Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA February 2014 Contents 22 DefenceReviewAsia | FEB 2014
As part of the anniversary we had a large exercise
involving more than 4,000 troops and many assets.
It was very gratifying to ministers from all five
countries visiting units as we witnessed our troops
working in unison -- from command and control level
to operations. The FPDA continues to be relevant to
the security of Malaysia and Singapore -- the original
purpose of the agreement - but adapted to today's
context. The militaries of all of the countries are
now very different from 40 years ago, but despite
various changes in force structures the basis of this
high level of cooperation is something we would
all like to continue. During the exercise I refer to,
we had numerous aircraft flying across Malaysia
and Singapore. Military to military cooperation was
From Singapore's perspective, we very much
welcome the continuing involvement of the UK,
Australia and New Zealand. It is a historical link,
which is still relevant today and one that we hope
will continue into the future.
Q: Turning now to some equipment procurement
matters, you were recently in the United States
and so the question arises about your views on
the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Singapore has a
level of interest in the aircraft -- what are your
thoughts about its purchase?
As I said in Parliament, we are seriously
considering the F-35 as part of our long-term
planning. Our F-5s need to be replaced and our
F-16s are due for a midlife upgrade -- over the
longer term. As we modernize our air force, the
F-35 is potentially part of that. It is a capable fifth
generation fighter and one can see how it might
fit our needs. We have to make sure that it is cost
effective -- not only to procure it but also for its
full life-cycle costs. The good thing for Singapore
is that we have time because our current fleet
meets our requirements -- but for longer term
planning purposes, we are seriously considering
Q: So is the situation that Singapore is definitely
committed to the F-35, or are there other
possibilities? Is the situation like Australia,
which has taken an 'in principle' decision to buy
No, we have not made any in-principle decision.
Our procurement processes for any platform are
long-term and very detailed -- and these processes
have stood the test of time. We have a reputation
for being very rigorous, not only from the cost
perspective but also on the capability part of the
equation. So, no, we have not agreed to anything
in principle -- especially as we are not pressed for
Q: As an observation, amongst suppliers,
Singapore seems to be considered a careful
purchaser of equipment.
This comes about because we clarify internally
exactly what we want first -- starting from a position
of knowledge and understanding of our own needs.
That is why we take our time and don't rush things.
For example, lifecycle costs include effects on our
manpower and having the necessary expertise
to support what we purchase. This process has
ensured high operative effectiveness of our orbat.
For example when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit in
December 2004, at a moment's notice, three out of
four of our LSTs were deployed for regional disaster
relief operations. All were in operation. Similarly our
fleet of Chinook helicopters was also available at
short notice. Our rates of serviceability are amongst
the highest of any military force and we have very
high standards in terms of what we need.
Q: Singapore has recently made a commitment
to purchase two new submarines. This seems
to be part of a regional trend -- is Singapore
leading or following?
We are not in the business of being any trendsetter
when it comes to procurement and defence policy.
We are pragmatic in our position and we need
to replace ageing assets. The navy's 'Challenger'
Class submarines are 60 years old. I think we have
extended their life to the maximum and it is time
to replace them. The Type 218S will complement
our 'Archer' Class, which are second-hand
submarines, from Sweden to maintain our sea lines
Q: Turning finally to a domestic issue for
Singapore -- national service. What is the
current thinking on whether this should be
There is not much debate on the need to maintain
national service as a very recent independent poll
based on a rigorous methodology which reflected
the views of the general population -- it was not
selective in any way and was gratifying as it showed
that more than 95% of Singaporeans support
national service. Across all segments of society
-- men, women, employers, and members of the
military -- the view was overwhelmingly positive.
There is universal agreement that because of our
relatively small population, some form of national
service is needed.
Singapore is having fewer babies than we need
and this focuses the mind of our population on
national service to defend ourselves. The survey
also contained a great deal of important feedback
on how the system can be made even better and I
expect we will be putting some of these ideas into
effect towards the middle of the year.
I cannot think of any other area of public policy
that has as much support as the continuation of
Sailors from the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) conduct 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boat operations
in Changi Naval Base Harbor in Singapore. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class
Karolina A. Oseguera/Released).
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