This article was originally published Dec. 8, 2015.
WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Singapore Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen signed a joint enhanced defense cooperation agreement (DCA) Monday at the Pentagon that will provide a framework for an expanded defense relationship.
The enhanced DCA will not include the introduction of US “spy planes,” as some international media outlets have reported in the vernacular. In the news release, Carter and Ng acknowledged the inaugural deployment of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft to Singapore from Dec. 7 to 14, “under the ambit” of a 1990 memorandum of understanding and the 2005 Strategic Framework Agreement.
The aircraft’s future deployment at different times will promote greater interoperability with regional militaries through participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises, they said, while providing timely support for regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and maritime security efforts.
Singapore-based Tim Huxley, executive director - Asia, International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the P-8 will help improve maritime domain awareness of both countries, and “may also have a specific role from time to time in reasserting freedom of overflight in parts of the South China Sea where China has recently engaged in major land-reclamation and militarization on features that it occupies.”
China’s Foreign Ministry immediately criticized the agreement. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying questioned whether “military deployment and regional militarization by the US” was “in line with the aspiration shared by countries in the region?” In China’s point of view, “it goes against the common and long-term interests of countries in the region.”
Retired US Marine Lt. Gen. Wallace “Chip” Gregson said there were practical reasons for the deployment.
“There is an obvious advantage to having multiple facilities around the region that are capable of supporting our P-8 and other aircraft. Note that it does not have to be a base. Access with the assistance of the host nation to logistic support is the key. Multiple such facilities enable much more efficient operations and allow us to continue surveillance despite the occasional typhoon,” he said.
Gregson served as the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs from 2009 to 2011 before joining Avascent International as a senior adviser.
Under the enhanced DCA, both agreed on a broad framework for defense cooperation in five key areas: military, policy, strategic and technology spheres, as well as cooperation against non-conventional security challenges, such as piracy and transnational terrorism.
According to a joint statement, both agreed to improve cooperation in new areas, including humanitarian assistance, cyber defense, biosecurity and public communications. The DCA also introduced new high-level dialogues between the two countries’ defense establishments.
Ng is in Washington Dec. 6 to 10, meeting with congressional, executive and defense officials. The Pentagon on Dec. 1 announced a $914 million contract to Lockheed Martin to upgrade Singapore’s 60 F-16 fighter aircraft. The Singapore Airshow, scheduled for February, is expected to include further discussions between the US defense industry and the Singapore Air Force for defense articles such as the tiltrotor Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey and the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter.
Carter and Ng noted that it was timely for both to elevate defense relations to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1990 MoU and the 10th anniversary of the 2005 Strategic Framework Agreement between the US and Singapore.