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ASEAN’s Defence Market: India and South Korea Compete for Supremacy
India has been continuously increasing its defence exports over the past few years. If we go through the official data of the government, the defence exports in 2017–18 were 4,682 crores, which increased to 12,815 crores in 2021–22.
A few years ago, India began to improve its defence capabilities in order to compete with the rest of the world. But as they say that the hunger continues to grow, India is now eyeing becoming a major defence exporter too. It is the manifestation of PM Modi’s vision to not only reduce the dependence of military hardware on foreign countries but also work towards expanding Indian defence equipment footprints to other parts of the world. But this is not an easy task as the biggest markets are vulnerable and the competition is high. The best and first example comes from ASEAN, the friendly neighbourhood.
India’s defence exports
India has been continuously increasing its defence exports over the past few years. If we go through the official data of the government, the defence exports in 2017–18 were 4,682 crores, which increased to 12,815 crores in 2021–22. In only four years, the export growth rate was 173 percent. The growth instilled the hope of becoming a major defence exporter. The efforts for this started in 2018, when the government of India estimated it would achieve a Rs. 1,70,000 crore turnover in defence goods and services till 2025.
Along with 12 military platforms and weapon systems were also identified for production. Later in 2019, it wasreported that New Delhi was looking for markets around the world, and 85 countries were identified that could eventually prove to be the potential buyers of Indian military equipment. The work started, and the rest is history.
However, it was 85 countries, including some of ASEAN’s most prominent members. Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines were among the countries represented.And this ASEAN region has now become a battleground that is witnessing the strain between India and South Korea. No! It is not a conventional war, and I have not deviated from the defence export topic. Actually, ASEAN has two viable options for defence purchases, and those are India and South Korea. But let us first understand the geopolitical challenges of ASEAN and its defence market, along with past expenditures.
ASEAN challenges and defence
ASEAN as a collective region is facing the expansionist aggression of the ‘dragon in the sea’. In the era of liberalisation, the geo-economics of ASEAN and China are meshed together because of the mutual benefits and demand of the region. However, the military threat to ASEAN is unquestionably coming from China.This is possibly the foremost reason for sustained defence expenditure growth by countries. Apart from that, Taiwan has become a hot spot in the Pacific in recent times. Furthermore, the anticipated Chinese attack poses a challenge to ASEAN and calls into question the region’s preparedness.
According to the SIPRI report, the ASEAN military expenditure in 2000 was around $ 20.29 billion, which surged to $32.39 billion till 2010 before finally reaching $43.10 billion in 2021. With every coming decade, the expenditure has witnessed a rise of more than 11 billion dollars. It shows that there are immense possibilities for countries like India to cater to the needs of the ASEAN region.
Defence News compiled a list of the top 100 defence companies from the annual reports of major defence companies in its report. ST Organisation, based in Singapore, is the only ASEAN company listed in the top 100. ST Engineering’s total defence revenue for 2021 was 2,157.72 Million $.
India has emerged as one of the biggest contenders for the region. The development of indigenous aircraft carriers, INS Vikrant, has proved India’s ability and increased the credibility of the country, due to which many countries are optimistic about buying weapons from India. India is continuously pitching for indigenously manufactured weapons and fighter jets. LCA Tejas and BrahMos missiles are attracting the attention of buyers.
South Korean challenge to India
But there are challenges too. The biggest challenge for India in the region is coming from South Korea. There is no doubt that South Korea has for a long time been an important defence exporter to the world. According to SIPRI, South Korea is the eighth largest exporter of military products for the period 2018-2022, accounting for 2.4 percent of global arms exports.The share was 1.3 percent between 2013 and 2017. This means that South Korea’s share has increased by 74%, which is enormous.The biggest buyers include the Philippines, India, and Thailand, in an orderly manner.
However, in recent times, India has shifted its defence procurement from foreign to domestic manufacturers.
India has pitched to ASEAN countries in an attempt to export made in India equipment.The Philippines stunned the world by signing a $375 million deal with India for a shore-based anti-ship BrahMos version in 2021, which is currently being implemented. New Delhi is also in negotiations with Jakarta regarding BrahMos. In the meantime, India hadlost its LCA Tejas deal with Malaysia to South Korea’s FA-50 fighter jets. Malaysia’s defence trade with South Korea and Turkey is growing.
South Korea is fructifying its technological advancement, which it obtained as a result of technical transfer in the past. It is also believed that Seol is competitively pricing competent equipment. Over the past five years, the Philippines has emerged as the top purchaser of South Korean weaponry, with Indonesia and Thailand following closely behind. In addition, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Malaysia have taken part in South Korean-ASEAN defence collaborations.
Both Malaysia and the Philippines have achieved a threshold of $3000 for approximately ten years, and it is likely that this figure will continue to increase.
So, although South Korea has significant advantages over India, the market of ASEAN is expanding, creating a possibility for every global player, and undoubtedly India enjoys preference. Furthermore, the unprecedented challenges that India has overcome have demonstrated that New Delhi has the potential to emerge as a major defence exporter in the region.
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