By Fang Xiaozhi
As one of the first countries to develop and be equipped with submarines in the world, Japan is also one of the countries with the strongest conventional submarine technologies. As the important dominant equipment for Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, or JMSDF, submarines are always attached with special attention in Japan, whose technology research and development and production scale leads the world. Japan has researched, developed and equipped more than 50 conventional submarines of 9 levels during the past over 60 years, with abundant experience in research and development of submarines as well as operational applications.
In fact, as a vanquished country in the Second World War, Japan is not allowed to own a regular troop according to constitutional prescription. However, its self-defense forces cannot be underestimated. Especially, the maritime self-defense force owns various naval vessels of complete types and advanced performance, with an increasingly grown number and improved performance, as the important sea power in the Asia-Pacific region. At present, Japan owns nearly 20 diesel-electric submarines, in which the “Soryu-class” ones are the latest conventional ones since the 21st century, which are commonly regarded as the best conventional submarines in the world. This class of submarines is a collection of more than 60 years of Japanese submarine design experience after the Second World War, with various advanced technologies. They are the biggest and the most advanced conventional power attack submarines, with indicators as good as that of nuclear power submarines on many aspects, making Japan a well-deserved “great world power in submarines”.
Influenced by the US for a long time, Japan’s submarines are similar with those of America in design ideas and technologies. However, as time goes by, with constant development in new technologies, Japan seeks for its own features in submarine design; especially, it is now leading in new technology applications all over the world. In order to maintain the dominant position, Japan has paid great attention to updating submarines in recent years, with increasingly urgent demands on new types of submarines. According to an article on the Popular Mechanics website, a US monthly magazine, Japan has released the design concept scheme for the next generation of attack submarines with the serial No. of 29SS recently, which is “the quietest, most modern non-nuclear power submarines in the world”. According to the plan, 29SS will be developed between 2025 and 2028, and the first submarine is expected to be launched by around the year of 2031, to gradually replace the “Soryu-class” submarine in service. It will become the new main force of Japan’s conventional power submarine fleet in the future, and improve the overall standard of submarines in Japan to a new stage.
From the perspective of future development, with the continuous growth of comprehensive national strength, Japan is increasingly ambitious in military affairs, with the requirements for the performance of weapons and equipment becoming higher and higher. With constraints, Japan is finding new paths and seeking breakthroughs to play the “edge ball” of weapon research and development. Especially in terms of submarine research, development and deployment, Japan has had a profound plan by taking new type conventional submarines with higher situation awareness ability, better quietness and stronger attack ability as the general objective for the development of submarines in the future. It is an appropriate choice for Japan in current condition where it is difficult to develop nuclear power submarines and take the air supremacy over the open waters. Generally speaking, the research and development of a new generation of attack submarines is not only the countermeasure to face increasingly complicated maritime security challenges, but also an important measure for Japan to become a “military power” at the premise of breaking through restraints from the pacifist constitution. It might probably have a negative influence on regional security or disturb surrounding countries; in addition, it might even lead to a new round of “arms race”. Therefore, special attention needs to be paid in an active way.
(The author is a researcher at the BRI Institute of Strategy and International Security, Fudan University)