Japan Considering Bid to Join Australia’s Frigate Project; Boost to Domestic Defense Industry Expected

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

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

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

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

The Defense Ministry has already started informal discussions with companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., which builds destroyers for the MSDF. The ministry is ready to fully discuss the issue based on the Australian government’s movements.

The ministry is considering using the MSDF’s Mogami-class destroyer, the first of which entered service in 2022, as a base for developing the frigate, and then adding any facilities and functions required by the Australian government. Mogami-class ships can be operated with a crew of about 90, half as many as similar conventional ships, due to the consolidation of onboard systems and other reasons. These vessels also have minesweeping capabilities that do not exist on conventional destroyers. The ministry believes that these features could offer high versatility, a point that Australia focuses on.

China has been increasing its activities in the East and South China Seas. Under such circumstances, Japan jointly developing frigates with Australia would enhance mutual operations and act as a deterrence against China. It is also expected to bring economic benefits to the domestic defense industry.

Japan failed in its bid to jointly develop next-generation submarines for the Australian government in 2016. Spain and South Korea, on the other hand, have previously been 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 carefully monitor the moves of the three rival countries and their proposals.

Exporting defense equipment to partner countries in international joint development projects is allowed under the Implementation Guidelines for the Three Principles on 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 next-generation fighter jets, which Japan will jointly develop with Britain and Italy, to such third parties.