SINGAPORE --- Analysis from Defence Insight forecasts that the Asia-Pacific fixed wing aircraft market is set to total $150 billion over the coming decade, with total market value forecast to peak at $82 billion annually in 2024.
Spending in East Asia is being driven by an ever-more assertive China, which is investing heavily in advanced manned fighter aircraft. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as a whole is undergoing a process of transformation to move away from a ‘quantity-and-scale model’ to one focussed on more quality and technology. Aiming to become a ‘world-class strategic air force’, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is looking to expand its far-reaching operational capabilities with programmes to develop AEW&C, bomber and fighter aircraft.
The US Department of Defense has identified* a total of 55 fighter brigades across the five theatre commands, suggesting China has a total requirement for around 1,300 active-duty fighter aircraft, with a further 300+ spares. Currently, the J-7, J-8, J-10 and J-11 form the backbone of China’s fighter fleet; this will be supplemented in the future by new J-16, J-20 and potentially FC-31 platforms. The JH-7/JH-7A and J-11B provide a ground-attack capability alongside Su-30MKKs and Su-35s acquired from Russia.
An unpredictable North Korean regime is also driving spending in the region.
In Japan and South Korea, procurement programmes are focussed on maintaining their qualitative advantage over the PLAAF. Japan is buying substantial numbers of F-35A fighters to replace its ageing F-4 fleet, while South Korea is expected to continue to make substantial investments in developing its own defence capabilities, both indigenous and from the US.
Already a customer for Lockheed Martin’s F-35A with 60 aircraft on order, this fleet will be supplemented by the KF-X, a 4.5 generation fighter being developed jointly by South Korea and Indonesia. Both Japan and South Korea are to procure AEW&C aircraft to complement their fast jet fleets.
In Taiwan, Taipei has a requirement for manned combat aircraft and could begin to receive its first batch of 66 new F-16V fighter jets from the US as soon as the end of 2020. An indigenous programme for a new advanced jet trainer started in 2017, and deliveries of 66 Brave Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers are expected from 2026.
Australia’s procurement of 72 F-35A fighters under Project Air 6000 Phase 2A/B is well underway with eight aircraft delivered by the end of 2019, reaching 30 by 2021 and full operating capability in 2023. Australia is also investing in its maritime patrol and a specialist EW capability.
India is also concerned about rising Chinese power and has its own simmering conflict with Pakistan. New Delhi has instigated a range of projects to address its near-term capability shortfalls, acquiring platforms from France, Russia, the US as well as developing its own aircraft. Current fighter procurements include 21 MiG-29 and 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKI from Russia, 36 Dassault Rafales from France and 123 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
“A decade from now, the Asia-Pacific fixed wing fleet as a whole will look very different to the way it does today.”
-- Asia-Pacific is the second largest military aircraft market in the world, with total spending forecast to be $150 billion over the coming decade. Total market value is forecast to peak in 2024 at $82 billion annually.
-- Outside of China, India has the potential to be the largest individual market in the region but is hampered by inefficient procurement processes and a legacy of delays and cost over-runs for its indigenous programmes.
-- Japan is the second largest market in the region, followed by Australia with South Korea and Taiwan.
-- Security dynamics in the region are complex. In East Asia, South Korea and Japan are faced with an ever-more assertive China, which is investing heavily in advanced manned fighter aircraft and an unpredictable North Korean regime.
-- The PLA as a whole is undergoing a process of transformation to move it away from a ‘quantity-and-scale model’ to one focussed on more quality and technology. Aiming to become a ‘world-class strategic air force’, the PLAAF is looking to expand its far-reaching operational capabilities with programmes to develop AEW&C, bomber and fighter aircraft.
-- As neither Japan nor South Korea can match China in volume terms, their procurement programmes are focussed on maintaining their qualitative advantage over the PLAAF. This is an increasingly difficult proposition as Beijing funds development of more advanced aircraft.
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