Publication: The Military Balance 2015
17 February 2015
Recent efforts throughout the Asia-Pacific to enhance military capabilities have focused on the maritime domain, reflecting growing disquiet over vulnerability to attack from the sea as well as concerns over natural resources, territorial claims and freedom of navigation. In some cases, these efforts have included bolstering sea-denial capacity, with the aim of complicating potential adversaries’ naval deployments and operations. For instance, an important objective of China’s growing maritime and air-warfare capabilities is the deterrence of United States naval deployments in its littoral waters. This is to be achieved, according to Western defence officials, by establishing an effective ‘anti-access/area-denial’ capacity that benefits from China’s development of advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and over-the-horizon targeting.
Meanwhile, Asian states with ambitious naval programmes have prioritised the development of aviation-capable platforms and marinised fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. In 2012, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) conducted flight trials of J-15 combat aircraft on its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. The carrier sailed on exercises in December 2013, accompanied by escorts and support vessels, highlighting China’s efforts to develop a carrier battle group. There are reports that China is building a second carrier. Alongside the continuing development and construction of other major surface combatants, notably the Type-052D destroyer and the reported Type-55 cruiser programme, these projects showcased China’s growing investment in maritime power-projection capabilities.
Japan’s December 2013 Mid-Term Defense Plan outlined procurement projects for the 2014–19 period, including new destroyers, additional submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles for long-range maritime surveillance, F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and tilt-rotor aircraft. The easing, from April 2014, of Tokyo’s self-imposed ban on arms exports, following the new National Security Strategy announced in December 2013 and subsequent ‘Three Principles on Defense Equipment Transfers’, may help strengthen the country’s military capabilities by allowing greater joint development of equipment.