'Too soon' for timeframe on $2b Singaporean defence upgrades
A senior Singaporean politician said it was too soon to talk about when his country would spend $2 billion upgrading defence force bases in Australia.
In May, the Turnbull Government announced a new, 25-year deal had been reached between the two counties, which would see the large sum spent enhancing the Shoalwater Bay training zone in central Queensland, as well as in Townsville in the state’s north.
The deal would also see Singapore increase the number of troops on rotation in Australia from 6,000 to 14,000.
Doctor Maliki Osman is Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defence, a position which sits just under the Minister for Defence.
When asked by the ABC exactly when the money would be spent on the upgrades, he was unclear.
“I think it’s still early days to talk about the cost and even what we’re going to spend on,” Dr Maliki said.
“More importantly is the principle behind this comprehensive partnership.
“First it is more than defence, there’s going to be strengthening of relationships in many different sectors, including foreign policy, including trade, including education.
“From a defence perspective, in terms of principles, we’re really looking at how we can harness this relationship.
“How we can look to enhancing the access, as well as enhance the training areas over the next 25 years.”
When asked again if he knew when the $2 billion would be spent, he replied: “Like I say, it’s a bit too early to even talk about it”.
Defence exercises continuing to strengthen relationship
Dr Osman was in Australia for Singaporean Defence Force exercises at Shoalwater Bay near Rockhampton.
More than 4,500 troops are in the region for army, navy and air force training.
It is the first time F-15 fighter jets have been used for air strike practice during the campaign codenamed ‘Exercise Wallaby’.
“This is the inaugural participation of our F-15 fighter,” said Airforce Exercise Director Brigadier General Jonathan Tan.
“We will continue to see how we can bring in the fighters, for future Exercise Wallaby to enhance the realism for our airmen as well as the army forces on the ground,” he said.
The Shoalwater Bay training zone is roughly four times the size of Singapore, a major draw card for the city-state.
“We look at Shoalwater Bay training area as opportunity for us,” Exercise Director Brigadier General Chua Boon Keat said.
“We couldn’t get that sort of training land in Singapore of the sheer size.
“So one of the greatest benefits over here is to overcome our limited training space in Singapore, to be able to come here to train.”
Troops enjoying their time down under
Many of the troops involved in the war games are enjoying their time down under.
Army Major Graham Ong-Webb said Australia was very different to Singapore.
“Lovely, lovely scenery, you don’t get to see the stars at night in Singapore like we do over here,” he said.
“The landscape, we’re looking forward to rest and recreation at the end of it.
“The guys have worked very, very hard for the last two weeks.
“I think it’s good for us to break open a beer, have a laugh, and have some good food and just enjoy the hospitality of our kind Australian hosts, before we go back to Singapore,” Major Ong-Webb said.