Singapore and the United States will hold a new bilateral naval exercise in Guam in August, a top U.S. navy official said last week.
Don Gabrielson, Commander of the Logistics Group Western Pacific – the Seventh Fleet’s principal logistics agent and bilateral exercise coordinator for Southeast Asia – told The Straits Times on April 12 that the first-of-its-kind exercise, code-named Pacific Griffin, would be held over two weeks in the waters off the U.S. island territory.
“That is a higher-end exercise, and we are looking at a number of opportunities for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) to exercise their live-firing capabilities,” Rear Admiral Gabrielson said in an interview at a U.S. Navy office at Sembawang Wharves. “I am highly confident it is going to meet the RSN’s needs to hone their skills out at sea.”
Gabrielson did not provide further details about the exercise, which he said were still being finalized, though he did say it would be a “complex exercise” involving “a whole bunch” of RSN ships and U.S. Navy assets.
Gabrielson’s announcement of the new high-end exercise comes as no surprise. As I have written before, the United States and Singapore have long viewed each other as vital security partners (See: “Strengthening U.S.-Singapore Strategic Partnership”). For Singapore, the U.S. regional presence has been critical to its emergence as one of the world’s successful economies, and Washington remains a key provider of defense technology and facilities for military training today. For the United States, Singapore has been a key regional anchor and an active global contributor, as evidenced by its recent agreement to host littoral combat ships and P-8 Poseidon aircraft, and its growing role in the global fight against the Islamic State.
Gabrielson’s comments come amid a busy few weeks for U.S.-Singapore defense relations. From April 2 to 5, Singapore’s defense minister, Ng Eng Hen, was in Washington, D.C., on a working visit where he met with top U.S. officials including U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis as well as lawmakers and thinkers (See: “US-Singapore Defense Ties in the Spotlight with Ng Visit”). That enabled both sides to update each other on key agenda items, such as Singapore’s contribution of a medical task force to Iraq that begins last month, as well as Ng to get a better sense of U.S. Asia policy in Washington more broadly.
Then, on April 10, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) began joint training with the U.S. Air Force out of Anderson Air Force Base in Guam which will last until May 11. It is the first deployment of RSAF aircraft and personnel to Guam since discussions began last summer to increase training opportunities. Those discussions were first publicized during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s state visit to Washington in August (See: “Strengthening US-Singapore Strategic Partnership: Opportunities and Challenges”).
As I mentioned earlier, though it is still early days in the U.S.-Singapore relationship during the Trump administration, there are some engagements to keep an eye on. Next month, Singapore and the United States will carry out their annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise. And in June, Mattis will attend his first Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), which has traditionally provided an opportunity for U.S. defense officials to lay out Washington’s regional approach and advance bilateral relationships.
As I noted during my attendance at last year’s SLD, former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had used his last address to outline the vision for a principled security network in the region (See: “US Hits Right Note at Shangri-La With Principled Security Network”).