SINGAPORE: Singapore and Australia on Monday (Mar 23) signed an upgraded treaty to facilitate more training access in Australia for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Singapore will also jointly develop military training facilities in new and bigger training areas there.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Australian counterpart Linda Reynolds signed the Treaty on Military Training and Training Area Development during the 5th Singapore-Australia Leaders’ Meeting, which was conducted via video conference amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The signing was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The treaty marks a "significant milestone" in bilateral defence relations, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said in a statement on Monday, adding that it is an upgrade of a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016 under the Singapore-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).
"The treaty facilitates the SAF's enhanced military training access in Australia, and the joint development of military training areas and facilities in an expanded Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) and a new Greenvale Training Area in Queensland, Australia," MINDEF said.
READ: SAF to increase scale, complexity of overseas training in areas up to 80 times size of Singapore
Dr Ng had announced in his Committee of Supply debate speech on Mar 2 that the combined areas, to be ready in 2024 and 2028 respectively, will be about 10 times the size of Singapore.
This will enable training for up to 14,000 soldiers and 2,400 vehicles over 18 weeks in a year, which MINDEF said will allow the SAF to meet "growing requirements for motorised and armoured live-firing training, as well as combined arms and joint training to hone its capabilities as a modern and integrated fighting force".
Currently, about 6,600 troops head to Australia for up to six weeks each year to train in SWBTA, which is about four times the size of Singapore.
MINDEF said on Monday that the treaty allows the SAF to conduct integrated training across its three services in the combined area for 25 years.
"The advanced training facilities will benefit both armed forces and deepen defence cooperation," it added.
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.
The combined arms air-land ranges allow the army and air force to train together with tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, drones, artillery and other combined arms platforms.
The urban operations live-firing facilities enable various air and combined arms platforms to conduct live firing in a realistic urban environment.
"Facilities to be built under the treaty will be mutually agreed upon by both countries, and procurement undertaken by Australia will be carried out in a transparent, open and competitive manner," MINDEF stated.
The ministry said the countries have made "steady progress" in developing the training areas and facilities, pointing to the completion of an ammunition storage building in 2019.
Dr Ng had told Parliament that there was a halt in construction activity at SWBTA because of fears it could accentuate the bushfires that raged in Australia this year.
MINDEF had announced the expansion plans in 2016 following Singapore’s signing of the CSP with Australia, boosting ties and allowing Singapore troops to train in Australia for 25 years.
"The SAF and the Australian Defence Force have a long history of military cooperation, with extensive interactions including bilateral and multilateral exercises, professional exchanges, cross attendance of courses, and joint operational deployment," MINDEF stated.
The SAF has conducted Exercise Wallaby, its largest overseas exercise involving air, land and sea components, annually in SWBTA since the exercise's inauguration in 1990.
The area also hosts Exercise Trident, the signature bilateral joint exercise between the SAF and the Australian Defence Force involving air, land and sea components.
MINDEF said this exercise enables professional exchanges and improves interoperability between both armed forces.
"Notably, the SAF will mark the 30th anniversary of its training in the SWBTA in October 2020," it added.