$2.3b shot in arm for SAF training Down Under

Singapore's A$2.25 billion (S$2.25 billion) plan to expand military facilities in north-eastern Australia will more than triple the training area that its troops currently use Down Under.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen revealed that the Republic will build a brand-new range where its big guns, such as long-range artillery guns and Apache attack helicopters, can fire live rounds. It is also planning a mock city with multi-storey buildings for soldiers to hone their urban warfare skills.

All in, the expansion of the training space in Queensland's Shoalwater Bay and Townsville will allow up to 14,000 men and their machines to train in an area 10 times the size of Singapore.

Currently, some 4,000 troops head Down Under every year to carry out their field training in Shoalwater Bay, which is about three times the size of Singapore.

The expansion plan was announced last Friday as the two countries bolstered their ties. Built on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that was signed last year, the new defence deal will allow Singapore soldiers to train in Australia for 25 years.

Dr Ng said that expansion will give the quality of SAF training a "quantum jump" .

"You are talking about three to four times in troop numbers... Shoalwater Bay plus the new training facilities we have in Australia in essence will allow two brigades or more... in terms of troops and in terms of their full complement of vehicles, to be able to exercise."

He added that there were very few places where this could be done.

He was speaking to reporters after witnessing special-forces troops from Singapore, Australia and South Korea, among other countries, storm and seize control of a "terrorist hideout" in a mock village near Lim Chu Kang.

The show of force is part of an 11-day drill involving 18 countries of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus grouping.

Dr Ng said the investment in Australia is critical for the SAF to conduct realistic training.

"In Singapore, you just don't have the land to do it," he noted.

Even if the land were available, such moves would cause disamenities, he added.

He reiterated that the total investment amount is indicative and will be spent over the next 25 years. It included maintenance and mid-life upgrades.

Singapore troops have been training in Australia since 1990.

Besides Australia, they also train in countries such as the United States, Germany, Brunei and New Zealand.

Australian leaders, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have hailed the "landmark deal", touting the jobs that will be created from the upgrading of military facilities in Queensland.

Defence analyst Richard Bitzinger said the closer defence ties between Singapore and Australia show that Singapore is "increasingly concerned about an increasingly aggressive China", especially in the South China Sea.

Dr Ng said the move will hopefully send the "right signals that Singapore is willing to work with like-minded partners".

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