Singapore and US to boost defence co-operation

SINGAPORE - Singapore has started hosting the inaugural deployment of US Poseidon spy planes, commencing from Dec 7 to 14.

The announcement of this latest deployment is part of an enhanced bilateral agreement between the United States and Singapore in five key areas, namely in the military, policy, strategic, and technology spheres, as well as in non-conventional security areas such as piracy and transnational terrorism.

The Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) was signed today (Dec 8) by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen with his counterpart Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter at the Pentagon.

The P-8 Poseidon spy planes have been undertaking surveillance flights over the hotly-contested South China Sea. On Oct 27, a Poseidon spy plane was involved in a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea by the US Navy destroyer Lassen together with a P-3 Orion patrol aircraft, navigating within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island reclaimed by China on the Subi Reef.

It was only 25 years ago when Singapore first offered its facilities to host US military assets in 1990 after a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between both countries - much to the chagrin of neighbouring countries in the region. A Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) was agreed in 2005 to further strengthen co-operation in security and defence.

Besides the five key areas, the latest DCA will also see new areas of co-operation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), cyber defence, biosecurity and public communications.

Describing the renewed defence framework as ambitious and forward-looking, Dr Ng and Secretary Carter said in a joint statement after the signing ceremony that both countries have made progress under the ambit of the 1990 MOU and 2005 SFA, including the successful deployment of US's second Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the USS Fort Worth, to Singapore's Changi Naval Base in Dec 2014.

A third LCS will be deployed to Singapore in 2016, culminating to four US warships in the region by 2017, which is in line with the US's pivot to the Asia-Pacific to ensure regional peace and stability.

While Singapore does not have a formal alliance with the US, militaries from both countries have been working together in joint exercises for awhile.

Exercise Tiger Balm, the longest-running bilateral exercise between the Singapore and US Armies is in its 35th year, while Exercise Commando Sling, a bilateral air force exercise that has grown in scale and complexity since it was first conducted in 1990, is now in its 25th year.

Besides hosting the LCS since 2013, Changi Naval Base is also the only facility in South-east Asia where a US aircraft carrier can dock. Both navies have also been honing their interoperability annually with the Exercise Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training (CARAT), now in its 20th year, while the Singapore Navy has been a regular participant in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise organised by the US Navy.

Singapore and the US have also conducted joint operations such as the multinational stabilisation and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in ongoing counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden.

During his visit to the US from Dec 6 to 10, Dr Ng will also meet with the US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, former US Ambassador to Singapore and Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Huntsman and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator John McCain on Tuesday.