On November 25, the armies of Singapore and Malaysia carried out this year’s iteration of their flagship exercise. Apart from the usual components of the drills, this edition also saw the start of new army-to-army talks between the services in a boost for military cooperation.
As I have noted before in these pages, though Malaysia and Singapore have had a rather prickly relationship in the past and problems do arise in ties from time to time, their militaries interact regularly through various bilateral exchanges and exercises as well as under multilateral arrangements, from Exercise Malapura to the Eyes-in-the-Sky combined air patrols to enhance maritime security in the Straits of Malacca.
One of these engagements is Exercise Semangat Bersatu (XSB, which roughly translates to “Unity in Spirit” from Malay), the flagship exercise between the two armies that was first held in 1989 and is hosted alternately by both countries. Last year’s XSB took place in Malaysia in November and saw around 980 personnel participate from both sides.
From November 12 to 25, the two countries held the 23rd iteration of the exercise in Singapore. The exercise included a range of interactions including professional exchanges and a combined battalion field exercise. According to Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), around 750 troopers from the 3rd Battalion Singapore Guards and the 5th Royal Malay Regiment participated in the exercise.
Apart from the usual interactions as part of the exercise, on the sidelines of XSB, which was held at Lim Chu Kang Training Area and co-officiated by the two army chiefs, both armies concluded the Terms of Reference for new Army-to-Army Talks between them. The talks, MINDEF said, would serve as a forum for regular dialogue and exchange of views on regional and global developments, as well as opportunities to further enhance existing bilateral defense ties and mutual cooperation between the two armies.
Following XSB, the two armies will continue their regular interactions through the rest of the year and onto 2018, which include not just exercises but visits, exchanges, and other education and training engagements. For instance, next month they will hold an annual bilateral adventure training called the Singapore Armed Forces-Malaysian Armed Forces Joint Adventure Training (SAT-MAF-JAT) that aims to strengthen professionalism and interaction between the two armies through a range of activities, including racing and dragon boating.