Ministers discuss next stages of SAF's training deal

Currently, up to 6,600 Singaporean troops conduct training in Australia each year for up to six weeks. Under the deal, this will gradually increase to up to 14,000 troops who will be allowed to train for two periods of nine weeks each.
Currently, up to 6,600 Singaporean troops conduct training in Australia each year for up to six weeks. Under the deal, this will gradually increase to up to 14,000 troops who will be allowed to train for two periods of nine weeks each. PHOTO: NG ENG HEN/FACEBOOK
(From left) Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Minister
(From left) Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing at the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting in Sydney yesterday. Dr Ng said the 25-year training deal would cement ties between the two countries. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY • Singapore and Australia yesterday pledged to deepen military ties as their defence ministers discussed the next stages in a long-term plan to enable more Singaporean troops to train in the Australian state of Queensland.

During a meeting in Sydney, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Australian counterpart Christopher Pyne welcomed the progress in a training deal, which will eventually see 14,000 Singapore Armed Forces personnel train for 18 weeks a year at two sites in Queensland. The deal will last for 25 years.

As part of the agreement, Singapore is due to invest about A$2 billion (S$1.9 billion) for the expansion of an existing training facility in Shoalwater, in central Queensland, and the establishment of a new training area near the small town of Greenvale, inland from Townsville in north Queensland. Construction is due to commence later this year.

Describing the deal as "unique", Dr Ng said it was a long-term agreement that would cement ties between the two countries.

"To train, to be allowed to train for 25 years… that is very unique," he said.

"The second point, I think, the uniqueness is the fact that it is a physical icon…. What we are building in these two areas, to me, is a physical embodiment of those extremely close ties that Australia and Singapore have."

The new bases are expected to be advanced training facilities that will accommodate emerging types of warfare and new technologies.

According to the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the facilities will support the use of robotics, autonomous systems, augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

The ministers said the new facilities, which will include live-fire ranges, will be used by the militaries of both countries. They are also are making it a priority to elevate the memorandum of understanding on the training sites, inked in October 2016, to treaty status in 2019.  

Currently, up to 6,600 Singaporean troops conduct training in Australia each year for up to six weeks. Under the deal, this will gradually increase to up to 14,000 troops who will be allowed to train for two periods of nine weeks each. It is expected that about 2,000 to 4,000 troops will train in Australia at a time.

The ADF said that initial construction of the north Queensland facility will start between July and September.

"This presents a unique opportunity to develop technologically advanced military training areas, or 'next-gen' training areas, in the new training area at Greenvale and the expanded training area at Shoalwater Bay," the ADF said in a public newsletter about the training areas earlier this month.

The ministers said they had committed in their meeting to "the deepening defence cooperation" between the two countries.

Mr Pyne welcomed Singapore's recent move to buy United States-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, noting that Australia would potentially benefit because it is heavily involved in the maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrading of the jets in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Ng rejected suggestions that Singapore's purchase of the aircraft was directed at China.

"We have been on record… that our acquisition of platforms is for our own purposes, defence diplomacy and not directed against, or to align ourselves, to any particular country," he said.

"It is as ridiculous to say that if we bought submarines from Germans, which we have, that it was directed at a country in Europe."

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2019, with the headline 'Ministers discuss next stages of SAF's training deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe