The Military Balance 2014 assesses about 250,000 armoured fighting vehicles in active service with over 150 countries. Over 60,000 of these are tanks. Numbers of tanks in the US, Europe and Russia have greatly reduced over the last decade. New tanks are being developed by Russia and a few others, but more states are opting to upgrade their tanks, rather than replace them.
The US Army has plans to modernise its Stryker troop carriers and Abrams tanks. It also seeks to replace its M2 Bradley with a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) and M113 APCs with an Armoured Multipurpose Vehicle. But the budget for GCV R&D recently reduced, and it is possible that the programme may be postponed. (See p. 28.)
Tactical micro-UAVs such as the Black Hornet, in service with UK troops in Afghanistan, are proliferating amongst ground forces. But development is now being driven as much by civilian security agencies and the commercial sector. Civilian R&D, autonomous ground vehicles and robotics are likely to have significant military implications.
2013 was a comparatively good year for the world’s largest combat aircraft programme, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but the coming 12 months will be critical in keeping key areas of software development on track to ensure completion targets for aircraft are reached.
The size of industrial footprint Europe will require for unmanned air systems is unlikely to be of the same scale as that for manned combat aircraft, assuming that Europe can launch at least one unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) project.
Russian defence reform continues, with the aspiration to field more modern and more deployable and responsive forces. Russia has proved it can design and develop a credible prototype of a fifth-generation fighter, but achieving the same for a stealth strategic bomber may prove more of a challenge. (see p. 161.)
Naval and maritime
The procurement of submarines by Asian countries is a key trend.Some countries are undergoing a natural process of fleet replacement, or procurement, enabled by economic growth. Nonetheless, it is difficult to ignore the rise of China as a motivating factor. These submarines are designed to deny areas of the sea to China’s increasingly capable surface fleet. (See p. 206.)
Even though Western fixed-wing carrier fleets have declined in number, the carrier is far from obsolete, with India, China and the UK building their own ships, and the US still operating more than any other nation. Globally, the number of carriers is on the rise, and there has been growth in numbers of other ‘flat-top’ vessels, usually amphibious assault vessels or helicopter carriers. (See p. 30.)
The decision by the US Navy to forward deploy Littoral Combat Ships to Bahrain from 2018 highlights continuing commitments to the Middle East. Despite the high-profile ‘rebalance’ to Asia, demands in the volatile Middle East will likely prevent an even greater shift to the Pacific than might be warranted by the perceived threat of China to US allies in the region.
After a significant degree of budgetary uncertainty in 2013, the defence allocations contained in January’s US government-wide omnibus spending package will provide much-needed planning certainty, with funding levels slightly higher than those mandated under sequestration. (see p. 34.)
In 2013, real defence spending fell in more than half (57%) of European states, slightly less than the 70% and 65% of European states that reduced real defence outlays in 2011 and 2012 respectively. (see p. 61.) So, the number of European states cutting defence spending is, itself, reducing.
Having overtaken European defence spending levels in 2012, Asian defence spending growth continued to accelerate in 2013. Within the region, the largest percentage increases occurred in Southeast Asia, while the largest absolute increases occurred in East Asia. (see p. 203.)
China now spends about 3 times as much as India on defence, and more than neighbouring Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam combined. Nevertheless, unless China can decouple from advanced economies and rebalance towards a domestic-demand-driven economic model, its GDP growth – and by extension its defence spending growth – will in part continue to be constrained by the ill-health of advanced economies. (see p. 209.)
In Latin America, counter-narcotics and internal/border security platforms dominate regional procurements. Helicopter acquisition or upgrades, coastal and jungle surveillance systems, OPVs and transport aircraft all feature prominently in national procurement priorities. (see p. 361.)
Coercive cyber capabilities are becoming a new instrument of state power. Planning and executing offensive cyber activity requires strategic thinking and planning, and patience. A key part of the targeting cycle, assessment, remains problematic. In the cyber field, damage can be difficult to observe unless information flows back from an exploited system or unless a state publicises an attack.
UK Defence Secretary Hammond announced that ‘We will build in Britain a cyber-strike capability … putting cyber alongside land, sea, air and space as a mainstream military activity. Our commanders can use cyber weapons alongside conventional weapons.’ This made the UK one of the first nations to admit to development of cyber weapons.
Defence budgets continue to fall in Europe, whilst crises in Europe’s periphery make initiatives to maximise value from budgets through closer cooperation all the more pressing. The results of these efforts have so far been patchy, though progress has been made in some areas, such as helicopter training. (see p. 59.)
The UK’s MoD has begun preparatory work on the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The UK defence secretary has said that capability issues to be considered might include the size of the UK F-35 buy, rebuilding maritime patrol capability and future military cyber capabilities. What is unclear is the extent of ambition for the review; whether it will just be a holding operation, or will herald genuinely important decisions about UK defence ambition and capability.
Amid continuing crises and increasing continental deployments, African states are introducing more advanced military equipment. In a few cases these systems are broadly comparable with major powers’ capabilities, but mostly states are integrating high technology elements (such as sensors) onto existing platforms or are purchasing in emerging technology areas appropriate to their force requirements, such as lower-tier UAVs.
Organised crime and insurgencies still pose strategic threats to some Latin American states, and have spurred moves to boost organisation and equipment. Specific national responses persist: some states deploy the armed forces internally; others are creating specialist units to combat criminality.