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2012 Annual Defence Report: Asia-Pacific


Apr 24, 2007
2012 Annual Defence Report: Asia-Pacific.

James Hardy, London, Alex Pape, London, Jon Hawkes, London, Charles Hollosi, LondonSection:

It was a characteristically busy year in the Asia-Pacific, with North Korea's failed satellite launch (and another attempt imminent as JDW closed for press), China's commissioning of its first aircraft carrier and unveiling of a new stealthy fighter, territorial spats in the South and East China seas, and insider attacks in Afghanistan.

Every year one phrase comes to sum up NATO's Afghanistan campaign for the previous 12 months. In 2012, the 11th year of the conflict, that phrase was 'green-on-blue'. Attacks on NATO troops by disgruntled Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) personnel - or insurgents masquerading as ANSF soldiers - were responsible for more than 50 deaths in 2012: an escalation in casualties that undermined NATO's plans to use its troops to mentor the fledgling Afghan National Army and directly led to the early withdrawal of all French troops following the deaths of 4 soldiers and injuries to 15 others in Kapisa province on 20 January.

NATO and its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) responded first by suspending training, and then implementing a mixture of soft and hard solutions: cultural sensitivity training to avoid more Koran burnings, better intelligence and biometric checks on recruits, and a 'guardian angel' system, under which one or more ISAF soldiers act as armed bodyguards when working with ANSF troops.

Questions also remain about how viable the new Afghan army is. A report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published on 30 October found that "the Afghan government will likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014 and the expected decrease in US and coalition support".

On the plus side for ISAF, the transition is ongoing. President Obama's 30,000-strong 'surge' force was withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2012 and by the end of September 75% of the Afghan population was living in cities, provinces, and districts that are under local security control.

Pakistan also agreed in July to reopen ISAF's land supply route from Karachi, which was cut off in November 2011 after the killing of 26 Pakistan Army soldiers in a US helicopter attack on the Afghan-Pakistani border. This relieved pressure on ISAF supply lines, which will be used as much for withdrawal as for supplies ahead of the December 2014 deadline to end combat operations by foreign troops.

Unsurprisingly, policymakers face major difficulties in the coming two years. Endemic corruption has discredited President Hamid Karzai's government inside Afghanistan and declining public support in NATO member states for the war has dissipated what political will there was to effect a lasting change in the country.

The United States is looking to restart negotiations with the Taliban via Qatar, but the insurgents may believe they have time, and history, on their side.

Any agreement involving the Taliban will need at least the acquiescence of Pakistan, which remains a major player in Afghanistan's future, although in 2012 Islamabad spent more energy dealing with the Pakistani Taliban and addressing its own problems in North Waziristan. The Pakistan Army adopted a 'will they/won't they' approach to a military offensive in the Afghan border region, perhaps mindful that this was one extra card to use against the United States, which wants Pakistan to act to limit attacks over the border into Afghanistan.

As the reopening of the Karachi land route illustrated, Pakistan's ties with Washington stabilised in 2012, although anything would have been an improvement on 2011's Osama bin Laden-related nadir. Speaking in August, ISAF commander General John Allen said the United States wanted ties with Pakistan that were "enduring, strategic, carefully defined, and that enhance the security and prosperity of the region" - hardly the most rousing description of a bilateral relationship, but probably the more realistic for it.

On the procurement side Pakistan received its final Block 52 F-16 fighters from the United States, as well as two ex-US Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs) to replace the pair destroyed by the Taliban in 2011.

Pakistan's indigenous industry is also doing well; officials are confident of finding overseas buyers for the JF-17 Thunder co-developed with China, while the Pakistan Air Force recently unveiled a very-high-speed, long-range air-launched missile called the CM-400AKG that officials described as an "aircraft carrier killer". Like the JF-17, the CM-400AKG has been developed with China, which also had a major role in Pakistan's unmanned aircraft and land systems programmes. Warm ties between the two countries are expected to continue, given the strategic imperatives for both caused by India's military developments and New Delhi's ongoing rapprochement with Washington

South Asia

India's status as the world's largest arms bazaar may be under threat from a slowing economy, but 2012 was another good year for foreign defence firms in the subcontinent.

Dassault had the most to cheer about in January when the Rafale was chosen ahead of the Eurofighter Typhoon in the contest to supply the Indian Air Force (IAF) with 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). However, a 10% defence budget cut announced in late November could push this beyond the hoped-for March 2013 deadline.

The IAF's shopping spree wasn't done with MMRCA; it also bought 75 PC-7 Mk II tandem-seat turboprop trainers from Swiss firm Pilatus despite complaints by rival Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) of a flawed selection procedure, while in August the first of three Embraer EMB-145I airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft were delivered to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for installation of indigenous systems.

Despite missing out on the MMRCA deal, the United States is establishing a major presence in India, with Boeing in particular enjoying a strong year. Its production of P-8I Poseidon MPAs is ongoing, while in 2012 New Delhi also chose to buy 22 of the company's AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters over Russia's Mil Mi-28N 'Havoc', and 15 Boeing CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters over Russia's Mil Mi-26.

Russia, which has long been India's prime provider of war materiel, was not completely left out in the cold: India received its first batch of new Mil Mi-17V5 multirole helicopters and agreed to joint development of the PAK-FA T-50 fifth-generation fighter aircraft with Sukhoi, with the first prototype expected in 2014. It also agreed in October to co-develop a Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) in a joint venture between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).

At sea, India received two Talwar-class frigates and in January finally commissioned the Akula-class (Project 971) nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) INS Chakra . The commissioning made India the sixth country after China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States to operate an SSN, but the delays and problems surrounding the programme were symptomatic of Delhi's ongoing struggles with defence project management.

A further example was the much-delayed ex-Russian aircraft carrier Vikramaditya (ex- Admiral Gorshkov ), the delivery of which was pushed right into 2013 when boiler problems curtailed its sea trials. As well as heightening tensions with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the delay also forces the Indian Navy to rely on INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes ): a 53-year-old, 23,900-tonne Centaur-class carrier.

On land things were equally mixed. India signed off on a INR12 billion (USD222 million) deal to buy 10,000 9K113M Konkurs-M ('Spandrel B') anti-tank guided missiles from Russia and also made progress on securing a Foreign Military Sale from the United States of 145 BAE Systems M777 towed 155 mm/39-calibre lightweight howitzers. However, in other respects India is struggling to field an artillery capability commensurate with its potential needs. One solution was announced in October: a plan to licence-build Bofors FH-77B 155 mm/45-calibre howitzers based on blueprints received in 1987.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh both committed to continued investment in defence. The Sri Lankan military budget for 2012 of USD2.1 billion was nearly 7% higher than the 2011 budget of USD1.7 billion and is justified in terms of refurbishment and upgrades to existing bases and the creation of new cantonments and headquarters, along with repayments for materiel purchased during the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Bangladesh's government also proposed a Fiscal Year 2012-13 (FY12-13) defence budget increase of 7% and on the procurement front in May requested permission from the United States to acquire four ex-US Lockheed Martin C-130E Hercules transports. Bangladesh is also expected to acquire Chinese-built F-7BGI combat aircraft as part of an ambitious longer-term drive to modernise and expand its fighter fleet.

Similar plans to expand the capabilities of the Bangladesh Navy (BN) encompass potential acquisitions of submarines, additional frigates and MPAs, with China again a major supplier. In August Wuchang Shipyard launched the first of two large patrol craft on order for the BN, while in October the first of five new 50.4 m-long patrol craft was launched at Khulna Shipyard (KSY). The vessels are being built under a May 2010 technology transfer agreement with China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Corporation, which is providing the design and material packages.

BN procurement plans received a boost in March when a ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) clarified the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar, opening up the opportunity to license offshore blocks in the Bay of Bengal and establishing a new mission for the navy: offshore maritime patrol.

Despite the ongoing reduction in heavy armoured fleets around Western Europe, the Asia-Pacific showed itself to be a strong region for sales in 2012. The biggest spender by some margin was, as could be expected, China, with outlays of more than USD6 billion. Next was India, at USD3.1 billion, followed by a closer grouping of Japan, South Korea and Pakistan.

Perhaps the biggest, or at least most regular, story of the year was Indonesia's quest to obtain surplus Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) from either Germany or the Netherlands. Protests in Europe at Indonesia's history of human rights abuses were exacerbated by regional concerns at Jakarta's acquisition of such an effective combat system. Nevertheless, press announcements in late 2012 claimed that 106 vehicles, as well as 50 Marder 1A3 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), were procured from Germany, with initial deliveries from November or December.

Their apparent arrival notwithstanding, questions remain about the suitability of heavy armour in Indonesia's tropical, mountainous island environment, with extensive logistical support, including highly capable recovery vehicles, a necessity. Rumours of a possible sale of T-90S tanks to Malaysia circulated several times through the year, but this continues to seem unlikely given the young age of the country's Bumar PT-91M fleet, although the latter is reported to have been badly received by Malaysian forces.

Some armour projects are bearing fruit in the region, namely Japan's TK-X ultra-light MBT programme, which saw an initial 13 vehicles enter service in January, and South Korea's K2 MBT programme, which is set to declare an initial operating capability (IOC) with the vehicle next year. Also, China's tank fleet continues to progress in quality and capability, with the ongoing production of the new ZTZ-99A2 MBT, featuring improved explosive reactive armour, a modified rear hull, a new commander's sight and upgraded fire control and battle management systems. The vehicle also has an active protection system that is very similar to the Russian Arena hard-kill system.


Although winners have emerged over the past 12 months for key fighter programmes in India and Japan, Asia remains a significant focus for manufacturers, with considerable business still available in the coming years.

In January 2012 the Dassault Rafale was chosen as the preferred bidder for India's MMRCA competition, while Japan selected the F-35A in late December 2011 for its F-X fighter requirement to replace the F-4EJ and a DSCA request for an initial four aircraft was issued on 30 April, with options for 38 more worth a total of USD10 billion.

With these competitions now decided, attention is turning to the K-FX programme in South Korea for up to 60 aircraft with USD5.3 billion budgeted for airframes and engines. The contenders are the Lockheed Martin F-35, Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle, and Eurofighter Typhoon. The selection timetable has slipped following issues with the documentation in the bids and political sensitivities over the timing of the presidential election, so a decision is expected in 2013.

Following the emergence of the fifth-generation Chengdu J-20 combat aircraft in 2011, China again caused a stir by revealing the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation Project 310 Shen Fei in September, timed in the now-traditional way to coincide with a visit to China from the US secretary of defence. The prototype of the F-22/F-35 lookalike, dubbed the J-31, undertook its first flight in late October. These developments of advanced combat aircraft are having a major influence in procurement decisions by China's potential adversaries in the region and were cited by Japan as a central reason for selecting the F-35, in spite of its cost and well-documented problems.

Despite India's involvement in development of the Sukhoi PAK-FA for its Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft programme and other joint projects and continuing large-scale purchases from its traditional military equipment supplier, Russia, the considerable success in India over the last 12 months among US aircraft manufacturers continued a trend of India diversifying its supply source following previous selections of the Lockheed Martin C-130J and Boeing C-17 for transport requirements and the Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft.

By the end of September it appeared that the AH-64D had won out over the Mi-28N in the Indian competition for 22 attack helicopters, valued at USD1.4 billion. In October the CH-47F emerged as the lowest bidder in India's contest for 15 heavy lift helicopters, knocking out the Russian Mi-26T2.

Should through-life service support for these US acquisitions run smoothly - something that has been a historical issue with Russian-sourced equipment - then further opportunities are available in the near term for naval anti-submarine warfare and light utility helicopter acquisitions.

Competition will also come from European firms, putting further pressure on Russia in this once-guaranteed market, as indicated by the recent success of the Airbus A330 over the Iluyshin Il-78MK to supply India with six tanker transport aircraft.


Over the last few years the Asia-Pacific region has been all about submarines, but this was not the case in 2012. There has certainly been submarine-related news over the last 12 months, including the contract between Indonesia and South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering for three DSME 209 boats; construction milestones for Project 636 boats destined for Vietnam, and further shifts in the schedule for India's Scorpene boats and follow-on project.

Overall, however, there was simply a lot more happening above the waves, but watch this space: subs are likely to resume prime position in 2013.

China hogged the naval headlines for much of the year. The Russian-built aircraft carrier Varyag , acquired in 2001 for 'conversion into a floating casino', was eventually commissioned in September after a mammoth reactivation, conversion and upgrade project (see graphic).

Two more noteworthy developments concern the PLA Navy. First is the speed with which China's new Type 056 corvettes are rolling off multiple production lines so soon after the design was revealed, seemingly against the established doctrine of experimenting a little and then stepping up production or modifying as required. This is unusual, unless the initial seven or more vessels are a drop in the ocean compared to what is to come in the next years. Also of interest are China's anti-air warfare destroyer programmes, which are following the more conventional process, with four additional Type 052C vessels now entering service after an initial pair in 2004/05. The first vessel of a further modified Type 052D design was launched in August and is likely to be joined by additional vessels.

The second major development involving China is the transfer of surplus assets to friendly nations: previously a strategy largely followed by Western navies. Meanwhile, affordable, new-construction patrol boats, corvettes and frigates made in China continue to make further inroads on the export market.

Naval construction capabilities have continued to grow across the Asia-Pacific over the last year.

New naval and coastguard-type vessels have been completed in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Vietnam, most with overseas design assistance. Indonesia's indigenous KCR-40 missile-armed patrol boat is to be followed by a larger KCR-60 variant, although both carry Chinese equipment.
Indonesia and Malaysia are furthermore embarking on their most complex warship construction projects yet, with the former having selected Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding's SIGMA corvette design for construction at local yard PT PAL and Malaysia opting for DCNS' Gowind corvette design for construction at Boustead Shipyard.


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