SAF to get expanded training areas in Australia

Facilities will allow more troops to train there, and for longer periods

Soldiers from the SAF Guards battalion and the Australian Defence Force's 7th Australian Regiment carrying out a beach landing in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in 2014, during a preview of Exercise Trident.
Soldiers from the SAF Guards battalion and the Australian Defence Force's 7th Australian Regiment carrying out a beach landing in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in 2014, during a preview of Exercise Trident. ST FILE PHOTO

The A$2.25 billion (S$2.25 billion) Singapore will spend under a new defence deal to build facilities and expand military training areas in Australia is an "indicative" figure, says the Ministry of Defence.

The sum will last through the 25 years that Singapore troops will get to train in Australia, under the deal announced yesterday, a Mindef spokesman added.

Built on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signed last year, the new deal will allow Singapore soldiers training in Australia more access to military areas.

Australian media reports had said Singapore will pick up the tab to build new training facilities in the north-eastern state of Queensland. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the expanded military training areas will be in Shoalwater Bay and Townsville. The expansion will allow Singapore to send up to 14,000 troops for training, up from the 6,000 a year now. The paper also said the troops will stay for up to 18 weeks, up from 60 days currently.

Asked about the A$2.25 billion bill, the Mindef spokesman would only say: "The amount is indicative and sets a cap on the life-cycle costs over 25 years for advanced training facilities to be jointly developed and used by both militaries."

Among the other new initiatives, the profile of a joint combat training drill, codenamed Trident, will be raised. Both countries' security agencies will also enhance the sharing of intelligence and information in areas such as counter-terrorism.

Singapore ministers hailed the strengthening of defence ties.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post that more training areas for Singapore troops "will sharpen the SAF to (become) one of the most well-trained and proficient militaries in the region".

Referring to his visit last year to the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, where he expressed hope for more troops to train there, Dr Ng said "that wish has come true".

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the boosting of defence ties attests to the level of strategic trust between both countries, which are building on their history of good cooperation. It also shows "alignment" in the way both countries view the world and the need for security, peace and stability in South-east Asia, he told reporters.

He said the new agreement will "catalyse, encourage and facilitate" the ongoing cooperation and collaboration between both countries' security agencies in how they tackle terrorism and extremism.

Singapore troops have been training in Australia since 1990. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) conducts its largest unilateral exercise in Shoalwater Bay every year. The 65-day exercise last year saw more than 4,000 personnel and 400 different platforms put through their paces. The Shoalwater Bay area is three times the size of Singapore and its terrain includes the rugged outback, bushland and mountains.

SAF personnel also train in Western Australia and New South Wales. Besides Australia, they also train in countries such as the United States, Germany, Brunei and New Zealand.

While Singapore builds up its defences and does its best "to be strong individually", it also has to build a network of friends and good, reliable partners, said Dr Balakrishnan, adding: "Australia fulfils all that criteria."

Defence analyst William Choong said the new defence deal should not come as a surprise. "This is just a rational, gradual and understandable evolution of what have been longstanding bilateral relations between the two countries," said Mr Choong, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline SAF to get expanded training areas in Australia. Subscribe