Construction in Australia for new SAF training area to begin in 2019: Australian Defence Minister

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen is shown the notable landmarks in the Townsville area by Lieutenant-General (Ret) John Caligari.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen is shown the notable landmarks in the Townsville area by Lieutenant-General (Ret) John Caligari.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NG ENG HEN
Singapore's Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Defence Marise Payne sign a memorandum of understanding at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on Oct 13, 20
Singapore's Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Defence Marise Payne sign a memorandum of understanding at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on Oct 13, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

SINGAPORE - Construction on an Australian plot of land newly available to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will likely begin in 2019, Australian Minister for Defence Marise Payne said on Friday (Oct 14).

The plot, called the Townsville Field Training Area, will be about five times the size of Singapore when it is developed. It will be used mainly for army and air training. The SAF does not train there at the moment.

Ms Payne was speaking at a joint press conference with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Friday. The press conference followed the signing of an agreement on Military Training and Training Area Development between Australia and Singapore on Thursday.

Under the agreement, the training space which the SAF can use in Australia will grow from four times to 10 times the size of Singapore.

The SAF will have military training access to, for 25 years, the new Townsville Field Training Area, and the existing Shoalwater Bay Training Area where Exercise Wallaby is conducted annually.

The Shoalwater Bay Training Area - which is about four times the size of Singapore and which the SAF has had access to since 1990 - will also be expanded.

The number of SAF troops who train in Australia each year will grow from 6,600 to 14,000 a year. They will also train over 18 weeks a year instead of six weeks currently.

Singapore and Australia will jointly develop the two training areas, which are in Queensland, with Singapore committing to spending A$2.25 billion (S$2.38 billion) on developing military facilities in Australia over the next 25 years.

At the press conference, Ms Payne added that the master planning process for the development of the Townsville Field Training Area will likely take place in 2017 and 2018, with construction expected to start in 2019.

Dr Ng said that the SAF hopes to build a combined arms live-firing range in the expanded training areas.

He added: "I think (this is) timely because our platforms have been renewed. We haven't built a range, a modern range, in that sense."

He also said that the SAF also hoped to build an urban live-firing training area in Australia, adding that many of the SAF's missions in the future would be in dense urban areas.

Dr Ng, who took a helicopter-familiarisation flight over the Townsville Field Training Area after the press conference on Friday, said it was "a very rare piece of training ground" which will allow the SAF to conduct training for a wide range of army units, ranging from artillery units to helicopters.

He added that the town leaders and businessmen of Townsville he met were warm and accepted that the SAF would be training there. He said that SAF soldiers on their part would have to be good guests when they trained at Townsville.