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Singapore gets carrots to buy French Warplane (03 Nov 2003)

THE French government is offering Singapore the chance to jointly develop a new radar system if the air force opts for the warplane Rafale when it decides on a new fighter aircraft.

The Rafale, made by French giant Dassault Aviation, is one of three aircraft shortlisted by the Defence Ministry (Mindef) to replace its ageing fleet of A-4 Super Skyhawks. The deal is said to be worth more than US$1 billion (S$1.75 billion).

The other two candidates are the Boeing F-15T Strike Eagle from the United States, and the Typhoon, offered by a consortium of aircraft makers from Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.

In an interview, the French Ministry of Defence's strategic affairs director Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said: 'It's true that if you get involved in the Rafale, the development of the new radar is to be done jointly.

'He was referring to the advanced RBE-2 radar found on the fighter.

Other incentives would include greater access to air force training areas in France, added the policymaker who is one of the French defence ministry's top civil servants.

If Mindef goes for the Rafale, it will come after the order for six stealth frigates from French shipyard, Direction des Constructions Navales International (DCN), in early 2000 under a multi-billion-dollar order.

The first 110m-long frigate is now in an advanced stage of construction at a DCN yard in Lorient, in north-west France. It is expected to arrive in Singapore in 2005.

Five others are being built by local shipyard, Singapore Technologies Marine, in Jurong.

Defence engineers from France and Singapore are now working on integrating the different weapon systems on board the frigate.

The stealth warships will be armed with guns, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. Each ship will also carry a naval helicopter tasked with hunting and destroying submarines.

Aside from cooperation on the frigate, defence engineers from both countries have also worked together on radar technology, chemical and biological defence and underwater technologies.

Both countries are developing a new 'legal and procedural framework' to protect sensitive weapons technology developed jointly, said Mr de Brichambaut.

'Our defence relations are entering a new phase where we will actually share work in long-term cooperation projects, and this needs to be built in an environment of legal and other considerations.'

French defence officials and policy advisers also value the intelligence exchanges with Singapore, as it helps them understand the security situation in South-east Asia, which aids in their counter-terrorism planning, he added.

'Because of your geographical location, you are hugely aware of developments on a broad scale in South-east Asia and we would like to hear Singapore's point of view on regional developments,' said Mr de Brichambaut.

The planned visit this month by Dr Tony Tan, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Security and Defence, is expected to deepen counter-terrorism cooperation with France.

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