This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.
A swath of Asia-Pacific states is in the throes of revamping their fighter inventories. As a result, Western and Russian manufacturers are either wrestling to sustain market share or vying with rival fighter builders in traditional client markets.
The fighter activity is but one element of broader defense procurement occurring across the region as militarily significant states recapitalize their inventories. Despite the impact of the global economic downturn, many markets are showing resilience. What's more, while growth rates have flattened in many cases, actual decline has been avoided. There is budget pressure, but this factor has been less than in other markets, industry officials suggest.
All of the region's top five military spenders either are introducing new fighter types into inventory or are in the midst of competitive procurement. Japan, South Korea and India are at varying stages of purchasing additional combat aircraft. Australia is introducing the Boeing F/A-18E/F into service -- and is committing to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- while China is developing upgrades of both indigenous and Russian fighters, and also working on a twin-engine follow-on.
The Flanker family remains a key regional benchmark for fighter capability as the "threat" system against which potential purchases are to be measured. If the region grows more important for Western manufacturers seeking to bolster order books thinned from falling domestic production numbers (JSF aside), it is also critical to Moscow.
The latest, and possibly final, iteration of the Flanker, the Su-35S, is in no small part aimed at trying to sustain Russia's position as a combat aircraft provider in the region. Two of its traditional clients , China and India, are developing their own combat aircraft manufacturing capacity; India is also potentially expanding procurement from the West. The Su-35S will likely be pitched as a replacement for earlier Flanker models in the inventories of India, but whether it is proposed to China remains in doubt.
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