Arming the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF): trends and implications

Author/s (editor/s):

Bilveer Singh

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 153

Many have written on the issue of an arms race within the Association of Southeast Asia nations (ASEAN). The Asian financial crisis (AFC) in 1997 forced many ASEAN countries to halt plans of ambitious military build-up and arms modernisation. Instead, cuts in defence budgets were the norm, except for Singapore. Both Singapore and Malaysia rode out of the AFC relatively well and now that the financial storm is over, there are signs of a revitalisation in the arms build-up between them. The trend of introducing highly advanced and offensive weaponry into the region is more disturbing than uncomfortable, especially at a time when ties between ASEAN countries are volatile, and even hostile at times.
This paper does not attempt to deal with issue of "arms race" in the region, something already dealt with extensively. Instead, it aims to trace the trend of recent arms procurements of Singapore and discuss its implications. This paper also describes that, far from being merely a modernisation exercise, Singapore's arms procurement programmes are part of a concerted effort to enhance its defensive and offensive capacities, especially in the face of heightening tensions in the region. What are the implications for Singapore and Malaysia as both countries become more heavily armed with advanced weaponry? How will the "precarious balance" be managed? How will this interactive arms-relationship end? This paper aims to explore the essence of these questions and hopes to serve as an update to the existing literature on the Singapore military build-up.
Organisationally, the study is divided into a number of parts. First, it revisits historical facts and current events to provide a basis for Singapore's threat perception and explain how Malaysia is so deeply entrenched within Singapore's security planning. Second, it will trace the trend of recent arms procurements by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The final part will reveal the various implications of the growing military imbalance between Singapore and Malaysia.

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