Thursday, February 11, 2010

Asian Procurements Continue Despite Economic Problems

Defense News


Asian Procurements Continue Despite Economic Problems


TAIPEI — As Asia-Pacific nations struggle to balance economic problems with continued demands on defense budgets, only China has shown a spending increase.

Debate surrounds what China actually spends on defense each year. Officially, the Chinese government claims it spent $63 billion in 2008, but U.S. government analysts suggest the figure is at least $90 billion.

Whatever the number, the Chinese government admits the budget has doubled since 2000. Double-digit growth over the past decade has led to a massive military modernization effort by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China is building new ships, submarines, fighter aircraft and missiles at such a rapid rate that regional neighbors are becoming nervous.

No one in Asia is more worried about China’s military modernization than Taiwan. Taipei is procuring Patriot PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles, P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. It wants to procure diesel submarines and F-16 fighters.

Despite ambitious procurement plans, the defense budget has been hit by economic problems. Taiwan’s legislature recently approved a $9.2 billion defense budget, down from 2009’s budget of $9.9 billion.

Japan has been hit hard by global economic turmoil but also experienced a major political reshuffle in 2009 that is shaking confidence in the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

In mid-2009, the left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) unseated the conservative Liberal Democratic Party after 55 years in power. Major arms purchases are on hold as the new government in Tokyo debates defense spending and the role of the military. The leadership has disturbed plans for new fighter aircraft and ballistic missile defense improvements.

The more radical elements of the DPJ have threatened to expel U.S. forces from Japan and have called for an end to Japan’s military modernization.

Despite DPJ plans to reduce defense spending, the defense budget was already beginning to fall. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), from 2002 to 2007 the average annual budget was $44 billion, but in 2008 it fell to $42 billion.

Though North and South Korea have not been at war since 1953, both sides continue to prepare for the unthinkable. North Korea’s nuclear program and missile launches continue to drive Seoul investments in new arms.

According to SIPRI, South Ko­rea’s defense budget numbers remain fairly steady, rising to $23.7 billion in 2008 from $22 billion in 2007.

Despite North Korean antics and saber rattling, it is the South that has the technological advantage on the battlefield. One has to look no further than the Air Force. Both the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle are vying for the F-X III contract. Under the F-X I/II program, Boeing sold 40 F­15K fighters to South Korea.

The KF-X program for the development and production of between 120 and 250 F-16-class fighters, with foreign technology support, is now stalled. Though the program is in limbo, Korean Aerospace Industries, with the assistance of Lockheed Martin, developed and produced the new T-50 Golden Eagle advanced jet trainer. The T-50 is competing against the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 for the Singapore Air Force’s advanced jet trainer competition.

Despite economic problems, Singapore’s defense spending remained steady in 2007 and 2008 at about $5.8 billion. Over the past 10 years, the Singapore Air Force has procured new F-15SG Strike Eagle fighters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. There are now tentative plans to procure F-35 fighters. The Singapore Navy also has modernized over the past decade, recently procuring six Formidable-class (La Fayette) frigates and two Archer-class submarines.

New Delhi has not forgotten the 1962 Sino-Indian War, and recent reports of PLA troop movement along the border have made India uncomfortable. Pakistan’s acquisi­tion of nuclear weapons and close relationship with China have also caused concerns in New Delhi.

India’s annual defense budget is about $29 billion and, over the past decade, has procured $50 billion worth of overseas arms and equipment. With 70 percent of its weapons needs met through imports, India is likely to ink contracts worth $30 billion in the next three to five years.

The Indian Air Force is likely to finalize the $10 billion Medium Range Multirole Combat Aircraft program in 2011, under which 126 fighters are to be bought. The contenders are the Boeing F/A-18, Lockheed Martin F-16IN, MiG-35, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen NG.

India’s historical foe, Pakistan, struggles to acquire new arms. The country has been rocked by instability in the north while trying to maintain a modern fighting force capable of dealing with India.

The Pakistan Air Force has plans to procure Chinese-built Hongdu L-15 advanced jet trainers and Chengdu J-10 (FC-20) fighters.

The Navy has a long list of problems in procurement. It still has not signed a deal for the German­built Type-214 submarine package after two years of delays. The deal is pending approval by the German government. There also are no signs of an agreement on a Pak­Turkish corvette deal first proposed in 2008.

The Navy also is trying to modernize and expand shipbuilding facilities, procure a surface combatant vessel as a follow-on of the F-22P-class frigate and answer the challenge of India’s new ballistic missile submarine, the INS Arihant.

The Army is preoccupied with fighting an insurgency and has an urgent need for helicopter gunships, utility helicopters, wheeled armored personnel carriers and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles.

However, despite the increase in funding under the “Armed Forces Development Plan 2019” in 2009, funds are short and Pakistan’s credit rating remains poor. From 2007 to 2008, the budget dropped from $4.4 billion to $4.2 billion and continues to sink as the economy shrinks. 

Down Under Issues 

There are two main issues confronting Australia in 2010: 

■ Afghanistan and what happens to the Australian force in Oruzgan province following the Dutch withdrawal from the province later this year.

■ The eventual ratification by the U.S. Congress of the U.S.-Australian Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty inked by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard and former U.S. President George W. Bush in Sydney in 2007.

This should make a huge difference in export, license and U.S. International Traffic in Arms controls, which constrain U.S.-Australian defense cooperation and trade.

For 2010 in New Zealand, defense officials are preparing the March release of the defense white paper. The military is expecting delivery of the overdue Offshore Patrol Vessels, and there are warranty issues with the multirole ship, the HMNZS Canterbury, to contend with. ■

Usman Ansari in Pakistan, Gregor Ferguson in Australia, Nick Lee-Frampton in New Zealand and Vivek Raghuvanshi in India contributed to this report.