TOWNSVILLE: Construction of new, state-of-the art military training facilities, jointly developed by Singapore and Australia, is slated to begin in Queensland in 2019, defence ministers from both countries announced on Friday (Oct 14).
It comes under a newly signed defence agreement which extends the defence partnership between both countries by 25 years and will allow Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel to train in Townsville, in addition to the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Rockhampton where SAF has been holding Exercise Wallaby for the past 26 years.
When the development in Townsville is complete, the SAF will have a total training area in Australia equivalent to 10 times the size of Singapore, up from the current six times. SAF presence in Australia will also grow from 6,600 to 14,000, and its personnel will spend 18 weeks per year in the country, up from six weeks at present.
View of the Townsville Field Training Area (Urban Operations training facility)
On Friday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen was given a tour of parts of the new training areas in Townsville, from the air.
Said Dr Ng of the training area: "You can use it for tanks, you can use it for artillery, you can use it for armoured infantry, you can use it for the guards, special forces, as well as joint exercise - which means that you can use it for helicopter strikes, for strikes from fighter aircraft. So obviously, it’s a very rare piece of training ground where you can do all that, with enough size and distances for our armoured vehicles, for our mechanised and motorised brigades."
Singapore has reportedly committed up to S$2.5 billion over the next 25 years to the project, which includes a live-firing range and an urban training facility. Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said it could help make training more rigorous and realistic.
Australia will come up with a master plan for the development, and this is expected to take until 2018. Construction will begin the following year.
All through the development process, priority will be given to Australian businesses located near to the training areas. Defence leaders said Townsville residents have welcomed the changes and during a joint media conference with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, Dr Ng urged Singapore’s soldiers to return the hospitality.
“You have to have respect for these people here. You have to have respect for their rights, respect for their land, and you have to give back to the community. And you have to engage the community," he said. "So, we’ve met with some of the business leaders and the town leaders, and I think it’s a very good start. We understand this is a long road, but nevertheless, I think there’s enormous goodwill, and I hope that this tone will continue."
Both armed forces already cooperate in many areas including joint overseas missions in conflict zones, and Dr Ng and Ms Payne said the new pact extends a relationship that is extraordinarily strong.
"I think this is a very historic Memorandum of Understanding that will pave the way for very strong relations between Australia and Singapore, and between us Singaporeans and the people of Townsville," said Dr Ng.