Singapore, US deepen ties with new naval exercise in Guam

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado at Changi Naval Base on Wednesday. It arrived in Singapore last October. Such ships can perform missions ranging from counter-piracy to humanitarian assistance, and multiple ships will be simultaneously deployed to t
Littoral combat ship USS Coronado at Changi Naval Base on Wednesday. It arrived in Singapore last October. Such ships can perform missions ranging from counter-piracy to humanitarian assistance, and multiple ships will be simultaneously deployed to the Republic next year, said Rear-Adm Gabrielson.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Littoral combat ship USS Coronado at Changi Naval Base on Wednesday. It arrived in Singapore last October. Such ships can perform missions ranging from counter-piracy to humanitarian assistance, and multiple ships will be simultaneously deployed to t
Rear-Admiral Don Gabrielson said the presence of the US ships can contribute to the region's stability and security.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Republic's navy to carry out live firing in August drill, says US admiral; more US combat ships to be deployed here

In a further deepening of ties, Singapore and the United States will hold a bilateral naval exercise in Guam in August, and the deployment of US littoral combat ships to the Republic will be ramped up.

Commander of the Logistics Group Western Pacific Don Gabrielson told The Straits Times on Wednesday that the first-of-its-kind exercise, code-named Pacific Griffin, will be held over two weeks in the waters off the US island territory.

"That is a higher-end exercise, and we are looking at a number of opportunities for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) to exercise their live-firing capabilities," Rear- Admiral Gabrielson said in an interview at a US Navy office at Sembawang Wharves. "I am highly confident it is going to meet the RSN's needs to hone their skills out at sea."

Noting that details were being finalised, he said only that "a whole bunch of RSN ships and US Navy assets" will be involved in what he called a "complex exercise".

Next month, the RSN and Royal Thai Navy will also join the US Navy for the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat), an annual event started by the US Navy in which it conducts exercises with South and South-east Asian nations.

Guam is a key base for US forces in the Western Pacific, and is a site being explored for new training opportunities for the Singapore Armed Forces, with the possibility of a long-term fighter detachment based there. The Republic of Singapore Air Force has six F-15SG fighters and about 100 personnel deployed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam for training with the US Pacific Air Forces until May 11.

Rear-Adm Gabrielson, speaking to ST before a visit to littoral combat ship USS Coronado docked at Changi Naval Base, said the US Navy was ready to move into the next phase of its littoral combat ship deployment to Singapore, which started in 2013.

He said that "multiple" littoral combat ships will be simultaneously deployed here next year to conduct operations in the Western Pacific. Details of how many and which ships are to be deployed are being finalised.

Based on a US-Singapore agreement, there could be up to four littoral combat ships deployed here.

This is according to an in-principle agreement Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen conveyed to then US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta in 2012, in response to a US request.

The littoral combat ships, which can perform missions ranging from counter-piracy to humanitarian assistance to surface warfare, will draw on the Republic's naval bases to refuel, replenish supplies and carry out maintenance.

The USS Freedom and USS Fort Worth have been deployed, one after the other, to the region since 2013, and the USS Coronado arrived in Singapore in October last year.

Rear-Adm Gabrielson said Singapore offers a "very strategic" location from which to operate the combat ships so they can contribute to the region's stability and security. The USS Coronado, for example, will take part in Carat and Exercise Pacific Griffin.

"Roughly 60 per cent of the population of the planet is in Asia, and this is also the economic engine of the world... So what happens here matters to the whole world," he said. It is estimated that over US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of shipping trade passes through the South China Sea annually.

"Our ability to be here and to provide and enhance the stability in this part of the world is in everyone's interest," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore, US deepen ties with new naval exercise in Guam'. Print Edition | Subscribe