MELBOURNE, Australia – Singapore is considering basing Boeing F-15SG Eagles in New Zealand for training, according to the latter country's defense minister.
Gerry Brownlee said that Singapore was currently carrying out a feasibility study into the possibility of basing a detachment of F-15SGs at Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea, which could see up to 500 Singaporean personnel and their families stationed at Ohakea.
The small island state of Singapore has one of Southeast Asia's most advanced militaries but lacks the land and airspace to effectively conduct training, and Brownlee noted to local media that "New Zealand doesn't have the same congestion, so the opportunity to fly more freely clearly exists at Ohakea."
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has several aircraft training detachments based in the United States, Australia and France while elements of its army also frequently deploy overseas for training.
These include artillery training exercises in New Zealand, codenamed Thunder Warrior, which recently marked its 20th Anniversary. Both countries had also recently held their inaugural defense ministers' meeting, with both sides pledging to explore further opportunities to strengthen defense cooperation.
Defense News also understands that Singapore and Australia had discussed basing an RSAF fighter detachment in Australia as an option within a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement signed last year between the two countries, although both sides were unable to come to an agreement over the details.
That agreement, however, significantly increases the number of soldiers Singapore can send to Australia for training and expands the land area they can train in. Singapore had also said last year that it was exploring the possibility of the Republic of Singapore training in Guam.
A spokesperson from Singapore's defense ministry confirmed that it is conducting preliminary discussions and feasibility studies with the New Zealand Defence Force on possible deployments of RSAF aircraft for pilot training in New Zealand, adding that "overseas flying training in New Zealand will provide opportunities for both sides to enhance defense cooperation and people-to-people ties between our militaries".
However, Euan Graham, Director of International Security Program at Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, told Defense News that while any agreement would be a major upgrade in defense relations, any enhanced defense cooperation aspect of any potential agreement needs to be seen in the context that much of Singapore's overseas training is held among its own forces, with limited bilateral or joint training with the host nation's forces.
Singapore has taken delivery of at least 39 of 40 F-15SGs it has on order, with deliveries of its latest batch of eight aircraft ordered in 2014 almost complete, according to data from the FAA register. The F-15SGs currently serve with two Singapore-based squadrons and a joint USAF-RSAF squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, conducting advanced continuation training for RSAF pilots under the Peace Carvin V program.
It is not known whether Singapore will acquire more F-15s to make up the numbers to equip the potential new F-15 training detachment or if it will simply draw aircraft from either the Singapore or Idaho-based squadrons. However, given that the Idaho-based detachment gives the RSAF the chance to work closely with the USAF's own F-15E squadrons, enabling participation in US-based exercises like Red Flag, it is unlikely that Singapore will end the Peace Carvin V program.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.