WASHINGTON — North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s spreading influence are hovering like a specter over the Singapore Airshow, the largest such event in the Asia-Pacific, which will kick off Feb. 6.
The question is, will that entice more deals for military equipment?
“The situation in North Korea obviously has many of our allies and partners much more interested in not just the U.S. commitment to the region, but also in their own defensive capabilities,” a U.S. State Department official told reporters ahead of the air show, which runs until Feb. 11 at the Changi Exhibition Center.
“Countries are interested in talking to us about how best they can strengthen their own capabilities against what they see as a potential threat from North Korea.”
While it is rare for big aircraft deals to be announced at any air show, there is evidence that the Trump administration is putting more political muscle toward furthering U.S. weapons exports in the region.
For instance, the State Department is sending Tina Kaidanow, the principal deputy assistant secretary that heads the department’s bureau of political-military affairs, which oversees foreign military sales. Two years ago at the last Singapore Airshow, the bureau’s deputy attended the event instead of its senior official, the State Department official said.
Another sign is the recently released National Defense Strategy’s calls for the Defense Department to “prioritize the request for US military equipment sales, accelerating foreign partner modernization and the ability to integrate with U.S. forces.”
That, along with the national security strategy and President Donald Trump’s participation at the Davos World Economic Forum, sends a strong message about the administration’s willingness to export crucial defense technologies, said Remy Nathan, vice president of international affairs for lobbying group Aerospace Industries Association.
“With the type of communications that have been coming out recently from the White House, I’m hoping there’s a positive impact on civil sales announcements, on defense sales announcements coming out of this air show,” he told Defense News in an interview.
“I will tell, you, once the system absorbs the guidance that’s been coming out, and assuming more and greater clarity on the role that aerospace and defense exports are supposed to play in the president’s priorities, perhaps even in the communications tomorrow in the State of the Union, I have even higher expectations for [the] Farnborough [air show] and beyond.”
Although the State Department is still finalizing Kaidanow’s schedule at the show, she will meet with her Defense Department counterparts as well as with U.S. industry. She will also meet with a number of international customers, the State Department official said.
“When the Malaysian prime minister was here and met with the president, he committed to pursuing more U.S. defense sales. That’s one potential area of follow up,” he said. “Indonesia buys quite a bit through FMS, that’s another potential follow up. Singapore of course is a very important partner in the region, and we’ve sold them in the past several years about $6.8 billion in [foreign military sales] and $12 billion in [direct commercial sales].”
The Asia-Pacific is a diverse region, and countries’ defense requirements are equally varied. However, it’s likely that maritime and ballistic missile defense capabilities accumulate more interest this year due to concerns about North Korea and China’s presence in the South China Sea.
The U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B will make its much-anticipated debut among the aircraft featured in static displays at the show. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 — the service’s first squadron of B models, which are capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings — is currently homestationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan, and will deploy this year aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp.
The U.S. military will also showcase the F-22 and F/A-18E fighter jets, the P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance plane, E-3B airborne early warning aircraft, C-17 transport plane and RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance drone in static displays, while the Air Force will conduct a flying demonstration of F-16s.
The show will also feature aerobatic flying demonstrations, including the Singapore Air Force’s F-15s and F-16s, Sukhoi Su-30s flown by the Royal Malaysian Air Force, Saab Gripens operated by the Royal Thai Air Force and South Korea’s T-50 Black Eagles team.
Most of the international static displays have not been announced as of press time, but Singapore’s air force is making a huge showing, exhibiting its Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma utility helicopter, Boeing CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter, F-16D and F-15SG fighter jets, Elbit’s Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicle and a Gulfstream G550 modified for the airborne early warning mission, among several other aircraft.
China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group is bringing the Wing Loong and Wing Loong II medium altitude long endurance drones, which have become a major international competitor to General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator.
The Royal Australian Air Force will display a P-8 Poseidon and its E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.