ASEAN Beat

Army Exercise Puts US-Singapore Defense Ties into Focus

The latest iteration of the drills was just the latest manifestation of ongoing efforts by the two countries to bolster their security ties.

Prashanth Parameswaran
Army Exercise Puts US-Singapore Defense Ties into Focus

A photograph from a previous iteration of the U.S.-Singapore Tiger Balm exercise.

Credit: MINDEF Singapore

This week, the United States and Singapore kicked off the latest iteration of the oldest exercise between their two armies. The drills were just the latest manifestation of ongoing efforts by both sides to continue to bolster their relations, including in the defense realm.

As I have noted before in these pages and elsewhere, the United States and Singapore have long viewed each other as vital security partners, with the United States being a key supplier of defense technology and facilities for military training for Singapore, and Singapore being a valuable partner across a range of issues while also hosting a U.S. Navy logistics command unit that coordinates regional operations.

This has continued to advance under U.S. President Donald Trump as well for its own sake as well as within the administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy, including through developments such as a new naval exercise, Pacific Griffin, or Singapore’s planned purchase of F-35s.

One of the exercises both sides participate in is Exercise Tiger Balm, the longest-running bilateral army exercise which has been held in both Singapore and the United States since 1981. The two countries have often cited the two week-long exercise as both a valuable opportunity to collaborate and share tactics and techniques as well as evidence of their long history of cooperation in the security domain.

This week, this aspect of the U.S.-Singapore defense relationship was in the headlines again with the beginning of this year’s iteration of Tiger Balm. The exercise kicked off at Mandai Hill Camp in Singapore on July 8 between the two countries, and it is set to last until July 19.

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Per Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), this year’s iteration of the exercise involved approximately 766 personnel from the 76th Singapore Infantry Brigade and 5th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (5 SIR), and the US Army’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2-130th Infantry Battalion (2-130 IN), and 1-23 Stryker Platoon.

The exercise itself involves a series of interactions. Per MINDEF, this would involve planning and executing conventional operations under the ambit of a Combined Task Force, including urban operations scenarios and dealing with improvised explosive device threats featuring the US’ Stryker Combat Vehicles and Singapore’s Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles.

To be sure, Tiger Balm is just one of several interactions between the United States and Singapore in the defense realm. Nonetheless, these more specific manifestations of the security relationship between the two sides will continue to be important metrics to assess how aspects of this realm are developing over time.