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Pacific Underwater Racing

Japan and China are increasing fleets of submarines

Unlike Western countries, in Japan, a newly built vessel, when launched, receives the blessing of breaking vodka and sake on board the bottle of not champagne, but rice. October 4 in the city of Kobe, the center of Japanese submarine shipbuilding, this rite was "Oryu" - Japan's first submarine working on lithium-ion batteries. 84-meter "Oryu" was launched at the shipyard shipyard shipyard - Kobe Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The submarine can reach speeds up to 20 knots and has a displacement of 2950 tons. It will be delivered to the Japanese Naval Self-Defense Forces in March 2020.

Pacific Underwater Racing
Photo: Australian Ministry of Defense

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
Oryu is already the eleventh litter-class eleventh submarine in Japan. Litter, which began construction in 2005, is one of the largest and most silent diesel-electric submarines in the world. But Oryu is a greatly updated version of Littering. The biggest change in the new boat was the replacement of lead-acid batteries with lithium-ion batteries. Mitsubishi Heavy ordered these batteries from GS Yuasa. Their capacity is twice the capacity of previous batteries. They are charged with electricity produced by Oryu diesel engines. The vessel switches to batteries during operations and real combat operations in order to turn off the engines and become unobtrusive to the enemy. Lithium-ion batteries radically expand the range and time the submarine is underwater.

Hoping for the most advanced tactical and technical data of the Soryu submarines, the government of Shinzo Abe hoped to sell them to Australia, which in recent years has also radically updated its submarine fleet. However, Canberra, guided by its own motives, decided to acquire French submarines in 2016 year, which caused great disappointment to Tokyo. The feeling was reinforced by the fact that in recent years, Japan and Australia have noticeably strengthened military cooperation with the anti-Chinese background.

The development and commissioning of the newest Japanese submarine reflects the competitive strengthening by Japan and China of their naval capabilities in the face of growing confrontation in the vast Pacific and, above all, in the East China and South China Seas. At the same time, both countries significantly intensified the activities of their submarines. So, in January of this year, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces discovered a Chinese submarine in a submerged position near a group of uninhabited Iskaku islands in the East China Sea. Beijing regards them as its Diaoyu Islands and demands their return. And in September, for the first time, Tokyo announced the holding of its naval underwater exercises in the South China Sea, for which China pretends to a large part of the water area, despite the fact that Japan does not border this sea.

These exercises were the “Japanese response” to China’s participation in naval exercises conducted by Russia in the Sea of ​​Japan last year. Last September, Japan closely followed the movement of 28 Russian warships, which entered the Sea of ​​Japan from the Sea of ​​Okhotsk. The attention of its experts, in particular, was attracted by the presence in the group of the search and rescue vessel "Igor Belousov", intended to assist the distressed submarines. According to experts, the rescue of submarines is an area over which the Chinese have been working hard lately, aware that they are lagging behind the US Navy and the Japanese Naval Self-Defense Forces in this regard. "There is a chance that the Chinese military will send submarines to the Sea of ​​Japan to train with the Russians, or that they will do it in the near future," the Nikkei newspaper quoted an assumption of a source familiar with Japan’s national security issues. The mouthpiece of Japanese business circles notes that after China was denied an invitation to the international naval exercises Rimpac (Pacific War Games led by America) at the beginning of this year, Beijing was looking for ways to access submarine rescue methods from other countries.

In this regard, Russia is a natural partner for China. At the end of September, China took part in the "East-2018" - the largest military maneuvers held in Russia since Soviet times. Around 3000 of the Chinese military, along with 900 units of military equipment, took part in exercises held in Transbaikalia. When Russia conducted naval exercises in the Sea of ​​Japan in September 2017, China also sent a search and rescue ship to participate in them. Therefore, Japanese experts believe that Beijing can send submarines to the same area for the purpose of further training from the Russian Navy.

According to Japanese experts, in spite of the fact that in modern naval strategies, aircraft carriers and invisible aircraft play the leading role, the true subjects of the “game change” in these strategies today are submarines. At the same time, these experts are confident that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces can with a high degree of reliability detect enemy submarines passing through straits close to the country. Although, they note, the Self-Defense Forces rarely demonstrate this capability, while maintaining their methods of tracking other people's submarines in secret.

Japanese experts also note that China is actively building aircraft carriers, but, they emphasize, they need escort submarines for effective combat operations. Submarines with ballistic missiles deployed by China in the South China Sea also require the protection of escort submarines. Cooperating with Russia, China instills in its submarine crews the skills to accompany and protect other warships.

According to Japanese estimates, the submarine fleet of the People's Republic of China, which has about 60 submarines, surpasses in size the Japanese fleet consisting of 22 submarines. But Japan is believed to retain significant superiority over China in managing submarines and conducting silent operations.

Taking an unusual step — announcing the holding of submarine war games in the South China Sea — Japan sends a clear signal to China and its neighbors: Chinese submarines will not go unpunished if any conflict breaks out in these explosive disputed waters. At the same time, Tokyo thereby demonstrated to its senior military ally, Washington, that it could play its part in deterring the United States from Chinese submarines in the indicated sea.

According to the Japanese strategists, in the race with Japan of submarine weapons, Beijing has long relied on quantity to compensate for the lag in quality. This suggests that the fleet of submarines of China will continue to grow. In addition, the Chinese attach great importance to the "strategy of asymmetry," deploying a large number of unmanned submarines. This will require Japan not only to develop advanced submarine technology, but also to increase the number of its submarines.

Currently, Japanese civil shipbuilding is experiencing the strongest competition from South Korea and China. In addition, ironically, the war industry of the Land of the Rising Sun as a whole does not allow their only military ally, the United States, to develop. They do not want to lose the huge Japanese market for military products. Moreover, US President Donald Trump directly demands that Tokyo dramatically increase purchases of American weapons in order to eliminate the huge deficit in bilateral trade.

As for military shipbuilding, Japan has the most advanced technologies and developed shipbuilding infrastructure. This is especially true for submarines. The aforementioned "Oryu" will be the last submarine of the class "Litter". Based on Oryu technology, Japan intends to build the next-generation submarines. As expected, they will have a displacement of more than 3 000 tons.

Given that not only Japan and China, but also both Koreas, as well as the countries of ASEAN and Australia, are rapidly developing their navies, especially underwater, we can confidently foresee a further increase in the arms race in the Asia-Pacific region. Only here such a race does not have a finish.
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