Japan: The Proactive Power from a Reluctant Power

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One of the biggest news stories of this year—both in terms of military-technological cooperation and in the geopolitical sense— seemingly appeared out of the blue last week. The U.S., Australia and the UK set up what was dubbed AUKUS, a military and political grouping, whose first publicly stated goal is to be the building of atomic submarines for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Throughout the last decade, Australia has been actively seeking to modernize and re-equip its Defence Force as well as strengthen its military ties with the U.S. This, however, is not common knowledge in Russia, as the Green Continent is a place remote from other regions that are typically of interest to the general public. But the importance of what happened on September, 15 can hardly be overestimated. Perhaps, it will come to be a historic milestone for the Indo-Pacific region and the new Cold War, now waged between Washington and Beijing. Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, the leaders of the U.S., the UK and Australia, made a joint statement where they announced a new security partnership between their countries, sharing their commitment to a rules-based order as well as to closer diplomatic and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Under AUKUS, they are planning to openly share information and technology, “bringing together sailors, scientists and industries to maintain and expand [their] edge in military capabilities and critical technologies.” This means that Australia has now gained the same level of U.S. trust as the UK, now forming part of the “inner circle” within the “Five Eyes” alliance, whose exclusiveness has made many U.S. allies jealous.

The U.S. has not shared its technologies for building nuclear submarines with any nation but the UK. A parallel can be drawn here with the US–UK Mutual Defense Agreement of 1958 and the 1962 Nassau Agreement, under which Washington was to support London in developing nuclear technology for military purposes, such as submarines, and to sell “Polaris” missiles. As in the 1960s, when the U.S. boosted its military potential and ties with its Atlantic ally to counter the Soviet Union in the Cold War, today’s America is willing to support its key ally in the Pacific as the confrontation with China grows. The UK’s part in this cooperation is definitely minor; however, it is still useful for the United States to support Global Britain’s interest in the Indo-Pacific. In return, London might receive a good piece of the pie for its national military-industrial complex and shipbuilding, which Boris Johnson pledged to support. At least, a separate statement by Mr. Johnson mentions the creation of “hundreds of highly skilled jobs.”

Australia is not afraid, Australia is focusing

Despite its geographical remoteness from the usual centers of historical events, Australia has a short but worthy military history. The Australians fought bravely alongside their mother country, Britain, in both World Wars. The participation by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the First World War is considered a key national event, while Anzac Day is one of the most important public holidays. World War II contributed to a close rapprochement between Australia and the United States, which ousted Great Britain as its main ally. Besides, the U.S. never had the controversial status of a metropole, being seen instead as protector and savior from the Japanese invasion.

In the wake of World War II, Australia actively participated in many local wars alongside the United States—not only in the widely supported Korean War of 1950–1953 but also in Vietnam throughout 1964–1975. Interestingly enough, the Australian Army and Air Force took part in the invasions of Iraq (operation “Desert Storm” in 1991 and the war in 2003). While buffs in contemporary military history would assure you that only Great Britain deployed troops alongside the United States, Australia, although in shadow, was there as well. Of course, the Australian military has actively been involved in the war in Afghanistan and operations against ISIS [1] in Iraq and Syria.

In recent decades, Canberra has evidently put its military expenditures on the increase—apparently, owing to the growing tensions in the region and the emerging Cold War between the United States and China. A growing need for qualitative and quantitative renewal and strengthening of the Defence Forces was persistently stated in the Defence White Papers of 2009, 2016 and 2020. It seems as if Australia would rather stay out of the Sino-American conflict (China is its main trade partner) but military and political cooperation with the U.S. is almost existential to Australia. Nor can Washington grant extensive freedom of choices to its “junior partner” given the obviously great geostrategic importance of the Green Continent as a rear military base for the Navy and Air Force.

A mere list of Australia’s military purchases might be a good illustration here. In 2007, it signed a contract that provided for Spain to build two Canberra-class LHDs able to carry F-35B short take-off aircraft [2] as well as three Hobart-class destroyers [3]. Spain has long been Australia’s most important partner in upgrading the Navy: in 2016, the Spanish Cantabria was chosen as a prototype for Australia’s new replenishment oiler, with the first of the two Supply-class oilers put into service in April this year. The situation has recently changed: the British ВАE Systems received an important contract to build nine City-class frigates for the Australian Navy, taking over from the Spanish. The Australian variant, the Hunter-class frigate, has a bigger draft and greater compatibility with the weapon systems of the U.S. Navy [4] . The Australian preference for the Hunter-class was a big win for Britain’s military shipbuilding and the most impressive export contract in decades, which has probably weighed with Canada’s choice as they now intend to build 15 such ships. Moreover, it was an obvious example of how the British-Australian ties are gaining in strength.

Germany and the U.S. are Australia’s key partners for the Australian Army. In 2018, the Rheinmetall Boxer CRV multirole combat reconnaissance vehicle was chosen over the competition—this may well be the heaviest and one of the most expensive armored vehicles today. The Australian configuration is equipped with a weapons system quite worthy of a modern infantry combat vehicle as well as with an active protection system, enjoying a combat weight (38.5 tons) close to that of the main tanks. In 2022, a future infantry combat vehicle will be chosen, the main options being the Rheinmetall KF41 “Lynx” (a most “premium” IFV currently available on the market, which also stands a good chance in the States) and the South Korean AS21 “Redback”. It is planned to purchase 450 vehicles. Although it may seem somewhat of a surprise that the Korean vehicle has reached the final, they are far from underdogs: in 2020, the К9 “Thunder” won a tender to supply 30 self-propelled artillery weapons, replacing the popular German PzH 2000. The Americans retain the heaviest segment of the Australian army’s weapons systems (in fact, they surprisingly have certain difficulties with the segments mentioned earlier). In 2006, Canberra acquired 59 M1A1 “Abrams” main tanks from the U.S., while this April saw the U.S. regulatory authorities approve their replacement with the latest M1A2C vehicles with a capacity increased to 75.

Partnership with the United States in the field of aviation is somewhat traditional. In 2007, purchase contracts were signed for 24 Boeing F/A-18F “Super Hornet” multirole fighter aircraft, while the Australians—rather than re-equip half the force into EA-18G “Growler” electronic warfare and air defense suppression aircraft—decided in 2014 to purchase 12 such aircraft separately. The country is one of the biggest customers of American fifth-generation F-35A fighters, with a total of 72 up to 100 aircraft to be purchased, 41 of which are ready. The Italian-American C-27J “Spartan” tactical transport aircraft were purchased via the United States and, from the early 2000s to the first half of the 2010s, strategic Boeing C-17 “Globemaster III” transporter aircraft were purchased, bringing their number to eight. In January 2021, the latest modification…

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