Approaches to Technology Development and Procurement
Few things differentiate the lethality of an air force more than the level of technology in its most advanced aircraft. Historically, advantages in aviation technology have often translated into significant advantages in combat environments, especially for fighter aircraft. In the current environment, the world’s most advanced air forces have access to fifth-generation fighter aircraft technology.2 Fifth-generation fighters are characterized by the incorporation of advanced technologies such as stealth, integrated avionics systems, thrust vectoring, and helmet-mounted sights.3 The technological demands of designing and producing advanced fighters present considerable challenges for developing countries. They may want an air force that is on par qualitatively with the world’s most advanced, but usually lack an aviation industry capable of producing cutting-edge fighter aircraft technology. A developing country may be able to produce some highly sophisticated components, but lack the knowledge or industrial capacity to design and build all necessary components or to integrate them into a finished product. Industrial capacity refers to the ability to fabricate each component part that goes into the final product and assemble it using indigenous labor. Knowledge encompasses the know-how to design and manufacture component parts, together with requisite competence in areas such as systems engineering, which is critical to integrating various complex systems into a working unit.4
Developing countries incapable of producing cutting-edge fighters on their own must seek to acquire complete aircraft or technologies from countries willing to sell them advanced aircraft or to export or codevelop the relevant technologies. However a number of factors might dissuade countries with an advanced aviation technology base from exporting aircraft or advanced aviation technologies to a particular developing country. The exporter country might view such transfers as potentially harmful to its security interests if it is unsure about the developing country’s long-term intentions. It might seek to avoid entering into a technology transfer relationship out of deference to its relationship with allies or other customers. Allies might use leverage to dissuade potential exporters from making arms sales or technology transfers to developing countries about which they have security concerns. Nevertheless, access to foreign advanced fighters and aviation technology is critical for developing countries seeking to build a modern air force.