SINGAPORE — Britain is hoping to profit from a growing tendency by some nations in the Asian region to dual-source their purchases of defense capability rather than rely on the US for equipment, said the boss of the the UK Government arms export agency.

"A number of countries which traditionally for decades have been Foreign Military Sales FMS] customers of the US government sometimes for entire air forces or navies now want to add to that capability with someone else as a partner," Stephen Phipson, the head of the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO), told reporters during a briefing at the Singapore Airshow Wednesday. Tuesday. Feb 16 .

"We are seeing an increasing pipeline of opportunity as the threat picture evolves for nations who do not want just to be dependent on US for capability but want to partner with other countries for additional capability," said the DSO head.

Phipson said a good example is the growth of indigenous fighter programs in places like South Korea, Japan and Turkey.

Countries that traditionally buy through FMS want more capability that is not separate to the US but additional to it; the change in buying habit gives British exporter a great opportunity, he said.

"I wouldn't say we are substituting the US sales, they are very strong here and will always be the leader because of the FMS process, but countries are diversifying and adding to capability.That's one of the things driving our export performance," he said.

Dual-sourcing has been prevalent in other big defense equipment areas for a while. Countries like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have hedged their bets with purchases of US and European kit, most noticeably in the combat jet sector.

Phiipson said another export driver in the Asian region is that the British are now involved in discussions with governments here on a much broader range of capabilities than has traditionally been the case.

"We are having lots of discussions about border security programs, space-based intelligence systems, national level cybersecurity are all now part of the conversation alongside defense capability. It brings us into a different sort of discussion with these countries and that's a really exciting development  in this marketplace," said the DSO boss.

Phipson is part of a British delegation to Singapore that involved two government ministers, including Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne, the chief of the air staff and other senior officers and officials .effort. 

Dunne said this year Britain had sent its largest delegation since the show started.

"The UK government and industry are here in force looking to develop relationships with Singaporeans and others in the region," he said.

Singapore has provided thin pickings for British exports in recent years but industry sources at the show said there were several potentially significant proposals on the table, including Finmeccancia's AW101 helicopters, BAE Systems' Terrier combat engineering tractor, and the Airbus Defence and Space Zepyhr solar-powered, long-endurance UAV. unmanned air vehicle.

A British government spokesman declined to discuss individual program prospects.

In the wake of the Conservative government's publication of its strategic defense and security review (SDSR) last November, the British were considering how best to strengthen their security and diplomatic ties across a number of regions, including Asia.

"We are looking at each of the major regions of the world where we think we have something to contribute and we are looking at how best to do that. We talked specifically in terms of a Gulf strategy in the SDSR because we made the decision [last year] that for the first time since the 1970s we would have a permanent naval base in Bahrain, so that's why the Gulf is highlighted than other regions. I think it is fair to say we are also reassessing what role we could play in South East Asia," said Dunne.

A DSO spokesman said the increasing effort being put into the region by the government would see a "significant increase in exercises and visits by minister and military chiefs."

Two exercises have been potentially earmarked for this year. One linked to the long-standing Five Powers Defence Arrangement that Britain has with Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore to foster defense cooperation and a probable second exercise in Japan timed for later in the year. Both exercises would involve deployments of Royal Air Force Typhoon combat jets.


Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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