The global inflatable tents market has traditionally catered mainly to two large segments, the military and adventure tourism. Furthermore, the market has been dominated by North America, more specifically the United States, and Europe. However, speaking in regional terms, the market has steadily shifted from the west to the east over the past few years. From a geo-economics perspective, it is natural to assume that this shift has been motivated to a large extent due to growing prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. While on the one hand it is undeniable that the growing prosperity in the Asia-Pacific has spurred adventure tourism, just like it continues to do in the Middle East, it would be naïve to ignore the military and geopolitical ramifications of this development.
It has been the norm throughout history that countries first prosper economically and then divert their economic power towards the strengthening of their military power; pre-World War I Germany, Imperial Japan, post-World War II United States and colonial era Britain all stand testament to this fact. These are some stark exceptions to the rule, most prominent among those being prosperous but small states in Central and Western Europe, and city-states in the Middle East and Asia. However, it can be safely assessed that these exceptions exist because the cumulative national power of these states (despite their economic prowess), coupled with their lack of strategic depth would render these states extremely vulnerable in a military conflict; thus, transforming economic power to military power would more often than not go against their national interests.
In the case of Asia-Pacific, a single factor is causing the geopolitical shift; i.e. the rise of China. Today, China, with its USD 12 trillion economy is behind only the US in economic terms. However, the economies of other countries in the region too are following a consistent upward trajectory. This includes a major power (India), several middle powers like Indonesia and Australia, and countries with a history of defiance and strong threat perceptions such as Vietnam, Taiwan, Pakistan, etc. This has made the region a complex geographical area with several countries operating in close proximity and trying to promote their own, often divergent.
How do inflatable tents matter?
For military purposes, inflatable tents are used in temporary operational positions. So to say, a military unit will pitch an inflatable tent in a position it wants to hold only temporarily; for a permanent position, a concrete and fortified outpost or bunker would be the more preferred option. Additionally, inflatable tents may be used during long patrols. However, the commonality in both these cases is that the army units will be operating outside their range of their permanent positions. Needless to say, the most common use of inflatable tents is not in actual warfare but in trainings and exercises. However, these trainings are in itself an indicator of the desired preparation levels of armies and the type of operations they envisage during wartime.
Given the uses of inflatable tents, it comes as no surprise that inflatable tents have been pivotal in operations that involve interventions in other countries. Statistically, the US has been at the forefront of the foreign operations across the globe in the 21st century, followed by France, whose areas of foreign operations are mainly in Western Africa. In comparison, China has no recorded foreign military operation till date. Thus, the increasing consumption of inflatable tents by armies of Asian countries could serve as an indication that these countries are now preparing for a world where they envisage scenarios of troop deployments to protect their foreign interests. When coupled with a relative decline in consumption by traditional powers in the Western Hemisphere, it would be fair to say that Asia’s emerging powers will fill in voids left by withdrawal of US and NATO forces in the future geopolitical and security landscape.
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The other major use of inflatable tents is in operations that involve troops being positioned in forward positions within their own boundaries. These positions would usually be left unmanned due to geographical factors providing strategic depth. The high reaches of the Himalayas are a classic example of such a geography, where contesting sides would rely on their strategic depth to reap operational advantages. However, this too is changing as the Chinese and Indian militaries adopt increasingly confrontational positions along the mountainous border. Thus, when speaking about increased sales of inflatable tents to Asian countries, an aspect which cannot be ignored is assertive behaviours by the rising powers along their own borders. This holds the potential of changing the geopolitical scenario in their own neighbourhoods since similar deployments by opposing forces is to be expected.
As a result, while certainly a cause for celebration for the inflatable tents market, the increased uptake of inflatable tents by Asian powers points towards a future geopolitical landscape which may be inherently less stable and more competitive.