Singapore has stated that there was no threat to the country emanating from the overflight of Chinese military jets through its flight information region (FIR) a little over a month ago.
The incident happened on May 31 when as many as 16 aircraft from the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) crossed unannounced into the Singapore FIR before eventually flying over Malaysian air space over the disputed South China Sea.
Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Tuesday that the overflight of Chinese military jets was not deemed to be a threat to the island nation.
16 Chinese Aircraft
On June 1, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) reported that 16 aircraft from PLA aircraft conducted a large-scale transport formation exercise over the South China Sea. The jets entered the airspace of Malaysia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and the RMAF scrambled jets after failing to get a response from the intruding Chinese planes.
The Chinese aircraft were in a 'tactical trail formation spanning 60 kilometers' the Malaysian Air Force said. The jets flew through the Singapore FIR and then crossed into the Malaysian airspace.
On Tuesday, in Singapore's parliament, Dr Ng responded to question by MPs over the Chinese incursion. "Singapore is a small country with a high population density, and therefore more vulnerable to air threats. The Singapore Armed Forces accordingly maintains air defence units at high alert," Ng said.
"The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) conducts 24/7 surveillance of our skies through both ground-based radars and aerial reconnaissance to detect unknown or suspicious aircraft that are close enough to pose a potential threat," he added, according to the Channel News Asia.
The Singapore Air Force typically responds to an average of 350 such incidents every year, the minister said. "The specific incident referred to by the two Members in their questions were not deemed to be such a threat," he said.
Ng clarified that though civilian aircraft are required to file their flight plan with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), state aircraft ate not required to do so under international law.
Military aircraft come within the ambit of state aircraft. "State aircraft are also not obliged to contact the air traffic services authority, so long as they fly with due regard for the safety of the aircraft," he added.
Dr Ng further clarified that the PLAAF jets did not file a flight plan with the CAAS. "Nevertheless, had the PLAAF required air traffic services, it could have established communications with CAAS ... We should be clear that the RSAF has no mandate nor any role in the management of the Singapore FIR," he added.