SINGAPORE Feb 16 Singapore hosted
military brass from across Asia this week at the region's
biggest arms and aerospace bazaar, almost 70 years to the day
since it fell to Japanese forces sweeping across Southeast Asia
during World War Two.
Japan has since become allied with most other Asian nations.
It is now China which is the behemoth others are eyeing with
And bigger defence budgets, means sales of fighters, weapons
and other tools of death and destruction are higher than ever
At the Singapore Airshow, salesmen in business suits
escorted visitors in the sweltering heat to mock-ups of the
world's most advanced jet fighters, helicopters and transport
aircraft parked on a tarmac. Nearby, inside a vast
air-conditioned hangar, state-of-the-art radar and surveillance
equipment were exhibited and deals for missile systems were
Interest is shifting away from ground weapons like tanks and
guns, analysts said, to jet fighters, maritime patrol aircraft,
radar and in some cases submarines.
Asia's mostly littoral nations are less concerned now with
old neighbourhood rivalries, focusing more on the need for force
projection across seas, analysts said.
For many, a resurgent China is the main threat.
"Other than India-Pakistan and the Korean
peninsula, the contested spaces in Asia are maritime spaces,
particularly the South China Sea," said Andrew Davies, a
programme director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
"The vulnerabilities that countries feel are often maritime
as well because of the dependence on energy supplies being
shipped in by sea.
China's aggressive pursuit of claims to islands in the South
China Sea is causing much concern in the region. Taiwan,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei also have claims
and the row is seen as the biggest security threat in Asia.
According to IHS Jane's DS Forecasts, East Asia's spending
on military aircraft will soar to $24.3 billion in 2015 from
$15.9 billion this year. Expenditure on ground forces and
traditional land weapons will grow only to $13.1 billion from
Expenditure on navies will be mostly flat at $12 billion,
although spending on submarines will jump to $3.1 billion from
The forecast includes China, Japan, the Koreas and the
Southeast Asian nations.
Within three years, China's defence expenditure would exceed
the combined spending of all other major countries in Asia,
according to IHS Jane's.
While all major Asian nations are forecast to increase
spending on defence, China's military budget will double to
$238.20 billion by 2015 from $119.80 billion last year, growing
about 18.75 percent per annum.
That pales in comparison to the proposed base U.S. defence
budget of $525.40 billion for 2013, but the United States is
cutting back, and the latest figure is about $5.1 billion less
than approved in 2012.
NOT AN ARMS RACE
Analysts, however, say the surge in military expenditure is
not an arms race, because most countries are spending less on
defence as a proportion of GDP. But economic growth is strong
across much of the region, and the dollar expenditure on defence
is definitely on the up.
That is good news for Western arms manufacturers, among the
world's biggest companies, who are reeling from shrinking
defence budgets and the economic slowdown in the West.
"It is our biggest market right now," said Tim Carey, a
vice-president at Raytheon Corp, one of the biggest U.S.
defence contractors, said of the Asia-Pacific.
Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's biggest supplier,
and Boeing's defence division each expect the
Asia-Pacific to contribute about 40 percent of international
revenues. Between them, the two companies wholly or partly
manufacture everything from aircraft, ships, submarines and
weapons systems to radar, frigates, satellites and space
Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the F-35, the world's
most advanced fighter jet, and Boeing, the maker of the F/A-18
Super Hornet, are among those hoping to cash in on the region's
demand for military aircraft.
South Korea is likely to award a contract for up to 60
fighters by mid-year while Malaysia is also looking to buy up to
India, which announced earlier this month that France's
Dassault Aviation was the preferred bidder for 126
fighters, could be in the market for additional planes,
especially a variant that can be used on the aircraft carriers
it is planning.
"Everybody is going to upgrade their air forces," said
Richard Kirkland, a vice-president at Lockheed Martin.
"(What countries require is) an increased ability to say I
want to know what is going on in the sea-lanes. And so manned
and unmanned reconnaissance platforms and probably a growing
awareness that undersea threats can pose a problem for stability
"Information awareness, the ability to communicate that,
what is going on the oceans and what is going on undersea, that
is the trend."
Lockheed also sees Asia as the place to sell its Aegis naval
combat systems, sensors and satellite equipment. Boeing is
looking to hawk its AH-6 helicopter gunships and P8 series of
maritime patrol aircraft.
"The maritime environment in the Pacific has everybody's
attention," said Jeff Kohler, a vice-president at Boeing
Defence. "There are several countries that have asked the U.S.
Navy and Boeing for demonstrations of the P8. Given the expanse
of ocean and ranges, it's an ideal platform to have."
Carey, the Raytheon executive, said he expected orders for
100 new maritime patrol aircraft in the region within the next
three to five years, compared to about 1,000 in operation
"To see a 10 percent replacement in the short-term is very
significant," he said. "In this region, maritime surveillance is
being actively looked at by almost every government."
It's not just threat perceptions that are driving weapons
As Asian nations become more prosperous, they have more
money to spend on defence, and internal security threats begin
to dwindle, analysts say. Their vision of themselves begins to
change, and then, so do their arms purchases.
"As they start looking outwards and they have more money,
all of a sudden things like high performance aircraft and naval
platforms start to become attractive for them," said Davies at
the Australian Institute.
"Even in the absence of a regularly identified security
threat, they will probably be doing that anyway because that's
what countries do. It's part of being seen to be a successful
country to have a sophisticated military, I think it's a
perception that is what successful countries do.
In Asia, other than China, India is seen as the country to
watch in defence purchases as it plans to spend $100 billion on
weapons over the next decade. That is of immediate concern to
old enemy Pakistan, but also a factor for other countries in the
What excites arms manufacturers is that India faces a varied
landscape of defence needs -- insurgencies, a tense border with
Pakistan, high-altitude skirmishes in the Himalayas, a need for
air defence and its intention to have a blue-water navy to rival
"There is almost certainly an element of competition there,"
"China and India are not fans of one another but there's
also that both countries are going from short-range land-based
militaries to more strategic forces.
"India and China both have global naval aspirations, nuclear
submarines and aircraft carriers."
India, which plans to put three aircraft carriers into
operation by 2017, took delivery of its first of six planned
nuclear submarines earlier this year. China has more than 60
submarines and commissioned its first carrier last year.
Elsewhere in Asia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have
submarines, and Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are eyeing
China is also seen as a threat in cyber-warfare,
participants at the airshow said. Indeed, cyber-security is seen
as a big growth area for defence contractors and in the region
Japan particularly is seen as spending considerable amounts on
"Information security, protection of data, is at the
forefront of every company, and every nation, and we are
actively involved in helping governments particularly set up
systems to protect their information technology," said Kirkland
at Lockheed Martin.
"The interesting thing about protection of cyber-information
is that there are no boundaries," he added. "If you look at the
top five or six major things that Lockheed is thinking about,
information technology and the protection of that is
Ultimately, countries looking to at least militarily match
China in the region will have to rely on the United States and
its huge Pacific command.
"The name of the game for the U.S. is the ability to project
force," Kirkland said. "The name of the game for some of our
allies is the ability to share in a joint operation to maintain
stability and their economic security zone. It's the marriage of
the capabilities between the nations that will then keep the
That has implications for military equipment, he said.
"The key is the ability to integrate what you have and what
I have so that we can operate together."
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)