MILITARY ISSUES IN SINGAPORE

MILITARY IN SINGAPORE

Singapore has an extraordinarily large and well-financed military for its size. Even though it has no real enemies the Singaporean government feels that a large, well-financed armed forced is vital for its survival since it is so small. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is regarded as the most technologically advanced military force in Southeast Asia, thanks to the wealthy city-state's high defense budgets.

In 2012, Bhavan Jaipragas of AFP wrote: Singapore has the largest defence budget in Southeast Asia, thanks to public funds generated by its phenomenal economic growth. It has set aside S$12.28 billion (US$9.68 billion) for defence in 2012, at 24.4 percent the largest single allocation in the government's total budget. Surrounded by far larger neighbours, Singapore has pursued a robust defence strategy since its acrimonious split with Malaysia in 1965, and was initially advised by Israel. All able-bodied Singaporean men are required to devote two years of full-time military service upon turning 18, providing additional manpower on top of the estimated 20,000 armed forces regulars. [Source: Bhavan Jaipragas, Agence France Presse, March 18, 2012 ^*^]

The SAF had 72,500 personnel on active duty in 2005, 35,000 of whom were conscripts. The service components are the army, numbering 50,000, with 35,000 conscripts; navy, 9,000, with 1,800 conscripts; and air force, 13,500, with 3,000 conscripts. There are an estimated 312,500 personnel in reserve status (army, about 300,000; navy, about 5,000; and air force, about 7,500). The SAF is led by a chief (a major general) supported by army, navy, and air force chiefs of staff. As of 2006, the Ministry of Defence was headed by Teo Chee Hean, who also oversees the administration of the Defence Policy Group, Defence Administration Group, Singapore Armed Forces, and Defence Science and Technology Agency. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2006 **]

Military branches: Singapore Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force (includes Air Defense) (2013). Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 1,255,902 (2010 est.) Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 1,018,839 females age 16-49: 1,087,134 (2010 est.) Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 27,098 female: 25,368 (2010 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Defense Budget: Military expenditures: 3.6 percent of GDP (2012), country comparison to the world: 33 . Military expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2005 were estimated at US$5.87 billion, or about US$1,349 per capita, representing about 5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The projected defense budget for FY 2006 is US$6.37 billion, an 8.5 percent increase over the previous year. Projected defense spending for 2006 represents 22.5 percent of the total federal budget. ** =

Major Military Units: The army has three combined arms divisions, a rapid deployment division, and a mechanized division. Included in these organizations are nine infantry brigades with both active-duty and reserve personnel. The navy has a fleet with two flotillas and a submarine squadron and coastal, naval logistics, and training commands. The air force is organized into 20 combat, reconnaissance, transportation, support, and helicopter squadrons. It also has one squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles and an air defense division with four field defense squadrons. **

Paramilitary Forces: Singapore’s paramilitary consists of 93,800 active-duty personnel and 44,000 reserves. The active-duty paramilitary encompasses the Civil Defence Force, the Singapore Police Force, and the Singapore Gurkha Contingent. **

In August 1989, Lee Kuan Yew created a stir within the region by stating that Singapore was "prepared to host some United States facilities to make it easier for the Philippines to host the United States bases there." Malaysia reacted negatively to the announcement, and other ASEAN countries expressed some dismay. In October, however, the Singapore foreign ministry clarified the issue by stating that an increased use of Singapore's maintenance and repair facilities by United States ships had been agreed on by the two countries, as had short-term visits by United States aircraft to Singapore's Paya Lebar Air Base. The agreement followed a period of somewhat strained relations between the two nations, during which the United States had been critical of Singapore's use of its Internal Security Act to detain dissidents indefinitely, and Singapore had accused Washington of meddling in its internal affairs. The United States, however, was Singapore's largest trading partner and foreign investor, and the relationship was one that neither country was eager to upset. [Source: Library of Congress, 1989] *

Foreign Military Relations

External Threat: Singapore faces a potential military threat from Malaysia if historical tensions were to reemerge. In particular, Singapore fears that the Malaysian state of Johor could cut off its water supply, an act that would be regarded as a casus belli. Singapore also is concerned about the possibility of a terrorist strike sponsored by the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiah (Community of Islam) or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Philippines-based separatist group. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2006 **]

Foreign Military Forces in Singapore: In 2005 the United States had 89 liaison personnel assigned to Singapore (39 air force and 50 navy). New Zealand had an 11-person liaison support unit stationed in Singapore. **

Singaporean Military Forces Abroad: Between 1991 and 2005, Singapore took part in 11 peacekeeping missions in various capacities, including the provision of medical support, provision of military advisers for national reconciliation, and supervision of United Nations (UN)-sponsored elections in Namibia, Guatemala, Cambodia, South Africa, and Afghanistan. Singaporeans also have held senior appointments in UN peacekeeping operations. In 1993, at the request of the UN secretary general, Singapore provided a special envoy to head a mission to broker a peaceful settlement between Russia and the Baltic States. In 1997 Singapore became only the seventh country to sign the memorandum of understanding on UN Standby Arrangements. Under its commitments, Singapore provides planning officers, military observers, medical personnel, and police officers on standby for the support of UN peacekeeping missions. **

Singapore forces also participated in the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) and the UN Mission in East Timor (UNMISET) during the unrest in East Timor before and after its independence from Indonesia in 2002. In 2005 Singapore military and police personnel were serving in UN Iraq/Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM), Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), and East Timor (UNMISET), and also in New York at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. **

Additionally, in 2005 Singapore sent some 230 SAF personnel to flight training in Australia, 500 for helicopter training in Brunei, and 200 for flight training in France. The SAF maintains a joint artillery and combat engineer training camp in Thailand and a flight training detachment in the United States. The SAF also has three training camps (for infantry, artillery, and armored forces) in Taiwan. In 2002–4 there was discussion by Singapore about possibly moving some or all of these facilities to China’s Hainan Island. **

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) provided medical and other humanitarian aid to Indonesia following the earthquake and tsunami in December 2004 and the earthquake in March 2005. Relief from Singapore were rapidly deployed. Teams from Singapore were among the first to reach Aceh, the area hardest hit by the tsunami.

History of Singapore’s Foreign Military Relations

The British Far East Command and the British naval presence in Singapore formally ended in 1971. At that time, Singapore became a participant in the Five-Power Defence Arrangement with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and a joint military force was in place until 1975. Singapore continues to provide facilities for servicing foreign naval vessels, but its official policy disallows the establishment of a naval base on the island by another country. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2006 **]

Under the five-power arrangement, joint military and naval maneuvers are held annually. Singapore supports a strong U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1990 the United States and Singapore signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that allows U.S. access to Singapore facilities at the Paya Lebar Airbase and the Sembawang wharves. In accordance with the MOU, the U.S. Navy established a logistics unit in Singapore in 1992. Furthermore, U.S. fighter aircraft are deployed periodically to Singapore for exercises, and U.S. Navy vessels visit Singapore. The MOU was amended in 1999 to permit U.S. naval vessels to berth at the Changi Naval Base, which was completed in 2001. **

In October 2003, Singapore and the United States announced their intention to expand cooperation in the area of defense and security and to negotiate a Framework Agreement for a Strategic Cooperation Partnership. Areas of cooperation include counterterrorism, counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, joint military exercises and training, policy dialogue, and technology exchange. Singapore has conducted joint naval exercises with the United States and has joined the United States-led Proliferation Security Initiative. Joint naval and air force exercises are held annually with Australia. Singapore maintains relationships with the armed forces of Australia, Brunei, France, Thailand, and the United States, primarily for the purpose of training. Although it does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Singapore maintains training facilities there. Most of Singapore’s major military imports since 1998 have been purchased from the United States. It also has acquired submarines from Sweden and has a frigate on order from France. **

Military Service in Singapore

Military Service: Singapore has universal conscription. All able-bodied males are required to serve two years in the military and have to take periodic refresher courses after they return to civilian life. Singapore has compulsory military service for males between the ages of 18 and 21 and voluntary service for those reaching 16½ years of age. The conscription term of service is 24 months. Reservists attend annual training until age 40 for enlisted ranks and age 50 for officers. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Boot camp and military life in Singapore is far less harsh than it is in other countries. Soldiers get to eat good meals and sleep on soft beds. They don’t have to wash dishes or peel potatoes and are allowed visits by their parents, girlfriends and friends and can chat with them on their cell phones or in person between activities. Training is called off on rainy days and overweight recruits get a special training program. One military spokesman told Associated Press that their aim was “build up” soldiers “not break them down.”

However, military personnel are not allowed to smoke in public. Any eligible Singaporean boy who fails to turn up for National Service can be prosecuted. If he is convicted, the penalty is imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to S$5000 (US$3000), or both. After their National Service stint, they join the reserves and resume their education or enter the workforce. Reservists are called up annually until their mid-thirties to refresh their skills and make sure they remain physically fit. [Source: Agence France Presse, March 24, 2005 <^>]

In 2004, Singapore cut the length of full-time national service for men from two and half years to two years, a six-month reduction, because of demographic and technological changes. AFP reported: “Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean assured parliament that the reduction would not compromise national security despite repeated warnings by officials of terrorist threats to the city-state. Teo said his ministry had carried out a thorough review and concluded that it can reduce the period of mandatory military training "while maintaining the operational readiness" of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). [Source: Agence France Presse, June 16, 2004]

“The SAF relies on regular troops and a larger pool of reservists who are trained to be mobilised for war at short notice. Teo said a baby boom from 1988 to 1997 had produced a large pool of incoming national servicemen over the coming decade, side by side with a "rapid advance of technology and new war-fighting concepts." National service has often been described as an important instrument of social cohesion in Singapore, whose local population of 3.4 million is dwarfed by neighbouring Malaysia's 23 million and Indonesia's 212 million people. [Ibid]

Mandatory Military Service Turns Singaporean Boys into Fighting Men

In 2005, AFP reported: “It’s a scorching day and the breezy beaches and air-conditioned shopping malls beckon Singapore's youth, but for hundreds of teenage boys, hanging out is totally out of the question. The latest recruits for the city-state's mandatory National Service program are sweating their way through basic military training at Pulau Tekong, a fortified Singaporean island bristling with rifles and testosterone. "Where's your aggression?" an officer growls at trainees, their pimply faces grimacing under camouflage paint as they kick at imaginary enemy troops or squirm on their backs to make it past a prickly canopy of barbed wire. Elsewhere on the island, trainees march in tight columns, undergo marksmanship training and learn parade precision in the shadow of jetliners taking off and landing at Changi international airport. [Source: Agence France Presse, March 24, 2005 <^>]

“All able-bodied boys in Singapore, including both citizens and permanent residents, are eligible to be conscripted for two years of full-time military service once they turn 18. "Whether you are Malay, Chinese or Indian, or any other race, whether your father is rich, your father is a hawker, or your father is a banker, we put them in together to train together," says Colonel Winston Toh, the military's director of national service affairs. <^>

“While some parents and youngsters see it as an interruption in studies and careers, others accept it as an inevitable, and beneficial, rite of passage for Singaporean boys. Bespectacled recruit Andy Lee, who had just completed junior college, looks sullen and a little dazed when he arrives with a fresh batch in Pulau Tekong. He hugs his parents tightly when it is time for them to leave him on the island for two weeks of orientation, after which he will enjoy weekends off. "I'm definitely ready for NS. It's time, it's now my turn," he says. <^>

“Pulau Tekong is where it all begins for fresh recruits, with nine gruelling weeks of basic training before they are farmed out to officer school or duties in the various armed services. Permanent residents who reach the cutoff age must undergo the same military training if they want to continue living in Singapore. As a result, children of westerners or mixed-raced couples train alongside "native" Singaporeans. “Nicolas Huang, a broad-shouldered half-German boy, completed basic training in early March. Asked if he felt he received any particular treatment from officers, he smiles and says: "I've been in the Singapore system since I was born. They just call me ang moh (white person), but it's all just for fun, no harm done." <^>

”The physical training is still tough -- obese boys usually leave National Service as buff young men -- but times have changed since the rudimentary years of the program. In a concession to the much more comfortable modern lifestyle of Singaporeans, trainees get commercially catered food in Pulau Tekong. The mattresses in the bunks are thick and comfortable, and there's a television in the lounge. The recruits are even asked to grade the canteen food in order to keep the caterers on their toes. <^>

“And for a generation raised on electronic video games, technology plays a key role in sharpening recruits' combat skills. Before firing a real weapon in the rifle range, recruits use M-16 simulators in an air-conditioned room with a surround sound system, shooting at static or moving targets on a large video screen occupying the far wall. The results are immediately flashed on the screen, and mistakes in body position, breathing technique and weapon angle are pointed out. Commercially available computer games with combat themes are also modified for use by the military to complement live or simulated exercises. Even exercise routines like sit-ups and chin-ups are electronically tallied in a wired gymnasium to make sure recruits perform the minimum repetitions. "Yes, the boys love it," Lieutenant Colonel Ng Wai Kit, head of the Singapore Army's training development branch, says of the widespread use of technology. "They are into it." <^>

History of Singapore’s Military Service Program

According to to AFP: “The NS program was launched two years after Singapore's bitter separation from Malaysia in 1965. Singapore's long-term prospects at the time were uncertain, its phenomenal rate of industrialization just a dream. "We thought it important that people in and outside Singapore know that despite our small population, we could mobilize a large fighting force at short notice," founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs. [Source: Agence France Presse, March 24, 2005 <^>]

“Singapore got crucial help from Israel, which sent advisers to help set up its armed forces in 1965 after other countries refused. But there was the risk of a backlash from Muslims in the region against the presence of Israelis. "To disguise their presence, we called them 'Mexicans'. They looked swarthy enough," Lee wrote, adding that a large standing army would have been costly and conscription "would bring political and social benefits". <^>

“Four decades later, Singapore can call up some 350,000 fighters within hours for combat, mostly reservists trained under the National Service program, a staggering number for a country with just 3.4 million citizens and permanent residents. Backed by Southeast Asia's most lethal military arsenal -- thanks to heavy defense spending and explosive economic growth -- this "people's army" serves as a powerful disincentive for any country to mess around with Singapore. <^>

"The whole defense concept is anchored on two very fundamental principles. One is diplomacy, the second one is deterrence," Col. Toh tells AFP in an interview in a suburban camp. "If all else fails and really there's no choice, we must have the capability to deter people from even thinking about any ill intent at all." Col. Toh says Singapore's defense policies underpin the stability that has brought in massive foreign investment through the years, and National Service promotes social cohesion in the multi-racial, predominantly ethnic Chinese immigrant society. <^>

“To test the readiness of reservists, coded messages periodically appear on cinema and television screens alerting members of specific units to turn up at rendezvous points in full military uniform, under pain of a fine. In the event of a real war, they would be handed rifles and ammunition. Because of its small land area and high population density, Singapore also sends trainees to friendly countries like Thailand, Taiwan, Brunei and Australia for exercises. <^>

Guns, Grenades and iPads for Singapore Soldiers

In 2011, new recruits to Singapore's military, air force and navy were issued new standard-issue items of equipment besides their rifles — iPads. AFP reported: “The defence ministry said Monday, Jun 27, it will be issuing "about 8000" of the sleek, touch-screen tablet computers -- already wildly popular with the city-state's tech-savvy youth -- to recruits from November, 2011. The ministry said it was also planning to issue the devices to other servicemen in 2012. The cheapest iPad2 device currently retails in Singapore for S$668 (US$538). [Source: Agence France Presse, June 27, 2011 >>>]

Defence chief Neo Kian Hong said adopting the iPad would allow the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to take advantage of the technological abilities of the city-state's youth. "By exploiting the use of popular and current information and communications technology, we are able to harness our advantage of today's technologically savvy servicemen," the Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying. >>>

“Troops can use the iPad's built-in camera to take photos and video clips in the field which can be uploaded to the SAF's online platform, LEARNet. Soldiers can use these photos and videos to carry out post-mission assessments, the newspaper said. Soldiers can send questions to their commanders through a live messaging system and group chat discussions can be held, it added. >>>

“The SAF said it was working with private contractors to design apps -- micro-programs tailor-made for mobile devices with a wide range of functions -- for servicemen. Singapore maintains a conscript-based military and its armed forces are among the best-equipped in Asia. Every able-bodied male citizen and permanent resident aged 18 and above must undergo two years of military training.” >>>

Four Singaporean Commandos Jailed over Trainee's "Inhumane" Death

In 2005, AFP reported, “OUR officers of Singapore's elite army commando unit found guilty of using "shocking and senseless" methods that led to the death of a trainee have been sentenced to jail, media reports said Saturday, Jan 15. Second Sergeant Hu Enhuai, 19, died during national service training last year after his head was repeatedly held under water as part of a survival course meant to prepare budding commandos in case they are captured in war. The sentences were handed down by a civilian court. [Source: Agence France Presse, January 15, 2005 +++]

“Lieutenants Divanandhari Ambat Chandrasekharan, 29, and Jeff Ng, 28, received a sentence of nine months' jail each for dunking Hu's head into a tub of water several times and "digging" into his nose so that he could not hold his breath, the Straits Times said. Captain Pandiaraj Mayandi, 34, who supervised the course in August 2003, was handed a three-month jail sentence for ordering the dunking to be carried out. Warrant Officer S. Balakrishnan, 45, the commander of the training course and conducting officer on the day of the incident, was sentenced to two months' jail for failing to stop the two officers abusing the trainees. +++

“The four were each handed concurrent jail terms of the same lengths for endangering the life of regular serviceman Captain Ho Wan Huo, 26, who was subjected to similar abuse but survived after eight days in hospital. While delivering his judgement, District Judge Ng Peng Hong described the training methods as "not only torturous but also inhumane", the paper said. "The training management plan requires training to be realistic and taken to meet actual battle conditions, but that does not mean safety has to be compromised," the paper quoted Ng as saying. +++

“The family of Second Sergeant Hu was not present in court to hear the judgement but issued a statement through their lawyer, Alfonso Ang. "The family hopes that the correct lessons have been learnt so that such a criminal act ... will never, ever, be repeated," the statement said. "The family has suffered much pain over Enhuai's death and they hope to overcome this grief as soon as possible. They now consider the matter closed." Pandiaraj and Balakrishnan, who were granted bail of S$30,000 (US$18,400), filed notices of appeal against their conviction and sentences.” +++

Military Service has Precedence Over Family in Singapore

In 2000, AFP reported: “In a landmark decision, Singapore's Chief Justice Yong Pung How has ruled national service is paramount, taking precedence over family and personal issues. He delivered the ruling in sentencing 22-year-old Lim Sin Han to 18 months' jail for disappearing from national service for three years to support his wife and new baby, the Straits Times reported. "National service is vital to the security of Singapore and it necessarily entails sacrifices by national servicemen and their families," the report said quoting from Yong's written judgement in the latest Law Academy Digest. [Source: Agence France Presse, May 29, 2000 /*\]

"If the court were to sympathise with the personal difficulties of every national serviceman, the overall effectiveness and efficiency of civil defence, or the Singapore armed forces, would be severely compromised." Yong said Lim's plea for leniency because of the need to support his family was unacceptable because national service was about duty to the country ahead of all other interests. It was necessary to hand down a stiff punishment to deter other servicemen from being tempted to be absent without leave (AWOL), he said. The fact Lim had no previous criminal conviction was not a mitigating factor, he added. /*\

“Lim reported for national service in January 1996 and went AWOL seven months later. He surrendered to police in October 1999, after working as an odd-job labourer for more than three years to provide for his family.” /*\

Weapons and Military Equipment in Singapore

Major Military Equipment: The army has an estimated 450 tanks (including 80 to 100 main battle tanks), 294 armored infantry fighting vehicles, more than 1,280 armored personnel carriers, 206 towed artillery pieces, an estimated 18 self-propelled artillery pieces, a variety of mortars, more than 30 antitank guided weapons, rocket launchers, recoilless launchers, 30 air-defense guns (some of which are self-propelled), and 75 or more surface-to-air missiles. The navy has three submarines with antisubmarine warfare capability, six corvettes, six fast missile attack craft, 11 offshore patrol vessels, four mine countermeasures ships, four amphibious ships, and two logistics and support ships. The air force has 111 combat aircraft, 110 helicopters, and 64 unmanned aerial vehicles. The air force’s air defense division has air-defense guns, antiaircraft and antiship missiles, and mobile radar equipment. **

Singapore has purchased F-16 fighters. The Singapore Navy has a strike force of six 1,000-ton missile corvettes, each outfit with "Barak" anti-missile missiles. These missiles weigh 216 pounds, have a range of six miles, and travel in excess of 1,300 miles an hour. Singapore is considering whether or not to build a submarine force. It has submarine hunting patrols vessels.

According to Reuters and IHS Jane’s: “Near-term purchases by the Singapore military include finding replacements for its four Boeing KC-135 aerial tankers and the Eurocopter Super Puma utility helicopters. IHS Jane's said that while Boeing's KC-46A might appear to be a logical choice to replace the KC-135, international sales will probably not be allowed till 2018, paving the way for Airbus's A330 MRTT in a deal likely to be worth over $1 billion. The Eurocopter EC725 Cougar and Sikorsky UH-60M helicopters were among the possible replacements for the Super Pumas, in a deal that has an estimated value of at least $650 million. Sikorsky is a part of United Technologies Corp . IHS Jane's said Singapore's existing French-made AMX-13 light tanks were becoming obsolete, although it seems likely that they will be replaced by an indigenous vehicle that will be made by local defence contractor Singapore Technologies Engineering . [Source: Reuters, December 8, 2011]

Singapore to Spend $23 Billion On Defence by 2015: Jane's

In 2011, IHS Jane's estimated that Singapore—with a population of 5.5 million and a land area half the size of Greater London—was is likely to spend $23 billion on purchases of patrol aircraft, helicopters and other military equipment by 2015. Reuters reported: “The Southeast Asian city-state, flanked by Indonesia and Malaysia, sits on one of the busiest sea lanes in the world and lists piracy as one of the main security threats in the region. IHS Jane's said while ties with China were cordial and underpinned by strong economic and cultural ties, relations with Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim majority states, were more complex "due to protracted security dilemmas that stem in the main from concerns about...Islamic extremism".[Source: Reuters, December 8, 2011 \^/]

“Nicholas de Larrinaga, emerging markets analyst at IHS Jane's, said many countries elsewhere in the region were accelerating arms spending because of worries over China. "There is a huge regional race to defend national interests, partly as a result of China's growing influence, but also all heightened by territorial disputes and a push for influence that is fuelling Asia's spending spree," he said. Singapore's defence budget was seen rising by more than 50 percent between 2010 and 2015 to more than $14 billion, he said. "During the same time frame, we see defence procurement spending growing by nearly 59 percent to nearly $4 billion and totaling more than $23 billion," he added. \^/

“Singapore allocated S$12.08 billion for defence in its budget for the fiscal year beginning April 2011, a rise of 5.4 percent from 2010/11. IHS Jane's said Singapore was an attractive choice for Western defence firms because of its relative transparency and its commitment to open-market acquisitions. "It is notable that Singapore remains the only country in Southeast Asia that has not purchased military equipment from Russia or China," the research firm added. \^/

Singapore Seeks a Place in the Global Arms Industry

In 2012, Bhavan Jaipragas of AFP wrote: “Singapore, better known for its clean-cut image and electronics exports, is seeking a place in the global arms industry by exploiting technological expertise honed on its own amply funded military. From armoured personnel carriers used by British forces in Afghanistan to ammunition and firearms, the city-state is trying to enlarge the overseas market for its homegrown weapons and defence systems.[Source: Bhavan Jaipragas, Agence France Presse, March 18, 2012 ^*^]

“Its arms exports were in the limelight when India's defence ministry banned six weapons manufacturers for alleged involvement in a 2009 bribery case -- one of them a relatively little-known company from Singapore. ST Kinetics, part of the multibillion-dollar ST Engineering industrial group, swiftly and vigorously denied the accusation but the mere mention of the firm underscored Singapore's growing ambitions in the world arms market. Singapore's Straits Times newspaper said ST Kinetics was bidding for a contract to supply India with howitzers when the process was put on hold over the bribery allegations. Its parent ST Engineering, with revenues of S$5.99 billion (US$4.72 billion) in 2011, was the only Southeast Asian firm on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's list of the world's top 100 defence manufacturers released last month. ^*^

“Partly owned by state investment agency Temasek Holdings, ST Engineering dominates the defence industry in Singapore. It says it is one of the world's top suppliers of 40mm ammunition as well as portable weapons like its CIS 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher. The company was the biggest exhibitor at last month's Singapore Airshow where among the equipment on display was a new version of the Bronco, an armoured all-terrain troop carrier used by British forces in Afghanistan. "Our things are battle-proven. If you need something special, we can also customise to give you an edge over other people," Patrick Choy, executive vice-president for international marketing at ST Engineering, told AFP at the show. ^*^

“The British Army's 115 Broncos -- first deployed in Afghanistan in 2010 and dubbed the "Warthogs" -- are ST Engineering's pride, and billed as the first armoured vehicles built for a Western army by an Asian firm. Britain has around 9500 troops in Afghanistan, the second-largest foreign contingent after the US troops in the coalition, operating in the the difficult terrain of Helmand province.Jon Grevatt, a defence specialist for IHS Jane's, a global security think tank, said the firm "has done a grand job with the Bronco" but noted that "the British Army heavily customised it to suit its operational needs in Afghanistan". ^*^

“Beyond Britain, ST Engineering exports weapons and military equipment to other countries but refuses to divulge details. According to the Stockholm institute, Singapore has sold defence products to Indonesia, Chad, Nigeria, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil since 2000, generating $1.75 billion in 2010 alone. Despite its diverse customer profile, ST Engineering is still heavily dependent on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Grevatt said. ^*^

"As a defence manufacturer ST is driven largely by what the SAF needs... which is still conventional systems," Grevatt said. "ST's conventional land systems for the SAF will be difficult to sell outside Singapore because several factors are against it... the Western market is in decline and conflicts are also winding down." However, ST Engineering's non-defence sectors contribute about 60 percent of revenues, with the diverse portfolio bolstering growth potential, he added. Apart from its defence business, the company has worldwide operations in commercial land systems, aerospace, the marine industry and engineering, with over 100 subsidiaries in 23 countries. Its aviation arm ST Aerospace is the largest independent aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul provider in the world. "Defence manufacturers today have to be diverse and have their fingers in many pies to survive," Grevatt said. ^*^

United States Military in Singapore

After the United States lost it bases in the Philippines in 1992, Singapore stepped in, allowing U.S. ships to use their port facilities. Lee Kuan Yew, long regarded as a rigid anti-colonialist, invited the U.S. to use military bases in Singapore but warned Washington not be a "supreme sheriff" in Asia.

Singapore is regarded as the regional hub for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet. The United States had 200 Navy and Air Force personnel based there in the early 2000s. In 2001, Singapore opened a special facility designed for U.S. aircraft carriers. Around 100 U.S. ships pass through Singapore every year.

The United States conducts annual military exercises with Thailand and Singapore. United States special forces have provided training to government forces in things like tracking down political opponents, mounting surprise helicopter attacks, employing "close quarters" urban combat techniques and improving their killing efficiency. A $1.4 billion deal for 18 F/A-18 Hornets was jeopardized by the Michael Fay canning issue. Singapore sent troops, an Air Force plane and a Navy ship to Iraq.

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in Atlantic Monthly: “The country is, despite its small size, one of the most popular and helpful in the Pacific. Its ethnically blind military meritocracy, its nurturing concern for the welfare of officers and enlisted men alike, and its jungle-warfare school in Brunei are second to none. With the exception of Japan, far to the north, Singapore offers the only non-American base in the Pacific where our nuclear carriers can be serviced. Its help in hunting down Islamic terrorists in the Indonesian archipelago has been equal or superior to the help offered elsewhere by our most dependable Western allies. One Washington-based military futurist told me, "The Sings, well – they're just awesome in every way." [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, Atlantic Monthly, June 2005]

U.S. Military in Asia and Southeast Asia factsanddetails.com

U.S. Navy Expects to Base Ships in Singapore

In 2011, Shaun Tandon of AFP wrote: “The United States, facing a rising China but a tighter budget, expects to station several combat ships in Singapore and may step up deployments to the Philippines and Thailand, a naval officer said. The United States has been increasingly vocal about defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where tensions over territorial disputes between Beijing and Southeast Asian nations have been on the rise. [Source: Shaun Tandon, AFP, December 16, 2011 ==]

“In an academic article forecasting the shape of the US Navy in 2025, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, wrote that "we will station several of our newest littoral combat ships" in Singapore. Greenert said that the United States may also step up the periodic deployment of aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon -- which is being developed to track submarines -- to regional treaty allies the Philippines and Thailand. "The Navy will need innovative approaches to staying forward around the world to address growing concerns about freedom of the seas while being judicious with our resources," he wrote in the December issue of the US Naval Institute's Proceedings. ==

"Because we will probably not be able to sustain the financial and diplomatic cost of new main operating bases abroad, the fleet of 2025 will rely more on host-nation ports and other facilities where our ships, aircraft, and crews can refuel, rest, resupply and repair while deployed," he wrote. The naval officer did not directly mention China, as part of the usual policy by US President Barack Obama's administration to publicly seek a more cooperative relationship with the growing Asian power. ==

“But the United States has laid bare its concerns about China. Obama last month announced that the United States would post up to 2,500 Marines in the northern Australian city of Darwin by 2016-17, a move criticized by Beijing. The United States also has some 70,000 troops stationed in Japan and South Korea under longstanding alliances and has offered assistance to the Philippines which launched its newest warship in 2011. ==

“Singapore is also a long-standing partner of the United States. The US military already operates a small post in the city-state that assists in logistics and exercises for forces in Southeast Asia. In the article, Greenert described the Gulf monarchy of Bahrain as a model. The US Fifth Fleet is based on the small island which is strategically close to Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. "In 2025 the Navy will operate from a larger number of partner nations such as Bahrain to more affordably maintain our forward posture around the world," he wrote. ==

“The Obama administration has identified Asia -- full of fast-growing economies and with a still emerging security order -- as the key priority for the United States. Obama said, “As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority." Naval power, critical to the rise of the United States and earlier Britain as global powers, is expected to remain critical in the 21st century.” ==

U.S. Deploys New Warships in Singapore

In the spring of 2013, the first of a new class of U.S. coastal warships was sent to Singapore for a roughly 10-month deployment, an indication that U.S. was stepping up its response to U.S. involvement in South China Sea disputes. Jim Wolf of Reuters wrote: “Deployment of the shallow-draft ship "Freedom" will help refine crew rotations, logistics and maintenance processes to maximize the class's value to U.S. combat commanders, Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden, the Navy's director of surface warfare, told reporters. [Source: Jim Wolf, Reuters, May 9, 2012 +^+]

“Singapore is strategically located along the Strait of Malacca, the chief link between the Indian and Pacific Oceans through which flows about 40 percent of world trade. The government has discussed hosting up to four such U.S. "Littoral Combat Ships," or LCS, on a rotational basis at its naval facilities. Both countries have said the deployment stops short of a basing agreement. China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea, each searching for gas and oil while building their navies and in some cases, their military alliances. +^+

“Littoral combat ships are an entirely new breed of warship. Capable of speeds greater than 40 knots, they are designed for modular, "plug-and-fight" missions for mine-clearing, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. Manned by as few as 40 core crew members, the Freedom will require a relatively small footprint in Singapore for maintenance, Rear Admiral Jim Murdoch, the program executive officer, said in the teleconference. "A much smaller" U.S. group than 40 would be permanently deployed to the city-state, including U.S. naval and contractor personnel, he said. In addition, teams would have to come in and out when the ship is docked in Singapore for routine scheduled maintenance. +^+

“There are two different LCS designs. One, including the Freedom, was developed by an industry team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. The other is built by a team led by General Dynamics Corp. The Navy wants to buy as many as 55 such ships. Twelve have been funded so far, six of each type. The Freedom has been dogged by hull cracks and engine problems, but the admirals voiced confidence that kinks would be ironed out in time for the Singapore deployment.” +^+

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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