Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR April 2014 Contents Thysenn
upon which singapore’s founding father. Lee Kuan
yew, built the country.
singapore, a very stable parliamentary republic,
is an obvious partner for the Us. It’s a country
that punches well above its weight in economic,
diplomatic and military influence.
The defence relationship between the Us and
singapore goes back five decades.
naval cooperation commenced in the
late 60s, when singapore provided
maintenance and resupply facilities
for Usn operations in Vietnam.
small bilateral naval exercises
began in 1975. From 1978, the
Usn started using Tengah Air Base
for long-range patrol flights over the Indian Ocean. In
1992 when the Us naval Base at subic Bay in the
Philippines was closed, singapore stepped up to the
plate offering expanded access for Usn ships as a
method for encouraging a continuing Us presence
in the region. Co-operation went a lot further when in
1990 an MoU was signed; allowing wider use of sAF
facilities for Usn repairs and UsAF training.
The next year saw singapore agree to host the
Commander, Logistics Group, Western Pacific
headquarters, for supporting the Us seventh
Fleet and coordinating bilateral naval exercises
throughout southeast Asia. singapore also served
as an important transit point for American ships
and aircraft during the Gulf War.
In 1998 singapore expanded its
MoU to allow Usn ships, including
aircraft carriers and submarines,
access to the new Changi naval
Base. since then, the number of
Us ships visiting singapore on an
annual basis has climbed to more
than 100 annually.
In October 2003 singapore’s Prime Minister
Goh Chok Tong and Us President George W.
Bush announced an intention to conclude a bilateral
strategic Framework Agreement (sFA) for a Closer
Cooperation Partnership in Defence and security,
with an agreement signed in July 2005. The stationing
of Uss Freedom at Changi naval Base in April last
year is a direct result of that agreement. The sFA
was the first of its kind with a non-Us ally since the
Cold War. It is clear that the singapore relationship
is a lynchpin of the Us’ ‘rebalancing to Asia’ strategy.
some commentators will be quick to point out
that singapore is not a formal ally of the Us, which
is correct, however this is not due to the want of the
Us. In fact they offered singapore major non-nATO
status ally status in 2003, which singapore declined.
For very sound reasons it was deemed this would not
suit singapore’s national security aims; the best the
Us could achieve was the sFA.
HMAS Sheean arrives at Fleet Base West.
Research into submarines and undersea
warfare has been occurring for a number of
years; a responsibility entrusted to the RSN’s
Naval Undersea Warfare Centre located at
Tuas Naval Base.
singapore has, over the past 20 years, methodically
and carefully built up a highly capable submarine
force and the in-country base to support them.
They have done so in a risk and cost savvy
manner. In contrast, and almost over the same
time frame, Australia has struggled to maintain a
baseline capability (whilst chewing up significant
The Rsn’s 218sG program will advance
singapore’s submarine capability even further.
Though the limited amount of information available
makes it difficult to quantify, they will have a
tailored submarine capability, something Australia
will not see for two decades, if ever.
The 218sG procurement will also serve as
the catalyst for closer co-operation between the
Rsn and Usn submarine forces. At the sIA
Conference in 2010 COMsUBPAC made the
call, when he stated we need Australia to get
back into the region, which we’re still trying to
do. What impact does that have on Australia’s
relevance? There is no doubt the Us will remain
our ally and continue to support Australia’s
submarine force, however other nations are in
a better position to meaningfully contribute and
that’s valuable. nations such as singapore are
particularly well positioned for participation in
the Us’ pivot towards Asia, they bring regional
influence both economically and diplomatically, as
well as capability.
Failure to arrest the decline in Australia has
seen the Usn, ‘give up’ on Australia’s current
and future submarine role in its Asia strategy. It
has been forced to; it is dealing with the potential
for real conflict in the region and can’t seek to
rely on rhetoric and PR spin to carry the day. It
needs reliable, high end and well operated assets
in the submarine space. Whilst Australia has
waxed lyrical of its current and future capability,
singapore has got on with the job.
And as time marches on, the Us singaporean
submarine relationship will only continue to grow
closer. The likelihood of Australia’s submarine
force regaining relevance in short order has almost
evaporated. From here in on we must be sensible
and realistic in selecting the path we take, for that
will have great bearing our future place.
32 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter APRIL 2014
27/03/14 4:44 PM
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