As Asia Rises, US Seen Arming Less of the World

A General Dynamics (Lockheed Martin) F-16 Fighting Falcon undergoes testing in the United States prior to delivery to the Pakistan Air Force.
Source: USAF
A General Dynamics (Lockheed Martin) F-16 Fighting Falcon undergoes testing in the United States prior to delivery to the Pakistan Air Force.

The United States remains by far the largest player in global defense, but that dominance is expected to wane over the next eight years, according to analysis by IHS Jane's Defence.

"Two things are happening: Budgets are shifting East, and global arms trade is [seeing] increasing competition," said Paul Burton, senior manager of IHS Jane's defense forecast. "This is the biggest explosion in trade the world has ever seen."

The trade is booming. The report says trade grew from $56 billion in 2008 to $73 billion last year, much higher than previously thought: "At this rate, defense trade between countries will have more than doubled by 2020."

However, the landscape is shifting. "The West's edge on technology will erode this decade as Asia outspends the USA and Europe," the report said. "(The) rise of Asia Pacific exports threatens US dominance of global defense industry."

While the Pentagon cuts spending, China's defense budget has grown 64 percent in four years to $207 billion, and Russia's has grown 80 percent to $106 billion, according to the analysis.

The United States continues to dominate the export market, with 39 percent share, more than twice the No. 2 player—Russia—which has 15 percent.

The largest export programs are military aircraft, "the hardest segment to develop locally." That is the primary reason the largest supplier in the global market is Lockheed Martin. IHS Jane's said Lockheed's exports jumped 65 percent in four years to $6.4 billion. Boeing is in second with $5.6 billion in export sales last year, followed by Russia's United Aircraft ($4 billion), Raytheon ($3.7 billion), and BAE Systems ($3.7 billion).

Surprises in Report

The report wasn't without its surprises. Among them:

  • "Markets are apolitical": Digging deep into the details, it appears that when it comes to buying weapons, politics can sometimes take a back seat. For example, Russia is buying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel.

  • Israeli UAV dominance: HS Jane's predicts Israel will begin exporting more UAVs than the U.S. this year and will double U.S. exports of unmanned aircraft in 2014.

  • The rise of Latin America: Brazil has become a major exporter of jet trainer aircraft and is opening up new markets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Brazil's defense budget is now larger than Iran's and Canada's at $31 billion.

  • Biggest buyers: India is the largest importer in the world, at over $5 billion, but the Middle East and Turkey are the fastest growing, with imports more than doubling since 2008.

As for Asia, IHS Jane's analysts say, "South Korea is someone to watch." Though it has only about one percent of the global market, it is growing fast, exporting everything from trucks to trainer aircraft, "communications systems to Iraq, mine sweepers to India." And the final assembly is coming from a wide base of companies--Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo and Korean Aerospace among them.

At the same time, China is a much larger player than before, but the outlook "is not quite as rosy a picture." China is now the 8th largest exporter in the world, selling to places like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Venezuela, but IHS Jane's analysis shows China does not do well in markets where it has to compete with the U.S. and Europe. In fact, some surveillance systems sold to South American countries "have been returned."