SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will increase the scale and complexity of some of its overseas training, with new and vast training areas set to be ready before the end of the decade.
“In an uncertain landscape, we must raise, train and sustain units within the SAF to deal with both conventional and unconventional threats,” Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said during his Committee of Supply debate speech on Monday (Mar 2).
“For conventional operations, the SAF aims to have the best training facilities globally.”
One such facility is the expanded Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in Australia, which will be ready in 2024.
This will be combined with the new Greenvale Training Area, ready in 2028, to form an area 10 times the size of Singapore, allowing training for up to 14,000 soldiers and 2,400 vehicles over 18 weeks in a year.
Currently, about 6,600 troops head to Australia for up to six weeks each year to train in SWBTA, which is about three times the size of Singapore.
The new combined training area will contain next-generation facilities like combined arms air-land ranges and urban operations live firing facilities, allowing the SAF to conduct mass scale, air-land live firing across its services.
For instance, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, drones and artillery launchers can fight together at the brigade level, exercising big-picture tactics and realistic scenarios to hone operational capabilities.
“In essence, when completed, we can conduct complex training on a much larger scale, that only few militaries are able to, elsewhere,” Dr Ng said.
Dr Ng said there was a halt in construction activity at SWBTA because of a fear that it could accentuate the bushfires that raged in Australia this year. "So, we are watching it very careful and if we have to make adjustments, we'll have to," he said.
The expanded training area comes after the Defence Ministry (MINDEF) announced the expansion plans in 2016 following Singapore’s signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Australia, boosting ties and allowing Singapore troops to train in Australia for 25 years.
Another training facility in the works is the fighter training detachment in Guam, to be ready by 2029. Singapore will deploy its F-15SGs, F-16s and supporting assets in an airspace more than 80 times the size of Singapore, allowing larger scale and more complex live firing training.
The Guam detachment, alongside other fighter deployments in Australia, India and Thailand will allow quick re-deployment of assets back to Singapore when required, Dr Ng said.
This comes after Singapore signed a deal with the US last December agreeing to set up the detachment and deepen ties, following the renewal of a defence pact which allows American troops to use Singapore’s air and naval bases for another 15 years.
Dr Ng also provided an update on Singapore’s purchase of four F-35B fighter jets, with an option for eight more, for training and in-depth evaluation.
The minister said MINDEF is in the final stages of the purchase after getting the green light from the US government and Congress, adding that he hopes to take delivery of the jets around 2026.
“The F-35B performed in the recent Singapore Airshow and its ability to swivel 360 degrees was simply, as some people said, awesome,” he stated. “But it can have a full suite of sensors and fighting capabilities.”