Asian militaries seek smart purchases amid COVID funding crisis

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F-35B Stealth Fighter Jet of US Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 performs during the air show at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore, February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Caroline Chia/File Photo

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Feb 16 (Reuters) – Countries in Asia are emerging from the economic rubble of COVID-19 and are seeking cost-effective ways to modernize their armed forces, defense firms said on the sidelines of the Singapore airshow this week.

On the eve of the show, Indonesia announced it would order 42 Dassault Rafale fighter jets under an $8.1 billion deal, making Jakarta France’s biggest arms customer in the region. . Read more

Southeast Asian countries in particular will most likely meet significant – albeit basic – needs in the next year, said Collin Koh, a researcher at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore.

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“A good number of countries in the region are facing growing debt…that means spending will most likely be very conservative,” Koh said, adding that many countries were looking for better or improved helicopters. “Rotary-wing aircraft, which have many uses, tend to have more support and are politically easier to acquire.”

The Philippines announced in January that it was buying 32 S-70i Blackhawk helicopters from PLZ Mielic, a subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft. Sikorsky is owned by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N).

At the air show, Tim Cahill, Lockheed Martin’s senior vice president for global affairs, said there was a “growing need for helicopters” in the region.

“The order in the Philippines was a very good order for us; the partnership with the armed forces is really positive for us, and in fact they are ordering more,” he said, declining to discuss specific numbers.

Aircraft used to keep tabs on the huge expanses of ocean that separate many countries in Asia, called maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), remain an exceptional need, said Boaz Levy, chief executive of Israel Aerospace Industries ( ISRAI.UL) (IAI). IAI has an MPA partnership with Embraer (EMBR3.SA) and also sells the ELI-3360 MPA.

“There are a lot of interested customers – I can’t say at what stage or in what country,” Levy said. “We have a lot of activities, especially with airborne radar. There is a strong demand for such an aircraft and such capabilities.”

However, MPAs often come at a steep price – a hurdle in a global economy still recovering from the pandemic. MPA’s last major deal was the sale of six Boeing (BA.N) P-8A Poisideon jets to South Korea in 2018 for nearly $2 billion, and four Poisideons to New Zealand for about $1 billion. $.6 billion.

Unmanned aircraft, or drones, offer a cheaper way to keep an eye on the sea and potential adversaries. Australia is working with Boeing to produce so-called “loyal wing” drones, which would fly alongside crewed fighter jets, a representative said at the airshow. Read more

Drones are also being considered for cargo, with Lockheed Martin recently testing an autonomous UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter. Selling such a system has its own challenges, however, Cahill said.

“It will be really interesting to see how it plays out,” he said. “Sending an unmanned aircraft out on patrol, everyone’s okay with that. Then you say it’s going to be carrying troops…then there’s a level of comfort you have to achieve.”

The proliferation of ballistic missiles and long-range artillery rockets in the region has sparked interest in improving air defense systems, Cahill and Koh said.

But Koh warned that such upgrades were expensive and not always considered urgent.

“There will be interest in long-range air defense in terms of upgrading,” he said. “But given the funding environment…governments will by and large be happy with their short- and medium-range air defense systems.”

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Reporting by Gerry Doyle; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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