Amidst the media buzz, the recent announcement by Washington to fly P-8 maritime surveillance flights out of Singapore needs to be viewed in perspective.
There has been quite a bit of media buzz over the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) inked just recently between Singapore and the United States. Even though the joint statement promulgated by both countries’ defense chiefs contains numerous provisions for enhanced defense linkages, the spotlight seems to be focused on the inaugural deployment of U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to Singapore on December 7-14.
In fact, American military planes have made rotational deployments to Singapore since the early 1990s, for instance from the latter’s Paya Lebar Airbase. I once lived in a high-rise apartment — typical of those that characterize this small, heavily-urbanized island city-state — that gave quite a good view of the airstrip. The distinctive shapes and livery of U.S. military transport and tanker planes parked on the apron, at times partially concealed or taxiing on the flight line in full view, were hard to miss.
The reason why this new deployment garnered so much attention is because the platform in question is none other than a P-8 Poseidon. This is the case even though the P-8 is actually not a newcomer to Singaporean skies; it was tested back in August 2014 during joint training drills with the Singapore Armed Forces. The crux of the issue is that, just like the ubiquitous UH-1 “Huey” helicopter being the symbol of the Vietnam War, the P-8 has gained analogous status over the South China Sea following a number of aerial incidents with Chinese forces. Therefore, one almost instinctively links the plane to the South China Sea rationale.