This week, Malaysia and Singapore began the first iteration of a new bilateral exercise. The new exercise reflects the ongoing military collaboration underway between the two Southeast Asian neighbors despite the lingering challenges in the bilateral relationship as they each undergo a busy year in domestic politics.
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 such as Exercise Malapura and Exercise Semangat Bersatu as well as under multilateral arrangements, from the Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA), which also consists of Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, to Eyes-in-the-Sky combined air patrols to enhance maritime security in the Straits of Malacca.
On April 25, Malaysia and Singapore launched the first iteration of a new bilateral exercise. The inaugural edition of the search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) Malsing was held as a command post exercise at the Multinational Operations and Exercises Center in the Changi Command and Control Center, with the opening ceremony at Paya Lebar Air Base co-officiated by Chief of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Major-General Mervyn Tan and Chief of Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) General Affendi bin Buang.
Though search and rescue exercises themselves are a fairly common activity, according to the RMAF, this is the first joint exercise between the two air forces where the focus of a command post exercise was conceptually around SAR. According to Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), the three-day exercise involved SAR planners from the RSAF and RMAF and provided the opportunity for participants to exchange knowledge on SAR operations, discuss tactical procedures for combined SAR missions, and plan for simulated combined SAR missions.
Tan said that the conduct of SAREX Malsing represented “another big step” forward in the building of strong defense ties between the two countries. As both countries continue on with a busy year in domestic politics – with Malaysia holding general elections next month and Singapore going through a longer transition that will eventually see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong replaced by a new leader a few years from now – regular interactions including military exercises can help provide a measure of stabilization in times of uncertainty.