The Indo-Pacific will remain the most militarized region in the world in 2020. The two largest global military spenders — the United States and China — will continue to be responsible for a large chunk of regional defense expenditure in the new year. Other Indo-Pacific nations are also set to spend large amounts of money on new military hardware over the next twelve months. All major Indo-Pacific nations are currently pursuing big-ticket military acquisition programs. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the new weapons systems that are slated to be commissioned or deployed with Indo-Pacific militaries in the new year.
Missiles and Interceptor-Based Missile Defense Systems
Missile systems will continue to dominate military news headlines in 2020. North Korea has tested over 100 missiles since 2011 and unveiled various new missile systems (e.g, the Pukguksong-3 in October) in recent years. Pyongyang recently hinted at the introduction of “another strategic weapon,” which may imply that it will unveil a new long-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile in 2020.
China most probably will become the second country after Russia to field a hypersonic weapon system with the Dong Feng 17 (DF-17) hypersonic boost-glide missile expected to become operational next year. (Given the DF-17 appeared during this year’s National Day Parade, some analysts have speculated that the weapon system has already entered service.)
Russia is expected to deploy additional Topol MR (aka RS-24 Yars/NATO reporting name: SS-27 Mod2 or SS-29), RT-2PM Topol (NATO reporting name: SS-25 Sickle) missiles and launchers, as well as retrofitted UR-100NUTTkH (NATO reporting name: SS-19 Stiletto) ICBMs armed with Avangard hypersonic boost-glide warheads.
India may finally induct the nuclear-capable intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) Agni-V in 2020 following two additional test firings. (The Agni-V was reportedly supposed to enter service in 2019.) Next year will also see the deployment of the air-launched BrahMos-A missile with the Indian Air Force following the missile’s successful integration on the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. Additionally, 2020 will also see the delivery of the first Russian-made Almaz-Antei S-400 Triumf air defense system (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) for service in the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Surface Combatants and Submarines
All major Indo-Pacific navies are investing heavily in multi-purpose surface combatants and submarines. China is set to continue to commission a host of new warships in 2020 including at least one more Type 055 guided-missile destroyer (NATO designation: Renhai-class), as well as Type 052D guided-missile destroyers (NATO designation: Luyang III-class), and Type 056/056A corvettes (NATO designation: Jiangdao-class), next to others.
Japan is set to commission its first improved Atago-class (aka Maya-class, 27DD- or 27DDG-class) guided missile destroyer into the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) in March 2020. That same month, the Soryu-class diesel-electric attack submarine (SSK) JS Oryu is also expected to enter service.
South Korea may commission the first of nine 3,000-ton indigenously designed KSS-III (Jangbogo–III-class) SSKs in late 2020.
India may induct into service the second Arihant-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the future INS Arighant, although the commissioning date may be pushed to 2021. The Indian Navy is also slated to commission its third Scorpene-class (Kalvari-class) SSK next year.
The Pakistan Navy will take delivery of another Type 054A/P multi-role frigate in 2020.
Russia’s Pacific Fleet will receive its first improved Project 636.3 Kilo-class (aka Vashavyanka-class) SSK, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, in 2020. The Pacific Fleet may also take delivery of its first Project 955A Borei (A) II-class (“North Wind”) or Dolgorukiy-class SSBN in late 2020.
The United States Navy may deploy its second Zumwalt-class destroyer, the USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001), by the end of 2020. The year will also see the commissioning of additional Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), Littoral Combat Ships, Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyers, and possibly the second America-class amphibious assault ship, the future USS Tripoli, next to others. The nuclear-powered Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) will be commissioned in 2020 as well.
Last, the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) third and final air warfare destroyer (AWD), the future HMAS Sydney (DDG 42) will be commissioned in February 2020.
The Indian Army will continue its induction of 145 air-mobile M777 howitzers from BAE Systems and 100 K-9 Vajra 155 mm/52 caliber self-propelled tracked howitzers in 2020. The Army is also expected to deploy Israeli-made Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Spike medium-range (MR) anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) in the coming months.
The Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) may take delivery of additional Hyundai Rotem K2 (Black Panther) MBTs, part of a larger order of 106 new tanks of this type for the service. The Indian Army could also receive its first Arjun MK1-A MBT by year’s end. Meanwhile, China will continue its induction of a new ZTQ light tank, also known as the ZTQ-15 or Type 15. The Russian Ground Forces are set to receive the first batch of 12 third-generation Armata T-14 main battle tanks (MBT) in 2020, in addition to upgraded T-90Ms.
Additionally, Thailand will deploy its last batch of 11 Chinese-made MBT-3000 (or V-4) MBTs and 38 VNI 8 X 8 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) in 2020.
The first batch of four Rafale fighter aircraft is expected to arrive in India in May 2020. The IAF will also take delivery of additional Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark-I throughout next year.
The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex/Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (PAC/CAC) JF-17 “Thunder” Block III multirole fighter aircraft is set to operationally deploy with the Pakistan Air Force in 2020.
Presumably, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will continue inducting J-20 5th generation fighters, while the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) will likely deploy additionally Xian-H-6J anti-ship cruise missile-carrying bombers.
Furthermore, the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) will take delivery of another batch of upgraded F-16Vs.
Notably, the Russian Air Force is expected to receive its first batch of serial-produced Sukhoi Su-57 fighter aircraft, Russia’s first purported indigenously designed and built fifth-generation stealth fighter, in 2020. The Russian Air Force will also deploy six upgraded nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers in the new year.
The air forces of Australia, the United States, Japan, and South Korea will also continue to induct their fleets of F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters throughout next year. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) will also take delivery of three more Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the first half of 2020.
Furthermore, the Afghan Air Force will continue to receive additional MD-530F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters next year.
One can expect with high confidence that all militaries in the Indo-Pacific region will also be deploying ever more sophisticated cyber warfare capabilities in 2020, but the details are what we’d call known unknowns.