Nearly two decades have passed since President Tony Tan Keng Yam last set foot in the Cazaux Air Base in south-west France, where a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) jet training detachment is stationed.
His first visit was in 1998, the year the RSAF's 150 Squadron - an advanced jet training detachment - started its training here. Dr Tan was then Singapore's deputy prime minister and defence minister.
On his second visit yesterday, he was hosted by Chief of Air Force Hoo Cher Mou and received a warm welcome from the 270-strong Singaporean community at the base.
Dr Tan, who is in France on a week-long state visit, also officiated at the opening ceremony of a new ground training centre, which houses the squadron's integrated training systems.
These include full mission simulators as well as mission planning and debriefing systems, allowing aircrew to train in a more realistic environment, said Lieutenant-Colonel Kelvin Wan, the squadron's commanding officer.
The squadron now uses M-346 advanced jet trainers, which makes the training process more seamless as it closely mimics the flight performance of advanced modern-day fighters like the F15.
The use of the M-346 trainers was inaugurated by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in September last year.
Yesterday, Dr Ng said on Facebook that the new ground training centre at the Cazaux Air Base "will be a useful addition to RSAF's advanced flight training".
"We are deeply appreciative of the outstanding support of the French Air Force and Cazaux Air Base all these years, as well as the hospitality of their local communities. This is a relationship we cherish and want to grow," Dr Ng said.
He noted that the air space at the base is 32 times the size of Singapore and allows the pilots to "hone their flying and combat skills".
LTC Wan, 40, said that France offers a rich training experience, with wide open spaces that allow aircrew to fly over land too.
The RSAF's presence on the air base was made possible under a technical arrangement that allows it to deploy its fighters to French air bases for training. In 2011, the RSAF extended its arrangement with France until 2035.
Dr Tan told reporters during the visit that he was impressed by the new state-of-the-art training facilities and systems in place at the air base.
Singapore started modestly, with just two Cessna trainer aircraft. But now, it has a whole fleet of aircraft, he said, adding: "I think that we are well on our way to continuing our progress."
Dr Tan also thanked France for hosting the squadron in Cazaux.
"It fulfils a vital need for us to train our pilots. It also reflects the very close co-operation between France and Singapore in the field of military and defence co-operation," he said.
"Singapore is building up its capabilities and for that we need the friendship and the assistance of advanced defence forces, like in France."
The two countries have worked well together and will continue to build ties, he added.
At the air base, Dr Tan also mingled with Singaporeans living in Cazaux, and thanked servicemen and their families for their sacrifices and commitment.
"I think with their spirit, Singapore is very safe and we will be able to meet any challenges to our defence and security that lie ahead," he said.
Transport Minister and Second Minister for Defence Lui Tuck Yew, who is accompanying Dr Tan on his state visit, also hosted a lunch for local officials to thank them for supporting the Singapore community in Cazaux.
This article was first published on May 22, 2015.
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