Air force looking into fighter training in Guam

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong holds a press conference with the Singapore media at Blair House on Aug 3, 2016.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong holds a press conference with the Singapore media at Blair House on Aug 3, 2016. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

RSAF always keen on more training options because of its limited airspace: PM Lee

Singapore's air force is exploring the possibility of conducting fighter training in Guam, and could even set up a training facility on the US island territory, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

In an interview on Wednesday with the Singapore media to wrap up his official visit to the US, Mr Lee said the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is always looking for opportunities to expand its training options, because of airspace constraints in Singapore.

"So we have fighter training in America, flying training in Australia - we have a flying training school there, we have got a facility in France in Bordeaux; and Guam, geographically, is a bit closer than these places," he said.

  • RSAF detachments in the United States

  • Other places that Singapore's air force trains at:

    • Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho: Detachment established in 2008, with training conducted using Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-15SG fighter aircraft.

    • Grand Prairie, Texas: RSAF CH-47 Chinook helicopters (since 1995)

    • Luke Air Force Base, Arizona: RSAF F-16C/D Fighting Falcons (since 1992)

    • Marana, Arizona: RSAF AH-64 Apache helicopters (since 2001).

    SOURCE: REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE AIR FORCE

"Not as close as next door, but not so far away," Mr Lee said of the island in the Pacific Ocean, which is also home to the US Andersen Air Force Base.

While the discussions between the two countries are still in a preliminary stage, Mr Lee said there is a "good possibility" of Singapore and the US working together, and developing a training facility there.

Mr Lee, who has been on a six-day visit to the US to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, met US President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday.

Defence was among the areas of strategic partnership both leaders affirmed a commitment to working on together.

A joint statement by Singapore and the US, following the meeting, said: "The two leaders expressed support to explore new training opportunities for the Singapore Armed Forces in Guam, with an eye toward a potential long-term training detachment for the RSAF."

Singapore trains or stations approximately 1,000 personnel each year in the US, said the statement.

The RSAF has four detachments in the US - two in Arizona and one each in Texas and Idaho. It has one more in France and another two in Australia - Queensland and Perth.

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said due to Singapore's limited airspace, adding another training area in Guam gives the RSAF more options. "It also signifies the strong bilateral defence ties between the Singapore and the US," said Mr Ho, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Mr Ho added: "The US has plans to increase its military presence in Guam, and while it's too early to say, this could provide more training opportunities for both armed forces."

The Singapore-US joint statement also noted that "President Obama welcomed Singapore's continued interest in the F-35 aircraft."

The F-35, known as the Joint Strike Fighter, has been in development by Lockheed Martin since 2001 but has faced criticism for delays and ballooning production costs. Singapore's defence ministry said in May that the fighter is "still under evaluation".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Air force looking into fighter training in Guam'. Print Edition | Subscribe