ASEAN Army Ties in the Spotlight in Singapore

Regional engagements brought ongoing developments within this service into focus.

ASEAN Army Ties in the Spotlight in Singapore
Credit: MINDEF Singapore

In November, Singapore hosted this year’s iteration of a series of regular ASEAN meetings focused on promoting greater interactions and confidence-building between Southeast Asian armies. The events put ongoing developments within this service in the spotlight amid the wide range of transnational challenges that regional states continue to face.

As I have noted before, Southeast Asian states have a variety of defense engagements between them within the ASEAN framework, including the annual gatherings of the chiefs of ASEAN police forces (ASEANAPOL), ASEAN chiefs of defense forces (ACDFIM), and the ASEAN navy chiefs (ANCM). The navy side has been in the spotlight in the ASEAN context this month, with a series of interactions held in Thailand including the holding of the first-ever ASEAN multilateral naval exercise (AMNEX) in addition to an International Fleet Review (IFR) and this year’s iteration of the regular ANCM (See: “ASEAN’s First Naval Exercise in Perspective”).

On the army side, ASEAN-wide engagements include the ASEAN Army Rifles Meet (AARM), first held in Malaysia in 1991, the ASEAN Chiefs of Army Multilateral Meeting (ACAMM) first held in Thailand in 2000, and the ASEAN Army Sergeant Majors Annual Meeting first hosted by Indonesia in 2011 (ASMAM). Over time, these engagements have been hosted together on a rotating basis among Southeast Asian states as is typical of ASEAN engagements. Last year, for instance, the Philippines hosted this series of meetings ahead of its assumption of the ASEAN chairmanship this year.

This year, from November 6 to November 22, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) hosted the 27th AARM, 18th ACAMM, and 7th ASMAM. The ACAMM and ASMAM on November 21 saw the chiefs of army and the sergeant majors exchanging views on key regional security issues. A key focus of the interactions was unsurprisingly on transnational threats such as terrorism, with the Islamic State continuing to pose a challenge to the region despite the end of the siege in the southern Philippine city of Marawi (See: “ASEAN’s Post-Marawi Islamic State Challenge”).

There were a series of interactions tied to these engagements, such as a meeting between the ASEAN army chiefs and Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen at the defense ministry (MINDEF). The group visited several facilities and fired the SAR21, the SAF standard-issue assault rifle developed jointly by the Singapore Army, the Defense Technology Group, and Chartered Industries of Singapore.

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But a key outcome of the meetings was the joint declaration by the army chiefs focused on cooperation against transnational threats. In that declaration, there was an official confirmation of the introduction of an information-sharing workshop at the staff level to enhance mutual learning and explore opportunities for mutual cooperation. MINDEF confirmed that Singapore is set to host the inaugural workshop in 2018.

Meanwhile, the AARM featured 550 shooters from all 10 ASEAN armies in five disciplines – carbine, machine gun, pistol ladies, pistol men, and rifle. Singapore’s hosting of the engagement – its fourth time doing so – also saw parts of it being held indoors at the Multi-Mission Range Complex (MMRC) for the first time in addition to the two outdoor ranges.