In its new analysis entitled “The Market for Fighter/Attack/Trainer Retrofit & Modernization (R&M),” Forecast International estimates that nearly US$20 billion will be spent on military aircraft upgrades over the next decade.
The United States alone is expected to earmark US$9.5 billion for fighter/attack/trainer R&M programs, with the rest of the world kicking in another US$10.3 billion.
“Air forces have a need to update their existing fleets of fighter/attack/trainer aircraft to meet the challenges of 21st century warfare,” says Adam Feld, airborne R&M analyst and author of the report.
“However, the economic turmoil spreading across the globe is having an effect on defense budgets, including upgrade funding.”
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have illustrated that the traditional roles of combat aircraft – to provide air superiority and destroy enemy surface assets – are of little help against an enemy with no air force, and that hides among a civilian population.
To meet this new challenge, many Western nations, particularly the United States, are improving their fleet`s ground support role with improved sensors and precision ground attack capability.
Yet these nations remain aware that conventional warfare is not dead but only dormant, and seek to maintain their fleets` traditional capabilities as well.
Eastern nations are thus pressured to upgrade their own fleets to maintain parity. Both China and Russia are seeking to build their status as superpowers with modernised militaries, while tensions between India and Pakistan have led those nations – and their neighbours – to evaluate their true capabilities.
India has launched a major modernisation effort that it claims will suffer no cuts even in the face of a slowing global economy.
Yet not all nations are so enthusiastic. With an economic recession spreading worldwide, governments are feeling the pinch and are cautious about upgrade efforts. “Programs that are expensive in the short term but provide long-term savings – such as re-engining – are often put on the backburner pending more favorable economic conditions,” says Feld.
For example, the promising field of composite airframe structure upgrades has fallen into stasis and is unlikely to fully mature until funding becomes less tight, according to Feld.
And as always, the specter of higher fuel prices remains, despite the dramatic dive over the last few months.
Caught between changing needs and tight budgets, militaries will seek upgrades for their air fleets that grant the greatest capability without being prohibitively expensive – literally, the most bang for their buck.