the Russian aircraft carrier “Admiral Gorshkof”.
Evidently, among the many motives behind Japan’s future reaction (which will almost certainly be positive) to the Indian invitation to participate in the DES tender, the “mercantile” reasons will be among the first on the list. However, they will be a far cry from dominant.
Such interconnected motives as its own military-technological development, cost-effectiveness of the national Military-Industrial Complex, a range of problems connected with the arms market entry, and foreign policy motivation, are of no lesser significance than those mentioned above.
Arms are a very specific type of goods, the export of which to the international market by a manufacturing country is a strong signal that the country is engaged in various levels of political processes arising in the international arena.
This signal becomes even more distinct in current Japan, which took the path of “normalization”, i.e. gradually stripping of the post WWII taboos. Not all of them were enforced by the victors of the last world war.
The arms trade ban on Japanese manufacturers, effective until quite recently, was introduced in the late 1960s by Japan itself. The ban complied with Japan’s postwar strategy aimed at focusing on economic development efforts, bypassing (when possible) opportunities of involvement in international political squabbles.
Last spring, the Japanese government resolved to considerably loosen these self-imposed restrictions.
Since the late 1980s, the heavy-weights of the Japanese military-industrial complex started opposing the arms trade renunciation. At the same time, they pointed out that it directly led to small volumes (hence high costs) of manufactured arms samples, as well as the expulsion of Japan from the process of international military-technological progress.
As for Japan’s participation since the late 1990s in the US projects of advanced BMD systems, they have been carried out as an exception.
The first immediate consequence of the Japanese government’s resolution on actually lifting the self-imposed arms trade restrictions was the translation into action of the long discussed projects on supplying a number of South-East Asian states with used patrol boats. Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines would need them to confront Chinese border guard ships, which attempt to claim 80% of the South China Sea water area.
However, the tendency towards development of the full-scale military-technical cooperation that lies far beyond the arms trade scope, leads to much more significant consequences for Japan’s defense industry, as well as the political situation in the Asia-Pacific Region and Japan’s influence there. Respective contracts have already been concluded with Britain, Australia and the already mentioned India.
In particular, under these contracts, the Australian Navy considers a possibility of obtaining six Soryu DESs from Japan. These are the very same submarines that will be offered to India.
Soryu is considered the world’s best conventionally-powered submarine. The Japanese Navy has already been running six such submarines (10 are planned in all).
The main issue currently discussed in Australia focuses on cost estimate of the most preferable option providing for licensing production of those submarines at national ship yards.
Overcoming various barriers (including the language barrier) that will inevitably arise when producing foreign technologies and documentation may lead to a many-fold increase in the original cost of every future submarine.
The same issue will appear in India where the policy aimed at using domestic production capacities for manufacturing foreign material is moved to the front burner.
It should be noted that Japan’s participation in coming tenders for DES supplies to the Indian Navy will be the second step in the development of India’s arms market. The first step was the last year conclusion of the bilateral agreement on supply to India of 12 four-engine flying boats, US-2 “Shin Maywa”. Officially designed for search and rescue, these boats apparently will be adjusted for settlement of a wider range of issues in the interests of the Indian Navy. The licensing production contract for them is expected to be signed as late as early next year.
It should be mentioned that at the level of international relations, the issue on flying boat supplies to India was solved during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan last year. Back then, the fundamental agreement on supplying US-2 “Shin Maywa” to the Indian Navy was accompanied by far-reaching political comments that the future transaction complied with the general context of the Japan-India all-round rapprochement.
Similar comments appear in relation to the invitation for Japan’s participation in new DES tenders for the Indian Navy. What is more, the content of those comments triggers associations with the so-called Four Nations Initiative of 2007 that came down to a possible formation of something similar to the military-political union involving the very same India and Japan as well as the USA and Australia.
Finally, it should be noted that Japan’s participation in the tender for supplies of six new DESs to the Indian Navy will become a significant precedent of the full-scale participation in struggle for a hefty piece of pie at the international arms market, where India’s share looks especially promising.
And something suggests that the Indian government already knows who will win the future tender. In spite of the fact that no one knows when it will be held.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.