On Monday, Singapore announced that a new program to help build Philippine military expertise in urban warfare had officially kicked off. The launch of the initiative, first announced as part of the city-state’s assistance to Manila to combat the terror threat posed by the Islamic State and its affiliates, is yet another manifestation of ongoing indigenous efforts among Southeast Asian states to build regional capacity on this front.
As I have noted before, the five-month long siege by Islamic State-linked militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, which ended just last month, both sparked growing terror fears in the Asia-Pacific and also catalyzed efforts by regional states to help boost Manila’s limited military capabilities (See: “Why Has the Philippine Military Struggles in its Terror War Under Duterte?”).
Singapore has been a leading contributor in this regard, with the most visible manifestation of this being a commitment made in mid-July by visiting Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen to provide counterterrorism assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This included Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 transport aircraft to deliver humanitarian supplies to the evacuees from Marawi; use of the SAF’s urban training villages for AFP troops; and a detachment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones to enhance the AFP’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
Though the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte has officially announced the end of the battle of Marawi, military officials continue to emphasize that the wider terrorism threat remains and there is still an urgent need to boost the AFP’s capabilities in areas like urban warfare training, which is a broader conversation regionally as well (See: “ASEAN’s Post-Marawi Islamic State Challenge”).
This week, we saw the urban warfare training component of Singapore’s assistance to the Philippine military officially kick off. Forty soldiers from the Philippine Army (PA) arrived in Singapore for a two-week professional exchange program that will last from December 4 until December 15, Ng announced on Facebook.
The Philippine military personnel will be hosted at Singapore’s Murai Urban Training Facility (MUTF), a facility initially developed by the Army and the Defense Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) to develop the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) urban operations capabilities. The MUTF, located at Lim Chu Kang training area and built to resemble a town, is meant to offer a range of realistic training scenarios, and various facilities, including a live firing facility, have been put in place over the years to enhance its ability to do so.