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Asian Countries Look for Less Costly Military Upgrades

A view of the static display of aircrafts at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore, February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Caroline Chia
A view of the static display of aircrafts at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore, February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Caroline Chia
Asian Countries Look for Less Costly Military Upgrades
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Countries throughout Asia are looking for less costly ways to upgrade their militaries, defense companies said at the Singapore Airshow last week. The airshow brings together government, military and high-level business officials every two years.

Before the show, Indonesia said it would order 42 French fighter jets in an $8.1 billion deal. That makes the island nation the biggest French arms user in the area.

Southeast Asia countries especially will most likely deal with important needs in the next year, said Collin Koh. He is a researcher at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies.

"A good number of countries in the region are facing rising debt ... that means the spending will very likely be very conservative," Koh said. He added that many countries were shopping for better or upgraded helicopters.

The Philippines announced in January it was buying 32 S-70i Blackhawk helicopters from a company owned by Sikorsky Aircraft. Sikorsky is owned by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Tim Cahill is Lockheed Martin's senior vice president for global business. At the airshow, he said there was a "growing need for helicopters" in the area.

"The Philippines order was a very good one for us; the partnership with the armed forces is really positive for us, and in fact they are ordering more," he said.

Aircraft called maritime patrol aircraft, or MPA, remain a major need for guarding the waters between some Asian nations, said Boaz Levy. He is chief executive officer of Israel Aerospace Industries. The company has an MPA partnership with aircraft manufacturer Embraer.

"There are a lot of customers interested - I can't say what stage or what country," Levy said. "We have a lot of activities, especially with the airborne radar. There is big demand for such an aircraft and such capabilities."

MPAs are often costly, however. The last major MPA deal was the sale of six Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft to South Korea in 2018 for nearly $2 billion. Another four Poseidon aircraft went to New Zealand for about $1.6 billion.

Unmanned aircraft, or drones, offer a less costly way to patrol the seas for possible threats. Australia is working with Boeing to produce so-called "loyal wingman" drones. These drones would fly alongside piloted fighter aircraft, a representative said at the airshow.

Drones are also being considered for use in shipping. Lockheed Martin recently tested a self-operating UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. However, selling such a system has its own difficulties, Cahill said.

"Sending out an unmanned aircraft to do a patrol, everyone is OK with that. Then you say it will carry troops ... then there's a comfort level you have to achieve," he added.

Both Cahill and Koh said a rise in production of ballistic missiles and long-range rockets in the area has increased interest in improved air-defense systems.

But Koh warned that such upgrades were costly and not always seen as urgent.

"There will be interest in long-range (air defense) going forward in terms of upgrading," he said. "But given the funding environment... governments will…be satisfied with their short-range and medium-range air defense systems."

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Gerry Doyle reported on this story for the Reuters news service. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English.

Words in This Story

upgrade – v. to raise to a higher grade or position

positive – adj. having a real or beneficial effect or result

patrol – v. to go around an area for the purpose of watching or protecting

achieve – v. to carry out successfully; accomplish

satisfied – adj. pleased or content with what has been experienced or received