US seeks to boost arms sales to Vietnam as the Southeast Asian nation looks to diversify supply
Since the US removal of its ban on arms sales to Vietnam in May 2016, the two countries have reached several defence deals.
HANOI: The United States is working to increase arms sales to Vietnam as the Southeast Asian country hosts its first large-scale international defence trade show on Thursday (Dec 8).
The event, held until Dec 10, is part of Vietnam's efforts to diversify its arms supply.
Since the US removed its ban on arms sales to Vietnam in May 2016, the two countries have reached several defence deals, including six ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles and 12 Beechcraft T-6 Texan II trainer aircrafts.
"We look to continue what we've done and potentially expand at whatever pace Vietnam would like to go," said Major General Jered Helwig, commanding general of the US Army Pacific’s 8th Theater Sustainment Command.
The first three T-6 aircraft will be delivered in 2024 between March and June. The delivery of the remaining T-6 aircraft to Vietnam will follow between 2024 and 2027, US military officials told CNA.
The military ScanEagle UAVs are expected to be delivered to Vietnam when its Coast Guard completes training on drone operations.
The US has so far provided Vietnam with two decommissioned Hamilton-class cutters to increase Vietnam's capacity to patrol the disputed South China Sea. The US added that talks are under way for the transfer of the third Hamilton-class cutter to Vietnam.
Experts said Vietnam's purchase of American pilot trainer aircraft would open possibilities for Vietnam to buy American jet fighters in the future.
"We gladly entertain the interests to secure other aircraft ... currently we don't have any other types of sales this time, but we are here to support Vietnam's modernisation plan," said Brigadier General Sarah Russ, a representative of the US Department of Defence told CNA.
The US has a sizable contingent at the expo with about 10 exhibitors - more than double the number of Russian exhibitors.
American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is presenting in Hanoi its multi-mission C-130J Super Hercules, F-16 multi-role fighter jet, and Sikorsky S-70 BLACK HAWK.
"Lockheed Martin is glad to participate in the event and looks forward to being even more a part of the defence and security conversation in Vietnam and the rest of the region," the company told CNA via email.
REDUCE OVERRELIANCE ON RUSSIA WEAPONRY
The defence trade show, which attracted about 170 manufacturers from 30 countries, is the first large-scale expo of its kind in Vietnam as the country looks to diversify its supply of weapons.
“It will be very difficult to fulfil our duties in defence industrial production, as well as in protecting our country, if we are reliant on one particular country or region for defence material or equipment," said Major General Nguyen Viet Hung, Deputy Political Commissar of Vietnam's General Department of Defence Industry.
He added that Russia's war in Ukraine posed “great impact” on the supply chain of materials for defence industries.
Russia is traditionally Southeast Asia's largest arms supplier, with exports totalling nearly US$11 billion over the past two decades.
But experts said Russia's arms sales to the region are expected to decline because of sanctions on Russia as well as reputational damage to Russian equipment due to its battlefield performance in Ukraine.
Vietnam is ranked among the top buyers of Russia's defence products, purchasing big-ticket items such as S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, Gepard-class frigates, Kilo-class submarines and Su-30 jet fighters.
"Tensions have erupted between Vietnam and China over the decades, mainly centred on the South China Sea. And Vietnam wants to have a military force in place that can provide a kind of limited deterrence towards China," Dr Ian Storey, senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told CNA.
"If push comes to shove, that could possibly give China a run for its money in the South China Sea."
According to Vietnam's state budget, the country allocated US$6.3 billion in 2021 for military spending. The number is forecast to increase by about 8.5 per cent per year, according to GlobalData, a data analytics and consulting firm.
One expert, however, said it will take years for markets like Vietnam to switch to Western-made arms, due to issues like compatibility with existing systems.
Dr Storey said Vietnam cannot switch from Russian arms in the near term, given that most of its equipment is from Russia.
“Vietnam will need spare parts, it will need munitions, it will need upgrades from Russia. So it can't quickly or easily switch to another country," he said.
Besides the US, potential supplier India has also emerged as a top contender. India makes up the biggest contingent of exhibitors at the expo, after host country Vietnam.
Mr Radha Krishna, production director at Indian arms manufacturer Bharat Dynamics, told CNA that the Vietnam armed forces were showing interest in their AKASH weapon system, a short-range surface-to-air missile system.
“We are ready to work with them, cooperate with them, we are ready to work on joint development, joint production and joint manufacturing,” he said.
SHOW OF CAPABILITIES
The defence expo in Hanoi provides a rare glimpse into Vietnam’s military arsenal, with flying displays of eight out of Vietnam's 35 Su-30 jet fighters marking the opening of the event on Thursday.
Vietnam also showcased some of its own defence products, such as light-weighted UAVs and short-range surveillance radar developed by local military firm Viettel.
The homemade subsonic anti-surface cruise missile VCM-01, one of the most significant achievements of Vietnam's defence industries that are built based on Russia's designs, is not on display at the show venue.
While some hailed Vietnam's efforts to develop its own defence industry, military sources told CNA that it mainly aims to help Vietnam become more self-sufficient rather than export.
"It's going to be a tough challenge for Vietnam if they want to become a player in the arms industry, said Dr Storey.
"It's hard to break into that market."
"You're not dependent on other countries if you have your own arms industry, but getting to that point is will take decades," he said.