Opinion Op Ed 03 Jun 2019 It’s time for ...
The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College, and the author of China in India.

It’s time for India, Japan to tango

Published Jun 3, 2019, 1:49 am IST
Updated Jun 3, 2019, 1:49 am IST
Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu
 Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu

Japan’s ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu did well to highlight three critical issues in a recent article in an Indian newspaper — that Japan and India needed to “continue to team up”, that the “partnership between Japan and India carries increasing weight for the peace and prosperity of a wider region”, and that the two countries “will be true partners on the global stage”. The implication of the words “peace and prosperity of a wider region” is obvious — it clearly hints at the problems and tantrums created by an aspiring global power of the Far East. Thus, the emphasis is on “regional” — the wider region of Asia. The third point, relating to the “global stage”, is too transparent not to be commented upon and rather too relevant to be ignored. Ambassador Hiramatsu is spot on.

Diplomatic niceties and carefully crafted words aside, what attracts India is Japanese tenacity, technology and the smoothness with which Japan makes tonnes of money without recourse to rancour or recrimination. In fact, the Japanese are one of the sharpest and shrewdest brains so far — specially as far as maintenance, development and nurturing of trade, technology, transport, telecommunications and tradition are concerned. Japan’s (cartel-like) corporations, the Zaibatsu (the most powerful quad of Sumitomo, Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Yasuda), the Kambatsu (the bureaucracy before and under the Meiji Constitution of 1889), resemble the “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (with all, and for all) development, that has been there for more than 150 years since the beginning of the Meiji era of the mid-19th century.

But the area where India-Japan cooperation has to be deepened much more than today is in the sphere of bilateral and regional cooperation. The technology that is vital here is in naval ships and combat aircraft. Urgent action is needed due to time and cost overruns for our fighting ships and fighter aircraft. The Japanese (and the Chinese) usually take less than three years to build destroyers and frigates from “conception to commission”, which is virtually 25-30 per cent of the time taken by Indian shipyards.

Nevertheless, Japan is the only island nation to rise from the ashes like the Sphinx. Being one of the pioneer aircraft-carrier navies, with a tradition going back almost a century, India could consider actively exploring new avenues of technology development and effective end-use technology to meet the growing challenge posed by the Chinese PLA Navy which is floating, poaching and sniffing all around the Indian Ocean; and at times venturing too close to India’s core area of interest.

One can, therefore, try to have a glimpse of the salient features of both Indian and Japanese naval assets to plan ahead. India’s 4,104 nautical mile coastline is virtually 25 per cent of Japan’s 16,065 nautical miles; and 52 per cent of China’s 7,830 nautical mile shoreline.

Japan’s maritime self-defence force (Navy) today has in its inventory 20 submarines (India has 16); four helicopter carriers (India has one aircraft-carrier); 33 destroyers (India has 12); 10 frigates (India has 13) and two cruisers (India has none). Needless to say, each and every single Japanese vessel is state-of-the-art: possessing speed, range, endurance, armaments, defensive system, electronics warfare capability. Not that Indian naval assets are bad or inferior. Far from it. Thanks to the torch-bearer commanders of Free India’s flotilla who, from the very beginning, realised that no aspiring nation can afford to be a naval power without producing its own vessels. History too shows that a navy is never built in a day. Nor is a naval ship like a consumer good to be bought over the counter for cash.

Japanese technology does provide the basic desired level of confidence. You can just see the Japanese automobile production plants in India — from Honda to Toyota, Mitsubishi to Suzuki, Japan enjoys a robust reputation pertaining to the quality-durability of its product which gives consumer satisfaction, unlike Chinese goods.

I am convinced that there is a considerable expanding scope for Indo-Japanese joint ventures in the areas of combat aviation as well. India’s single-engine light combat aircraft (LCA) is essentially suited for tactical ground-attack or giving air cover to its ground forces in the battlefield. All along its 36-year “development-journey”, it had to cope with, and search for a suitable power plant. At the moment, though its GE-404-414 version appears to give the aircraft a robust 22,400-pound static thrust, this power does need augmentation as almost all single-engine fighters of the 21st century must be of at least 28,000-pound static thrust to make its performance effective against the enemy.

Japan, on the other hand, has already come up with its Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin (English name “Spirit”) “technology demonstrator” twin-engine fighter, as reported by Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 2018-2019: “potential stealth fighter; official launch announced 2007.” The “photo of a putative twin-jet configuration showed a design broadly similar to the US F-22 Raptor but dimensionally closer to Saab Gripen (Sweden).”

It is understood that Japan focused its efforts towards the development of the “advanced technology demonstrator” as a “step towards the production type for Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force” only after the United States refused to export its F-22. Today, the Japanese defence ministry is expected to decide whether “X-2 Shinshin” should be a “sixth-generation machine with 3i (informed, intelligent and instantaneous) concepts and counter-stealth capabilities”.

Japan and India can go into joint ventures for bilateral strengthening in several areas, and the concerns voiced and the suggestions made by Ambassador Hiramatsu must be responded to promptly. The key point he made revolves around Colombo-Delhi-Tokyo trilateral cooperation: “The most recent effort includes a joint collaboration with Sri Lanka to develop Colombo South Port and make it the shipping hub of the Indian Ocean.”

That is understandable. Colombo’s loss of its east coast port of Hambantota to the Chinese for 99 years must be a sore and sensitive issue in the island nation, as this definitely puts a question mark to the definition of sovereignty. Hence, the Indo-Japanese project has an added duty and responsibility to ensure that Colombo, in no way, gets hurt by New Delhi and Tokyo in the present port development project. The civilisational bond between India and Sri Lanka can be strengthened by another great civilisation from the land of the rising sun. It’s indeed time for India and Japan to tango.



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