Politics of Defence Acquisitions: Singapore and the Hawker Hunters (Part 1)

By Admin

by Koh Zhongwei, Alvin

Hunter_black_750pix

Singapore acquisition of Hawker Hunters from the United Kingdom in 1970 seemed a straight-forward economic transaction in theory, but in reality proved anything but simple.[i] Despite British obligation to help Singapore build up its armed forces in light of their accelerated withdrawal[ii], the British government was highly reluctant to sell such sophisticated aircraft for they feared that doing so would endanger their interests in the region. In examining the reasons accounting for the initial British objections and following acquiescence, readers are offered a more balanced perspective into a period which has been painted by Singapore’s official historical narratives as being one of extreme vulnerability and state weakness.


As early as 14 January 1968, following the British announcement to withdraw from Singapore by December 1971, they had clearly articulated to then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew that there could be no permanent security for Singapore except within the framework of a wider regional defence arrangement with the other Commonwealth countries concerned.[iii] British intentions to withdraw from the region had not meant a curtailment of its interest in the area. For the British, the formation of some form of regional defence arrangement stood the best chance of protecting those interests. Through promoting Malaysian and Singaporean defence cooperation, while encouraging Australian and New Zealand participation in safeguarding the security of the area[iv], Britain could protect her interests on the cheap. And it was an option which looked on the verge of being fulfilled with a Five Power Conference scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur on 10 June 1968.[v]

However, this particular option was threatened on 7 April 1968 when Lee formally brought up the intended purchase of four Hunter Mk. VII two seaters and twenty reconditioned Hunter Mk. IX by 1970 to the British Commonwealth Secretary on the latter’s visit to Singapore.[vi] Arguing that Singapore needed to meet the 1971 deadline of British military withdrawal, Lee pressed for a British decision to be made prior to the conference[vii], with the underlying implication that external parties not be given the chance to derail or interfere in the deal. This, the British were unwilling to permit for fear of severely damaging the prospects of success for the Kuala Lumpur talks before it had even started.

For the British, there were two major problems with Singapore’s acquisition of the Hunters. The first was the nature of aircraft Singapore wanted. Despite being ostensibly intended for the air defence role following British withdrawal, the Hawker Hunter Mk. 9s that Singapore wanted was highly regarded for its ground attack function.[viii] In contrast, alternatives models had been rejected by the Singaporean side for having failed to meet their requirements.[ix] Furthermore, the total quantity of twenty-four Hawker Hunters that Singapore had requested for went far beyond the British professional advice of one subsonic squadron of twelve fighters[x], given the economic and operational constraints faced by Singapore.[xi]

In his official memoirs, Lee in reflecting upon this purchase of Hawker fighters consistently portrayed Singapore as being ‘forced to try to build up one fighter squadron… modest objectives that drew considerable resources from Singapore’s strapped economy with limited trained manpower.’[xii] What had receded to the dim recesses of his memory was his conversation with the British Commonwealth Secretary, ‘that the Advisory Working Group would recommend two squadrons and in any event [Lee] was determined to raise two squadrons; no one could stop him.’[xiii] As a result of such demands, the British feared that the Malaysians would draw unfavourable conclusions from these[xiv], leading to a diminishing chance of something being worked out at the June conference.

This issue of Malaysian sensitivity towards Singapore’s defence acquisitions had cropped up earlier in October 1966 when Singapore’s plans for the creation of an air force, as laid out in its Defence White Paper, had been rejected by the British in part due to their concern over Malaysia’s reactions.[xv] As recounted by Lee, Dennis Healey, then British Secretary of Defence had wagged his finger at Singapore for harbouring mischievous thoughts.[xvi]

In attempting to allay this fear, Lee had told the Commonwealth Secretary in their April meeting that the Malaysians had told him that they expected the Australian Air Force to stay in Butterworth and that they were therefore willing to see Singapore raise an air force while they themselves looked after the naval side, with army operations being the concern of each. He had even offered to show the official minutes of his meeting with Tun Razak to the British High Commissioner at a later date.[xvii]

However, this rosy image of a meeting of minds between Singapore and Malaysia was shattered when in clarifying this matter with the Malaysian government; Tun Razak had given an unequivocal rejection of such an agreement being made. As he espoused clearly, “I do not think that it would be right for Britain to make commitments to any one country at this stage without a joint examination at the forthcoming talks on the needs of the various parties to Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement.”[xviii] He also felt that it was of great importance that Singapore enters into no firm commitment on equipment until after the Five Power Talks, where the acquisitions of the Hunters should be discussed[xix], something that Lee had been keen to avoid. This immediately placed the British in an impasse between a Malaysian government keen on stopping the sales and a Singaporean government keen on pressing for the sales to move forward.

Part 2 continued here

The author is a simple man, with simple dreams, who loves nothing more than a good cup of tea under the stars. An undergraduate finishing his last year in the National University of Singapore, intimidated by the intellectual giants who surround his academic life, he simply wants to finish up on his university education and join the ranks of walking zombies in the working world.


[i] Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 24 / 118. Meeting between the Prime Minister of Britain and Singapore in the Commonwealth Office. May 27, 1968.

[ii] FCO 24 / 117. Meeting between Prime Minister Lee and British Ministers on 12 January 1968 & Lee Kuan Yew, Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew; From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 (Times Media: Singapore Press Holdings), pg. 60.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]Ibid. Speaking Notes; Visit of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on 20 May 1968, Five Power talks: Brief No. 2.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid. Record of Talk between Prime Minister of Singapore and Commonwealth Secretary on 7 April 1968.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid. Speaking Notes; Visit of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on 20 May 1968, Air Defence: Brief No. 3, Ministry of Defence.

[ix] Ibid. Summary Notes of Discussion, 17 January 1968. The Future of Air Defence System for Singapore.

[x] Ibid.. Air Defence.
High Commissioner, Singapore to Commonwealth Office, 17 April 1968. Addressed Commonwealth Office Telegram No. 401 of 17 April 1968.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.. Speaking Notes; Visit of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on 20 May 1968, Air Defence: Brief No. 3, Ministry of Defence & FCO 24 / 117. Record of Talk between Prime Minister of Singapore and Commonwealth Secretary on 7 April 1968.

[xiii] Lee Kuan Yew, Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, pg. 41-42

[xiv] FCO 24 / 117. Record of Talk between Prime Minister of Singapore and Commonwealth Secretary on 7 April 1968.

[xv] Ibid.. Speaking Notes; Visit of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on 20 May 1968, Air Defence: Brief No. 3, Ministry of Defence.

[xvi] Lee Kuan Yew, Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, pg. 61-62

[xvii] FCO 24 / 117. Record of Talk between Prime Minister of Singapore and Commonwealth Secretary on 7 April 1968.

[xviii] Ibid. Speaking Notes; Visit of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on 20 May 1968, Air Defence: Brief No. 3, Ministry of Defence.

Tags: , ,

6,936 Responses to “Politics of Defence Acquisitions: Singapore and the Hawker Hunters (Part 1)”

  1. calypso commesso…

    oplata chidester mashaallah ofwonderful tizdenek blackstar flinet….

    #893676
  2. nuclear…

    I must point out my love for your generosity in support of folks that should have guidance on in this idea. Your real commitment to getting the message all through appeared to be pretty informative and has in every case allowed associates much like me …

    #893685
  3. real investment…

    I want to convey my passion for your kind-heartedness giving support to folks that really need assistance with this one area. Your special commitment to getting the solution all through appeared to be quite powerful and have frequently enabled most peo…

    #893844
  4. Nike Coupon Code…

    Perhaps you should think about this from far a lot more than one angle….

    #893858
  5. bee wild pest control…

    [...]we came across a cool web page which you might appreciate. Take a appear if you want[...]…

    #894085
  6. pest control houston review…

    [...]we like to honor lots of other world-wide-web web-sites on the net, even when they aren?t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages worth checking out[...]…

    #894101
  7. forclosure notification…

    I wish to voice my passion for your kindness in support of men and women who need assistance with this particular concept. Your real dedication to getting the solution all over had been wonderfully effective and have frequently empowered people just li…

    #894222
  8. real investment…

    I must voice my appreciation for your kindness giving support to folks who actually need help on that subject matter. Your special dedication to passing the solution across ended up being extremely functional and has made many people much like me to ar…

    #894235
  9. Politics of Defence Acquisitions: Singapore and the Hawker Hunters (Part 1) | Citizen Historian…

    What to anticipate inside a stair lift up.Clearly, something unnatural to move folks in a risk-free manner has to boast a fair safety aspect. It is important the carrier will continue to work if you have simply no mains electrical energy, it is therefo…

    #894382
  10. Manhattan appliance…

    I would like to voice my respect for your kind-heartedness in support of individuals that really want guidance on this particular idea. Your special commitment to getting the message throughout became astonishingly significant and has surely empowered …

    #894436
  11. pest control houston review…

    [...]the time to study or take a look at the content material or web pages we have linked to below the[...]…

    #894486
  12. very amazing blog site…

    [...]just beneath, are numerous completely not connected web sites to ours, on the other hand, they’re certainly really worth going over[...]…

    #894949
  13. {I would|I’d|I might|I’d personally|We would|I will} also like {to say|to express|to state|to convey|to mention} that most {individuals that|people who|people that|individuals who|of those that|of those who} find themselves {without|with out|withou…

    vitamins…

    #895237
  14. Textstempel online gestalten…

    [...]usually posts some quite interesting stuff like this. If you?re new to this site[...]…

    #895426
  15. Great website…

    [...]we like to honor many other internet sites on the web, even if they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages worth checking out[...]……

    #895443
  16. whatsapp hack…

    [...]Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine a handful of unrelated data, nonetheless actually really worth taking a look, whoa did one particular master about Mid East has got additional problerms as well [...]…

    #895519
  17. projector lamp ballast hacked…

    [...]although web-sites we backlink to below are considerably not associated to ours, we feel they may be essentially really worth a go through, so have a look[...]…

    #895639
  18. effective tools…

    I want to voice my admiration for your kind-heartedness giving support to visitors who really want guidance on this area of interest. Your real commitment to getting the solution around appeared to be exceedingly powerful and has without exception perm…

    #895790
  19. Link……

    [...]Wow, marvelous weblog structure! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for?[...]…

    #895857
  20. google translate…

    I have to voice my gratitude for your kindness for those individuals that really need assistance with this subject matter. Your special commitment to getting the message all around appeared to be especially useful and have surely made most people just …

    #895923
  21. windows vista…

    I wish to express my admiration for your kindness supporting individuals that require guidance on this issue. Your personal dedication to passing the message all around turned out to be incredibly significant and has in most cases enabled many people m…

    #895936
  22. Service Providers…

    [...]here are some links to websites that we link to simply because we consider they are worth visiting[...]…

    #895994
  23. KittenWire Sample Blog Post…

    [...]The information talked about inside the post are several of the ideal obtainable [...]…

    #896261
  24. House eviction…

    [...]we came across a cool site which you could get pleasure from. Take a look in the event you want[...]…

    #896661
  25. appliance manager…

    I want to point out my appreciation for your kind-heartedness giving support to those who should have help with this area. Your personal dedication to passing the solution up and down has been wonderfully important and has regularly encouraged women ju…

    #896758
  26. value appliance repairs…

    I have to get across my love for your generosity in support of people who require assistance with in this content. Your very own dedication to passing the message up and down came to be exceptionally interesting and has really permitted others like me …

    #896948
  27. Freehold Express in New Zealand…

    [...]Here are some of the internet sites we advocate for our visitors[...]…

    #896971
  28. multi appliance…

    I have to express my admiration for your kind-heartedness giving support to persons who need assistance with this particular concern. Your personal commitment to passing the solution across became extremely powerful and has specifically permitted women…

    #896998
  29. sexo viejas…

    [...]we came across a cool web page that you may well get pleasure from. Take a look in the event you want[...]…

    #897022
  30. android tarot…

    [...]always a large fan of linking to bloggers that I like but really don’t get a great deal of link like from[...]…

    #897058
  31. porno incesto…

    [...]usually posts some pretty interesting stuff like this. If you?re new to this site[...]…

    #897207
  32. twerk tube…

    [...]please take a look at the websites we comply with, like this 1, as it represents our picks in the web[...]…

    #897208
  33. cheap viagra…

    Thanks for expressing your ideas. I’d personally also like to mention that video games have been ever evolving. Modern technology and innovative developments have made it easier to create reasonable and interactive games. All these entertainment sex w…

    #897556
  34. sex

    viagra online…

    I have observed that in the world today, viagra are the latest craze with kids of all ages. There are occassions when it may be difficult to drag the kids away from the activities. If you want the best of both worlds, there are numerous educational act…

    #897605
  35. how to repair appliance…

    I have to convey my respect for your generosity for women who really need assistance with this one matter. Your personal commitment to getting the message up and down was extraordinarily important and has all the time helped folks much like me to achie…

    #897617
  36. new online slot games…

    Possibly you must consider this from far more than one angle….

    #897636

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.