Throttling Ahead-Driven by Territorial Disputes and the Need to Modernize Ageing Fleets, many Southeast Asian Nations Have Increased Defense Spending

By Jay Menon

Issue 78 - November 2017

Military modernization seems to have hit its stride in Southeast Asia. The rise of China and the simmering tension centered on territorial disputes for resource-rich islands in the South and East China Sea, coupled with the need to modernize and replace ageing fleets, have been driving Southeast Asian countries towards increased defense spending. Just how concerned Southeast Asian countries have become about the changes in the region’s geopolitical landscape has been reflected in the scope and speed of their military modernization efforts, particularly of their naval and air forces. Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are now among the top defense spenders globally. 

That said, while defense spending for the region is growing, the scale and pace varies significantly from country to country. Indonesia, for instance, has more than doubled its spending in the past five years, whereas Cambodia and Laos are expanding their budgets more slowly. Warships, maritime patrol aircraft, radar systems and combat planes, along with submarines and naval defense systems, are high on procurement lists.  Barring certain categories in Singapore, most of the air forces in the region are plagued by ageing fleets that were mostly acquired during the 1970s and 1980s.