|Arms sales in Asia; March 3, 2011|
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From the Arabian Sea to the Pacific Ocean, countries fearful of China's growing economic and military might—and worried that the U.S. will be less likely to intervene in the region—are hurtling into a new arms race.
In December, Japan overhauled its defense guidelines, laying plans to purchase five submarines, three destroyers, 12 fighters jets, 10 patrol planes and 39 helicopters. South Korea and Vietnam are adding subs. Arms imports are on the rise in Malaysia. The tiny city-state of Singapore, which plans to add two subs, is now among the world's top 10 arms importers. Australia plans to spend as much as $279 billion over the next 20 years on new subs, destroyers and fighter planes.
Together, these efforts amount to a simultaneous buildup of advanced weaponry in the Asia-Pacific region on a scale and at a speed not seen since the Cold War arms race between America and the Soviet Union.
The buildup is unfolding as the world's military balance appears to be shifting in tandem with its economic balance. China is beginning to build a military to match its powerful economy. This is happening as the U.S. and its staunchest allies, including Britain, are looking at flat or falling military spending—and as Russia is struggling to revive its armed forces in the post-Soviet era.
China is still far from challenging the U.S. for global military supremacy. But its recent actions have countries in the region planning for a much different future.
In Australia, a report published Monday by an influential defense think tank concludes that the China threat has sparked an "urgent need to refocus" military development "to offset and deter the rapidly expanding People's Liberation Army." The report by the Kokoda Foundation, prepared with input from senior defense officials, says Australia "cannot overlook the way that the scale, pattern and speed of the PLA's development is altering security in the Western Pacific."
"This is potentially the most demanding security situation faced since the Second World War," says Ross Babbage, author of the report. "This is not Mickey Mouse. This is dead serious stuff."
Brunei plans to grant Indonesia patrol vessels KDB Waspada and KDB Pejuang for military training as part of efforts to promote the expansion of defence ties.
Deputy Minister of Defence Dato Paduka Hj Mustappa Hj Sirat said yesterday that various programmes on Brunei-Indonesia defence ties would be carried out.
"KDB Waspada and KDB Pejuang are still in operation, possibly in April ...these will be delivered to Indonesia to be used as (military) training vessel for the Indonesian Navy (TM AL)," Dato Paduka Hj Mustappa told The Brunei Times prior to joining a morning walk with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Tasek Lama Recreational Park.
Maintenance checks and operation trainings need to be done before the vessels are handed over to Indonesia, he said.
His Majesty's Government and Indonesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence Cooperation on April 10, 2003. The MoU was recently ratified by Indonesia's parliament.
"There will be a joint committee to discuss how to further expand the defence cooperation between the two," he said.
Brunei and Indonesia are also planning to carry out joint training for its military forces as well as their special forces.
The Indonesian military (TNI) has decided to accept an offer of two F-16A/B Fighting Falcon fighter planes from the United States, TNI Chief Marshall Agus Suhartono said Monday.
He said the TNI had informed the Defense Ministry that they accepted the US’s offer, and were currently waiting for confirmation from the US.
According to Agus, accepting the offer was far more practical than purchasing new planes.
“The TNI had scheduled the procurement of six advanced F-16 fighter planes from the US by 2014. However, from a cost perspective, it would be more economical if we accepted the grant of two F-16s,” he said, as reported by Antara news agency.
Agus said the two planes could be upgraded in the future to match the technology of the latest series of F-16s, the F-16 C/D Block 52.
“We will upgrade the avionic systems, including the weaponry systems,” he said
The offer of two squadrons of used F-16 jet fighters — gratis — from the United States seems too good to be true. With its aging defense weaponry systems in desperate need of upgrading, the Indonesian Military (TNI) signaled last week it had accepted the offer under a US grant.
The ball is back in the US court to decide whether to proceed with the deal or not.
But wait. Nothing is as free as it seems. When making the announcement, the TNI did not quite explain the various strings that come with the offer. Indonesia still has to fork out a considerable sum of money to retrofit and install weapons on the 24 F-16 fighters. By one insider’s calculation, the amount would come close to the cost of buying six brand-new (and newer model) F-16s, which the TNI had originally planned to buy.
The choice for the TNI boils down to having 24 secondhand fighters which would probably be good until 2025 or 2030, or get 18 fewer planes with the plan of buying more down the road when budgets permit. The Air Force says it needs 200 planes of various types and sizes in its fleet to protect the country’s vast airspace.
Another string attached is the reality that the weapons will have to be procured from US defense contractors. With the US government still banned by Congress from selling lethal weapons to Indonesia, one can only wonder what sort of weapons the TNI will be able to install on these F-16s.
The offer should also be seen as part of the US lobby, even if only half-heartedly, to stop Indonesia from buying military hardware from other countries.
Because of the military sales embargo imposed by Congress, Indonesia over the past decade has looked to Russia for some of its air defense systems, marked by the procurement of Sukhoi jet fighters.
Many senior TNI officers are more familiar with US weapons, but circumstances, most particularly the US arms embargo, dictated that the military has had to turn to other countries to seek ways of upgrading its weaponry systems. As Indonesia begins to increase its spending on procuring weapons, the US has reason to worry.
Some analysts have proclaimed that Southeast Asian countries today are locked in an arms race.
Given the spending spree in recent years, Southeast Asia is considered one of the fastest growing markets for global arms traders.
Others linked these buildups to growing concerns in the region over the rise of China and what this might mean to their strategic security environments. In their defense, these countries say they are only catching up, having severely cut their defense spending during the Asian financial crisis more than a decade ago.
As far as Indonesia is concerned, the current “arms buildup” is part of its effort to upgrade the TNI to meet the minimum essential force. If there is an arms race in the region, Indonesia may as well throw in the towel now.
Jakarta does not have the resources to compete, not even if it wanted to. When compared with countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, Indonesia’s defense posture will pale, especially when taking into account the large land, water and airspace it needs to protect.
Fortunately, Indonesia does not see any immediate external threat, allowing it some leeway to keep defense spending low and release money for other more needy sectors, such as education, healthcare, poverty alleviation and the construction of economic infrastructure.
There is now an acknowledgment that human security is just as important, if not more, to the national security of a country. Still, Indonesia cannot neglect its defense sector for too long before compromising its ability to defend the country from potential security threats, both the traditional and the non-traditional versions. In recent years, the defense sector has seen the second largest growth in spending after education, and for a very good reason.
The challenge Indonesia faces now is how to allocate the rising defense budget as efficiently as possible. Sharing more information about the options available with the public and the House of Representatives would certainly help the TNI and the government in making those important decisions.
Defence and security industry players should consider Malaysia as their base for regional activities, said Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Addressing the Malaysia Defence Investment Dinner here Sunday night, he said the country should be on the radar of potential investors seeking to establish strategic alliances whether in manufacturing, co-manufacturing, outsourcing or research and development.
The minister stressed the government's commitment towards enhancing the local defence industry as evidenced in the soon-to-be established Malaysia Defence and Security Technology Park (MDSTP) in Sungkai, Perak.
"The first of its kind in Southeast Asia, the park aims to provide investors with the means to capture tremendous opportunities and potential of the global defence industry and, at the same time, boosting their presence in the worldwide market," said Ahmad Zahid who hosted the dinner.
Among those present were British Minister for International Security Strategy Gerald Howarth as well as potential investors and representatives from leading defence and security companies.
Jointly organised by DSA Exhibition and Conference Sdn Bhd and Masterplan Consulting Sdn Bhd, the dinner was held in conjunction with Malaysia's participation at the five-day International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) 2011 which opened here Sunday.
Malaysia keen to become Asia’s launchpad for defense projects, The National, Feb 21
What role is Malaysia seeking to play in the Asian defence industry?
a The Asean [Association of Sout East Asian Nations] region imported US$22.5 billion (Dh82.64bn) of defence equipment in 2009 and with collaboration of the Asean countries, using Malaysia as a hub for the defence industry, we are offering to use Malaysia as a launching pad to distribute and market their products in the south Asian region and co-operate with the Asean region.
Myanmar will in March receive the first of 20 RSK MiG-29s ordered under a roughly €400 million ($553 million) deal, with their introduction to more than double the country's MiG-29 fleet.
Ordered in November 2009, the aircraft will be delivered in three configurations, comprising 10 MiG-29B and six MiG-29SE single-seat fighters and four MiG-29UB twin-seat operational trainers.
The acquisition effectively clears the remaining MiG-29B/SE stock at RSK MiG's Lukhovitsy plant, with the airframe parts having been manufactured in the Soviet and Perestroika eras. Myanmar's aircraft will be delivered in an original export configuration, with analogue instruments and Phazotron N-019 radars.
Myanmar previously bought used MiG-29s from Belarus, but approached the type's manufacturer and Russian arms export company Rosoboronexport for help after encountering a high attrition rate. Moscow responded with help on weapons, spare parts and training, including the installation of a simulator at one of its air bases.
Acquiring an additional batch of fighters directly from RSK MiG should radically improve the combat readiness and effectiveness of Myanmar's fleet, sources say. Its air force now has 12 MiG-29s, says Flightglobal's MiliCAS database.
The United States said Thursday it would help boost the Philippines' capacity to patrol its waters as part of a larger goal of keeping vital Asian sea lanes open amid the rise of China.
The pledge came from US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell on the first day of an inaugural security dialogue between the two allies.
"One of the subjects for discussions tomorrow will be the bilateral steps that (we) can take to increase the Philippines' maritime capacity," Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said.
This would enhance the Philippine navy's capacity to police its waters, he told a joint news conference.
"We think this is a critical component of our partnership. Much of this work is already underway and we seek to intensify it in the months and years ahead," he said without giving details.
Singapore, which has one of Asia's best-equipped militaries and ranks high internationally in per capita defense spending, raised its national defence budget by 5.4 percent, government data showed Friday.
For the fiscal year 2011 starting on April 1, the government allocated SG$12.08 billion (US$9.5 billion) to defense, up from SG$11.46 billion a year earlier, according to the 2011 budget presented by the Ministry of Finance.
In a recent interview, state founder Lee Kuan Yew justified the Singapore's defense spending.
Lee said the island state with its population of 5 million people had to spend 5 to 6 percent of its gross domestic product on defense to resist any possible pressures from larger neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia.
Robust economic growth and prudent fiscal policy have ensured the strength of the Military, Civil and Economic pillars of TD. A consistent defence budget pegged at five to six percent of Singapore’s GDP (US$ 9.5 billion billion in 2011) has transformed the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) into Southeast Asia’s most advanced military. Likewise, significant investment in Singapore’s Home Team crisis management agencies and task forces guarantee a prompt response in the event of a civil emergency. Both the Military Defence and Civil Defence pillars are in turn buttressed by an Economic Defence pillar of strong economic growth. In sum, technologically and economically, TD has continued to evolve and remained robust in the last two decades. The same, however, is less certain for the Social Defence and Psychological Defence pillars.
In the TD context, Social Defence is the ‘resin’ that binds society, whereas Psychological Defence is the ‘harderner’ which gives it resilience. Both Social Defence and Psychological Defence combine to form an epoxy glue that holds Singapore society together in times of crisis. For the global city that is Singapore, there is a danger that both social and psychological resilience will be diluted by the effects of globalisation. Therefore the challenge is for TD planners to reconcile internal cohesion with the effects of free movement and competition associated with globalisation.
The evolution of TD can never be divorced from global forces that shape Singapore. Indeed, the robustness and sustainability of TD’s Military, Civil and Economic pillars depend upon Singapore’s continued relevance as a global hub. Nonetheless, in the environs of a global city state where individuals live as citizens of the world, steps must be taken to mitigate the dilution of social and national cohesion amongst its local citizens.
The Swedish Defense Materiel Administration announced delivery this week of six SAAB Gripen fighter aircraft to the Thai air force.
The arrival of the fighters follows the delivery of the first parts of the air defense systems Sweden and Thailand agreed on in 2008.
"We have now successfully delivered a complete air defense system," said Arne Heden, head of Gripen Thailand at the Swedish agency. "Swedish pilots and technicians will now help Thailand to start using the system."
Under a 2008 agreement, six Gripens with associated equipment and services, a Saab 340 aircraft with airborne radar surveillance system, a Saab 340 for transport and education and an integrated command-and-control system with data links was to be delivered to Thailand.
The agreement contained provisions for extensive logistical support, training for pilots and technicians and flight simulators.
Last November the Swedish agency said signed an agreement with Thailand for six more Gripens, another 340 with Erieye radar and Swedish RB 15F missiles.
Changes must be made to the way government forces operate against the insurgency in the southern border provinces, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Friday.
Mr Abhisit was responding to questions about Thursday's attack by militants on a small Buddhist village which left five people dead and four wounded in Yala's Panare district.
He said he had discussed this matter with 4th Army commander Lt-Gen Udomchai Thammasarorat, and some adjustments must be made to counter-insurgency tactics.
Primarily, more cooperation must be sought from the local people in order for government forces to set up more security checkpoints, because they always complain about stringent action by the military, Mr Abhisit said.
If there were more checkpoints there would be fewer opportunities for the insurgents to launch attacks.
The prime minister said the insurgents continued to change their tactics, and government tactics must change accordingly.
He agreed the attack on the Buddhist village was an attempt by the insurgents to use religion to divide the people.
Asked about the problem of people holding dual nationalities in the area, and being able to slip back and forth across the border, Mr Abhisit said he would raise this matter when he meets Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak again in a month or two.
The Vietnamese government has protested recent Chinese military drill near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, state media reported Friday.
The defence exercise was carried out by China's South Sea Fleet on February 3.
This action seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty over the archipelago, the state run newspaper Viet Nam News quoted Nguyen Phuong Nga, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying.
It also went counter to the Declaration of the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea, issued by the Association of South-East Asian Nations and China in 2002, she added.
The action has negatively affected peace and stability in the region, Nga said.