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India, Singapore agree to hold trilateral maritime exercise annually

Singapore-India-Thailand maritime exercise (SITMEX). An Indian Navy photo.

SINGAPORE (PTI): Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held wide-ranging talks with his Singapore counterpart Ng Eng Hen here on Wednesday during which the two sides agreed to conduct the trilateral maritime exercise involving Singapore, India and Thailand annually from next year.

The first Singapore-India-Thailand maritime exercise (SITMEX) was held in the Andaman Sea in September as part of the security and safety of Indo-Pacific sea lines.

"The Indo-Pacific Region is vital for us and we want to further enhance our maritime participation and engagement in the region in accordance with our doctrine of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region)," Singh said while making the announcement at the conclusion of the 4th India-Singapore Defence Ministers' Dialogue (DMD) here.

The SITMEX exercise underscores the shared responsibility of the three countries to work together in keeping sea lines of communications open and strengthens interoperability among them.

"The participating Navies have found value in the exercise and have agreed to conduct the exercise on a yearly basis," said a statement issued after the meeting.

"Our defence ties have grown strength to strength... We appreciate India's continued support for our training in India. We talked about security challenges here in the region, the Indo-Pacific area and in South Asia. I would say that we concluded the dialogue very successfully and affirmed our commitment to deepen defence ties," Dr Ng said while speaking to the media.

He said the exercise among India, Singapore and Thailand navies ensure security of those shipping lines and it is a very important signal.

The exercise "gives confidence to our own well as international shipping community and other countries who use these vital water ways," he added.

The two ministers witnessed the exchange of a Letter of Intent on Singapore's use of Chandipur Integrated Test Range in Odisha as well as on deepening Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) cooperation. Under the former, Singapore Armed Forces will do test firing of their missiles at Chandipur.

The two sides identified new areas of cooperation in the already strong and diversified defence partnership, including in exercises and test firing by Singapore in India, information exchange, launch of micro satellites in India, geo-spatial data sharing, Artificial Intelligence and cyber security.

Singh also invited Singapore to invest in research, development and testing facilities in the upcoming defence industrial corridors in India. Dr Ng agreed to explore opportunities for joint collaboration.

Ng welcomed India's continued engagement to the region and its active role in the regional security architecture.

In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Republic of Singapore Air Force-Indian Air Force Joint Military Training this year, the exercise was expanded to include an air-sea training component for the first time, Ng said.

Bilateral naval exercises have already completed 26 years - the longest uninterrupted naval exercise with any country for India, he said.

Singh assured Singapore that India will continue to facilitate exercises and training to Singapore Armed Forces in India, including the artillery and armour exercises by the two Armies.

The increasing degree of complexity of the bilateral exercises reflects the growing confidence and mutual respect for each other's professional capabilities, Singapore defence minister said.

The two ministers also discussed regional security situation in the Indo Pacific Region and how the two countries can work together and in multilateral forums to advance security, stability and peace in the region, anchored in a rules-based order.

The two ministers agreed to explore expanded defence and security engagement between India and ASEAN members.

Singh reaffirmed India's support for ASEAN unity and centrality in establishing the security architecture in the Indo Pacific Region.

Ng expressed support for India's upcoming co-chairmanship of the ADMM-Plus Experts' Working Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and welcomed India's deepening engagements with other ASEAN states, both in bilateral and multilateral formats.

Sources said that there was a complete meeting of minds on the regional security challenges.

Singh also told Ng that state-sponsored terrorism was the greatest challenge India was facing in its neighbourhood, in a veiled reference to Pakistan.

Both ministers expressed satisfaction at the deepening defence ties between India and Singapore and reaffirmed their commitment to support further initiatives that would promote stability to the region.

"Our defence ties have grown strength to strength...We appreciate India's continued support for our training in India. We talked about security challenges here in the region, the Indo-Pacific area and in South Asia. I would say that we concluded the dialogue very successfully and affirmed our commitment to deepen defence ties," Ng said.

India and Singapore have a robust defence cooperation that includes, besides exercises across all three wings of Armed Forces, annual defence ministers' dialogue, defence secretary-level dialogue, Joint Working Group on defence cooperation, staff level talks in the three services, dialogue on industrial and technological cooperation. Both sides have regular ship visits to each other's naval ports.

The two ministers resolved to further deepen defence cooperation, both bilaterally and regionally.

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