Singapore is world's 20th biggest arms exporter

Jump of 11 spots seen as a spike, not a trend, and is result of recent large sales

SINGAPORE is now the world's 20th biggest arms exporter, having jumped 11 places in a year, new figures for last year reveal.

Think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) found the volume of exports of major conventional weapons from Singapore leapt from a trend-indicator value (TIV) of 12 million in 2011 to 76 million. TIV is a common unit created by Sipri and, although based on the known unit production costs of a core set of arms, it is not representative of the financial value of the transfer.

Defence specialists told The Straits Times this surge reflects the industry's growing capabilities. "Through the pursuit of military innovations that more countries are recognising, Singapore has been improving its global competitiveness in the defence market," said Dr Michael Raska, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (Asia) Tim Huxley called Singapore's breakthrough into the top 20 "quite an achievement" given its small size and history of lower arms exports. He noted that, rather than a trend, the sharp increase is "best treated as a spike" resulting from several recent large sales. He added that Singapore has a "limited range of defence products, none of which are particularly expensive".

Sipri's arms trade database is put together with information culled mainly from governments, the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and military trade publications. It shows Singapore's recent exports include a £150 million (S$286 million) delivery of 115 Broncos (armoured personnel carriers) to Britain for its troops in Afghanistan and 10 to Thailand. An Endurance amphibious assault landing ship was also sold to Thailand in a $200 million deal and delivered last year. Singapore also made sizeable deliveries to Africa, selling six light helicopters to Chad and two patrol craft to Nigeria.

The Republic does not have the local demand to justify making bigger items like submarines, said Dr Huxley, which is why the city-state will never be a huge player. While it is the third largest Asian exporter behind China and South Korea, the United States, Russia, and Germany have consistently been among the top arms exporters worldwide.

But Dr Raska said Singapore's boost in rankings "is part of a trend that will continue going forward as (it) wants to strengthen its global position".

Military publication IHS Jane's Asia-Pacific defence industry analyst Jon Grevatt added: "Singapore is regarded as a trusted supplier, unlike other countries in the region, and has the funding and the base to grow and develop military technology."

Sipri data also shows Singapore remained the world's fifth largest arms importer, securing 4 per cent of the global arms imports from 2008 to last year just as it did from 2007 to 2011.