Fri, Feb 17, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Fighters, radar, marine patrols top wish-lists

Reuters, SINGAPORE

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 II.

Japan has since become allied with most other Asian nations. It is now China that is the behemoth others are eyeing with unease.

And bigger defense budgets, means sales of fighters, weapons and other tools of death and destruction are higher than ever before.

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 being inked.

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 neighborhood 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 program 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.”

Analysts say a surge in military expenditure is not an arms race, because most countries are spending less on defense as a proportion of GDP. However, economic growth is strong across much of the region, and the dollar expenditure on defense is definitely on the up.

That is good news for Western arms manufacturers, among the world’s biggest companies, who are reeling from shrinking defense 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 US defense contractors, said of the Asia-Pacific.

Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon’s biggest supplier, and Boeing’s defense 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 equipment.

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 24 aircraft.

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 and commerce,” he said. “Information awareness, the ability to communicate that, what is going on the oceans and what is going on undersea, that is the trend.”

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