PARIS: Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Thursday (Jul 12) hailed the "strong and growing ties" between France and Singapore, as the two countries celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)'s presence at Cazaux Air Base.
Speaking at the air base in France, Dr Ng highlighted the long history of defence cooperation between both countries.
"The RSAF’s presence in Cazaux is a physical testament to the strong and growing ties between our two countries," he said. "It is developed on a shared foundation of ideals and values for both our countries built on liberty, equality and fraternity."
"Twenty years on, I think we can say that the people of Cazaux and the RSAF families here are no longer strangers," he added.
"They know each other, they trust each other. Their warm relationship reflects the ties between our two countries.”
About an hour away from the city of Bordeaux, the air base at Cazaux is where the RSAF's 150 Squadron has been based for the past 20 years.
The squadron operates the M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft which closely mimics the flight performance of modern-day fighters like the F15.
To mark the occasion, Dr Ng also unveiled the 20th anniversary tail flash on an M-346 aircraft, along with the French Secretary of State to the Minister for the Armed Forces Genevieve Darrieussecq.
Said Dr Ng: "From the offer of the Cazaux Air Base to facilitating the upgrading of the RSAF's flying training system with the M-346 Advanced Jet Trainers, our French hosts have remained steadfast in their support through the years.
"And with your support, we look forward to many more years of cooperation and training in France."
The RSAF's presence in Cazaux is made possible under a technical arrangement which allows Singapore to deploy its fighters to French air bases for training.
In 2011, the RSAF's arrangement with France was extended to 2035.
With air space 32 times the size of Singapore, Cazaux Air Base offers RSAF pilots with sprawling skies to hone their flying and combat skills.
"WE ADAPTED VERY WELL"
Since 1998, more than 190 Singaporean pilots have been trained at the base.
Two of the pilots will be flying the M-346 at the French National Day Parade in Paris on Saturday.
One of these is Captain Yeap Wei Jiun, the Officer Commanding of the 150 Squadron, who has been based at Cazaux Air Base for two-and-a-half years.
"Despite the language differences, we adapted very well," he said. "The Singaporean community here form a tight network with one another, so we get together over the weekends, like for example (for the) World Cup, we go to each others' houses to view the World Cup together."
Dignitaries at Cazaux were also given a sneak preview of the flypast which they will be doing.
Speaking to reporters later, Dr Ng said Singapore's collaboration with France is very deep, even beyond the Cazaux detachment.
"We cooperate on a number of advanced projects, in terms of defence technology, especially where the strengths of the French, the defence ministry as well as their defence companies, as well as in areas like cybersecurity," he said.
"So I would say it's multi-faceted. It's been a very rich, very productive relationship and I think it's because we share perspectives on both of our countries of liberty, equality, fraternity, as well as shared values about the world that we live in."
Also as part of the celebrations, items from Singapore and France were placed inside a time capsule, which will only be opened 20 years later.
Dr Ng was visiting France as part of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s delegation and will meet with French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly on Friday.