Earlier this month, a top Singapore official paid a visit to Australia as both countries were in the midst of a military exercise. The engagement spotlighted the defense aspect of the bilateral relationship between the two countries amid wider domestic and regional developments.
Australia and Singapore have long had a strong defense relationship as part of their wider ties. Beyond the usual components of defense ties such as intelligence sharing and exercises, Australia a key place where the Singapore military conducts overseas training, and the two militaries have also had joint operational deployments in other countries. Over the past few years, both sides have attempted to strengthen this aspect of their ties, including upgrading existing military exercises and making inroads on the future of Singapore military facilities in Australia.
One aspect of the defense relationship is Exercise Wallaby. Inaugurated in 1990, the annual exercise has historically been the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) largest overseas exercise. Last year’s exercise took place from mid-September to mid-November, consisting of three frames and featuring 4,000 personnel and 400 platforms.
Earlier this month, Exercise Wallaby was in the headlines again with the visit of Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defense Maliki Bin Osman. Maliki was on a visit to Australia in early October where he witnessed part of the ongoing exercise, which kicked off on September 24 and is expected to last up to November 7.
Per Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF) in a press release dated October 5, during his trip, Maliki visited Singapore Air Forces (SAF) troops participating in Exercise Wallaby 2019 at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in Queensland, Australia, interacting with exercise participants from the 1st Battalion, Singapore Guards and 6 Divisional Air Defense Artillery Battalion. Overall, the exercise itself involves about 3,000 personnel and 300 platforms from the Singapore Army and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
Maliki also got a sense of the exercise interactions, witnessing a combat search and rescue demonstration on board the RSAF’s Super Puma helicopter and embarking on a familiarization ride on the Light Strike Vehicle Mark II to experience training conditions in the SWBTA. Following the interactions, he noted the significance of the SWBTA, expressing appreciation for the support of the Australian Defense Force and local communities in Rockhampton and Livingstone Shire that facilitated overseas training opportunities for the SAF.
To be sure, Maliki’s trip was just one among a series of defense-related interactions between Australia and Singapore. And while his visit touched on the opportunities in the security ties in the bilateral relationship, it also obscured some of the challenges that both sides have seen in their ties, including with respect to the provision of training areas for the SAF previously. Nonetheless, the engagement nonetheless spotlighted ongoing efforts by the two countries to reinforce the importance of their bilateral relationship amid wider domestic and regional developments.