A few years ago, I subscribed to Jane's Defence Briefs as a research resource for my writing. Knowing what country is making deals with whom to buy what can make your head spin. However, it is a rich data mine, if you dig patiently.
At times good to stop digging, pull your head out and look around.
I recently noted a trend. Obvious? Of course. Those are the trends no one talks about. We ignore the proverbial elephant in the room until we get a face full of trunk, or a crushed toe.
A few years back, many stories involved the purchase of new, high-end equipment. Aircraft, missile systems, large ships artillery systems were being developed and presented at the appropriate trade shows. Orders were placed, and deals signed. Once the purchaser bought the new hardware, he was usually committed to years of upkeep, then upgrades. It was a good time to be an arms manufacturer.
If you think the world economic slowdown has not impacted the arms trade, I'd say you're wrong. While not scientific in any way, my observations have noted a significant shift in purchasing trends.
New weapons systems contracted to years ago are already being scaled back. Lockheed F-35s slated to go to Australia have been delayed to cost overruns and supply chain issues in the US. The Australians, seeing an opportunity to bail out of that costly program, are looking for a more cost effective alternative. Brittan had planned to develop and deploy a new class of aircraft carrier, The Queen Elizabeth (and sister ship, The Prince of Wales). Yeah. Those ships are expensive. So expensive, they can't afford to operate them both. But they're contracted to build them. The Prince of Wales will be "mothballed" as soon as it is constructed. There's a huge list of US Army and Marine programs that have been cut (but those weren't for export). Somewhere, there's a tear in someone's fuel air explosive...
What's selling? The world still has champagne tastes, but must purchase on a beer budget. New tanks aren't selling*, but upgraded ancillary equipment, armour and armament extend their lives. Big ship purchases? No way. Littoral (shallow water) craft are small, flexible and cheap. Missiles are a force multiplier against a potential foe with large numbers of aircraft and tanks, easy sell. While tanks are passť', light armoured vehicles (LAVs) are all the rage. China has nailed this market, along with the Poles and other Eastern European manufactures. And of course, there are the drones (UAVs), including a new class of pilotless undersea vehicles (USVs). Oh sure, they public thinks they're great because our military personnel are at much less risk (except for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome). It's all about cost per mission hour.
My favorite new hardware, I found on a link at FARK of all places. It's made by a Virgina based company called Mav6 (USA! USA! USA!) It's called the M1400 Blue Devil 2. It's a Blimp. Yeah, you read that right. A soft framed kin to the Hindenburg. Only, this ain't your grandpa's lighter than airship. It has an avionics and surveillance package that can see if you take your latte with cinnamon or not... from 20,000 feet. It's nearly silent and can operate for almost A WEEK. Did I mention that it was ten times cheaper to operate than the Predator Drone? It's no wimp, either. The BD2 can be equipped with Hellfire missiles, just like your favorite drone. It's being marketed for possible domestic use as well. Just to look out for "bad guys". Sleep tight.
Welcome to the future. I already miss The Cold War.
*The Russian T-90 is not new, but a modestly upgraded T-72 variant. If it's cost effective for you, buy it. If not, wait for the T-99, slated for production in 2015.