U.S. working out details of U.S. plan to send LCS to Singapore

Cutaway General Dynamics LCS (Image from Defense Industry Daily) Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen has said that Singapore and th...

Cutaway General Dynamics LCS (Image from Defense Industry Daily)

Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen has said that Singapore and the United States are working out the details of a U.S. plan to deploy "littoral combat ships" to the city-state as part of its latest defense strategy in Asia.

The plan was announced by then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the "Shangri-La Dialogue" Asian security meeting in Singapore in June this year.

"We welcome that proposal by Secretary Gates and we are working out the details, whether it's one or two littoral combat ships here," Ng said in an exclusive interview with Kyodo News recently.

"The U.S. presence here is a force for stability and we are happy to facilitate that access and we will continue to do so. We are also looking at other areas that we can deepen our cooperation under our framework agreement with the U.S.," he said.

In a speech at the security meeting in Singapore, Gates said that the United States will enhance its presence in Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean as part of an overall strategy to establish a defense posture across the Asia-Pacific that is "more geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable."

In this context, Gates had mentioned plans to increase military training, combined defense activities and shared use of facilities with Australia, and also strengthen its bilateral defense relationship with Singapore, notably by deploying the LCS to the city-state.

"It's not a large presence, they are not basing here, just having access," Ng said, adding that he also does not expect Singapore to be the only port from where the LCS will go to other countries within the region.

The LCS, which first appeared in the U.S. Navy in late 2009, is designed for operating close to shore in support of land-based operations. Meant to be flexible, it has the capability to thwart obstacles such as underwater mines, cope with multiple attacks from smaller and swifter boats and detect near-silent diesel submarines.

Due to its flexibility, the LCS is "easy to accommodate," he said.

The plan comes under the "Strategic Framework Agreement for a Closer Cooperation Partnership in Defense and Security," which was signed between Singapore and the United States in 2005.

Singapore has had close defense ties with the United States as far back as 1990 when a bilateral memorandum of understanding was forged that gives the United States access to Singapore's military facilities, allowing the United States to deploy its fighter jets here on a rotational basis and for U.S. Navy ships to stop by Singapore for refueling and repair.

Ng also stressed that Singapore's Changi Naval Base is not just utilized by the U.S. Navy but also by many other countries, including Japan, which happens to be one of the top three users of the base.

He said the security of the region needs to be well-managed as it includes the South China Sea, where there is a territorial dispute, and the Malacca Strait, one of the world's most important sea lanes.

"This is a strategic waterway, it's the main artery, if it chokes, the whole world suffers. It's in the interest of everyone that we recognize that forces are changing, the tectonic plates are moving, and if you don't handle it well, some can tip."

"Going forward, we have to adjust to the increasing influence of China and India," he said. "As different stakeholders grow economically, different balance in military powers, we have to adjust to one another, I would say it is delicate."

"I think all stakeholders are fully conscious that if you don't do it well, if you don't do it strategically and in the framework that accommodates all these changing aspects, you can end up with a less than optimal situation, which can give rise to tension and skirmishes," he said.

In this context, Singapore sees the U.S. military presence in the region as a stabilizing factor.

"The U.S. presence here has been benign and productive and positive. It's helped provide a force for stability," he said.

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