Navies back in budget priorities as sea power takes over the global scene

Navies back in budget priorities as sea power takes over the global scene

LONDON - Reuters
Navies back in budget priorities as sea power takes over the global scene

The file photo shows a Russian Navy Zubr class hovercraft landing on the seashore during a military exercises. Over 800 billion dollars will be spent globally on naval power in the next two decades. AFP Photo

After a quarter century of Middle Eastern land wars and a sharp fall in big powers’ naval spending after the Cold War, sea power is back in vogue in response to the rise of China and Western reluctance to deploy ground troops in conflicts like Syria.

The greater interest in navies is being felt from the corridors of Washington to the pirate hunting grounds off Africa and the shipyards of Asia. “You’re going to see a much greater emphasis on using sea-based forces to produce an effect,” said Adm. Gary Roughead, who retired as Chief of Naval Operations, the professional head of the U.S. navy, in 2011.

$800 billion to be spent

“You’re seeing it in the Mediterranean, with Syria, and you’re seeing it in the Pacific and the Middle East,” said Roughead. India last month launched its first locally built aircraft carrier and a dozen such ships are to be completed worldwide in the next decade. U.S.-based consultancy AMI International estimates about $800 billion will be spent globally on naval programs in the next two decades, a quarter of it in Asia, which now surpasses austerity-hit Europe as the second-largest naval market after North America.

In April’s 2014 budget, the U.S. Navy pulled ahead to win the biggest chunk of funding of all three services. The Pentagon requested $155 billion for the Navy, just under 30 percent of the total $527 billion baseline budget. “Sea power is growing in importance,” said U.S. Rear Adm.Robert Kamensky, commander of NATO’s submarine force.

Washington is moving ships from the Atlantic to Pacific in part to confront Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, seen the primary beneficiary of years of double-digit defense budget increases. Beijing began operating its ex-Soviet carrier late last year, though it says it is not yet fully operational. It is also building submarines, patrol boats and other warships.

Worried nearby nations - particularly those with maritime boundary disputes with China - are upgrading everything from radar to missiles and torpedoes.

‘Maritime renaissance’

Japan will next year see its largest defense spending rise in 22 years. Australia is boosting its navy to include new assault ships, while Vietnam is buying Russian submarines. The Philippines is dramatically expanding its once almost moribund force, acquiring two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters, Japanese patrol boats and a second-hand French warship. Washington’s ability to strike from the sea remains without parallel, going well beyond its 10 massive carriers, currently over half the global total. In number of ships, many European fleets are now at their smallest in centuries. Britain has spent the last three years without a single operational aircraft carrier. Though smaller, European navies remain potent. Spain, France and Italy have all built new carriers since 2000. “It amounts to nothing less than a maritime renaissance,” Britain’s First Sea Lord Adm. George Zambellas told an arms fair in London. “The Navy is back in business.”