Defence - Issue 64 - Magazine | Monocle

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Hovering with intent


The Peruvian Navy recently ordered seven UK-built hovercraft to bolster its presence on the Amazon. The craft will primarily be used to patrol the river for drug smugglers.

Western budgets tanked


Defence is in recession – at least in some parts of the world – as global military spending in 2012 fell for the first time since the 1990s. We collectively spent €1.34trn on military capabilities according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), down from €1.35trn in 2011, as hefty funding increases in China (7.8 per cent), Russia (16 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (12 per cent) failed to compensate for the continuing western slump in military outlay.

It was no surprise to see those three countries topping the list of rising big spenders. China has been boosting its defence budget annually by around 10 per cent since the 1990s. Russia is intent on reclaiming some of the military supremacy that was lost following the collapse of the Soviet Union. And Saudi Arabia continues to invest heavily in advanced US weaponry with which to counter arch-enemy Iran.

It signifies a seismic structural shift in global military wealth, with power flowing from the West to Eastern Europe, Latin America, North Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Moreover, as the US’s share of global spending dipped below 40 per cent for the first time in 25 years, western defence spending could continue to slide according to Samuel Perlo-Freeman, Sipri’s military expenditure and arms production director. “In the US, bottoming-out will come when the withdrawal from Afghanistan is more or less complete,” he says. “In western and central Europe there is no sign of an end to economic stagnation. So long as that remains the case, I expect military spending to continue falling.”

2012’s other big spenders:

  1. Mexico: Upped its spending by 10 per cent to $7.1bn (€5.5bn) in 2012, with the government battling violent drug cartels. There were big rises across Latin America, with Panama and Venezuela hiking their military budgets by over 40 per cent.
  2. Indonesia: A big mover in Southeast Asia as the government seeks to repair years of under-investment. Its military budget rose 28 per cent to €5.4bn in 2012, with further big rises due over the next few years as its economy booms.
  3. Oman: Boosted defence spending by 51 per cent in 2012. Much of the expanded €5.2bn budget went towards investment in new fighter jets and offshore patrol vessels.

Weapons and systems

Light artillery


The US has cracked one of military tech’s longest-running challenges: developing a laser that can be weaponised. After successful testing, the US navy is planning to fit its new Laser Weapon System (LWS) to an active warship by the end of 2014. It will be used primarily as a defensive capability to shoot down incoming aircraft and missiles, which are incinerated by the laser’s high-temperature beam.

The LWS (below) costs $40m (€31m) to install but only uses $1 of electricity each time it is fired – far cheaper than costly missiles that can only be launched once. Just one Achilles heel: bad weather can block the laser’s beam.


Banning the bomb


Five years after the creation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty that banned the purchase, stockpiling and use of the explosives, some of the biggest users are still refusing to sign up. There are now 112 signatories but China, Israel, Russia and the US remain absent. Although proponents cite reduced international deployment since 2008 as the treaty’s successful stigmatisation of the weapons, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces scattered them across Libya in 2011 and in March, Human Rights Watch claimed evidence of their use in Syria.

In the field

Heads up


Fifty years after his death, the assassination of John F Kennedy could help soldiers caught up in IED explosions. British blast-testing specialist SJH Projects is modifying a synthetic head to improve technology that was developed for a Discovery Channel documentary on Kennedy’s fatal injuries.

Cranial blast testing has traditionally used crash-test dummies or real heads left to science but SJH’s new design is made from jelly-like Ausgel, wrapped around a bone-representative composite skull filled with pressure sensors.Ballistic testing began on the design in March and scientists will begin blowing them up later this year.

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