New training facilities in Australia to take in more SAF troops

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

New site in Townsville, and Shoalwater Bay space to be expanded under new agreement

New military training facilities are to be developed in Australia that will allow thousands more Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops to hone their combat skills in the country.

Queensland's Townsville Field Training Area - a site four times the size of Singapore - has been made available under a new agreement between the two countries which was signed on Thursday.

Since 1990, SAF troops have trained at a similar-sized space at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland. Both the areas are now to be expanded by a quarter.

The number of SAF troops able to train in these spaces will more than double from 6,600 a year to 14,000.

The Townsville site will be used mainly for army and air training whereas Shoalwater Bay will also be used for navy training.

Singapore will build facilities that allow for complex training. These include a brand-new range where its large weapons, such as long-range artillery guns and Apache attack helicopters, can fire live rounds.

It will also build a mock city with multi-storey buildings for soldiers to hone their urban warfare skills.

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne revealed more details yesterday at a joint press conference in Townsville with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

She said that the master planning process for the development of the Townsville site will likely take place over next year and 2018, with construction expected to start in 2019.

The deal will give Singapore 25 years of access to both training areas.

SAF troops currently train for six weeks a year at Shoalwater Bay, but this will be extended to 18 weeks for both sites.

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

Both countries' militaries will have more opportunities for complex joint training exercises, elevating defence relations to new levels.

Dr Ng, who took a helicopter flight over the Townsville Field Training Area after the press conference, said it will allow the SAF to conduct training for a wide range of army units, ranging from artillery units to helicopters.

He added: "It's a very rare piece of training ground where you can do all that, with enough size and distances for our armoured vehicles, for our mechanised and motorised brigades."

He also said the local authorities and businessmen in Townsville he met were warm and accepted that the SAF would be training there.

But he urged Singapore's soldiers to be "very good guests" when they train at Townsville.

Dr Ng and Ms Payne also exchanged views on regional and security issues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'New training facilities in Australia to take in more SAF troops'. Print Edition | Subscribe