America Pivots to Asia; Europe Arms It
Image Credit: REUTERS/Ben Job

America Pivots to Asia; Europe Arms It

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A neglected aspect of the analysis of the evolution of Asian defense and security is the contribution of the European defense industry. Major players in Europe (and in the United States) are seeking global markets to remain viable and to evolve over time. Defense and security is not a static business; it is highly competitive and modernization is always a key element of the equation. Global customers are a crucial element for U.S. or European defense firms to remain on the cutting edge and to be viable in challenging economic conditions.

European firms provide capabilities in many areas of interest to Asian customers, notably military aerospace, weapons and naval systems. The military aerospace and weapons part of this equation warrants particular note, as does the dynamics of change in the Asian market for these products. The point is simply this: European firms are providing core capabilities for Asian customers and are an important part of the military equation in region.

Perhaps governments will follow as well. Notably, last month the United Kingdom signed agreements with Japan creating a legal framework for defense and security cooperation between their two countries. focusing on defense and security issues.

During the signing of the agreements, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “Japan is a key ally of the U.K. and we work closely together on many issues of global foreign and security policy. This is a groundbreaking agreement, which will enable joint research, development and production of defense equipment.”

This agreement in particular is significant, as it makes the U.K. the first country in the world to sign such a comprehensive agreement with Japan to jointly participate in these activities. The U.K. government also mentioned that the first collaboration project between the U.K. and Japan will involve chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protection, while future projects will involve other industries.

This agreement underscores the largely overlooked fact that the European defense industry plays a growing role in Asian defense and security. A number of changes in the Asian defense market are driving this greater cooperation.  

First, the larger Asian customers clearly wish to expand their ability to produce their “own” equipment.  What this means is that industrial partnerships between European and Asian firms are a key part of the growing European presence and that the “re-export” of European systems from Asia will be reality for the global arms market in the 21st century.

Second, there is clear concern about the security of supply on the part of Asians, notably with regard to the need to surge to support operations that might be controversial in other parts of the world. There is concern among some Asian nations that the U.S. and Europe would seek to use their status as defense providers to veto military actions they did not agree with.

To avoid this kind of veto power, Asian nations are looking to diverse their suppliers and reduce their dependence on oversea supply chains. It is crucial to have supplies in place if conflict comes to provide for operational flexibility. Europe is seen as enhancing this flexibility.

Within Asia, one can find the most advanced air tankers in the world, the A330MRTT.  Australia has five; the U.S. currently has no new tankers.  These tankers are really multi-mission systems, able to tank, provide airlift and complete other missions, due to the fact that the tankers carry fuel in their wings not in the cargo body of the aircraft. This allows the plane’s cargo area to be used for a range of other purposes.

The Australians see their new tanker as part of their requirement to operate in a wider arc around Australia to protect their interests and to support other allies in the region, including the United States. For the Aussies, the “tyranny of distance” of the Pacific can be better managed by its air assets and those of its coalition partners with their refuelable, long distance tanker.

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