SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON: The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will set up a fighter training detachment in the United States territory of Guam under an agreement inked by Singapore and the US, in a sign of deepening defence ties between the two countries.
The permanent fighter training presence at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam will be the RSAF's sixth long-term unit overseas and the closest geographically to Singapore. There are currently three other such detachments in the US - two in Arizona and one in Idaho - as well as one in Queensland, Australia, and one in Bordeaux, France.
Singapore's tight airspace constraints leave little room to train its fighter pilots at home. The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said on Daturday (Dec 6) the vast training airspace in Guam will allow the RSAF to conduct realistic training to hone their capabilities and readiness.
The pact was reached after in-depth studies with the US were done on a number of factors, including the suitability of the training area, infrastructure and other types of support, Mindef added.
"This agreement is indicative of the strong bonds between the United States and the Republic of Singapore, particularly with respect to our defence cooperation," said US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper after he and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen signed the agreement in California on Friday.
Friday's agreement follows closely after the renewal in September of a key defence pact allowing American forces to use Singapore's air and naval bases for another 15 years.
Dr Ng, who is in California this weekend to attend the seventh Reagan National Defence Forum, thanked the US for Singapore's training opportunities and said that the Guam agreement would allow the RSAF fighter force to achieve its operational readiness.
"It reaffirms Singapore's position that stability of our region, the Asia-Pacific region, requires influence and presence of the US," he added.
The two defence ministers discussed the strong ongoing cooperation between Singapore and America's defence establishment, including in the areas of defence technology and military-to-military cooperation, Mindef said in a statement.
They also spoke about a wide range of geopolitical developments, including the need to work closely with Asean countries to address regional security issues like counter-terrorism.
The agreement covers the deployment of RSAF's F-15SG and F-16 fighter aircraft and other supporting assets like the G550 Gulfstream to Guam for training, said Mindef.
News that Singapore was exploring the possibility of a training facility in Guam was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2016 visit to the US marking 50 years of diplomacy between the two countries.
Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean roughly four hours east of the Philippines by plane, is a staging base for American military activity in the Asia-Pacific and allows it to project air and sea power in the region. It is located closer to potential hot spots in Asia like the Korean peninsula than other US bases in Hawaii and Alaska.
The proximity of the Guam detachment, along with other fighter units that train in the region - including in Australia, India and Thailand - allows assets to be quickly redeployed back to Singapore when needed, said Mindef.
The RSAF first deployed fighter aircraft to the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam for joint training with the US Pacific Air Force in 2017.
The Singapore Armed Forces has a history of training in Guam dating back to the early 1990s, with the Singapore Army holding bilateral exercises with the US Marine Corps, and the Singapore Navy taking part in exercises in the waters off Guam.
Mr Esper thanked Singapore for the support it provides to American forces in the region, saying: "This is especially important during a time when the longstanding international rules-based order is being challenged."
"Fortunately, many nations in the region, including Singapore, are committed to upholding the rules, norms and values that underpin our mutual security and our prosperity," he added. - The Straits Times/ANN