From: Military Balance IISS
Most Asian states have been expanding their military budgets and attempting to improve their armed forces’ capabilities in recent years. This is largely a result of increasing uncertainty about the future distribution of power in the region and widespread suspicions, in some cases increasing tension, among regional armed forces. While these efforts are intended to deter potential adversaries, there is substantial evidence of action-reaction dynamics taking hold and influencing regional states’ military programmes.
Analysts were waiting at the end of 2012 to see what effect China’s once-in-a-decade leadership change might have on the wider Asian region. New capabilities displayed in 2012 provided further evidence of China’s efforts to expand the capabilities of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The United States’ ‘rebalance’ to the Asia-Pacific and associated Air–Sea Battle concept were both widely seen as responses to Beijing’s growing power and assertiveness in the region.
Concerns about Beijing’s growing assertiveness were also reflected in rising tensions over maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas. China’s maritime agencies have continued to send paramilitary vessels to promote and defend its extensive but ill-defined claims in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, China finally commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in September 2012. Some Chinese commentators emphasised the significance of the Liaoning’s commissioning in relation to the maritime disputes around China’s littoral, and the Liaoning’s commissioning certainly affected other regional states’ assessments of Chinese power.
North Korea continued efforts to develop its nuclear-weapons capability and its closely related long-range missile arsenal. Japan has made significant, if incremental, capability improvements in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and the escalation of maritime disputes. Many factors, not least the deterrent effect of the US–Japan alliance, militated against the likelihood of open conflict, but the continuing deterioration of Japan’s regional strategic environment provided impetus for efforts to implement the ‘dynamic defence force’ idea.
India’s defence policy retained a substantial focus on deterring Pakistan, primarily through the larger country’s nuclear-weapons capability, but its defence planners increasingly view China as a potential strategic challenge and New Delhi has continued to invest in developing its military capabilities.
Southeast Asian states party to the dispute in the Spratly Islands have focused on using diplomacy, particularly through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and related institutions, to constrain Chinese adventurism. Nevertheless, continuing tensions in the South China Sea have unnerved several Southeast Asian governments, contributing to a greater or lesser degree to their attempts to improve their military capabilities.
In the Philippines, a funding shortage continued to stymie armed-forces modernisation. The 2013 military modernisation budget, approved in September 2012, only provided one-third of the US$120 million which the armed forces required annually for the latest five-year modernisation programme. In April 2012, Manila requested military assistance from the United States in the form of second-hand F-16 combat aircraft, naval vessels and radar systems. However, by the following month, the potential cost of operating F-16s had apparently led to this idea’s abandonment; new plans for reviving the air force’s combat-fighter capability involved acquiring 12 TA-50 advanced trainers from South Korea. In May 2012, the US transferred a second former Hamiltonclass Coast Guard cutter to the Philippine Navy. The first ship of the class to be transferred, commissioned in March 2011, was involved in a stand-offin April 2012 with Chinese maritime surveillance paramilitary vessels offthe disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Navy plans call for the frigates to be fitted with new weapons, including Harpoonanti-ship missiles.