JAPAN - The Defence Ministry and the US Navy plan to launch joint research to develop an unmanned submarine capable of conducting undersea surveillance activities for 30 days, it has been learned.
Japan and the United States first intend to study high-performance fuel cells to be used for the envisaged submarine. They eventually aim to use the submarine to gather information on the Chinese Navy, which has increased efforts to modernize its submarines, according to sources.
The submarine that Japan and the United States are preparing to build is expected to be about 10 meters long and operate autonomously in a designated area for about 30 days. Undersea surveillance and information-gathering missions are expected to be carried out without submarine crew members. The two countries have no plans to make the submarine capable of assaults such as firing torpedos.
High-performance fuel cells that can last for a long period of time without using air hold the key to developing the submarine. The ministry plans to spend about ¥2.6 billion for the submarine project during a four-year period through fiscal 2018. It intends to select a contractor by the end of this fiscal year to start making a fuel cell prototype.
According to the ministry, it initially planned to develop such a submarine on its own, but the US Navy showed a strong interest in joint development. Japan and the United States then began discussions on the joint research for submarine development.
The two countries are expected to produce fuel cells that will generate power from an efficient reaction of hydrogen and oxygen. How to store as much hydrogen and oxygen as possible and make them react efficiently are major challenges for the development of the fuel cells.
In the United States, progress has been made in research on technology to store hydrogen. As Japanese firms have prowess in power-generating technology, the ministry has viewed collaboration with the United States in fuel cell development as advantageous.
In recent years, the Chinese Navy has strengthened its submarine capabilities, and its submarine operations have become remarkable in seas near Japan and the Pacific Ocean. Beijing's efforts have been significant, enabling its domestically developed submarines to operate quietly and remain underwater for a long period of time.