Why Beijing’s rising maritime clout calls for a joint India-Japan nuclear submarine project

Source– The post is based on the article “Why Beijing’s rising maritime clout calls for a joint India-Japan nuclear submarine project” published in The Indian Express on 23rd December 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

Relevance– Indo-Japan defence cooperation

News– The article explains the need for Indo-Japan cooperation on nuclear submarines.

What led to the formation of AUKUS?

It was most probably caused by a perception in Washington that Canberra was a more reliable ally against Beijing than New Delhi. The perception was probably caused by the Indian hesitancy to agree to even minimally militarise the QUAD from a purely diplomatic grouping to a more military alignment.

What are the limitations of nuclear submarines operated by India?

There is a misperception that all nuclear submarines are similar. They are not. Only the US and the UK operate nuclear submarines with a fuel core of 95% enrichment. It can give the propulsion unit enormous power over the 35-year lifespan of the submarine.

Compared to this, other submarines have a core of low-enriched uranium. It gives them a limited life of fewer than 10 years at a moderate operating tempo. A US or British nuclear submarine has huge reserve power to operate for a long period of time and travel at long distances.

Why does India need Japan’s cooperation on nuclear submarines?

Repeated attempts by India to access US nuclear submarine technology have been refused on the grounds of US naval opposition.

Japan is the only Asian power that has the capacity to build a naval propulsion reactor. In fact, Mitsubishi and Hitachi are about to launch a new generation of nuclear power reactors to attain carbon zero by 2050.

The model for a multinational defence project like an Indo-Japan nuclear submarine would obviously be the Euro fighter Tornado aircraft project. The multinational consortium consists of the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.

What can be the implications of Indo-Japan cooperation for building nuclear submarines?

The Indian naval products and its limitations will determine Indian naval strategy. Today, the Chinese operate an overseas base in Djibouti. If India had reoriented its military grand strategy from defensive territoriality to an offensive oceanic one, the Chinese base in Djibouti would not exist for more than 72 hours.

An Indian nuclear submarine with an Indian low-enriched uranium core will force into a cautious, timid and conservative maritime strategy. It is because of the submarine’s extremely limited operating profile.

An Indo-Japanese nuclear submarine project with both countries operating nuclear submarines in the South China sea  would act as a deterrence to China.

What is the way forward?

We need to put Atma Nirbhar aside and do an Asian multilateral nuclear submarine project.

The Indian Navy’s excellent design organisation can provide the drawings for the submarine. Mitsubishi or Hitachi can manufacture the propulsion reactor.

The whole project can be managed by an inter-governmental group probably led by the Controller of Warship Building in New Delhi.

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