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“A rapid build-up of Singapore’s security forces, especially the air and naval units, must be made if Britain goes through with an accelerated military withdrawal.”

Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister, 1968



On 20 January 1968, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew returned from London with a firm "no gap after withdrawal" declaration after the British had announced the withdrawal of their forces from Singapore within three years. With such short notice, the newly independent country had to work extra hard to build up its own air defence. Despite the lack of resources, Singaporean soldiers had to acquire the professional expertise needed to operate the radar systems that the British would leave behind.


After the British announced their withdrawal, Singapore was left with an urgent need to build a defence force.


Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew envisioned building for Singapore a strong defence force comprising an Air Force, an Army, and a Navy.


Mr Lee Kuan Yew at a commissioning parade for Officer Cadets at the SAF Training Institute on 20 March 1968.

“What we lack in quantity, we make up for in quality. The weaponry of the technological age puts a premium on high standards of education, particularly in the sciences, for the effective and efficient use of modern gadgetry. Fortunately, high intelligence and diligent application have been our forte.”

Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister, 1968


“By 1972, we must demonstrate that we have the wherewithal to make it extremely unpleasant for anybody contemplating taking liberties with us.”

Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister, 1968



The setting up of an Air Staff Organisation in the Ministry of Interior and Defence marked the modest beginnings of Singapore’s own Air Force, just eight months after Britain’s decision to pull out its forces from the island. Starting with two Cessna 172Ks leased from the Singapore Flying Club, the SADC at Seletar Air Base had to fill the air defence role that Britain could no longer maintain. 


The SADC was set up with the formation of the SAF Flying Platoon, whose members included British advisers.


When the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) was formed in 1968, it inherited the roundel of Britain's Royal Air Force, which comprised an inner red circle surrounded by an outer ring of blue. However, to reflect that the country's air defence was now in its own hands, the outer ring was changed to a brilliant red: Singapore’s national colour.


The British handed over Tengah Air Base to the SADC in 1971 and, for 50 cents, left behind a 14-man Mark III decompression chamber.


An aerial view of Bukit Gombak Radar Station in the 1960s, which was was handed over to SADC by the RAF and renamed Air Defence Radar Unit. It was one of the most advanced air defence systems in Asia at that time. 

“When I first opened the hangar doors in 1968, I was greeted by two Cessna aircraft. If either one of the aircraft was down, it meant Singapore had only one aircraft to defend its skies.”

1WO (Ret) Freddie Koh, Air Force Engineer, 2013 who joined the SADC at 19 years old as one of the pioneer technicians and went on to serve for over 30 years

“I was given a little cubicle in Pearl’s Hill where I was to work out what sort of people I needed and how many, and how I could obtain them. I had an officer called Henry Cheong, who was there to assist me, and one clerk. That was all. So that was where we started.”

COL (Ret) Charles Chew, Senior Air Staff Officer, 2008 on working in the early years of the SADC

“In May 1968, I was setting up the Air Staff, building it up in phases. At the same time, I was involved in the flying grading and recruitment programme for pilots. I also faced the problem of finding suitable people who could be sent for other air vocational courses."

COL (Ret) Charles Chew, Senior Air Staff Officer, 2008 on working in the early years of the SADC

“An Air Force or Navy did not constitute a force if there were not the people with the expertise.”

Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister, 1968



The first eight Alouette III helicopters arrived in Singapore on 30 September 1969 at Seletar Air Base. The arrival of the helicopters heralded the formation of the SADC’s pioneer operational unit, 120 Squadron, which was formed with four pilots and six helicopter technicians. It was tasked with transport, Casualty Evacuations, and Search and Rescue missions.


An Alouette III helicopter landing at Seletar Air Base. 


The Alouette IIIs formed the SADC's first squadron,120 Squadron.


The Alouette Squadron had eight helicopters that were assembled at Seletar under the supervision of representatives from a French state-owned aircraft manufacturer, Sud Aviation. Its operations were later moved to Changi, making it the first SADC unit to be stationed there.  


CPT Terry Loh served as the Alouette Squadron's first Commander from 30 September 1969 to 14 December 1971.Training for the first four pilots and six technicians was conducted in France, where 2LT Leo Tin Boon, 2LT Teo Boon Haw, 2LT Ashley Philips, and 2LT William Ang trained as pilots; while CPL See Peh Hock Alan, CPL Foo Chee Min, CPL Wee Kok Kee, CPL Go Tong Seng, CPL Francis Yuen, and CPL Chooi Poh Seng trained as technicians.

The Alouette Squadron's second Commander was MAJ Derrick Martin. On 31 March 1975, it was officially renamed 120 Squadron. Its role of rescue and relief was further expanded to cover search, reconnaissance, and Army support duties. 



In January 1969, the Air Technical Training School and the Electronic Technical Training School were set up at Seletar and Fort Canning. The objective was to train local SADC technicians to take over from the British soldiers in two years. 


The pioneer batch of technicians who were trained locally.


The first batch of locally trained technicians in 1969.

“As for the Technical Training School at Seletar, we set it up with the help of Airworks, a private British company. We just said, ‘Okay, you raise it; you just bring all your instructors.’ And they did. They trained the ground crew.”

COL (Ret) Charles Chew, Senior Air Staff Officer, 2008 on working in the early years of the SADC

March 1969

Training our Pioneer Air Defenders

The training of specialist personnel to control air traffic and air defence missions was essential in the setting up of the SADC. The pioneer batches of Air Traffic and Air Defence Controllers were sent to Britain to be trained by the Royal Air Force (RAF). Seletar Tower had its first operational staff in March 1969.


The SADC’s first local Air Traffic and Air Defence Controllers in Seletar Tower.


Pioneer SADC officers (seated in the front row) who attended the Flight Controller Course from November 1969 to January 1970, at RAF Bawdsey in Suffolk. 


The SADC's pioneer Air Defence Operators with their RAF instructors in the late 1960s.

“We’ve never had a more interesting experience before. The three months went by so quickly but I’m glad that this is not the end.”

PTE Carmen Van Huizen, Air Defence operator Trainee, 1969 one of the pioneer Air Defence Operators who successfully completed her training 


Pioneer members of the SADC's Air Defence Radar Unit with RAF Wing Commander J. Le Cheminant and LTC Tan Jer Meng.


SADC trainee pilots and their British colleagues with the Chipmunk trainer aircraft at RAF Chivenor.


A notebook used in the RAF for training in 1970.


A testimonial for an RAF serviceman dated 19 July 1970.


A certificate issued by the SADC on 8 September 1972 for completing the FTS Weapons Course.


A certificate issued by the RAF Far East Air Force's Survival and Parachute School in 1970.


An SADC recruitment brochure.


Participants of the first Advanced Forward Air Control course in 1980.


Graduates of the first Ground Logistics Officer Course in 1981.


The first batch of Air Maintenance Officers in 1982.


The first batch of Air Operations and Communications Officers in 1984.


The first batch of Air Executive Officers in 1982.


CPT Cyril Walter Kerr was the first SADC pilot to qualify as a pilot attack instructor


CPT Gary Yeo Ping Yong was the first SADC pilot to qualify as a flying instructor.


Graduates of the first Air Logistics Officer Course in 1981.


Graduates of the first Basic Forward Air Control Course in 1981.

“You are the eyes and ears of our Air Force. It’s a job that is done quietly and unobtrusively. All the rest of the defences of the island are useless without radar.”

George Bogaars, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior and Defence, 1968 on the importance of having ground-based radar operators in the fledgling SADC

“I think we are moving on the right lines. We need to put in more effort to improve ourselves, particularly the technical competence of local personnel. This means we should place high priority in supporting technical training in air traffic. The previous practice of sending large numbers of personnel overseas, even for courses of a few weeks, will cease and the training effort must be carried out here. This means hard work for everybody, but the end result will be that we shall be self-reliant in a crucial field.”

Dr Goh Keng Swee, Minister for Defence, 1967 on the importance of boosting the quality of training in Singapore

“When we took over Seletar Tower in early 1969, it was the first operational unit to be commanded by a Singaporean officer, LTA R. Ramakrishnan. We only had two aircraft radios to do air traffic control. It was literally starting from scratch. The challenge was to have sufficiently trained and qualified ATC officers and men to manage the three airfields, Tengah, Changi, and Sembawang, as well as the joint military-civil air traffic control centre, then located at Paya Lebar, by the time the RAF left. But we did it all, so that by the end of 1971, all ATC units on the island were functioning under SADC, albeit with the assistance of some seconded and contracted British officers.”

 LTC (Ret) Prasad Kumar Menon, Airspace Consultant, Air Operations Department, 2008 who was one of the 37 pioneering officer cadets and later ran the first Air Traffic Control School at Tengah Air Base in 1969

APRIL 1969


The SADC took over Seletar Aerodrome, where Seletar Tower became the first operational control unit in 1971. Seletar Air Base was later handed over to the Department of Civil Aviation for general aviation development. 


The first Air Traffic Control training section was set up at Seletar West Camp in 1970 before it was moved to Tengah Air Base in 1971. 


Trainees in class at Tengah Control Tower.


LTA Tan Boh See was one of the trainers who instructed the trainees on radio equipment for air traffic control.


While the pioneer Air Traffic Controller officers were trained at the Royal Air Force in Britain, non-commissioned officers were trained locally to become assistant Air Traffic Controllers. 


An overview of Seletar Control Tower in 1969.

“The challenge was to have sufficiently trained and qualified ATC officers and men to manage the three airfields at Tengah, Changi, and Sembawang, as well as the joint military-civil air traffic control centre, then located at Paya Lebar, by the time the Royal Air Force left. But we did it all, so that by the end of 1971, all ATC units on the island were functioning under the SADC, albeit with the assistance of some seconded and contracted British officers.”

LTC (Ret) Prasad Kumar Menon, Airspace Consultant, Air Operations Department, 2008 who was one of the SADC's first Air Traffic Controllers

MAY 1969


The SADC’s first-ever aircraft purchase of eight Cessna 172Ks arrived in May 1969 at Seletar Air Base, which took over from the Singapore Flying Club in training the first intake of 37 local pilot recruits using the Cessna 172Ks. 


The SADC's first Cessna was hand-painted by the SADC’s airmen.


Basic and advanced flying training for the Cessna were held at RAF flying schools in Britain.

“When the SADC’s first aircraft arrived, it was a strange sight. Eight lorries, each carrying a wooden crate, slowly trudged down the road to hangar 505. Lying inside with its wings strapped along either side of the fuselage was a beautiful white aircraft. In the days ahead, local mechanics and their Australian instructors would lovingly assemble, service, and paint on the markings of the SADC’s first new aircraft.”

1WO (Ret) Mohd Haniffa, Air Force Technician, 1998 who was part of the first batch of technicians recruited under the Royal Air Force (Malaya) Scheme



From the onset, it was recognised that a flying school had to be quickly established to select, grade, and train suitable candidates to become full-fledged SADC pilots. The FTS was set up at Maju Camp in June 1968 before it moved to Seletar in August that year. Its first pilot recruitment drive received more than 500 applications; only 37 were selected to be pilot officer cadets. The Ground Training Squadron was also set up at the FTS to hold theory lessons and safety courses for aircrew.


The Prime Minister announcing the setting up of the Air Force Training School during the commissioning ceremony on 20 March 1968 at the Istana. He also emphasised the importance of establishing the Republic’s defence after the British’s military withdrawal.


Minister for Defence Lim Kim San officiated at the inauguration of the SAF Flying Training School in Tengah Air Base. 


Mr Lim trying his hand at one of the trainer aircraft.


Mr Lim addressing the pioneer batch of local trainee pilots at the inauguration.


A certificate issued by the FTS for completing flying training in 1971.


An SAF brochure for recruiting pilots in the 1970s.



To facilitate the training of new fighter pilots, the SADC purchased 16 British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) 167 Strikemasters. With their arrival at Tengah Air Base, 130 Squadron was formed and enabled the Flying Training School to train fully qualified pilots for the SADC.


The aircraft first arrived at Tengah Air Base on 18 October 1969.


Representatives of Airwork Limited accompanied the delivery of the BAC Strikemasters.



In March 1969, the technical schools from the Army and the Navy were merged with the Air Technical Training School and the Electronic Technical Training School to form the SAF School of Technical Training in Seletar West Camp. The first locally trained technicians graduated later that year and were able to service, repair, and maintain the SADC’s aircraft. 


The bulk of the manpower came from local schools while several personnel were trained overseas.


A certificate issued by the Royal Air Force College between 1969 and 1970. 


An invitation card for the technicians' passing out ceremony at Seletar West Camp III in 1970.


The programme for the technicians' passing out parade at Seletar West Camp in 1970.


The SAF School of Technical Training was officially opened by LTC B. R. Marks, Acting Director of Logistics, on 5 March 1970.  


The pioneer technicians were trained on the Giraffe radar in Gothenburg, Sweden, in September 1979. A month later, they went to Karlskoga for training on the RBS 70 missile system.

“Many of our officers and instructors were National Servicemen who came and went. The training school could not build up a crop of regular officers and instructors so that the experience and skills gained could be retained.”

LTC Foo Kok Swee, Director, SAF School of Technical Training, 1975  on the challenges of retaining in the SADC's early days 

“The important thing is to get the flag over the stadium at the right time. Another critical moment is when we take off with the flag. A lot of care has to be taken to ensure that the flag opens up and flies correctly. There’s also a sense of pride in having the privilege to fly what must be the country’s largest flag.”

MAJ Leong Eng Keng, Commanding Officer, 125 Squadron, 1989 on the challenges of performing the flag flypast

Last updated on 23 Feb 2017
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