Earlier this month, India’s defense secretary paid an introductory visit to Singapore in his current capacity. Though the trip was just one of several defense-related interactions between the two countries, it nonetheless highlighted ongoing efforts by both sides to continue to make advances in the security aspect of ties within their broader relationship.
As I have noted before in these pages, Singapore and India have a defense relationship as part of their wider bilateral ties. Both sides have been attempting to shore up this aspect of their relationship over the past few years through various interactions, including annualizing defense consultations and increasing the complexity of some of their exercises.
That has continued on into 2019 as well. For instance, as I noted last month, one of the manifestations of this was the holding of the first trilateral exercise between Singapore, India, and Thailand (SITMEX), an idea that had first received public attention during Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned it in in his 2018 keynote address to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security summit, back in June 2018 that spotlighted the India-Singapore relationship’s role within New Delhi’s broader security vision for Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific.
Earlier this month, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of India’s defense secretary to Singapore. Defense Secretary Ajay Kumar was in Singapore for what constituted his introductory trip to the Southeast Asian state in his current capacity, from September 30 to October 1.
Kumar’s trip consisted of a series of interactions. In terms of meetings, he met with top Singapore officials including Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen and Permanent Secretary for Defense Chan Yeng Kit, with whom he co-chaired the 13th iteration of the Singapore-India Defense Policy Dialogue (DPD).
According to the official account of the DPD by Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), during the meeting, both sides took stock of the state of their defense relations and also discussed international security issues of mutual interest in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions and the progress of regional cooperation in ASEAN-led institutions such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus. They also committed to enhance defense cooperation in areas such as high-level exchanges and operational collaboration between the two militaries, though the means through which this would occur were left unspecified.
Apart from those meetings, Kumar’s trip consisted of other interactions as well that reinforced aspects of the bilateral relationship. For instance, per MINDEF, he visited Changi Naval Base where he boarded the Formidable-class frigate RSS Tenacious which had participated in the inaugural Singapore-India-Thailand Maritime Exercise in the Andaman Sea. He also visited the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s 143 Squadron, which had previously participated in Joint Military Training with the Indian Air Force which is another key aspect of their defense ties.