MELBOURNE, Australia – Singapore has transported its Chinook heavy lift helicopters to Australia as part of an expanded training agreement between the two countries.
According to a news release from the Australian defense department, five Boeing CH-47 Chinooks were relocated to the Australian Army Aviation Training Centre at Oakey in the state of Queensland and will begin training operations later this month.
The department added that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinook helicopters will operate under the terms of the Oakey Treaty between Australia and Singapore. The RSAF has maintained a continuous detachment of Super Puma helicopters at Oakey since 1996 where they support Singapore Army training activities in Australia in addition to pilot training.
In a statement in response to questions from Defense News, Singapore's Defence Ministry said: "To enhance integrated training with our Army, the RSAF recently transferred our Chinooks to the Australian Army Aviation Training Centre at Oakey. The decision to transfer our assets from Peace Prairie Detachment was only made after careful studies. We value and are grateful for the training opportunities we had in Peace Prairie in Texas, USA and the friendship that had been fostered over the years.”
A photo of one of the helicopters published by an Australian utilities company that took part in the movement of the helicopters by road from the nearby port of Brisbane to Oakey showed that it was one of six CH-47Ds that had been previously stationed with the RSAF’s Peace Prairie training detachment in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Singapore has upgraded its facilities at Oakey to accommodate the Chinooks. Satellite photos show that four large weather shelters and what is possibly a maintenance hangar under one roof has been constructed next to the RSAF’s Super Puma detachment buildings at Oakey, along with possible administration and storage buildings.
The move of the Chinooks from Texas to Australia spells the closing of the Peace Prairie detachment, with the last batch of Singapore Chinook trainees finishing up their course in February this year. The original 20-year Peace Prairie training agreement which allowed Singapore to base its Chinooks and train alongside the Texas National Guard was signed when Singapore acquired its first Chinooks in 1996.
The RSAF also operates 10 newer CH-47SD Chinooks alongside the CH-47Ds, with the newer helicopters currently in the midst of an upgrade program that includes improved engine controls, the addition of satellite communications and a new defensive suite. Singapore has also announced in 2016 that it is acquiring an undisclosed number of newer CH-47F Chinooks via a direct commercial sale contract with Boeing to replace its older CH-47Ds, with these to be delivered from 2020 onwards. Defense News understands that Singaporean Chinook pilots have been training on U.S. Army CH-47Fs at Fort Rucker, Alabama as far back as 2016.
The small, highly urbanized southeast Asian island nation of Singapore lacks the land and airspace to conduct its military training and has several training detachments of aircraft based overseas including in the United States and Australia. It also frequently sends military personnel overseas for training, with a recently expanded training agreement with Australia allowing the annual deployment of up to 14,000 Singaporean troops there for training exercises.
The basing of Chinooks at Oakey will mean that RSAF Chinooks will no longer need to be transported to Australia to support such training, with the Singaporeans having previously chartered Russian or Ukrainian Antonov transport aircraft to ferry the Chinooks or flying the helicopters to Australia from Singapore.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.