Vietnam looks to Japan for anti-submarine aircraft

By The Diplomat, The Nikkei Asian Review    June 28, 2016 | 02:20 pm GMT+7

Vietnam is looking to strengthen its military muscle and Japan has emerged as a potential supplier. The Nikkei Asian Review cited a Japanese official as saying that the Vietnamese navy has informally asked to buy second-hand anti-submarine aircraft.

Vietnam has long wanted anti-submarine aircraft, and many experts predicted it would buy them from the U.S. following the lifting of the arms embargo on the Southeast Asian country. However, the problem is the hefty price tag that goes with U.S. defense gear. As an alternative, Vietnam is turning to Japan for cheaper second-hand aircraft.

But money is not the only reason why Vietnam is turning to Japan. Politically, Vietnam may feel more comfortable with the Japanese option as the two country have built an extensive strategic partnership in recent years amid rising tensions in the South China Sea (Vietnam's East Sea). Shortly after the 2014 oil rig stand-off, Japan and Vietnam announced a 500 million yen deal for six maritime surveillance vessels. Earlier this year, Japanese warships made their first-ever visit to Vietnam’s deep-water Cam Ranh Bay port, one of the most strategically important bays in Asia.

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A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ship makes a rare call in May at Cam Ranh Bay, one of the most strategically important bays in Asia. Photo courtesy of the Japanese Ministry of Defense.

The Nikkei Asian Review reports that Hanoi is considering the purchase of second-hand Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C surveillance anti-submarine aircraft. While there are no specifics on the costs for an old MSDF P-3C, a brand-new aircraft would cost around $80 million, according to the Diplomat.

Japan has been replacing the propeller-driven P-3C planes with the cutting-edge P-1 maritime patrol jets since 2013, according to the Nikkei Asian Review, so there will be more second-hand P-3C aircrafts available for Vietnam to buy.

In addition, Vietnam hopes to receive training along with the delivery of the aircraft. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is considered to be one of the most capable operators of the P-3C aircraft in the world, and Vietnam might find it easier to learn from Japan with which it has political and economic ties.

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A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C anti-submarine patrol aircraft sits on Palawan Island in the western Philippines near the disputed Spratly Islands in June 2015. Photo by Reuters.

Vietnam has received the fifth of its six Kilo-class submarines on order from Russia since 2015 and, more significantly, its efforts to convince the United States to lift its long-standing embargo on lethal arms exports came to fruition last month when U.S. President Barack Obama visited the country and announced a full lifting of the embargo.

Reuters reports that Vietnam is expected to ask Lockheed Martin for formal pricing and availability data on four to six second-hand U.S. Navy P-3 Orions in the next few months.

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