As the U.S. starts to refocus its efforts on the Asia-Pacific, some of America's largest partners and allies in the region are set to make significant military investments of their own, especially for procurement and research and development (R&D).
As a group, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are slated to spend about $1.4 trillion on military programs between 2013 and 2018, an estimated 55% increase over the $919.5 billion the countries spent between 2008 and 2012, according to an Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) analysis of data provided by Avascent Analytics, a Washington-based company that provides an online toolkit for market analysis of global defense programs.
The Pentagon and U.S. Navy brass have cited treaties and relationships with regional partners and allies as driving forces behind the “Pacific pivot” of American forces to the area.
But while the U.S. is establishing a relatively small footprint of additional assets in the region—compared with most recent years—the AWIN/Avascent analysis shows most partners and allies are planning a much bigger expansion of their own, collectively and independently.
The greater military interest in the region by the U.S. coincides with recent modernization and flexing of Chinese military might as the Asian giant seeks to anchor some of its disputed territorial claims.
Tensions are high. “China is very edgy,” says William Choong, the Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow at the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia (IISS). “They feel they are being circled.”
Choong says the extra U.S. presence could provide a false sense of security, especially if it emboldens smaller countries in the region to confront China on a variety of “hot” issues on that side of the globe.
“The upside is that the U.S. is giving the Asia-Pacific—especially the small Southeast Asia countries—the kind of assurances they've always wanted.”
U.S. guidance on key regional security issues has been something the countries there have been seeking, he says, especially when American forces were more focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. “But the negative is they're putting across this 'small footprint,'” he says, noting there is no “major” show of power.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. chief of naval operations, acknowledges that the Navy is moving only 10 additional ships to the Asia-Pacific as part of the U.S. plan to rebalance and shift more of its forces to this part of the world.
But, he says, the Navy will be getting more capability from those ships, compared to traditional vessels, as well as aircraft and related assets being deployed in the region.
aircraft will replace P-3C Orions, he points out, adding, “They have longer range and better processors.”
The Navy also will be employing advancedSuper Hornets and, when the aircraft are ready, Joint Strike Fighters to the region, he says, as well as the most advanced torpedoes, missiles and other weapons.
But U.S. regional partners and allies are making much larger investments in their military capabilities. In terms of percentages, the largest known increase for all of the Asian countries analyzed in the coming half-decade is for research and development, which is slated to increase by about 66%, to about $61.4 billion from between 2013 and 2018, from about $36.9 billion from 2008-12.
Procurement in the coming five years will increase by about 61% to around $379.6 billion, compared to the $235.9 billion invested between 2008 and 2012, the analysis shows.
The Asian nations are concentrating on naval and other maritime assets between now and 2018, with plans to buy 263 surface vessels, 31 submarines, 18 rotorcraft (with increasing interest in theSeahawk), 13 fixed-wing aircraft and five unmanned “maritime unmanned systems,” the analysis shows.
About 22% of those surface vessels are patrol/missile boats. Maritime patrols, either by sea or in the sky with aircraft such as the P-8 are important to the region, known for the risk of pirate attacks.
“When patrols go up, pirate attacks go down,” says Noel Choong, the head of the Asia regional office at the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center, part of the International Chamber of Commerce.
Regional partners and allies of the U.S. in Asia also need to maintain and operate their existing equipment and programs. They plan to spend about $451.3 billion between 2013 and 2018 to do that, about 53% more than the $294 billion they spent between 2008 and 2012.