IMDEX Shows Buoyancy in Asian Naval Market
By Wendell Minnick
SINGAPORE - Asian naval markets may be more resilient in today's tough economic times than European and U.S. defense budgets, at least to judge by activity at the International Maritime Defense Exhibition (IMDEX), held here May 12-14.
Naval shipbuilding in the region is expected to total $25 billion over the next two years, and $60 billion over five years, with China, Japan and South Korea leading the market, said Bob Nugent, AMI's vice president for advisory services and a consultant to IMDEX.
Nugent also said navies are buying larger ships - corvettes, frigates and multipurpose amphibious ships - and cited programs planned or underway by Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
He said piracy in Southeast Asian waters has galvanized a "renewed focus by regional navies on acquiring maritime security capabilities - patrol craft, radar, aircraft, unmanned vehicles - to enhance maritime security."
At IMDEX, Singapore's ST Engineering Marine drew much attention for its new navy vessels, including a new 120-ton Fast Craft Mechanised vessel for amphibious transport of vehicles and troops.
"We have not built a prototype yet" and are waiting on orders, an ST Engineering representative said. "This is an expanded version of the 23-meter Fast Craft Utility," she said.
ST Engineering recently signed agreements for joint ventures with French shipbuilder DCNS and Swedish submarine builder Kockums.
U.S. companies made a strong showing at the exhibition: L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Sikorsky.
Lockheed and Sikorsky gave briefings on the new MH-60R Seahawk multimission helicopter, for which Lockheed handles system integration.
"These helicopters are the best force-multipliers to date," said Lockheed's Ric Rushton. The Romeo can be outfitted for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, vertical replenishment, naval surface fire support, communications relay, Medevac and more. Lockheed said both Australia and India have expressed interest in the MH-60R variant.
Still, European companies outnumbered American ones, with France, Germany, Sweden and the U.K. vying for deals.
French-based DCNS and Singapore Technologies Marine agreed May 13 to set up a joint venture to support the Singapore Navy's six Formidable-class frigates.
"This MoU reflects DCNS' determination to forge a stronger partnership with ST Marine and to work closely over the long term with the Republic of Singapore Navy to provide them with the highest performance services," said DCNS Bernard Planchais, chief operation officer.
DCNS built the frigates with ST Engineering Marine.
KOCKUMS' SINGAPORE PACT
Sweden-based Kockums, a company of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, will form a joint venture with ST Engineering Marine to offer technical and maintenance support for Singapore's submarines.
"We have long co-operation with ST Marine in a number of different ways, and we have always appreciated the contact. We now look forward to extending this cooperation," Kockums CEO Jan-Olof Johansson said.
Kockums also announced that the Japanese shipyard Universal Shipbuilding Corp. will license the Swedish firm's glass-reinforced-plastic sandwich technology for use in the hulls of mine countermeasure vessels.
Senior officials from the Royal Navy and United Kingdom Trade & Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) attended this year's IMDEX in force.
"I am aware of the strong and important defense and security links between the U.K. and Singapore and I am keen to see how we can work even closer and learn from each other," said Keith Smith, UKTI DSO's regional director in Asia.
"An example of this cooperation in the defense sector was the purchase by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence in December of ... Bronco vehicles from Singapore Technologies to provide enhanced protection to British troops in Afghanistan."
Sweden's Saab Aerospace is pushing the Saab 2000 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and the 2000 Airtracer signals intelligence aircraft in the Asian market, said Tommy Hultin, Saab's aircraft business director. Hultin said Malaysia has expressed an interest in the Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C.
Saab's Asian sales include four Saab 340 Maritime Security Aircraft to Japan's coast guard in the 1990s, and Thailand's purchase in 2007 of 12 Gripen multirole fighters and two Saab Erieyes for $1.1 billion.