Imagery of the Week: Singapore F-16s in India’s West Bengal

DG (05NOV14) IAF Kalaikunda

Since the end of the Cold War, India’s ties with Singapore have steadily expanded along a two-pronged strategy focused on economic and military cooperation. Today’s imagery of the week comes from India’s state of West Bengal which exemplifies the evolution of one of those prongs. It’s quite fitting given the countries commemorate the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic ties this year.

DigitalGlobe space snapshots from November 2014 shows Singapore Air Force F-16D fighters deployed to India’s Kalaikunda Air Station. The aircraft were parked on the apron not far from Indian Air Force Russian-built MIG-27 Flogger. It has been widely reported that Singapore’s aircraft are permanently stationed at the airbase for training, an assertion not yet confirmed via available imagery—though not entirely surprising. [1]

India and Singapore, after all, have been conducting joint military exercises since 1994 after India enunciated its Look East policy under Narasimha Rao in 1992. Since then, joint exercises largely evolved from the naval realm where trainings focused on a range of missions including anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue and anti-piracy. Not long thereafter the countries’ efforts led to the signing of a defence cooperation agreement in 2003 which advanced further training and intelligence exchanges.

Building up momentum, a bilateral agreement between both air forces was eventually signed by 2007 (and subsequently renewed in 2012) which allowed joint military air training to take place in the South Asian country. That move was probably given an added boost when a year prior, Singapore dispatched its first Defense Attaché to New Delhi. As a result, statements made by the government of Singapore suggest joint exercises have grown in scale and complexity over the years. [2]

The imagery above captured the 2014 edition of the countries’ joint military training, though it appears only six Singapore F-16Ds were fielded during the exercise. While additional imagery during November shows similar deployments, the training took place over the course of a month which means additional fighters may have arrived or, if stationed in-country, brought out of hangars.

Eighth Indo-Singapore Joint Military Training at Air Force Station, Kalaikunda, West Bengal in October/November 2012. According to the Military Balance 2015, India has still 126 MiG-27ML Flogger, 54 MiG-21M and 16 MiG-21MF Fishbed. Singapore hasn’t that kind of weaponry. Their Air Force is operating with 29 F5-S Tiger II, 32 F-15SG Eagle, 20 F-16C and 40 F-16D Fighting Falcon.

Eighth Indo-Singapore Joint Military Training at Air Force Station, Kalaikunda, West Bengal in October/November 2012. According to the Military Balance 2015, India has still 126 MiG-27ML Flogger, 54 MiG-21M and 16 MiG-21MF Fishbed. Singapore hasn’t that kind of weaponry. Their Air Force is operating with 29 F5-S Tiger II, 32 F-15SG Eagle, 20 F-16C and 40 F-16D Fighting Falcon.

For India, cooperation and deepening military ties with Singapore further supports its Look East—now Act East—policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he signals to the world the intent to play a more active role in the region. What that role will look like for India’s air arm is still difficult to predict, though opportunities for further cooperation with India’s other military branches [read: Navy] are already on the horizon.

Air exercises with Singapore could give Indian pilots a potential edge if they ever come up against similar fighters in the inventory of one of the region’s chief spoilers, Pakistan. And for Singapore, the city-state gets some much needed space to stretch its legs, conduct training and further build interoperability with a country it has a long and storied history.

India’s deepening relationship with the southeast Asian nation, although not inevitable, is perhaps a natural growth of the regional geopolitical situation. As one Indian leader said:

We are of Asia and the peoples of Asia are nearer and closer to us than others. India is so situated that she is the pivot of western, southern and south-east Asia. In the past, her culture flowed to all these countries and they came to her in many ways. Those contacts are being renewed and the future is bound to see a closer union between India and Southeast Asia, on the one side, and Afghanistan, Iran and the Arab world, on the other.  — cited in R. James Ferguson, “South Asia and the Indian Ocean: Cooperation or Institutionalised Conflict?“, 2007.

One might be forgiven for attributing that statement to Prime Minister Modi, given all the recent talk of Acting East and Looking West. In fact, that was enunciated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1946 when he was still the vice-president in the Interim Government. Unfortunately, conflict on the subcontinent and India’s leadership in the non-aligned movement muted for a time much of its earlier ambitions. While much has changed since the end of the Cold War, India’s desire to play a growing role in Southeast Asia has not. As India continues to improve its military and economic ties to the region, it may soon find that greater and elusive influence in the regional order.

Bottom Line
India’s renewed relationship with Singapore post-Cold War shows how little the South Asian country’s geopolitical situation has changed over the years.

Notes
[1] In 2008, India reportedly entered into a similar agreement with Singapore regarding the use of its Babina and Deolali firing ranges to conduct armor and artillery exercises. While allowing Singapore a military presence on Indian soil isn’t entirely surprising, it is a notable departure from India’s orthodox position regarding a foreign military presence in the country.
[2] For example, in 2011 Singapore also deployed with a P-STAR radar and two RBS 70 surface-to-air missile firing units.

This entry was posted in Chris Biggers, English, General Knowledge, India, Security Policy.

Leave a Reply