Asian Tiger Ordering Leopards
Singapore’s Ministry of Defence has announced that they intend to strike an agreement with the German Federal Ministry of Defence for the sale of 96 Leopard 2A4 tanks (66 front-line, 30 spares) plus training and supporting equipment from the German Armed Forces to the Singapore Armed Forces. SAF soldiers will be trained by the German Army to operate the tank in the later part of 2007.
Singapore Today Online quotes Defence Minster Teo Chee Hean as saying that the first Leopard 2A4s will enter service in about a year or a year and a half. “We looked at a number of different alternatives and the German offer of refurbished Leopard tanks is a very cost-effective option for us to start replacing some of the SM1s.” Given Germany’s past Leopard sales, this point is hardly surprising; what might be surprising is that Singapore plans to keep its upgraded 1960s-era AMX-13s in service even after the Leopards arrive.
“How dramatic the [German] Army’s transformation really is can be seen in Structure 2010, to be adopted as of 2007. The service will reduce its fleet of main battle tanks from 2,528 to 350, infantry fighting vehicles from 2,077 to 410, artillery pieces from 1,055 to 120 and helicopters from 530 to 240…”
While price was not disclosed in the Singapore deal, the surplus Leopards are being sold at “fire-sale prices” that can hover in the $1 million per vehicle range, as opposed to the $5+ million per vehicle one must expect for modern Western contemporaries. Even the far-inferior T-72 has difficulty competing at this level, and the only thing keeping Leopard sales from jumping far beyond the European continent has been restrictive German arms export policies. Meanwhile, entrenching the Leopard 2 as the “the Euro-LEOPARD” may offer other future benefits for German industry.
The new arrivals will complement the existing force of 300-350 AMX-13 sM1 tanks, a heavily modernized version of a 20-ton tank designed for paratroop support that saw extensive action in the 1967 Six Day War. Singapore has made updates and ongoing improvements to these vehicles something of a local specialty, running refurbishment programs in the 1980s and 1990s [see PDF for full modification details].
Defense Minister Hean has stated that the SM1s will be kept in service even after the Leopards arrive. While the Leopard 2A4s will be significantly superior in many respects, including electronics and networking options as Singapore pursues its “3G” force, the SM1 has three things going for it. One is that numbers can still be useful on the battlefield. The second consideration is that the improvements made to the SM1 have kept it in shape as a capable combatant relative to neighboring threats. The third consideration is that the AMX-13 SM1s’ 20 tonne weight gives them mobility options that the 62 tonne Leopards can’t duplicate, and make it especially useful in Singapore’s environs.
Nov 23/09: Exercise Wallaby 2009 at Shoalwater Bay, Queensland, Australia achieves a significant milestone with the integration of the fully operational 48th Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR) with other armour-infantry elements and Apache attack helicopters from the Republic of Singapore Air Force. Singapore MINDEF:
“At the exercise, [Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen] saw the concerted efforts of the SAF air and land platforms simultaneously hitting the planned targets. They included the Leopard 2A4 Main Battle Tanks from 48 SAR, the BIONIX II Infantry Fighting Vehicles and the Apache AH-64D Longbow helicopters.”