North Korea criticizes South Korea's plans for more jets, missiles

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SEOUL, March 25 (UPI) -- Pyongyang criticized South Korea's plans to acquire more fighter jets and air-to-surface missiles to scale up its weapons capacity against the North, amid efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Following reports last week that 170 Taurus missiles were delivered to the South this month, as agreed in 2016, with 90 additional missiles expected to be acquired from 2019 to 2020.

The German air-to-surface missiles can target North Korea's major weapons development facilities including the main nuclear test site of Punggye-ri and the Sohae missile launch site.

North Koea's propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri slammed the move to acquire extra Taurus missiles, warning the South not to "take actions that hinder the atmosphere for improving [inter-Korean] relations."

"Its purchase of weapons targeting the same [Korean] people and continuing its frenzied schmes for military conflict is like smiling on the outside while sharpening the sword of provocation on the inside," it said Saturday.

A column in the North's regime paper Rodong Sinmun on Sunday also stressed that "negotiations and maneuvers for war cannot coincide."

The daily blasted Seoul's decision to deploy F-35A stealth fighter jets as well as the extra purchase of Taurus missiles, deeming such moves as "open provocations against the negotiating party" and a "dangerous move that counters the mood for reconciliation and unity."

The South Korean military is set to unveil its first F-35A fighter jets this week but is expected to keep the ceremony low key amid efforts to improve inter-Korean relations and hold talks on denuclearizing the North, Yonhap reported.


Military training arrangements in Australia to be finalised into treaty this year: PM Lee

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SYDNEY — Singapore’s arrangement with Australia to jointly develop military training areas in Queensland will be finalised into a treaty this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking at a press conference with his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull on Friday (March 16) after the two leaders met in Sydney for a bilateral summit, Mr Lee added: “We are making progress in the joint development of military training areas in Queensland. We deeply appreciate Australia’s very generous support for Singapore’s training needs.”

The Singapore-Australia Leaders’ Summit is a yearly meeting under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) signed by both countries in 2015.

The wide-ranging CSP includes a landmark deal allowing the Singapore Armed Forces to carry out unilateral training in Australia for 18 weeks with 14,000 troops yearly, over 25 years, by 2021. Both governments are also jointly developing a military training base in northern Queensland that was to be four times the size of Singapore.

Mr Lee said the joint development of military training areas in Queensland will benefit both defence forces and the local economy in the areas where training is conducted. He did not elaborate on the details of the treaty.

In response to queries, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said that when signed, the treaty on military training and training area development between Australia and Singapore will "represent the highest level of government-to-government commitment and underscore the importance of growing bilateral defence ties". The treaty will have to be ratified by the Australian Parliament, the ministry noted.

On the joint development of training areas and facilities in Queensland, Mindef said this is on track as scheduled, "with some parcels of land already purchased to meet the SAF’s training requirements as earlier outlined" in a memorandum of understanding.

The plan to construct military training areas in Queensland hit a roadbump in 2016 after farmers decried the move to forcibly acquire a large expanse of farmland next to two current training areas near Townsville and Rockhampton. The Australian government said it would shrink the proposed training areas and include extra infrastructure instead.

Asked about the matter on Friday, Mr Turnbull reiterated that the “land acquisition process is underway and on track”, without elaborating.

Earlier, he told reporters that he had the opportunity to discuss with Mr Lee the “many successes” of the CSP so far, including “greater progress towards even closer defence and security ties”.

On how Australia plans to work with Singapore and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) to develop smart cities, Mr Turnbull said he found it hard to pinpoint a “smarter city than Singapore”.

He cited the Republic’s planning ahead for rail infrastructure before major residential and commercial developments sprout up as an example which he has seen for himself.

“We are starting to do that more in Australia, and just recently, associated with the Western Sydney Airport,” he said, referring to a new airport the government is building in the west of Sydney.

A key part of that project was planning for rail infrastructure in advance of the area’s zoning, to ensure that amenities were planned to handle the density, rather than have transport amenities catch up after density builds and congestion ensues.

“Singapore has shown a great example of outstanding planning, and as I said, we are inspired by and will shamelessly copy wherever we can,” Mr Turnbull said, drawing laughter from across the room where the press conference was held.

Mr Lee waded in swiftly, acknowledging that Australia should not replicate “our mistakes”. Mr Turnbull replied: “If we follow each other, we learn from our successes and our mistakes”.

Singapore is hoping to build a network of smart cities as chair of Asean this year, with Mr Lee noting that numerous cities are heading in that direction.

He pointed out that many Australian cities are making progress in areas such as standards and widening the footprint of their services. “We can link them into this network. It’s one way which Australia can integrate into the region,” Mr Lee said.

Military Exercise Highlights Singapore-Germany Defense Ties

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This week, Singapore and Germany concluded bilateral live-firing drills as part of the 10th iteration of a wider annual exercise between the two countries’ militaries. The development put the spotlight on a significant engagement within the broader and growing defense ties between the two countries.

Singapore-Germany defense ties have been developing gradually over the years. A key development came in September 2005, when both countries signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) to formalize their defense interactions, which currently include high-level visits and exchanges, policy dialogues, technological collaboration, and military exercises.

Over the past few years, both sides have explored new areas of collaboration, with the cyber domain and handling fake news being a case in point. Both sides are working toward the formal inking of an enhanced DCA as the city-state has periodically done with its key partners, including Germany and the United States, which provide the land scarce city-state opportunities to train its military (See: “US-Singapore Defense Ties in the Spotlight Amid Trump-Lee Summit”).

One of the features of the bilateral defense relationship is Exercise Panzer Strike, which they have held since 2009. Over time, the exercise has grown in both scale and complexity, and, importantly, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are now able to train at the Oberlausitz Military Training Area (OMTA) in Germany. As I have noted before, OMTA, which is itself about a quarter the size of Singapore, has given the SAF the flexibility to train without the space constraints they experience at home, including concurrent live-firing of up to four ranges for armored units and engaging targets at greater range. These opportunities are important within the context of Singapore’s defense partnerships with key partners (See: “The Enduring Strategic Logic of the New Australia-Singapore Military Training Drill”).

This year’s iteration of the exercise, the 10th in the series, is being conducted over two training windows as usual, one during spring and one during autumn. According to Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), this year’s Exercise Panzer Strike will see approximately 750 and 500 SAF soldiers participating in the spring and autumn training windows respectively, which is comparable to the number of personnel officially disclosed last year. The exercise features servicemen from 48 SAR and the Armor Training Institute, as well as 14 Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tanks and 15 Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicles.

This week, as part of the ongoing exercise, SAF concluded a bilateral live-firing exercise with the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) at OMTA. According to MINDEF, that component of the exercise involved 220 soldiers from the 3rd Company, 48th Battalion Singapore Armored Regiment (48 SAR), and their German Army counterparts comprising a tank battalion from the 10th Panzer Division.

Australia to train Myanmar military despite ethnic cleansing accusations

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The Australian defence department plans to spend almost $400,000 on English lessons, event attendances and training courses for members of the Myanmar military in 2017-18, documents released under freedom of information laws show.

Myanmar’s armed forces, also known as the Tatmadaw, has faced international condemnation and accusations of ethnic cleansing in recent months for perpetrating a fresh wave of attacks against the country’s minority Rohingya population. About 688,000 Rohingya refugees have fled over the border to Bangladesh since August 2017. Yanghee Lee, a UN human rights investigator, has said the situation bears “the hallmarks of a genocide”.

In 2017-18 the defence department will spend $398,000 (a $126,000 increase on last year’s spending) on English lessons and on funding Myanmar’s participation in the Pirap Jabiru multilateral military exercises in the region that Australia cohosts with Thailand.

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Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, is due to visit Sydney this month for the Asean-Australia special summit. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Thursday the Myanmar government’s treatment of the Rohingya people is expected to be discussed.

Australian allies including the US, UK, Canada, France and the EU have cut ties with Myanmar’s military over the violence. The US and Canada have imposed targeted sanctions against Myanmar military leaders. In recent months the Myanmar military has also courted controversy through purchases of fighter jets from Russia and ballistic missiles from North Korea.

A briefing note produced by the defence department says: “Defence has a modest program of engagement with Myanmar in non-combat areas, with a focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping training and English language training. This engagement is designed to expose the Tatmadaw to the ways of a modern, professional defence force and highlight the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law.”

The briefing note, anticipating a challenge on why the UK and the US have acted differently, says: “Each country needs to make its own decision on engagement with the Tatmadaw.”

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While an arms embargo, introduced in 1991, remains in place, Australia has so far diverged from its allies and resisted calls from groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to suspend military cooperation with Myanmar. Australia held its first bilateral defence cooperation talks with Myanmar in 2017, and plans to hold further talks this year.

“Australia’s bilateral defence engagement with Myanmar is limited to humanitarian and non-combat areas such as disaster relief, peacekeeping, aviation safety and English-language training,” a defence department spokesperson said.

“Maintaining this engagement has enabled senior Australian military officials to directly raise concerns on Rakhine with their Myanmar counterparts.”

Last year the defence department offered Tatmadaw officers English lessons and study places in Australia for courses on aviation safety, maritime security, operational law, joint warfare and peacekeeping. One Tatmadaw officer received a scholarship from the defence department to study for a master of peace and conflict at the University of Sydney.

In June 2017 Australia gave Myanmar advice on how to carry out an air accident investigation following the deaths of 122 people when a Y-8 military plane crashed.

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The spokesperson gave the example of Lieut Gen Angus Campbell’s meeting with Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw army, at the Pacific armies chiefs conference in Seoul in September 2017.

Diana Sayed, Amnesty International’s crisis campaigns coordinator, said the Australian government’s strategy of continued engagement and careful diplomacy cannot be justified given the extent and extremity of the crisis.

“This business as usual approach is unacceptable, and is only going to further damage Australia’s international reputation, especially as Australia takes up its seat on the UN human rights council,” Sayed says. “The decisions of the US, the UK and the EU to cut military ties, and the recent sanctions imposed by Canada all show that Australia is out of touch with the rest of the world when it comes to this crisis.”

It is not known if members of the Tatmadaw who are directly implicated in the violence against the Rohingya could benefit from Australian-funded training. The defence spokesperson said subject to course requirements and visa processes, “the Tatmadaw nominates personnel to fill Australia-based training positions”.

The department did not provide a response to questions about what steps the department is taking to identify individuals implicated in perpetrating the violence.

Talking points written for the Australian defence minister Marise Payne’s meeting with her Myanmar counterpart Lieut Gen Sein Win in October 2017 advise her to acknowledge the Myanmar government’s narrative that “the current violence was sparked by attacks on government forces”.

The minister is advised that Australia “strongly condemns” the attacks on security outposts by Rohingya militants, in which 11 police officers were killed, but stops short of condemning the government’s own violence against the Rohingya people in which an estimated 6,700 civilians were killed in only the first month.

Instead the talking points express Australia’s “deep concern” over the displacement of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh, saying that “these reports divert attention away from the legitimate security threat posed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army [and] harm the Myanmar military’s international reputation”.


When Will Malaysia Get New Submarines?

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On Monday, Malaysia’s navy chief said that the Southeast Asian state was considering adding two submarines to its fleet in the next two decades or so. Though the announcement merely reiterates a longstanding objective for the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), it nonetheless offers insights into the country’s future naval modernization plans as well as the challenges inherent in achieving them.

As I have noted previously in these pages, over the past few years several Southeast Asian states have acquired a submarine capability or have mulled getting one or expanding their current fleet. Among Malaysia’s neighbors, Singapore currently has four submarines, Vietnam has six, and Indonesia has two. Thailand has inked a deal with China for three submarines, while other states like the Philippines have long explored the option of getting the capability.

Malaysia, for its part, currently operates two diesel electric French submarines, which were acquired back in 2002 when current Prime Minister Najib Razak was defense minister. Though the purchase has been the subject of controversy due to irregularities that continue to be debated today, the current limitations of having just two submarines meant that the Southeast Asian state would always look to eventually get more. Malaysia’s future naval plans, including the RMN’s 15-to-5 Armada Transformation Program, had indicated that there could eventually be an increase Malaysia’s submarine fleet from two to four submarines as the country seeks to streamline and modernize its fleet of vessels.

On February 26, while speaking during the handover of duties for Submarine Force Commander at Sepanggar Naval Base, RMN chief Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin reiterated this with a bit more specificity when he said that the RMN planned on getting one submarine between 2031 and 2035 and another between 2036 and 2040. According to local media outlets, Kamarulzaman said that a submarine capability had afforded Malaysia a maritime advantage in dealing with “new challenges” in its efforts to safeguard the security of its waters, including the South China Sea (See: “Playing it Safe: Malaysia’s South China Sea Approach”).

The long timeline Kamarulzaman mentioned for acquiring the capability is reflective of the constraints that affect the extent to which Malaysia can invest in its military capabilities. There has long been a yawning gap between what Malaysian defense officials say the country requires and what the government is willing to fund, even as the country confronts a series of growing challenges. Defense budget cuts in the past few years have only widened that gap further, making it difficult to even acquire basic capabilities, let alone submarines given their cost as well as the political sensitivities therein (though there was a surge in defense spending last year, it still did not make up for previous cuts to recover back to 2015 levels). Indeed, though Malaysia had been mulling a submarine capability since the 1980s, the current pair of submarines were only acquired after multiple delays.

Kamarulzaman himself noted these constraints when he said at the handover ceremony that the Malaysian government had turned to local submarine training rather than international courses in a bid to reduce training costs. It was yet another sign that for all the focus of the headlines on new acquisitions, Malaysia’s military modernization continues to face the same old problems.


Report: Lack of funding hampering Malaysian military

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s military modernisation continues to face the same old problem – a lack of funding.

This was once again made clear, according to a report in The Diplomat, by the fact that Malaysia intended to get a third submarine between 2031 and 2035 and another between 2036 and 2040.

The long timeline for buying these two submarines reflects the funding constraints.

The Diplomat report noted that there had long been a “yawning gap” between what Malaysian defence officials said the country required and what the government was willing to fund, even as the country confronted a series of growing challenges, including a dispute over territories in the South China Sea to which Malaysia claims right of ownership.

Defence budget cuts in the past few years, it added, had only widened that gap further, making it difficult to even acquire basic capabilities, let alone submarines, given their cost and political sensitivities.

It noted that there was a surge in defence spending last year, but that it still did not make up for previous cuts.

Malaysia currently has two diesel electric French submarines, which were acquired in 2002 when current Prime Minister Najib Razak was defence minister. The report noted that the purchase of these two submarines was still “a subject of controversy due to irregularities that continue to be debated today”.

It pointed out that Malaysia had been mulling a submarine capability since the 1980s and that the current pair were only acquired after multiple delays.

The report quoted Malaysian navy chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin as saying yesterday in Sabah that one of the two new submarines would be acquired between 2031 and 2035 and the other between 2036 and 2040.

Kamarulzaman himself noted the funding constraints when he said, after a handing over of duty ceremony of the commander of the submarine fleet at the Submarine Command Headquarters in Sepanggar, that the government had turned to local submarine training rather than international courses to reduce training costs.

According to the report, Malaysia has fewer submarines than some of its neighbours such as Singapore (four submarines), and Vietnam (six submarines). Indonesia has two submarines and Thailand has ordered three from China.


What’s Next for Vietnam-Malaysia Military Ties?

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Earlier this week, a high-level Vietnamese military delegation paid a visit to Malaysia. The trip, along with the meetings held between officials on both sides, is part of a continuing effort by the two countries to explore opportunities to broaden and deepen their bilateral defense cooperation, even though that collaboration has been evolving more slowly than the rhetoric suggests.

Vietnam and Malaysia share a relationship that extends into the defense realm, with both countries inking a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on bilateral defense cooperation back in 2008. The scope of ties includes not only issues that make the headlines like terrorism and the South China Sea – both countries are claimants – but also others such as countering transnational crimes, managing illegal fishing, and sharing experience on peacekeeping, which Hanoi is looking to play a bigger role in (See: “Should Malaysia Rename its Part of the South China Sea?“).

Though some advances have been made in bilateral defense ties over the years, including the signing of a letter of intent in 2015 and an agreement to establish a High Level Committee (HLC) to structure defense, in reality in some areas the pace has been slower than the rhetoric has suggested. 2018 offers an opportunity for both sides to further boost defense ties, with it marking the 45th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic ties as well as the 10th anniversary of the original MOU on defense cooperation.

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As part of that effort, from March 4-6, a high-level Vietnamese military delegation led by Senior Lieutenant General Phan Van Giang, the chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA), made a visit to Malaysia. The trip saw a series of meetings in Kuala Lumpur, including Giang’s meeting with Malaysia’s Chief of Defense Force General Raja Mohamed Affandi, as well as other interactions, including a visit to Malaysian Army Command West of the Malaysian Armed Forces.

Both sides took stock of the state of their bilateral defense ties in various areas and also discussed ways that they could broaden relations. Few details were publicly released, but official Vietnamese accounts as well as state media noted that both sides would look to next steps such as the holding of joint working groups on bilateral defense cooperation. The framework of the HLC and working groups have become ways for the two countries to explore collaboration in areas such as defense industry collaboration, including maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) and logistical support.