JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- International defense companies, increasingly dependent on exports because of deep military spending cuts in the United States and Europe, are reportedly looking to mineral-rich Africa to help get them out of a hole.
The U.S. weekly Defense News reports that projections for defense spending in Africa, where there are established or emerging energy booms in the western and eastern regions, will exceed $20 billion over the next decade.
This is no doubt linked in part to the recent expansion of several armies in Africa, which constitutes 20 percent of the world's landmass and since the end of the colonial era in 1960s seems to have been in continual ferment with wars, coup and insurgencies.
Most of this expansion has taken place since 2001 and is primarily concerned with Western-backed efforts to bolster the region's counterterrorism capabilities.
This is particularly true in the Sahel region of northern Africa, including the oil and gas-rich Mediterranean belt, and in the Horn of Africa on the east coast, where al-Qaida and its offshoots have been highly active.
"The scramble for the African defense market has just begun, and it will continue over the next decade," says Col. Joseph Sibanda, a retired army officer in Zimbabwe and now a defense analyst.
He believes that countries like Mozambique, an impoverished former Portuguese colony that's now the center of a major gas boom with neighboring Tanzania, along with Uganda and Kenya, where oil and gas has been found, will need to recalibrate their defense requirements toward protecting their oil and gas infrastructure onshore and offshore.
These will include more patrol ships and probably maritime surveillance aircraft and possibly unmanned aerial vehicles.
"Africa will in the next few years rise to become a defense market almost at the same level with Southeast Asia," Sibanda observed.
"Military aircraft, armored vehicles and advanced artillery systems will be top of the list as African militaries and law enforcement authorities modernize to meet new security threats."
Defense News cited market analysts as saying "demand for military hardware in Africa is set to increase as governments gear up to fight terrorists and Islamic militants.
"Nations say they need better firepower, modernized forces, improved armed mobility and stronger force protection to fight militants that have become the scourge of nations throughout East, West and North Africa."
Oxford Analytica observed there has been "an expansionary period for most of sub-Saharan Africa's leading armies" as well despite the continent's widespread poverty.
This is attributed largely to expanded donor-funded peacekeeping operations involving African forces and "elevated security threat perceptions." This has been particularly evident in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria.
"Since 2001, Africa's armies appear to have enjoyed external support levels not since the height of the Cold War," Oxford Analytica observed.
"U.S. and European programs have funded initiatives aimed at 'stabilization' or 'democratic consolidation'." However, it noted that "such schemes appear to have had limited success in improving performance."
Africa has not been a key market for major Western defense contractors, although the oil-rich African states like Nigeria, Algeria and Libya have been buyers of top-tier weapon systems like aircraft, naval vessels and tanks over the years.
The only African states with indigenous arms industries are South Africa, although its Israel-linked defense sector has diminished considerably since the end of white rule in 1994, and Egypt, which since the 1979 peace agreement with Israel has largely been U.S.-oriented.
"South African companies are especially better positioned to make the best out of this business opportunity given their excellent track record in meeting continental defense needs," Sibanda said.
South Africa's defense sector is led by Denel, capable of producing advanced missile systems, world-class artillery and aerospace systems. The country, Africa's largest economy, could be a major beneficiary of a major equipment upgrade of the continent's armed forces.
Denel and B&T of Switzerland recently signed a technology transfer under which Denel will produce and market small arms ranging from submachine guns to grenade launchers.
Denel will initially use Swiss-made components whole upgrading its production plant to manufacture the parts in South Africa.
In the aviation sector, Denel Aviation recently signed a repair and service deal with Eurocopter, a division of the European defense giant EADS, that covers all AS332 Super Puma, B0 105, AS350 Ecureuil and Alouette helicopters in Africa.