Eye on China, Singapore splurges on top-line arms

Eye on China, Singapore splurges on top-line arms

or global arms companies looking to ply their wares in Southeast Asia, Singapore is a sought-after client. And American and German hardware suppliers are poised for windfall profits as the island nation moves to shore up its defenses.

Last month, the wealthy city-state passed its biggest ever defense budget worth US$16.7 billion, or around 30% of the government’s total planned expenditure for 2019, with rich earmarks for defense, security and related diplomacy.

Singapore allocates between 3% and 5% of its gross domestic product on defense, well above the global average, while most regional states spend closer to 1-2% or lower, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

That spending is set to climb in the years ahead as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) moves to enhance its conventional capabilities through the procurement of more modern military hardware and equipment, including new generation fighter jets and submarines.

Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen recently told Parliament that defense spending over the next decade was expected to rise by 3% or 4% a year, mostly to strengthen and modernize the SAF’s aging hardware.

This month, Ng announced that Singapore would order four new F-35 fighter jets from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin and that it may purchase an additional eight of the advanced fighters after a technical evaluation.

F-35. Photo: US Marine Corps via Reuters
An F-35 fighter jet in flight. Photo: US Marine Corps via Reuters

Singapore’s Ministry of Defense (Mindef) identified the F-35, known for its advanced stealth capabilities, as the most suitable replacement for its aging fleet of 60 US-made F-16 jets, which first entered service in 1998 and will be considered obsolete by 2030.

Other contenders that lost out to the F-35 included the Eurofighter Typhoon, China’s J-20 stealth fighter and the Russian-made Sukhois. Singapore will become the third Asian nation after Japan and South Korea to buy the F-35 jets.

The Singapore Navy, which operates within the region’s crowded littoral waters, will also acquire new advanced submarines. Last month, Ng visited Germany to unveil a new state-of-the-art type-218SG submarine, known as the “Invincible” and developed by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), a German builder of surface ships and submarines.

The 70-meter diesel-electric submarine, which has been constructed but is not yet operational, is the biggest ever built by TKMS, and will not be sold to any other country. Singapore will take delivery of a further three Invincible-class vessels from 2022.

The acquisition has put a spotlight on the city-state’s ongoing efforts to boost its undersea capabilities amid rising regional maritime security challenges and bubbling territorial disputes in the nearby South China Sea.

The Asia-Pacific region is witnessing the world’s fastest rate of submarine proliferation, with South Korea and Japan recently introducing next-generation submarines into their respective fleets.

The new 218SG submarine viewed by Singaporean naval soldiers at the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems shipyard in Germany, February 2019. Photo: AFP Forum/Carsten Rehder

Singapore has joined the fray with what is believed to be the most sophisticated submarine in Southeast Asia custom-built for warmer Pacific waters.

Aside from operating underwater for one-and-a-half times longer than the navy’s current submarines, the Invincible-class will also have greater weapons-carrying capacity and an improved sonar to locate targets of interest. Singapore began operating submarines in the 1990s and has since acquired six modified second-hand vessels supplied by Sweden.

The procurements are in line with Singapore’s long-held security strategy of maintaining a cutting-edge deterrent force as a hedge against the vulnerability of its small size. Situated between more populous Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore equates national defense with national survival and prosperity.

Local military experts argue that the recent modernizations advance Singapore’s forward defense posture and enable it to negotiate from a position of strength when faced with maritime and airspace disputes with neighboring Malaysia. Both sides have notably traded recriminations in recent months.

Ng has said the new purchases aim to keep up with modernization trends in the region and are not directed against any particular country. Though the city-state considers itself a neutral actor, analysts say its procurements will be perceived as a deliberate counterbalance to China’s rising influence over nearby strategic waterways.

Chinese sailors (left in white) visiting Singapore Navy’s frigate RSS Stalwart during an ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise at a military port in Zhanjiang, October 24, 2018. Photo: AFP/Stringer/China Out

Analysts believe Singapore’s pro-American security orientation and role in facilitating US military activities in the region have likely irked China’s leadership. The island nation plays host to American littoral warships and US Navy P-8 maritime patrol planes that conduct reconnaissance in the South China Sea.

“The SAF’s possession of significant American-made military technology and the accumulated institutional capacity of inter-military linkages and interoperability, would not be taken lightly by Beijing,” said Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow specializing in Southeast Asian defense at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

He told Asia Times that China likely believes that Singapore would “work in concert” with the US military in an armed conflict scenario in the South China Sea. The city-state has no territorial claims in the disputed waters and maintains that the disputes should be adjudicated through legal means.

Sébastien Roblin, an expert in security and conflict resolution, wrote in a recent article that Singapore’s new Invincible-class submarine’s surveillance capabilities and endurance advantages – it can remain submerged for four to six weeks before needing to surface – would add new factors to the contest for influence and control over the South China Sea.

“The Type 218’s advanced sensors and facilities will give Singapore significant intelligence-gathering capabilities, particularly for intercepting signals, deploying operatives, tracking the movements of Chinese diesel-electric submarines around the strait and building a ‘threat library’ on their acoustic signatures,” he wrote in reference to the nearby Strait of Malacca.

A quarter of the world’s traded goods, including as much as 80% of China’s fuel imports, pass through the congested Malacca waterway, offering the most direct route for commercial traffic between East Asia and the Indian Ocean. Analysts say the US Navy could readily block the strait in any conflict scenario by leveraging its strategic access to nearby Singapore.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (center-right), Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (center) and Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen (third right) pose with navy personnel at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, May 5, 2017. Photo: AFP/Toh Ting Wei

As for the city-state’s efforts to modernize its air force, reports suggest Singapore is likely to acquire a short takeoff and vertical-landing variant of the F-35 known as the F-35B, which is capable of landing like a helicopter and is priced at US$115.5 million each. The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing model costs $89.2 million.

The sale must first be approved by the US Congress, though Ng has said Singapore has the endorsement of both the White House and the US Department of Defense.

Analysts believe the proliferation of the F-35 could set off action-reaction dynamics that drive China to enhance its air defense network to detect the stealth jet better.

The F-35 has garnered criticism over its steep cost and more than two-decade development history that was plagued by several technical problems. A US Department of Defense assessment this year described the performance of its F-35 fleet as “well below” a planned 80% reliability and maintenance benchmark.

The assessment also claimed the F-35B’s expected service life of 8,000 fleet hours “may be as low as 2,100″ hours, according to the Pentagon’s test office. Patrick Shanahan, acting US secretary of defense, acknowledged that the F-35 “has a lot of opportunity for more performance” while addressing reporters this year.

A Singapore Air Force F-16 fighter at Eielsen Air Force Base in the US state of Alaska during joint Red Flag exercises, June 12, 2018. Photo: Twitter

Should the F-35 meet Singapore’s operational requirements and satisfactorily adapt to equatorial weather, it is still unclear how many aircraft it would acquire to replace its aging F-16 fleet. “It’s difficult to envisage a clear-cut one-for-one replacement of future military equipment,” Koh said.

“The eventual purchase decision will depend on how well the Republic of Singapore Air Force evaluates this initial batch and taking into account the technological advancements and challenges that come with this program. Not least, of course, is also the fiscal ability to acquire and sustain a larger fleet,” he told Asia Times.

“It applies to not only air forces but navies as well. Each new incoming asset will become more capable, for sure, but is going to cost more than its predecessor. And militaries, not least the SAF, may have to continue to do more with less,” Koh said.


Now sign up for mutual fund SIPs on Paytm Money without paying upfront

Customers of Alibaba-backed Paytm, looking to invest in SIPs through its mutual fund (MF) investments platform Paytm Money will now have an option to start to their SIPs and pay the investment amount later under its new service Register SIP Now, Pay Later.

Paytm Money will send the SIP for registration to the asset management company (AMC) after the first successful payment for SIP in the MF scheme is made, the company said in a blog.

“With this new feature investors who wanted to invest via SIPs, but didn’t have funds at the time of registering, can now choose to make the payment when they have the required funds,” said Paytm Money whole-time director Pravin Jadhav in a statement.

More than 75% of investors on Paytm Money are opting for SIPs, the company said. The service is enabled across all MF schemes from all AMCs.

Paytm Money said that the amount will be automatically invested on scheduled SIP date for investors who have opted for auto-pay for their SIPs. Those choosing for UPI or Net Banking mode of payment will receive reminders for the same.

The company claimed to have acquired more than 1 million users in “few months” of its launch to become the “largest platform for MF investments in India.”

Last month, Paytm had said that its users would now be able to track the performance of their mutual fund investments on its subsidiary portal Paytm Money for free.

Paytm Money claimed to have partnered with 34 asset management companies covering over 94% AUM of the mutual fund industry.

Paytm’s mutual fund arm operates from Bengaluru and has a team of over 250 members Paytm Money, which aims to become a full-stack investment and wealth management services company, offer users mutual fund investments starting with Rs 100 via systematic investment plan or lump sum mode.

The company is also reportedly planning to expand into lending and credit cards services.

Paytm, recently ventured into hotel booking space by acquiring hotel booking app NightStay. It also announced investment of over Rs 500 crore for scaling its operations and expanding its portfolio, the company said.



Education loan NPAs on the rise

Photo for representation

With nearly 9% of education loans being declared as non-performing assets (NPAs), public sector banks in India are now faced with the challenge of understanding the reasons for the defaults and taking corrective measures.

Data published by the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) point towards an increasing trend of loan amounts being written off as NPAs in the education sector.

Looking at the stream-wise data on educational loans, it can be inferred that the nursing stream has churned out the most number of NPAs, followed by engineering.

Stream % of educational loans which become NPAs
Nursing courses 21.28
Engineering 9.76
Other professions 9.49
Medical 6.06
MBA 5.59


The CARE Ratings report states that rising tuition costs have made education loans a necessity. This, combined with lower salaries for nurses as evidenced by protests in several parts of the country, could be one of the factors leading to higher NPAs. Bottlenecks to going abroad for work, which is one of the key drivers in the nursing sector, could be another factor in rising NPAs.

Engineering, where nearly 10% of the loans become NPAs, has a bad placement record in recent years. Only about 46% of the students who graduated from government and private engineering colleges across the country in 2016-17 managed to get a job placement, according to data given in the Rajya Sabha in July 2018.

Regions with high default rates

A region-wise look at the data published in the report released by Care Ratingsin 2018 shows that Tamil Nadu and Kerala account for 36% of the outstanding education loans, closely followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. These States are characterised by high levels of literacy and willingness to pursue higher education, as observed by a high number of loans given for postgraduate courses in those States.

Why are PSB’S churning out NPAS?

The Care Ratings report says that public sector banks fund about 95% of the education loans in the country.

The loan amount of PSBs is often below ₹4 lakh, which implies that these loans do not require a collateral and are unsecured. The private sector banks and NBFCs on the other hand lend to students pursuing graduate studies and the loan amount for these is often over ₹5 lakh, which implies these loans are tied to a collateral and are secured.

This is one explanation for why PSBs have been increasingly churning out bad loans over the years. Among PSB’s, State Bank of India had the highest amount of NPAs from 2015-17. The amount of loans advanced by SBI declared as NPAs shows an increasing trend.

The issue has been raised in the Lok Sabha and the government has come up with measures to tackle rising NPAs. The government has modified the IBA model education loan scheme by including a buffer period of one year in addition to the course period before calculating commencement of repayment.

The modified scheme also accounts for spells of underemployment/unemployment during the period of the loan and extends repayment period so as to bring down the EMI.

The government also aims to provide guarantee for 75% of the defaulted amount through its Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme for Education loans.

The impact of the schemes as well as corrective measures however, can only be gauged through a change in the amount of NPAs in the coming years.


Man jumps on Delhi Metro track, dies, Blue line resumes after disruption

delhi metro,rajiv chowk

A man who reportedly jumped onto the track of Delhi Metro between Rajiv Chowk and Noida City Centre, has died, according to news agency ANI.

The person was found on the track earlier on Tuesday and taken to Lady Hardinge Medical College where he was declared dead on arrival.

The service on the Blue line between Rajiv Chowk and Noida City Centre was disrupted for a few hours.

Blue Line is one of the busiest sections of the Delhi Metro network, connecting Dwarka Sector 22 to Noida City Centre via Rajiv Chowk.


US, China Vow Cooperation On Diplomatic Anniversary Amid Trade War: Report

US, China Vow Cooperation On Diplomatic Anniversary Amid Trade War: Report

Beijing: The presidents of China and the US have exchanged messages vowing to boost cooperation despite a bruising trade war on the 40th anniversary of the countries’ diplomatic relations, Chinese state media reported.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington soared in 2018 over trade disputes, although US President Donald Trump has frozen the latest planned tariff hike and on Saturday reported “big progress” after a call with his counterpart Xi Jinping.

In the messages sent Tuesday, Xi underlined the importance of working with the US “to advance China-US relations featuring coordination, cooperation and stability”, state news agency Xinhua reported.

According to Xinhua, Trump praised the last four decades of diplomacy between China and the US, hailing his “solid friendship” with the Chinese leader.

Washington and Beijing imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods in total two-way trade last year, locking them in a conflict that has begun to eat into profits and contributed to stock market plunges.

Trump initiated the trade war because of complaints over unfair Chinese trade practices — concerns shared by the European Union, Japan and others.

Since the two leaders agreed on a truce on the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires, however, there have been small signs of progress — and an absence of new threats from Trump.

China and the US established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979, with Washington pledging to maintain only non-official ties with Taiwan.

In the same year, late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, often credited with China’s “Reform and Opening” policy which led to its economic transformation, met US president Jimmy Carter in the United States.

Ties have improved dramatically from their Cold War nadir, though the two countries have since weathered ups and downs over a number of issues including Taiwan, human rights, and trade.

In December, China’s major state-owned grain stockpiler said it had resumed buying US soybeans, and Beijing announced it would suspend extra tariffs on US-made cars and auto parts starting January 1.


On New Year Day, India, Pakistan Trade Fire On LoC In Poonch District

On New Year Day, India, Pakistan Trade Fire On LoC In Poonch District

In 2018, there have been more than 1,400 ceasefire violations on the LoC and International Border. (File)


Jammu: The Indian and Pakistan armies traded fire on the Line of Control (LoC) today in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district, officials said.

Defence sources said Pakistan Army resorted to unprovoked firing at Indian positions in the morning.

“Pakistani firing began early this morning in Khari Karmara area of the LoC. Indian positions retaliated strongly. No casualty or damage was reported on our side,” a source said.



Jet Airways Defaults On Debt Payment To Banks, Shares Plummet Nearly 6%

RA cut Jet’s long- and short-term ratings on Wednesday, citing the payment delays.

Jet Airways Defaults On Debt Payment To Banks, Shares Plummet Nearly 6%

Cash-strapped Jet Airways said late Tuesday it defaulted on debt payment to a consortium of banks, prompting ratings agency ICRA to downgrade the carrier and sending its shares sharply lower. The payment of interest and principal instalment was delayed “due to temporary cash flow mismatch”, Jet said in a statement, adding that it was in talks with the consortium led by State Bank of India. The deadline for payment was Monday, December 31.

ICRA cut Jet’s long- and short-term ratings on Wednesday, citing the payment delays.

Timely implementation of liquidity initiatives, including equity infusion and a stake sale in the airline’s loyalty programme Jet Privilege, will be critical to the company’s credit profile, ICRA said.

The 25-year-old airline is facing financial difficulties and owes money to pilots, lessors and vendors. Intense pricing competition, a weak rupee and rising fuel costs weighed on the country’s airlines in 2018.

Jet, the country’s biggest full-service carrier by market share, had a debt of Rs. 8,052 crore ($1.15 billion) as of September 30, 2018.

Jet and its second-largest shareholder, Etihad Airways, are in talks with bankers on a rescue deal that may involve the Abu Dhabi-based airline increasing its stake from 24 per cent at present.

The airline’s shares declined as much as 5.84 per cent in their sharpest intraday drop in over three weeks and were last down 5.27 per cent at Rs. 266.00, as of 2:33 pm on the NSE.


SBI’s Latest Interest Rates On Home, Car, Education Loans

SBI's Latest Interest Rates On Home, Car, Education LoansFrom SBI‘s housing loan to car loan to education loan, the country’s largest bank offers a variety of loans under its personal finance portfolio. SBI or State Bank of India offers loan schemes such as housing loan, education loan and auto loan, among others, based on its MCLR or marginal cost of funds-based interest rate. Its interest rates applicable to different loans vary, depending upon the class of loan and term, among other factors. On its housing loans up to Rs. 30 lakh, for example, SBI charges an effective interest rate of 8.35-8.50 per cent, according to its website – sbi.co.in. For car loans, SBI charges a rate of interest ranging of 8.90 per cent to 9.40 per cent, according to the SBI website.

SBI’s current rates of interest on loans are based on a one-year marginal cost of funds-based lending rate (MCLR) of 8.15 per cent, according to the bank’s website. MCLR or marginal cost of funds-based lending rate is the minimum interest rate below which a bank cannot lend. (Also readSBI hikes lending rate (MCLR) for first time since April 2016)

Here are different interest rates charged by SBI on its housing loans, auto loans and education loans:

SBI housing loan

SBI’s home loan portfolio includes regular home loan, balance transfer home loan and NRI home loan. The minimum interest rate charged by SBI on its home loans is 8.35 per cent. This rate, 20 basis points above the MCLR, is applicable on loans up to Rs. 30 lakh to salaried women borrowers, according to the SBI website. For other salaried borrowers, SBI charges a rate of interest of 8.4 per cent for loans up to Rs. 30 lakh – 25 basis points above the one-year MCLR and 5 basis points above the rate offered to salaried women.

sbi housing loan sbi website
For the non-salaried individuals, SBI charges a rate of interest of 8.45-8.50 per cent on loans up to Rs. 30 lakh, according to the bank’s website. For non-salaried women borrowers, the interest rate is 8.45 per cent and for other non-salaried individuals, it is 8.5 per cent, according to the SBI website.

SBI auto loan

With effect from March 1, 2018, SBI charges a rate of interest of 8.9 per cent to 9.4 per cent on auto loans. These loans include car loans, NRI car loan and SME retail car loans (excluding taxi, transport operators and fleet segments), according to the SBI website.

sbi auto loan interest rate sbi website
Among the offerings under its auto loan products, SBI charges a rate of interest of 17.40 per cent on two-wheelers loans (Plz check the rate). This rate is 9.25 per cent above the 1-year MCLR of 8.15 per cent, according to the SBI website. SBI charges a rate of interest of 11.8 per cent on loan to own a super bike. This rate is 3.65 per cent above the 1-year MCLR of 8.15 per cent, according to the SBI website.

SBI education loan


SBI charges different types of loans for education, including student loan, scholar loan and loan to study abroad. For its student loan scheme, under which SBI offers up to Rs. 10 lakh for study in India and Rs. 20 lakh for studies abroad, the bank charges an effective rate of interest of 10.15 per cent for loans up 10 Rs. 7.5 lakh, with effect from March 1, 2018, according to its website. For loans above Rs. 7.5 lakh, the rate is 10.90 per cent, according to the SBI website. SBI offers a concession of 0.50 per cent on interest rates for female students. “One per cent concession for full tenure of the loan, if interest is serviced promptly as and when applied during the moratorium period, including the course duration,” SBI mentions.


Raghuram Rajan To Prannoy Roy On India’s 3 Biggest Economic Problems: Highlights

Raghuram Rajan To Prannoy Roy On India's 3 Biggest Economic Problems: HighlightsFormer Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan spoke to NDTV’s Prannoy Roy on a range of challenges in front of the Indian economy today. Dr Rajan said the three biggest problems for the Indian economy today are the agrarian distress, the ailing power sector and the crisis in the banking system. The 55-year-old economist, who was the first RBI governor to not seek a second term in nearly two decades after his tenure ended in 2016, said government interference in institutions could affect both global and domestic investment. Mr Rajan’s comments come amid a row between the central bank and the government over its autonomy.


More Than 500 Charged For Drink Driving On New Year’s Eve In Delhi

More Than 500 Charged For Drink Driving On New Year's Eve In Delhi

Around 15,000 police personnel were deployed on New Year’s Eve. (File)

New Delhi: More than 500 people were fined by the Delhi Police on New Year’s Eve for drink driving, officials said today.

Around 15,000 police personnel were deployed across the national capital on New Year’s Eve and special traffic arrangements were made, the police said.

A total of 509 challans were issued for drink-and-drive cases, they said