Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Hosting fighter jets tantamount to painting a target on Ohakea

Do we really want to link up in such a big way with armed-to-the-teeth Singapore. Illustration / Bromhead
Do we really want to link up in such a big way with armed-to-the-teeth Singapore. Illustration / Bromhead

The Auckland-sized island state of Singapore has amassed such an arsenal of planes and ships and other military hardware over the years that it needs offshore playgrounds to unwrap and play with its deadly toys.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen joked in a speech that, given Singapore's tiny size, and the 90km/h top speed of their armoured infantry carriers, that at home, "a training exercise might be finished in 15 minutes".

So they train in Taiwan, the United States, India, Australia, New Zealand and assorted other countries, with permanent air force bases in France, the United States and Western Australia.

Now they're sizing up the New Zealand Air Force base at Ohakea in the Manawatu to house a squadron of F-15 fighter jets.

NZ Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Manawatu District Mayor Helen Worboys are both fizzing with excitement at the prospect. Worboys says the locals "will roll out the red carpet".

No doubt they were aware of the deal the Australian Government struck last May in which the Singaporeans agreed to spend $2.4 billion expanding military training facilities at Townsville and Shoalwater Bay in Queensland in return for upwards of 14,000 Singaporean troops training there for up to 18 weeks a year.

Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at the time that Singapore should be seen as "family" as much as was New Zealand.

No doubt the thought of 500 cashed up support staff settling here, and the redevelopment of the Ohakea airbase, will have appealed to the locals. But on a national level, do we really want to link up in such a big way with armed-to-the-teeth Singapore, and join the burgeoning arms race sweeping the whole of South East Asia?

One of the advantages of being stuck down at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is that we're well away from neighbours who might want to suddenly do us mischief. Hosting a squadron of someone else's fighter jets seems to be inviting unnecessary trouble.

Only a few months ago, Singapore got a warning punch in the nose by our main trading partner, China. Since the 1970s, Singapore has had a close military relationship with Taiwan, which China regards as an integral part of One China.

In the early days of Singapore's military buildup, Taiwanese officers headed both the Singapore navy and air force. Since 1975, Singapore forces have exercised regularly "in secret" in Taiwan. A deadly fighter jet crash in 2007 brought the "secret" out into the open.

The Chinese then tried to sweet-talk Singapore out of Taiwan by offering better training facilities on Hainan Island, in the South China Seas. However the US, from where much of Singapore's weaponry had been sourced, vetoed this for fear China would get their hands on military secrets.

The Singaporeans have heavily cut back the use of Taiwan, but on November 23 last year, Hong Kong port authorities seized nine Singaporean Terrex infantry carriers being shipped back from Taiwan after an exercise.

China was expressing its displeasure at the continued Taiwan exercises and also, annoyance at Singapore not backing China's territorial claims over the remote South China Seas island outcrops. Late last month, the Hong Kong authorities eventually released the armoured vehicles, the warning clearly delivered.

Singapore devotes around 19 per cent of government spending - $14.07 billion in 2017 - on defence. That's their problem, but do we really want to become a part of this arms obsession?

For several years now, we've let them frighten the wild horses on the Central Plateau with their big guns, but a permanent base for 12 -24 fighter jets seems a step too far, however tempting the cash being offered might be.

At last weekend's Ohakea Base birthday celebrations, Minister Brownlee referred to Singapore as "one of New Zealand's closest friends". Well sometimes, it's up to a close friend to take the addict aside and suggest he has a problem.

Jane's Defence Weekly suggests the tiny island could have as many as 40 F-15 fighters or nearly double the 24 Singapore publicly admits to. Then there's the 60 Lockheed Martin F-16s and 26 Northrop F-5s - and that's before we start on the frigates and tanks and submarines.

Let's stay out of this arms race. We told the Americans we loved them but to leave their nuclear weapons behind. Why not the Singaporeans?

- NZ Herald

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