19 March 2016
The French contender for the navy’s submarine contract has attacked its Japanese rival, warning that crucial battery technology might prove too dangerous to use and could leave Australia without a submarine force.
As competition intensifies for the $50 billion-plus international contract for the navy’s submarines, the French have made a “gloves off” attack on Japan’s bid, saying it could have disastrous consequences for Australia.
Senior executives from French company DCNS told The Weekend Australian that battery technology developed to extend the range of Japan’s Soryu submarine was being rushed.
The French have been angered by a Japanese assertion the French plan to build a diesel electric version of their nuclear-powered Barracuda attack submarine, to be called the Shortfin Barracuda, would be extremely difficult and by claims the US was strongly backing Japan.
DCNS president Herve Guillou and deputy chief executive Marie-Pierre de Bailliencourt said if Australia did opt for a Japanese design it could end up with a strategic relationship with Tokyo, but no submarine.
The strategic partnership with Japan was held up as a key factor in the choice of submarine but it could turn into a trap, Mr Guillou said.
By going with Japan, Australia would risk antagonising China, which could perceive that as part of a containment strategy, Ms de Bailliencourt said.
“You start wars through perceptions,” she said.
The claims are strongly rejected by Japan, which insists that it is developing a form of the energy-efficient lithium-ion battery that can be safely used in its submarines without the risk of fires that have erupted in such batteries used in hobby equipment, cars and aircraft.
Japan is offering Australia an evolved version of its stealthy and deep-diving Soryu, or Blue Dragon, submarine with its length extended by 6m to 8m so that it can carry additional batteries and fuel required to significantly extend its range to meet Australia’s needs.
A key to this plan is the replacement of traditional lead acid batteries with lithium ion batteries, which are about four times more efficient.
Japan says it has removed the risk of its lithium ion batteries catching fire, which would be disastrous in a submarine.
Ms de Bailliencourt said no one had yet come close to mastering lithium-ion battery technology for submarines and she felt Japan was rushing it to give its submarine the range Australia needed.
“The Australians have asked us for proven and safe technology. It must be safe for the submariners, for the project and cost wise.”