Defence Minister Ng flies in India's Tejas combat aircraft, says bilateral ties 'very strong'

Dr Ng Eng Hen accompanied by Indian Air Vice-Marshal A P Singh as they prepare to board the Indian Air Force’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft , on Nov 28, 2017. PHOTO: MINDEF
Dr Ng Eng Hen (centre) standing with senior commanders from the IAF and RSAF in front of one of the RSAF's F-16s, during a visit to Kalaikunda Air Force station, on Nov 28, 2017. PHOTO: MINDEF

KALAIKUNDA - Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Tuesday (Nov 28) that defence ties between India and Singapore were "very strong and growing stronger" during a visit to the Kalaikunda Air Force station where he was flown in an Indian supersonic fighter jet.

Dr Ng, who is on a visit to India for the second India-Singapore defence ministers' dialogue, visited the station in West Bengal state on Tuesday (Nov 28) to view the joint military training between Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Kitted in flying gear, Dr Ng, who interacted with RSAF and IAF personnel, is the first minister or civilian from outside India to fly in the Tejas, the indigenously developed light combat aircraft, which was flown in from Bengaluru for him.

He took a 45-minute flight during which he was shown the features of the plane, which has pride of place in the IAF.

Tejas is the first light combat aircraft developed in India, with its development taking three decades.

"Tejas is a very, very capable plane but I am not a pilot," said Dr Ng in remarks to the press where he congratulated the pilot for flying so well "that honestly it was like riding in a car".

"And I can imagine why my pilots find so much value in training with IAF pilots, (they are) superbly confident, supremely professional and really at the top of the game".

Indian defence sources said they had wanted to showcase the Tejas and give Dr Ng "a feel of the plane".

During the visit, the defence minister also viewed the RSAF F-16 and the IAF Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft used in the exercises. He thanked the Indian government for providing "realistic and challenging training opportunities for the RSAF to hone its operational readiness".

There are around 100 RSAF personnel currently at the Kalaikunda base for the joint military training and six F 16 fighter jets.

"We have been having bilateral air exercises since 2004 and... I hope that these bilateral exercises will last a very long," he said.

Responding to a question on the trajectory of defence ties, Dr Ng noted: " I think it is very strong and growing stronger."

India and Singapore have close economic and security ties that grew after Singapore helped India become a full dialogue partner of Asean in the 1990s.

Defence ties have strengthened with regular military exchanges and joint military training, which is between the two air forces and also the army.

Singapore's defence ministry in a press statement on the ongoing training said the "bilateral training has grown in scale and complexity over the years to involve advanced aircraft and high-end training missions".'

RSAF Detachment Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Tan Wuen Bin said the exercises helped the RSAF.

"The training allows us to hone our flying skills as well as operational readiness of all our air crew. We value the training opportunity here and we are looking forward to all the joint military training exercises over the years," he said.

Said India's Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, Air Marshal Anil Khosla: "It is important for the RSAF and IAF to continue to build interoperability and foster mutual understanding through the high end training missions at the Joint Military Training.''

Dr Ng will meet his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman for talks on Wednesday (Nov 29).

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.