On January 23, Japan and Australia signed an agreement to enhance strategic capabilities in robotic and autonomous systems for undersea warfare.
This project is the first under a bilateral research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) arrangement signed in June 2023.
The research project will contribute to strategic capabilities in undersea communication and interoperability between Japan and Australia.
Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist, Professor Tanya Monro, said, “By partnering, we deliver science and technology outcomes that we cannot achieve alone.”
Japan has been researching and developing Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV), which enables long-term undersea warning surveillance and long-range transportation of underwater apparatus, and Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV), which can launch anti-ship missiles.
In 2022, Japan and Australia updated the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.
Vice-President of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and former prime minister, Aso Taro, gave a speech at a conference hosted by the Australian capital of Canberra on November 13, 2023.
He claimed that Japan should be added to the AUKUS framework, a security partnership between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. And he advocated establishing a group called ” JAUKUS.”
He explained as “his personal idea” that outdated Australian submarines must be replaced urgently, and Japan could contribute to it. Also, JAUKUS would send a message to deter China.
AUKUS has two related lines of effort.
“Pillar I” is to provide Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability, and “Pillar II” is to develop joint advanced military capabilities, including undersea capabilities.
The Japanese government hasn’t expressed its intention to join AUKUS.
On June 19, 2022, Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida showed a prudent attitude and said that defense capacity should be strengthened in the harsh security environment. Still, he didn’t think developing or obtaining a nuclear-powered submarine was good.
Also, AUKUS wasn’t mentioned in Japan’s National Security Strategy, which the Cabinet decided in December 2022.
On April 12, 2022, the Sankei newspaper reported that the U.S., the U.K., and Australia were sounding Japan out unofficially about joining AUKUS. But the next day, then Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno denied that ” There is no such fact.”
One reason Japan is far from supporting its participation in AUKUS is that the Japanese Atomic Energy Basic Act limits nuclear energy research, development, and utilization to peaceful purposes.
However, Japan is researching hi-tech, military technology-related capabilities listed in AUKUS’s Pillar II, such as quantum technology, artificial intelligence technology, cyber defense systems, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities, electronic warfare, and, as mentioned above, undersea warfare.
Furthermore, Japan has reached an agreement with the U.S. on jointly developing AI for uncrewed vehicles, which supports the next-generation fighter jet, planned to be co-developed by Japan, the U.K., and Italy, and on developing counter-hypersonic interceptor missiles.
Also, Japan and the U.S. discuss the deployment of the Multi Domain Task Force (MDTF), which has compound strategic capabilities such as missile attack, cyber, space, electronic warfare, and so on.
Moreover, Japan is progressing legislation on “Information Sharing,” listed in Pillar II’s Advanced Capabilities.
The Security Clearance Law, which aims to prevent the leakage of governmental secret information on advanced capability, is to be submitted to the Diet and aimed at being passed within 2024.
The law enables the government to designate government-owned significant information on security, conduct a background check on those who need to access the information, and then judge whether they are qualified.
If they leak the information, the penalty is up to ten years in prison.
The Japanese Federation Bar Association shows fears of violation of human rights to know and to privacy.
The Japanese government revised ” The Three Principles on Transfer of Defense and Technology” on December 22, 2023.
This principle enables the Japanese government to export lethal weapons and ammunition if it meets the necessary conditions. This revision is considered a significant turning point in post-WWII Japanese policy.
These agreements establish particular procedures between Japan and Australia, and Japan and the U.K., for the corporative activities conducted by the defense force of one country while visiting the other country and define the status of the visiting force.
Thus, these RAAs are considered to facilitate the implementation of cooperative activity between the defense forces of each country and further promote bilateral security and defense cooperation.
Presumably, the Japanese government is unlikely to obtain or develop nuclear-powered submarines. Still, it will progress in each field of cooperation, including developing and providing joint advanced military capabilities.
It may suggest that there is a framework called “JAUKUS.”
Reiho Takeuchi is a freelance journalist whose work focuses on Japan and the Asia Pacific. He studied international politics at college. He writes at Substack.