Ninety percent of the world’s trade flows by sea and the majority of that through narrow, vulnerable straits such as Malacca, Singapore and Taiwan. This has forced the Asia-Pacific region to outspend all other nations, except the US, in procurement of ships and submarines.
The dangers are real. Taiwan Adm. Chen Yeong-kang said regional territorial disputes could disrupt sea lines of communication (SLOC) in the region. The comments were made during the 2014 International Sea Lines of Communication Conference sponsored by the Taiwan Navy on Oct. 15.
“Any abrupt armed incident or mass military conflict is possible to impact the SLOC and endanger transport safety.”
Due to the tight thoroughfares of many of Asia’s straits and low depths of the South China Sea, many regional countries are procuring fast attack craft, corvettes and coast guard cutters, said Stanley Weeks, an adjunct professor at the US Naval War College. He expects navies and coast guards to procure more fixed-wing planes, including UAVs and refurbished P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.
More P-3s will become available as the US begins retiring its fleet and procuring the new P-8 Poseidon.
“The biggest spenders are China and India, the two most rapidly developing navies in the world,” said Guy Stitt, president of AMI International Naval Analysts & Advisors. “These two nations are not only expanding their navies, they are now building some of the most complex naval vessels in any navy’s inventory.” These include nuclear ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carriers.
Though much of the media’s focus has been on China’s first aircraft carrier and aggressive warship builds, including new frigates and destroyers, India’s Navy is expanding ever faster, Stitt said. India has two operational aircraft carriers and is about to launch a third.
The naval build programs for the Asia-Pacific region show a 15 percent increase in planned expenditures beyond a decade, Stitt said. Based on current programs, India is outspending and building more vessels than China, South Korea’s naval spending on new vessels is behind China by only US $2 billion over 10 years, and Indonesia is outspending Japan in naval new construction.