The armed forces of neighbours Malaysia and Singapore made it a heavy news day yesterday (1 March 2019) with the federation officially launching its largest land warfare exercise, codenamed Satria Perkasa (Mighty Knight), while the island republic passed a record $15.5 billion (US$11.4 billion) defence budget.
The coincidence is serendipitous as Hari Tentera Darat (Army Day) falls on 1 March and the Committee of Supply debate for Singapore's national budget for respective ministries (called Heads) unfolds in a fixed format whose scheduling is hard to predict as it depends on the time taken by parliamentarians to discuss preceding Heads.
The Malaysian Army treated netizens with a massive album containing more than a hundred images - one of the largest photo albums for a single event this year - on its Berita Tentera Darat (Army News) Facebook page that show celebrations to mark the army's 86th anniversary. The picture selection was so wide and preparations like watermarks so time consuming that the images were uploaded around 6am the morning after.
Eksesais Satria Perkasa is a major capability demonstration by Malaysian land forces that involves simultaneous army operations on Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia from today till 11 March 2019.
It is a complex division-level exercise in command and control in two theatres that puts to test Markas Angkatan Darat's (Army HQ) ability to marshal, deploy and execute army operational orders for more than four thousand troops via Pemerintahan Medan Barat Tentera Darat (Army Field Command West) which covers the peninsula, and Pemerintahan Medan Barat Tentera Timur (Army Field Command East) which is bestowed with responsibility for army operations in Sabah and Sarawak.
Troops from 2 Divisyen are now involved in the peninsula phase of the two-sided war game while 1 Divisyen is leading the Sarawak phase of the exercise around the areas of Lundu, Bau, Puncak Borneo, Tebedu, Mongkos and Engkabang.
Meanwhile in Singapore, fellow Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) member had a raft of defence updates of its own.
Chief amongst these is the revelation that Singapore will buy four Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters for trials with options for another eight F-35s. Interestingly, the model of the F-35 that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is keen to buy was not revealed. The acquisition of four test platforms is interesting as this makes the RSAF's test batch the largest among F-35 customers and is twice the number of test aircraft that Australia and the Netherlands bought two trial planes respectively for their air force.
Singapore's defence spending is expected to hit $15.5 billion (US$11.4 billion) for the current financial year, which begins on 1 April. This amount is up from $14.8 billion (US$10.9 billion) the previous FY, while Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs spending is expected to hold steady at $6.7 billion (US$4.9 billion) and $0.5 billion (US$0.4 billion), respectively. The Defence and Home Affairs portfolios collectively account for some 30 per cent of Singapore's total budget for the coming FY.
During the parliamentary debate for the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen shared infographics that outlined efforts to build a next generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Of interest are the shadow drawings for the Singapore Army's next generation self-propelled artillery gun and improved all-terrain tracked carrier, which are expected to be designed and made by local weapons maker, Singapore Technologies Engineering. The new SP gun is likely to be a wheeled design with a 155mm and automatic projectile and charge loader mounted aft of an all-terrain chassis. The new tracked carrier is thought to be the Bronco 3 variant, which is an enlarged marque of the combat proven Warthog Bronco 2 design (the baseline Bronco used by the SAF is the Bronco 1).
On the naval front, the Republic of Singapore Navy has a shadow diagram of its own that has fuelled intense speculation. The shape, form and number of the so-called Joint Multi Mission Ships that are slated to replaced four 141-metre Endurance-class tank landing ships has yet to revealed and rumours abound of a light helicopter type design.
The RSN's ThyssenKrupp Type 218SG Invincible-class submarines are slated to go into service around 2025 while The navy's six 62m Victory-class Missile Corvettes (MCV) are due to be replaced by a Multi-Role Combat Vessel (MRCV) by 2030.
Several mission critical elements like improved landing craft capable of ferrying MBT-sized payloads and anti-missile defences are noticeable by their absence from the infographic, which is possibly constrained in granularity by its topline view of SAF assets.
Singapore's defence minister pledged to keep defence spending at around three to four per cent of the national budget, even with neighbouring countries increasing their arms expenditure.
Dr Ng said: "If we continue our steady investments into defence and our NSmen maintain their commitment and resolve to defend Singapore, then our future will be secure for another generation. We can look forward to celebrate SG75 with the assurance that we have strong defences.”
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