Japan Import and Export Behavior


Though Japan's modern submarine fleet was designed and produced almost entirely domestically, much of Imperial Japan's submarine fleet was obtained through imports. The first of these imports came from the United States in 1905, when the Japanese Navy purchased five Holland-class submarines from the American shipbuilder, Electric Boat. [1] That same year, in a move that characterized much of Japan's early submarine procurement, the Japanese shipbuilder Kawasaki Dockside purchased the Holland-class design directly from Holland and hired two American engineers to help construct what ultimately became Japan's No. 6 and No. 7 submarines. [2] These first seven submarines were complimented by the direct purchase of a number of vessels from the British and the French, as well as licensed production of both British and Italian designs.

The most important factor in Japan's eventual independence in submarine design was its acquisition of German submarines as reparations following World War I. [3] The reparations only included seven submarines; however, as German submarines were considered the most technologically advanced in the world at that time, their acquisition was pivotal in paving the way for Japan's eventually impressive Imperial submarine fleet. Moreover, following World War I, several hundred German submarine designers, technicians and former officers were sent to Japan under contract to assist with Japan's submarine program. [4] Following that rapid jump in Japanese submarine development, Japan was able to initiate its own submarine design and production infrastructure, which ultimately became one of the most advanced in the world. In a few isolated cases, Japan has imported more contemporary technologies, such as the license to produce the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system designed by the Kockums Company in Sweden. [5]


Despite Japan's advanced submarine design and production capabilities, it does not currently export submarine technology. This is largely due to legislation adopted following World War II, which forbid exports of military technology. However, as tensions have risen in East Asia, particularly vis-à-vis China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe relaxed the law in April 2014 to allow exports of military equipment and technology to allies and partners, provided Japanese permission is obtained for re-export. [6] There is discussion of a possible sale to Australia of a Soryu-class submarine from Japan, including AIP technology. [7]

[1] James Delgado, Silent Killers: Submarines and Underwater Warfare, (Osprey Publishing, 2011), 118.
[2] "History: Kawasaki Yoake Project" Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Accessed: 26 June 2014, www.khi.co.jp.
[3] Mark Stille, Imperial Japanese Navy Submarines 1941-1945, (Oxford, Great Britain: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 3.
[4] Mark Stille, Imperial Japanese Navy Submarines 1941-1945, (Oxford, Great Britain: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 3.
[5] "Kockums Stirling AIP System," Kockums, Accessed: 26 June 2014, www.kockums.se.
[6] Martin Fackler, "Japan Ends Decades-Long Ban on Export of Weapons," New York Times, 1 April 2014, www.nytimes.com.
[7] Tim Kelly and Matt Siegel, "Japan & Australia consider submarine deal that could rattle China," Reuters, 2 May 2014, www.reuters.com.

June 30, 2014
Table of Contents:

The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. It is structured on a country-by-country basis, with each country profile consisting of information on capabilities, imports and exports.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2019.