Sunday 8 December 2019

Singapore and United States sign agreement for RSAF fighter training detachment in Guam

Territory's vast training airspace will allow air force to hone capabilities, readiness: MINDEF
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In Washington, The Sunday Times, 8 Dec 2019

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will set up a fighter training detachment in the United States territory of Guam under an agreement inked by Singapore and the US on Friday, in a sign of deepening defence ties between the two countries.

The permanent fighter training presence at Andersen Air Force Base will be the RSAF's sixth long-term unit overseas and the closest geographically to Singapore.

There are currently three other such detachments in the US - two in Arizona and one in Idaho - as well as one in Queensland, Australia, and one in Bordeaux, France.

Singapore's tight airspace constraints leave little room to train its fighter pilots at home.

The Defence Ministry said that the vast training airspace in Guam will allow the RSAF to conduct realistic training to hone its capabilities and readiness. The pact was reached after in-depth studies with the US were done on a number of factors, including the suitability of the training area, infrastructure and other types of support, MINDEF added.

"This agreement is indicative of the strong bonds between the United States and the Republic of Singapore, particularly with respect to our defence cooperation," said US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper after he and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen signed the agreement in California.

Friday's deal follows closely after the renewal in September of a key defence pact allowing American forces to use Singapore's air and naval bases for another 15 years.

Dr Ng, who is in California this weekend to attend the seventh Reagan National Defence Forum, thanked the US for Singapore's training opportunities and said that the Guam agreement would allow the RSAF fighter force to achieve operational readiness.

"It reaffirms Singapore's position that stability of our region, the Asia-Pacific region, requires influence and presence of the US," he added.

Mr Esper thanked Singapore for the support it provides to US forces in the region, saying: "This is especially important during a time when the longstanding international rules-based order is being challenged.

"Fortunately, many nations in the region, including Singapore, are committed to upholding the rules, norms and values that underpin our mutual security and our prosperity."

The two defence ministers discussed the strong ongoing cooperation between Singapore and America's defence establishments, including in the areas of defence technology and military-to-military cooperation, MINDEF said in a statement.

They also spoke about a wide range of geopolitical developments, including the need to work closely with Asean countries on regional security issues such as counter-terrorism.

The agreement covers the deployment of RSAF's F-15SG and F-16 fighter aircraft and other supporting assets such as the G550 Gulfstream to Guam for training, said MINDEF.

News that Singapore was exploring the possibility of a training facility in Guam was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2016 visit to the US, marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean roughly four hours east of the Philippines by plane, is a staging base for American military activity in the Asia-Pacific. It is closer to potential hot spots in Asia, such as the Korean peninsula, than other US bases in Hawaii and Alaska.

The proximity of the Guam detachment, along with other fighter units that train in the region - including in Australia, India and Thailand - allows assets to be quickly redeployed back to Singapore when needed, said MINDEF. Guam is 4,700km from Singapore.

The US Defence Department said the training presence will begin around 2029 and consist of approximately a squadron of aircraft and associated personnel, and include the construction of hangars, aprons and support facilities for the detachment footprint.

The RSAF first deployed fighter aircraft to the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam for joint training with the US Pacific Air Force in 2017.

The Singapore Armed Forces has a history of training in Guam dating back to the early 1990s, with the army holding bilateral exercises with the US Marine Corps, and the navy taking part in exercises in the waters off Guam.

US engagement in South-east Asia vital: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen
This is why Singapore has allowed US to use its military air and naval bases for decades
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2019

Singapore views the continued engagement of the United States in South-east Asia as important, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said at a national security forum in California on Saturday.

This belief is behind Singapore's allowing of US ships and planes to use its military air and naval bases for almost 30 years, under a key defence pact first signed by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then US Vice-President Dan Quayle in 1990. The US had then just lost access to its naval and air bases in the Philippines, and Mr Lee said Singapore stepped forward because an American presence was essential for the continuation of international law and order in East Asia, Dr Ng said.

The 1990 agreement was renewed in September by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump, allowing American forces to use Singapore's air and naval bases for another 15 years until 2035.

In his speech, Dr Ng lauded Singapore-US defence ties, which took a step forward last Friday with the signing of a deal which gives the Republic of Singapore Air Force a training base for its F-15 fighter pilots in the US territory of Guam.

"The strong, mutually beneficial defence relationship between the US - the world's largest economy and military - and Singapore - a tiny city-state - is unique," said Dr Ng, who was in California at the weekend to attend the seventh Reagan National Defence Forum.

He pointed to how the American military is the most frequent user of Singapore's air and naval bases today. In return, more than 1,000 of Singapore's soldiers train in the US every year.

"I do not think there is any other country, big or small, that has the (same) kind of footprint in the US, and we are very thankful for these training opportunities," said Dr Ng, who spoke at a panel session titled "Advancing US National Defence: Working with Allies and Partners".

The minister then outlined three fundamentals underpinning Singapore-US ties.

First, an openness to ideas and people.

Second, both countries are on "a quest for a global system that frees, unites, includes and enriches, rather than divides and impoverishes", he said.

After the Cold War, the US sought to put in place a regional and global order based on openness, fair trade and the rule of law, Dr Ng noted.

This dovetailed with the basis of Singapore's progress: The same principles of multilateralism, free trade and rule of law, he said.

Third, Singapore and the US both deal with transnational challenges, from disruptions of the existing international finance and global trading systems, to terrorism and climate change. "We will need the US working with other nations to deal with these challenges," said Dr Ng.

While in California, Dr Ng met US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, former US secretary of defence James Mattis, who resigned last December, and senators, congressmen and other defence officials, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

Other prominent figures who spoke at the panel session included Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist, US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy John Rood and his predecessor Michele Flournoy.

Dr Ng's comments came as US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper earlier said at the same forum that he wanted to reallocate forces to the Indo-Pacific command because he saw the region as America's priority theatre going forward.

Asked about the US' continued partnership in the region, Dr Ng said most in Asean would say that they want America's presence to continue.

"They do not want to choose and be caught in the Great Power rivalry between the US and China, but they also want both to be involved, including other powers," he said.

The region also recognises that America's domestic politics was not business as usual and is adjusting to that reality, he said.

"Do we want the assurance that the main American foreign policy is still inclusive, multilateral and progressive? I think certainly yes, and we continue to believe it to be so," he added.

Why agreement on Guam base for RSAF training is a game changer
The MOU that allows a foreign air force to be based in the US Pacific territory for the first time has unique plus points in Singapore's search for defence training facilities.
By David Boey, Published The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2019

The sun never sets on Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) flight training, thanks to friendly countries which have allowed Singapore to base its fighter planes, helicopters and jet trainers overseas for this purpose.

Before sunrise in Singapore, CH-47D Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, Super Puma and Cougar troop-transport helicopters with the RSAF Oakey Detachment would have begun their day in Queensland, Australia, continuing the legacy started by the Super Pumas 20 years ago.

They fly troops, vehicles and supplies during the annual Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Exercise Wallaby war games in Queensland, which add realism to helicopter training while strengthening air force-army cooperation. Over in Perth in Western Australia, the RSAF Flying Training Institute detachment grooms RSAF pilot trainees on PC-21 turboprop trainers.

After sunset in Singapore, M-346 Advanced Jet Trainers with the RSAF Cazaux Detachment in France carry on honing the flying and combat skills of future RSAF F-15 and F-16 fighter pilots. The detachment has been in France for more than 20 years.

Then it is the turn of the three RSAF detachments in the continental United States (ConUS). The RSAF operates the Peace Carvin II F-16C/D fighter detachment at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona, the Peace Vanguard AH-64D Apache attack helicopter detachment at Marana, also in Arizona, and the Peace Carvin V F-15SG fighter detachment at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho.

RSAF ConUS-based detachments also have a long history: 26 years for the F-16s, 18 years for the Apaches and 10 years for the F-15s.

These assets support the SAF's Forging Sabre air-land war games and have flown with United States Air Force (USAF) warplanes during air warfare exercises such as Exercise Red Flag.


Factor in military night flying by Singapore-based squadrons and RSAF overseas detachments, and you can see that the RSAF trains round the clock around the world to keep the RSAF's flying proficiency and mission readiness sharp. Few air forces have a similar global footprint of training detachments.

The number of RSAF overseas detachments is testimony to far-reaching efforts Singapore has made to overcome airspace limitations by having its air force literally spread its wings to training areas many times the size of Singapore. A measure born of necessity - as similar arrangements are not available in the region - has allowed Singapore to forge strong and long-standing defence ties with partners worldwide.

Last Saturday, Guam was announced as the new location for a permanent RSAF fighter training detachment. In an unprecedented move that will allow a foreign air force to be based at the United States Pacific island territory for the first time, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Singapore's Defence Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen.

The deal will allow Singapore to base American-built F-15 and F-16 fighter planes, and US-made Gulfstream G-550 airborne early-warning aircraft, at Andersen AFB in Guam. Training there should commence in 2029 after facilities to be built for the future detachment are ready.

When one considers that about a quarter of the RSAF's F-15 and F-16 fighters that perform air-defence missions are now sitting in Arizona and Idaho, the number of RSAF fighters to be based at Guam has to be calculated carefully so national air defence is not compromised with a sizeable RSAF away team.

At present, RSAF ConUS-based fighter detachments have one aircraft type assigned to an American airbase as this streamlines maintenance and logistics support. Seeing the F-15, F-16 and G-550 mentioned for Guam is unusual. It suggests a new operating model where planes may be assigned to the Andersen base for longer durations than a typical overseas exercise (which can last several weeks) but not for years as is the practice for ConUS detachments.

It may also suggest a drawdown in ConUS detachments in 10 years' time as access to Guam opens up the option of shifting some training to the Western Pacific, which is closer to home. Repatriating RSAF assets will take 6.5 hours of flying time from Guam, compared with several days required to bring home ConUS fighters across the Pacific.


The SAF has trained in Guam since the 1990s. In 2016, Singapore flagged its interest to set up an air force training detachment there in a Singapore-US statement. Since 2017, the RSAF has deployed F-16s to Guam twice to train with the USAF, and these exploratory war games are said to have heightened Guam's appeal as a training venue.

It is easy to see why.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Guam is a tropical island. The maritime environment surrounding Guam, about three-quarters the size of Singapore, offers valuable opportunities for fighter pilots to practise air-to-ground and air-to-sea scenarios that cannot be done over the land-locked Arizona desert or the hilly vastness of Idaho. Guam's geography will bring RSAF training to a new level because the permanent fighter detachment there can practise maritime scenarios unavailable to ConUS-based fighters.

As with the ConUS fighter detachments, Guam will allow RSAF aircrew to clock monthly flying hours to maintain the currency rating for the type of aircraft they are assigned to fly (a pilot cannot fly without this rating) and take part in complex air warfare exercises that are the hallmark of fighter detachments in the US. Basic fighter manoeuvres start with one-versus-one engagements in the classic dogfight before moving on to more complex air-combat manoeuvres involving large formations, some of which take place using simulated ordnance that engage the enemy beyond visual range. As fighter planes flying towards one another can cover a mile (1.6km) every three seconds and with long-range air-to-air missiles becoming commonplace, fighter pilots must demonstrate a high level of proficiency and make split-second decisions to survive in contested airspace. Fighter aircraft work best in teams, exchanging information on enemy movements and cued by G-550 airborne early-warning planes. RSAF war games attempt to realistically portray the level, intensity and complexity of air battles by having aircrew fly against simulated enemy forces of varying sizes, operating at different altitudes, speeds and with different weapons, with flying done day and night.


Access to Guam is a game changer for US-Singapore defence ties as this is no ordinary base. That much is evident as Guam has been mentioned by certain Pacific Rim nations which oppose American military presence in the region, with North Korea going as far as suggesting Guam as a target for its rockets. USAF B-2 and B-52 bombers sent to flex American might over the South China Sea and South Korea came from Guam.

The island has also been mentioned as a possible site for US ballistic missiles now that Washington has turned its back on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Clearly, Guam has an importance to US military strategy out of all proportion to its size.

Granting Singapore access to this headline-making US territory underscores the uniqueness of the US-Singapore defence relationship. From Singapore's perspective, it appears to reciprocate the city-state's efforts to keep the US military engaged in the Asia-Pacific.

At a practical level, Guam may also be a linchpin to US efforts to sell its F-35 warplanes to Singapore. Nothing better demonstrates that Washington understands the RSAF's unique training needs than by granting the customer access to a special location like Guam.

It is said the Pentagon is preparing to notify the US Congress as early as next month of its intention to sell to Singapore the F-38B, which is capable of short takeoffs and landings. The raft of positive news on US-Singapore defence ties, which saw two major MOUs signed recently - the renewal of the 1990 MOU in September that extends US military access to Singapore and the MOU on Guam this month - augurs well for a congressional nod.

Efforts to secure Guam highlight the RSAF's relentless search for training opportunities. In January, Singapore said the proposal to base F-15s in New Zealand did not proceed on cost grounds. The Republic's grand plan to develop the Siabu Air Weapons Range jointly with Indonesia also fell through years ago. The loss of RSAF access to the Crow Valley Bombing and Gunnery Range in the Philippines in the 1990s triggered a wider search elsewhere and paved the way for the enlarged ConUS footprint.

Airspace limitations will be a constant challenge for the RSAF. Even after Guam, the search for prospective partners and locations will be never ending for Singapore.

David Boey, a former defence correspondent with The Straits Times, is a member of the Ministry of Defence's Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence.

Singapore and US Sign Agreement for Fighter Training Detachment in Guam -7 Dec 2019

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