Singapore: Asian states led by China, Japan and South Korea are expected to spend some 60 billion dollars to beef up their navies in the next five years, an industry analyst said Monday.

That is bigger than what NATO countries — excluding the United States — are forecast to spend for new naval construction in the same period, said Bob Nugent, vice president of US-based naval consultancy AMI International.

The world’s biggest spender will remain the United States at a little above 60 billion dollars between now and 2014, Nugent said here on the eve of IMDEX Asia 2009, Asia’s top maritime defence show.

Non-NATO European countries led by Russia are forecast to spend 11 billion dollars on new naval capabilities in the next five years, he added.

Nugent said that for Asia, the most popular buys are submarines, frigates and aviation-capable amphibious ships as governments build “third generation” navies with underwater, surface and aerial capabilities.

Asian navies are also moving away from their main role of patrolling local waters to having the capability to operate in international waters, he added.

“Defence spending in Asia has proven stable over the last year and is expected to remain so. Looking at the global market, we’ve not seen the same cutbacks that are unfolding in Europe,” Nugent said.

“In our view, this reflects greater macroeconomic stability and relatively less exposure to systemic and credit risk in most Asian economies as well as a recognition of how vital effective sea power is to national security and prosperity.”

China, Japan and South Korea will lead the region in naval spending, but India is also ramping up investments to modernise its navy, he said.

Australia and Singapore have substantial naval programmes planned, while Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are expected to sustain investments in their navies in the next five years.

Apart from planning for conventional and non-conventional security threats, Asian navies are also building their capability to protect offshore oil rigs and platforms as the search for more energy sources expands, he said.

Delegates from 36 countries, including some defence and navy chiefs, will attend the conference and exhibition, while 20 warships from 14 nations will dock here for the duration.