Arms and the Man: Why the World is Heading Towards an Arms Race
Artistic impression of the US President with missiles, used for representational purposes.
Artistic impression of the US President with missiles, used for representational purposes.(Photo: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

Arms and the Man: Why the World is Heading Towards an Arms Race

Many learned people have already stated that Cold War II is underway. Whether it is a cold war or not, the world is stockpiling deadly new weapons in a frenzy, without any good reason. Some countries that aren’t facing any genuine threats are also buying them up. And developing countries are not lagging behind developed ones in the procurement of new weapons.

US President Donald Trump unveiled a grand ‘National Security Strategy, 2017’, on 18 December 2017, to ‘Make America Great Again’. The strategy is to develop and build an arsenal of new weapons to deter North Korea, Iran, Russia and China.

The plan will cost more than USD 11 trillion and, for now, the strategy is being kept in cold storage for want of funds. However, the US has been regularly manufacturing and developing new weapons to allegedly destroy more enemies.

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India Is Catching Up in the Arms Race

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on 1 March 2018 that his country has developed ‘hypersonic’ nuclear weapons that can hit any part of the world and cannot be intercepted. They can travel at a speed ten times that of sound, he claims.

China has increased its defence budget by 8.1 percent for 2018, which amounts to a total of USD 175 billion (India’s whole defence budget is USD 45 billion). This is a huge hike. China is constantly developing new weapons, such as the J-20 Stealth Fighter. China has a new generation of stealth, supersonic anti-ship missiles, and the US is clearly worried about them. The missiles can evade US missile defenses and undermine the effectiveness of the carrier strike groups that the US operates in the Western Pacific.

The nuclear ambitions of North Korea are well-known. Less noticed has been the rush to test and deploy missiles by Asian nations that are either nuclear-capable or easily able to obtain such armaments. Taiwan is buying four US-made Perry-class guided missile frigates.

Taiwan has so far acquired missiles and other military hardware worth USD 1.4 billion from the US during Trump’s presidency. The Philippines are spending almost USD 1 billion on new aircraft and radars.

The recent test of India’s Agni V nuclear-capable ballistic missile demonstrates clearly India’s interest in the arms race.

Also Read : Is North Korea’s Nuclear Disarmament Offer Too Good to Be True?

A Pacifist Japan Takes Up Arms

The US State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to Qatar of equipment and support to upgrade the Qatari Emiri Air Force’s (QEAF) Air Operation Center (AOC) at an estimated cost of USD 197 million.

Japan is making plans of its own, with North Korea seemingly in its line of vision. Japan is set to purchase extended-range missiles that could hit the North’s military bases. The country’s Ministry of Defense says it will procure a Norwegian-built Joint Strike Missile that can travel up to 300 miles, as well as revamp its F-35 jet fighters to carry Lockheed Martin Missiles, including the company’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. This would mark Japan’s first ever purchase of long-range missiles and a change in the official pacifist stance the country has maintained since World War II.

Russia has finalised an agreement with Turkey on the sale of the S-400 air defence missile system and Moscow will begin delivery of the system to Ankara in late 2019. The agreement is valued at about USD 2 billion.

The S-400 is the latest of Russia’s surface-to-air missile defense batteries. Turkey obviously feels that it could face a problem with Israel in the near future.

Also Read : Netanyahu warns of nuclear arms race in Mideast

Wartorn Myanmar Continues to Receive Arms

In 2017, Iran tested and deployed a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system that has long worried the US and Israeli military officials, because it gives the Islamic Republic a “generational improvement in capabilities”, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency disclosed. Russia delivered the SA-20c SAM system in 2016, providing Iran with its most advanced air-defence system. The deployment of the SA-20 underscores the value of Israel’s purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s stealthy F-35 jet.

It also caps a decade of objections by the US and Israel against Russia selling the weapons system to Iran. Israel continues to sell weapons to Myanmar’s military junta, despite the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the state of Rakhine. The arms sold to the junta reportedly include over 100 tanks and boats, as well as other types of weapons.

The completion of a US weapons deal with Israel worth USD 38 billion clears the way for two of Israel’s Arab neighbours to buy US fighter jets. Qatar wants to buy 36 Boeing F-15 fighter jets. Kuwait has been waiting to buy 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Although officials did not say the Gulf sales hinged on the completion of the Israeli deal, observers see a quid pro quo.

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UAE & Saudi on a Weapons Buying Spree

An aircraft deal with Bahrain may be further from fulfillment, due to concerns in Washington about the country’s human rights record. With the continuous supply of weapons assured by the new deal, the US will be delivering state-of-the-art warplanes to Israel. Israel will further sell the planes to Bahrain and other countries in the vicinity. The Lockheed Martin F-35, a stealth fighter now being introduced into the US military, will help Israel retain air superiority in the region.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have been on a weapons-buying spree for the past decade. Moscow aims to sell the S-400 system to Saudi Arabia; the deal with Riyadh could be finalised before the end of the year.

Riyadh and London have also decided to finalise a multi-billion-dollar contract for the sale of 48 Typhoon fighter jets to the Persian Gulf state.

President Mauricio Macri of Argentina has approved the purchase of airplanes for the Air Force, patrol vessels for the Navy and armoured vehicles and combat rifles for the Army, it was announced recently. The total cost of the purchases will surpass 40 billion pesos (USD 2,500 million).

The Italian-built Spartan and the C-295 are the models under scrutiny because they can carry loads or transport paratroopers with systems ‘more versatile’ than those of the Hercules. After several months of advance reports, Argentina has reportedly come to an agreement with Italy to buy 16 used Mirage F1s.

Iraq’s F1EQ-5 jets were modified to carry the Exocet anti-ship missile, but they required modifications. Spain upgraded their F1Cs to F1Ms, but it is not clear whether their planes ever added Exocet capability. There has been some good news to Ukraine’s famous, albeit struggling, aircraft manufacturer, Antonov.

Saudi Arabia has announced that they are going to purchase 30 of the company’s new AN-178 jet transports. This is the first military order for this type of jet and the largest single order to date. As part of the An-178 deal, Saudi Arabia’s Taqnia Aeronautics will, alongside Antonov, jointly market the aircraft to other Arab gulf states.

The two companies have increasingly cooperated on aviation projects in recent years, according to Flightglobal.com, including developing a special missions variant of the An-148 airliner.

The examples above are special acquisitions in addition to what the countries have already been developing and purchasing as a matter of routine. Clearly the world is in amidst an arms race.

(Y Udaya Chandar is a retired Colonel from the Indian Army. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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