Singapore, the world’s 20th biggiest arms exporter

From ‘S’pore 20 in weapons exports’, 21 March 2013, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

SINGAPORE is now the world’s 20th biggest arms exporter, having jumped 11 places in a year, new figures for last year reveal. Think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) found the volume of exports of major conventional weapons from Singapore leapt from a trend-indicator value (TIV) of 12 million in 2011 to 76 million. TIV is a common unit created by Sipri and, although based on the known unit production costs of a core set of arms, it is not representative of the financial value of the transfer.

…Sipri’s arms trade database is put together with information culled mainly from governments, the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and military trade publications. It shows Singapore’s recent exports include a £150 million (S$286 million) delivery of 115 Broncos (armoured personnel carriers) to Britain for its troops in Afghanistan and 10 to Thailand. An Endurance amphibious assault landing ship was also sold to Thailand in a $200 million deal and delivered last year. Singapore also made sizeable deliveries to Africa, selling six light helicopters to Chad and two patrol craft to Nigeria.

…Sipri data also shows Singapore remained the world’s fifth largest arms importer, securing 4 per cent of the global arms imports from 2008 to last year just as it did from 2007 to 2011.

The weapons-maker in question here is ST Kinetics, of ST Engineering. If you visit the ST Engg website, however, it doesn’t seem that they’re selling tanks, machine guns and other toys for crazy militant dictators. They specialise in ‘products and capabilities’, to provide customers with an ‘integrated force structure’, as a ‘reliable technology partner’ to local and overseas military ‘customers’. You’d think from such descriptions that they deal with radio equipment or satellite dishes, when the real money spinners are machines that either kill people or prevent them from getting killed.

Interestingly, this multi-billion dollar arms-trading conglomerate is partly owned by Temasek Holdings. The workshop which produces this gamut of weaponry calls itself the ‘Advanced Material Engineering’ Office, located at the aptly titled Rifle Range Road. That’s like calling the arsenal in the Matrix movies Toys R’ Us. I wonder if there are rebel child soldiers somewhere in darkest Africa carrying ‘Made in Singapore’ grenade launchers. There are already countries as far away as Latin America using our very own SAR21 as we speak, but the problem with being a producer of top quality guns, especially one with rave reviews like our SAR21, is that more people will want to give it a shot, be they actual armies, rogue paramilitia or loony gun enthusiasts with a licence to kill.

For a country so tight on security and still bans firecrackers, we’re shamelessly ingenious in our weapons development and export. In 1983, the Singapore Technology Corporation unveiled a GPMG (machine gun), a pod (containing 2 machine guns) for aircraft, and a commando mortar. That same year, CIS (Chartered Industries of Singapore), the precursor of ST Engg, celebrated 15 years of beefing up our armed forces with ‘quality products’ like the Ultimax 100 Semi Automatic Weapon and SAR 80 Assault rifle, both having won ‘world acceptance’. CIS was also incidentally the first ever government-linked company, established in 1967 for the sole purpose of manufacturing bullets.  These days, they don’t just produce ‘ammo’ anymore, but a ‘platform that carries and delivers payload‘. And what a payload indeed.

In 2008, the company boasted earnings of $115 million from 3 contracts, UK, Norway and an ‘unnamed Middle Eastern customer’. In that year alone, they reported 5 BILLION earned revenues. In 2009, they won a near 700 million dollar contract from the US Army selling rugged laptops among other equipment. Other recipients of our innovative ‘defence products’ include Chad, Indonesia and Nigeria, among other top secret customers kept on a tight lid. War is big business, and the last thing a company like ST Engg wants to see is feuding countries offering each other olive branches and group hugs. Arms makers will go bankrupt in a world where everybody ‘gives peace a chance’ and wouldn’t be global success stories if not for terrorist networks spurring militant governments into gearing up for cycle after cycle of needless violence. Thank you God of War for keeping us at the forefront of ‘technology’ and ‘advanced engineering’. The world definitely needs more ‘smart bombs’ and ugly tanks than, I dunno, robotics to mobilise the paralysed, or ‘magic bullets’ to treat malignant disease.

The secret to becoming a successful arms giant, then, is to give yourself a brand that sounds as innocuous as possible, and portray your ‘suite’ of products as ‘defence solutions’ and ‘delivery systems’ rather than harbingers of death. It’s like calling a company that makes and sells land mines Twinkle Toes Industries. Oh did I say land mines? I mean ‘improvised explosive devices’ (Thanks to commenter JayF for expertly explaining the difference, perhaps ‘area denial munitions’?)



3 Responses

  1. So here we are, this economically open, accountable country which refuses to tell citizens how much we have in our reserves, or even what the breakdown is for our island’s population.

    This country which swears by the law and boasts how uncorrupt it is, and whose people refuse to get their hands dirty, but which provides laundry service for dirty money for the Chinese, Malaysians, Indonesians, Burmese, Indians et al.

    A pompous paradise that preaches peace, but which arms itself to the teeth. Which doesn’t allow anyone to tote a firecracker but provides sophisticated weapons of mass murder to others. This even as we extoll the need for a larger population…

    Something to chew on. Oops, can’t; we’ve banned chewing gum. Which might explain why thinking is so rarely done here.

    I wonder if Nobel prizewinner Joseph Stiglitz, who believes this island is a fantastic place with way-to-go policies which his own country should ape, is aware of these contradictions.

  2. Hey I take offense to that last one!

    IEDs are crude pieces of improvised crap by a desperate brown/black/ insert whatever ethnic group it’s cool to kill here/ pieced together by whatever spare ammo and nails their army left behind running from a superior force. There’s no art and most of the time they kill when it’s meant to maim and maim when it’s meant to kill.

    Our land mines and other fine array of assorted perimeter defense devices on the other hand do what the box says they’d do. If it’s meant to take off an arm and a leg leaving the poor bastard alive so as to lure his friends for our snipers to pick off, it takes off an arm and a leg and nothing else. If the guy dies because of shock and the explosion instead of bleeding out like it’s supposed to, you get your money back

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