October 10, 2007 1:44:51 am
In a move that is likely to raise hackles of the Left parties, the Government on Tuesday signed a crucial defence agreement with Singapore allowing it to use the Kalaikunda airbase and nearby firing ranges to train its pilots.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), plagued with a shortage of air space and training assets, has been visiting the West Bengal airbase regularly for joint exercises, but this is the first time that a “long term arrangement” to use Indian facilities for training has been formalised.
The agreement was signed by Defence Secretary Vijay Singh and Singapore’s Permanent Secretary of Defence, Chiang Chie Foo at the fourth India-Singapore Defence Policy Dialogue in the capital. “Singapore had proposed to use our air space for training and Kalaikunda is their airbase of choice,” a senior Indian Air Force officer said.
Besides facilities for Electronic Warfare (EW) training, Kalaikunda has a ground firing and aerial combat range in its vicinity. IAF also operates its ‘Lakshya’ aerial combat training UAV from a nearby location.
While Singapore has one of the most potent air forces in the region, its biggest constraint is a lack of space to train its personnel. The prosperous island nation, with a total area of just 700 sq km, currently uses the Pearce Airbase in Australia for basic flying training and the Cazaux Airbase in France for fighter pilot training. It also uses facilities in the US for advanced training.
Singapore will be paying the Defence Ministry for using training facilities and possibly upgrading them in the future, but the Indian Air Force (IAF) is more excited about getting to train with the city state’s F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft that are also the mainstay fighters of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF). “We will get to practice with the latest F-16 fighters used by Singapore, which is very crucial, as the same type of aircraft are in service with one of our potential adversaries,” the officer said.
IAF pilots got the first opportunity to size up the F-16 fighters, acquired by Pakistan two decades ago, when it took part in the ‘Sindex’ exercise with Singapore at Gwalior in 2004. Defence Ministry officials said the agreement is only a start and a comprehensive defence cooperation program, covering all three service, is likely to be formalised shortly.
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