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Singapore and Indonesia are not just respectively the wealthiest and the most populous nation in Southeast Asia, they are also the two biggest military spenders in the region. While the Singaporean defense budget is projected at US$9.92 billion this year, the biggest in South-east Asia, Indonesia is catching up and has scheduled to increase its spending to US$7.98 billion. The two single-handedly account for 48 percent of all Southeast Asian military expenditure.
Singapore, Indonesia rush to polish up their weapons and militaries
Technology-wise, Indonesia lags Singapore by bounds and leaps, but the country has massive military industries and also the manpower, being the fourth most populous nation in the world. Diplomatically, Singapore has security arrangements with the U.K., Australia and the United States, who would come to its aid upon any external aggression. The U.S. Western Pacific command has been headquartered in Singapore since 1992, providing logistic support for the U.S. 7th Fleet in its operations in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
Formed in 1967, the Singaporean Armed Forces (SAF) provided strategic insurance in a Muslim neighbourhood that has often viewed the Republic's predominantly Chinese population with suspicion, if not animosity. But Singapore's relations with Malaysia and Indonesia have improved markedly in recent years; it is now Malaysia biggest trading partner and Indonesia no.1 foreign investor.
Analysts are not predicting any conflict soon or in near future though. An attack on the island will likely bring down its two neighbor's economies, and also angered Thailand, with whom Singapore has friendly military relationship and who hosted parts of its airforce, Myanmar, whose generals have deep affection for the island that helped it through the years of Western sanctions, and Vietnam, where Singapore is currently investing billions into 930 development projects across the country.
Singapore has the best-equipped and most advanced military in the region
Singapore however, is building its own high-tech arms industry. The country is seeking a place in the global weaponry industry by exploiting its own technological expertise. ST Engineering is Southeast Asian largest defense manufacturer and the only company in the region to be ranked on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's list of the world's top 100 defense contractor. Singapore has long sold weapons to other developing countries, but has recently been winning its first large orders from Western armies too.
The tiny island is now one of the world's top suppliers of 40mm ammunition as well as portable weapons like the CIS 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher. The British Army's 115 Broncos - first deployed in Afghanistan in 2010 and dubbed the "Warthogs" - are ST Engineering's pride, and billed as the first armored vehicles built for a Western army by an Asian firm. Its aviation arm ST Aerospace is the largest independent aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul provider in the world. The company is mainly owned by Temasek Holdings, controlled by the government of Singapore.
Indonesia is also powering up its military. For the first time in recent histories, the Indonesian defense ministry has money in its pocket, thanks to a booming economy. It is now shopping for tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, a guided missile destroyer, F-16s, Su-30 Sukhoi fighters, Australian C-130 transport planes, and at least three new South Korean submarines. The Indonesian government is projecting a sharp increase of defense budget to US$15 billion by 2015.
Indonesia has abundant resources, huge manpower and a deep military tradition
The numbers are highly significant, because a Southeast Asia in which Indonesia has a US$15 billion defense budget will look like a very different place; it would see Indonesia overtake Singapore as the region's biggest military spender, and leave others like Malaysia and Thailand trailing a long way behind. It is yet to be seen whether Singapore will allow that to happen.
Last week, Indonesia announced it plans to buy more than a dozen Russian Sukhoi fighter jets as part of a $15 billion five-year campaign to modernise its military. Singapore, who possesses the most powerful airforce in Southeast Asia, is also expected to purchase 12 Lockheed Martin's next generation F-35Bs fighter jets next week, and 63 more over time. The Singaporean decision will make it something of a Pacific air power - with 50 to 100 Australian F-35As, 42 F-35As in Japan, and 75 F-35Bs in Singapore.
Indonesia says it is wary of being left behind as China, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and other Asian nations ramp up defense spending, but also warned that rapidly increasing military spending and stronger defence capabilities in the region could sow distrust and fuel rivalry. "If this is not accompanied by enhanced transparency that improves trust and confidence, it could run the risk of an arms race that adversely impacts on peace and stability," defense minister Purnomo Yusgiantorosaid said.
Singapore's ST Engineering is Southeast Asia biggest weaponry company
As Southeast Asia's economies boomed, defense spending grew 42 percent in real terms from 2002 to 2011, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows. High on the list are warships, patrol boats, radar systems and combat planes, along with submarines and anti-ship missiles that are particularly effective in denying access to sea lanes.
"Submarines are a big thing," said Tim Huxley, executive director for Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "They can do immense damage without being seen, without being anticipated, and they can do that anywhere in the region." Malaysia has two Scorpene submarines and Vietnam is buying six Kilo-class submarines from Russia. Thailand also plans to buy submarines and its Gripen warplanes from Sweden's Saab AB.
Singapore has been pumping money to maintain its regional air superiority and two Archer-class submarines from Sweden to supplement the four Challenger submarines and powerful surface navy and air force it already has. Indonesia has two submarines now and has ordered three new ones from South Korea. It is also working with Chinese firms on manufacturing C-705 and C-802 anti-ship missiles after test-firing a Russian-built Yakhont anti-ship missile in 2011.
Asia-Pacific biggest military spenders
Singapore, Indonesia race for military supremacy, in Southeast Asia