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The laser-guided RBS 70 missile system was purchased from British Aerospace in 1983 to primarily provide Army divisions with air defence cover against low-flying aircraft. This short-range, surface-to-air missile system had an effective range of 5km and could either be mounted on the V200 Armoured Fighting Vehicle or dismounted and man-packed for operations. Along with the Basic Giraffe radar, it was operated by 3, 6, and 9 Divisional Air Defence Artillery Battalions.


The RBS 70 was a man-portable missile system that could also be mounted on a V200 Armoured Fighting Vehicle.


The 3rd Battalion of the Singapore Air Defence Artillery was formed on 1 February 1980 to provide an air defence umbrella on the battlefield. It operated the RBS 70 and 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft Guns. It was also equipped with the Basic Giraffe radar to provide target designation and control to ground units. The unit also provided low-level air defence for strategic ground assets or installations in Singapore during periods of tension. It moved to its present home at Khatib Camp in June 1983.  


The RBS 70 test firing in Sweden made the news in May 1980.


The live firing was held at the Vidsel Test Range in Sweden in 1980.


In May 1995, 2LT Chew Choon How was the first to shoot down a target with a live warhead during a live firing.

20 APRIL 1980


Operationalised in October 1980, the JATCC was a joint effort between the RSAF and the Department of Civil Aviation to streamline air traffic operations. The new JATCC, which was located at Changi Airport, featured computerised systems that simplified tasks and eased manpower constraints.


The Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Changi Airpot

“The mental demands of the job are heavier than the physical. Satisfaction is when you come off the seat after helping an emergency aircraft land, or directing Search and Rescue aircraft by the shortest route to the scene of an accident. It’s knowing that it’s not just millions of dollars of equipment but also human lives that you saved.”

CPT Kwek Chee Kian, Officer in Charge, JATCC Radar Operation, 1980 on being an Air Traffic Controller in the JATCC

JUNE 1980


Inaugurated in 1980, Exercise Elang Indopura is an annual bilateral exercise between the RSAF and the Indonesian Air Force. The exercise allows both Air Forces to interact at a professional level through the exchange of fighter tactical knowledge, and has grown in scope and complexity over the years. The RSAF regularly conducts such exercises to enhance interoperability and defence relations with the Indonesian Air Force.


The RSAF participated in the first Exercise Elang Indopura in 1980.


It was a bilateral air exercise between Singapore and Indonesia that involved the Skyvan and Hawker Hunter aircraft.

JUNE 1980


SOADA was established on 1 June 1980, and was initially located at Tanglin Camp before it was moved to Seletar East Camp. The school trained Air Defence Artillery (ADA) officers and specialists on Ground Based Air Defence system deployments and operations.


SOADA was first set up in Tanglin Camp before it was moved to Building 463 at Seletar East Camp on 30 December 1980.


Trainees at SOADA undergoing technical lessons on ADA systems.


At SOADA, trainees learnt how to prepare for ground-to-ground test firing


In January 1983, SOADA was relocated to Paya Lebar Air Base due to insufficient space in Seletar East Camp.]


SOADA at Paya Lebar Air Base.


The first batch of ADA officers to graduate from SOADA, in July 1980.


The first batch of ADA non-commissioned officers to graduate from SOADA, in October 1980.


The Air Defence Systems Specialist badge is awarded to Air Defence Systems Specialists to recognise their professionalism in operating and maintaining Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) systems.


They trace their roots to the pioneer Air Defence Artillery units, which were formed to operate the GBAD systems left over from British rule and were united under the Singapore Air Defence Artillery in 1979. 



In October 1980, 122 Squadron became the first RSAF squadron to circumnavigate the globe while ferrying back a Bloodhound missile that had completed its first live firing in Britain a month ago.


The C-130 flew off from Singapore to Britain via the Middle East on 2 October 1980. Due to the unstable political situation in the Middle East, the aircraft flew back to Singapore from Britain via the US on 26 October.

“The flight back home was delayed for more than a month. It was an agonising wait and eventually we had to fly home the long way round the earth before reaching Singapore.”

SSG Ong Teck, Technician, 1980 who was part of the missile team armament of the live firing crew



The Long Range Radar and Display System (LORADS) was acquired to replace the ageing Decca Air Surveillance Radar used by Paya Lebar Airport. Located at Changi, LORADS became the primary aid in controlling both civil and military aircraft movement within Singapore's airspace. With its introduction, the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre was shifted from Paya Lebar to Biggin Hill in Changi, and was renamed 203 Squadron in May 1984.


The Long Range Radar and Display System (LORADS) at Biggin Hill at Changi.



LTC Michael Teo became the RSAF's first local Deputy Commander. As the top appointment was not filled at the time, the Deputy Commander represented the RSAF's interests at the Ministry of Defence until the Air Force's own leadership gained sufficient credence to take over completely. COL Michael Teo was appointed Commander of the RSAF in November 1985.  


Col Michael Teo’s appointment as the first local Deputy Commander took place when the fledgling Air Force  leadership gained sufficient credence to take over fully.


COL Teo was appointed as the RSAF’s first Commander, 17 years after the inception of the Air Force. 



The ITT RS-320 three-dimensional radar system was the second mobile radar asset to be acquired by the RSAF as one of its main air defence radars. Operated by 201 Squadron, it has a maximum detection range of 160 nautical miles. 


The ITTS RS 320 Radar was subsequently replaced by the FPS-117 after about 17 years of service.

JUNE 1981


The RSAF revamped its organisation to become more agile in switching from peacetime training to wartime operations.


At the RSAF headquarters, the Air Intelligence Branch was expanded into the Air Intelligence Department while the Air Manpower Department, the Air Operations Department, and the Air Plans Department were restructured to oversee all aspects of Air Force manpower, operations, and training requirements.


By 1981, the Air Force Inspectorate was formed to be responsible for safety evaluation and accident prevention. This reflected the growing emphasis on operational safety, even as the RSAF pushed ahead towards being operationally ready.


The organisation of the RSAF in the 1980s.



The RSAF held its first officer graduation parade at Paya Lebar Air Base on 11 December 1981. This was later known as the RSAF Combined Graduation Ceremony, which sees the passing out of Air Force officers from various vocations. The RSAF officers were subsequently commissioned in a tri-Service commissioning parade at SAFTI Military Institute.


Guests mingled with some of the officers at the end of the parade.


President Wee Kim Wee officiated at the tri-Service commissioning parade on 21 December 1985.


President Wee inspecting the tri-Service commissioning parade on 21 December 1985.


President Wee at the tri-Service commissioning parade on 21 December 1985.


Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong interacting with the newly commissioned RSAF officers.


Prime Minister Goh presenting an award to an officer.


Prime Minister Goh interacting with the newly comissioned officers.


Newly commissioned officers after the parade.


Prime Minister Goh fixing a brevet onto the uniform of an officer.


Prime Minister Goh presenting an award to an officer.


Prime Minister Goh presenting a sword to an officer.



The need for dedicated Air Force logistics officers – to tackle the growing complexities of supply and administrative tasks pertaining to Air Force operations – saw the introduction of the Air Force Executive Officer (AXO) scheme. It was set up to cover supply and administrative functions, and to train officers in specialised areas related to Air Force operations.


The scheme attracted men and women from various backgrounds.

MARCH 1982


The first Exercise Red Flag was held at Nellis Air Force Base in the United States. It was a high-end air combat exercise with the US Air Force and involved the RSAF’s F-5s from 144 Squadron and C-130s from 122 Squadron.


The RSAF team that took part in Exercise Red Flag in 1982.


A memento from Exercise Red Flag in 1983.

APRIL 1982


The Improved-Homing All the Way Killer (I-HAWK) surface-to-air missile system, operated by 163 SADA, is the first level of protection in Singapore’s multi-layered air defence shield and provides high-to-medium air defence. Acquiring the I-HAWK aided the development of the RSAF’s Ground Based Air Defence capabilities.


The I-HAWK surface-to-air missile system.


The I-HAWK live firing was carried out at McGregor Range in 1982.


In September 1982, the RSAF conducted its first live firing exercise to test the I-HAWK.


The live firing was held at McGregor Range in Fort Bliss in the US.


The I-HAWK system was transported to Singapore from the US after it attained full operational capability.


The I-HAWK arrived at Changi Airport from the US and was transported to the newly formed 163 SADA at Changi Camp.


The I-HAWK is operated by 163 SADA, which was formed on 1 May 1982. The I-HAWK system fills the gaps between the Bloodhound and other low-level air defence systems, as it is relatively more mobile and performs best at short ranges and low altitudes. The primary role of the I-HAWK battalion is to defend Singapore against medium- and low-level air attacks. 


SADA moved to Lim Chu Kang Camp II after it was completed in 1987.


Lim Chu Kang II became the new home of 163 SADA in 1987.


A final brief was given to SADA officers training in the US before their deployment.


In 1982, SADA officers deployed an I-HAWK while training in the US.

“It’s a rare opportunity to press the button and launch a live missile, a climax of preparations. The engagement was very powerful although it was about 40km in the sky. You could feel the ground shake!”

LTA Roland Wee, Flight Commander, 1984 who was one of 12 RSAF personnel who had spent three weeks in Sweden preparing for the live firing



To cope with the increased intake of helicopter pilot trainees, the RSAF procured a new fleet of AS-350B Écureuil helicopters in September 1982. These aircraft were used for basic training, while the UH-1B became the advanced trainer. The AS-350B was introduced to 123 Squadron for dedicated helicopter pilot training


Singapore was the first country to use the AS-350B for military purposes.



The Aeromedical Centre was inaugurated in October 1982 at Paya Lebar Air Base. It was conceived by MAJ (Dr) Lim Meng Kin, who saw the need for a centre of excellence that could develop deeper expertise in specialised clinical aviation medicine, aeromedical training for aircrew, and research on aircrew safety and performance. Located at the former Paya Lebar Airport's old departure hall, it was fully equipped with laboratory facilities.


ARMC conducted its first basic medicine course in the 1980s.


Second Minister for Defence Dr Yeo Ning Hong officiated at the commissioning of the new aeromedical centre.


Dr Yeo unveiling a plaque at the commissioning of the Aeromedical Centre.


The Aeromedical Officer badge is awarded to doctors who have completed their post-graduate specialist training to become Medical Officers in the RSAF. They provide aviation medical services to support the RSAF's operational efforts and ensure that airmen are fit for flying.



The RSAF responded swiftly to an urgent crisis when the tall mast of the Eniwetok, an oil rig, snapped the cable between Singapore and Sentosa. Two Bell 212 helicopters from the RSAF’s 120 Squadron helped save the 13 people who were trapped in the cable cars.


The air crew of 120 Squadron rescued passengers who were stranded in cable cars off Sentosa island on 19 January 1983.

“It was very difficult to maintain a fixed position above the cars... It was a real test of coordination and teamwork. We pilots didn’t really do much. The winchmen deserve the greatest credit. Theirs were the most difficult and dangerous tasks.”

LTA Kao Yit Chee, Pilot, 120 Squadron, 1983 who helmed the Bell 212 deployed for the rescue mission

“The first cable car’s door was jammed and I had a lot of difficulty opening it. To make things worse, I was swinging around a lot due to the strong winds and the helicopter’s downwash… It was an experience I will never forget.”

2WO Ramasamy Veerappa, Winchman, 120 Squadron, 1983 who was on board the Bell 212 for the mission

MAY 1983


One of the key defining milestones that raised the RSAF’s operational capabilities was the acquisition of the advanced F-16 A/B Fighting Falcons. Unlike the earlier aircraft, which had specific roles, the new jets allowed the RSAF to do more missions with a single aircraft type. They were assigned to 140 Squadron at Tengah Air Base and gradually replaced the ageing Hawker Hunters.


The F-16A/Bs are fully computerised multi-role aircraft with advanced avionics and an ability to fly at twice the speed of sound.

‘’It is now time for a new generation of jet fighters, the F-16 Fighting Falcons, to lead the RSAF into the 1990s, and into the 21st  century.’’

BG (Ret) Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Trade and Industry and Second Minister for Defence, 1990

JULY 1983


On 1 July 1983, Air Force System Command (AFSC) was formed, merging the formally distinct worlds of Air Traffic and Air Defence Controllers. This union led to the formation of the System Command Training School (SCTS), which was established at Paya Lebar Air Base. This enhanced training opportunities and gave Air Traffic Controllers greater exposure.


At the computer-aided instruction centre of the SCTS, trainees learned air operations technique through computer simulations.



August 1983, 140 Squadron took part in the first Exercise Air Thai-Sing with the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) in Korat, Thailand.


The RSAF’s F-5E and F-16 fighter jets participated in Exercise Air Thai-Sing, which was led by an F-16 from the RTAF in Thailand.


A brochure on Exercise Air Thai-Sing from 19 to 23 September 1983.  


The closing ceremony programme of Exercise Air Thai-Sing in September 1983.  

“The RSAF is indeed fortunate to have the support of the Royal Thai Air Force. This support has enabled RSAF  personnel and aircraft to train in Thailand since 1978. We have gained tremendously from our interactions with the RTAF…this convergence of interests…will pave the way for increased interactions and cooperation between the RTAF and RSAF.”

COL Gary Yeo, RSAF Deputy Commander, 1983 on the friendship that Singapore has nurtured with Thailand through its defence relations



Backing up the I-HAWK was the British Aerospace Rapier, a short-range, surface-to-air system that could react quickly and was highly mobile. The Rapier was equipped with a Mach 2 missile that could be guided optically or via a radar tracker, and could take out low-level intruders within a range of 7.2km. With the acquisition of the Rapier, 165 SADA (now 165 Squadron) was formed and the Rapier achieved full operational capability in March 1986.


The British Aerospace Rapier SAM system was equipped with a Mach 2 missile that could either be guided optically or via a radar tracker.


165 SADA was formed with MAJ Yam Ah Mee as its first Commanding Officer to operate the Rapier.


The first Rapier live firing was conducted in Australia in 1984.


The pioneer Rapier operators in Australia, for the live firing exercise in June 1984.



The training of Defence Engineering and Scientific Officers and Air Engineering Officers (AEO) was merged at AETI in 1983. By 1984, synergies in logistics and technical training were reaped in the first combined course for Air Maintenance Officers (AMO) and AEOs.


The pioneer batch of AMOs that later become the mainstay of the RSAF’s logistics operations.

APRIL 1984


Exercise Cope Thunder was conducted at Clarke Air Base in the Philippines, in which 144 Squadron participated for the first time in 1984. Organised by the US Air Force to give aircrew their first taste of warfare, it was a highly realistic air combat training exercise.


The RSAF's 144 Squadron participated in the bilateral exercise for the first time in 1984. 


This exercise helped to further develop and hone the airmen's operational standards and capabilities.



The SIAI-Marchetti S-211 jet trainer was acquired to meet the RSAF’s growing demands for advanced jet training. On 30 November 1984, the RSAF received its first S-211 jet trainer from Italy. This began the gradual phasing out of 130 Squadron’s ageing Strikemaster and T-33 fleets.


The final flight of the T-33s was accompanied by the new S-211s in formation in 1986.


The RSAF purchased 30 S-211 jet trainers from Italy in November 1983.

JULY 1985


The RSAF acquired the AS-332 Super Puma helicopters to meet operational demands. These helicopters became the mainstay of air support for Army operations in terms of troop lift and resupply as well as Search and Rescue. They form 125 and 126 Squadrons, and are located at Sembawang Air Base.


The Super Puma helicopters arrived in 1985 at Sembawang Air Base in wooden crates.


The Super Pumas were assembled by the technicians at Sembawang Air Base. 


The new helicopters were assigned to 125 Squadron, which was inaugurated on 4 October 1985.


The Super Pumas are also operated by 126 Squadron.

“Considering the distance and the nature of the incident, and that the rescue was to be done at night, we decided the Super Puma was better equipped to do the job.”

MAJ Chia Sin Kwong, Commanding Officer, 125 Squadron, 1986 who deployed a Super Puma to evacuate a doctor suffering from brain haemorrhage in Pulau Tioman

March 1986


In the aftermath of the Hotel New World collapse, 120 Squadron responded with one Bell 212 and two UH-1H helicopters to render round-the-clock casualty evacuation for six days. The UH-1Hs were on standby at Farrer Park to airlift casualties to Singapore General Hospital (SGH), and helped save the lives of 17 victims rescued from the rubble.


Farrer Park was the designated evacuation point and operations ran like clockwork. 


Survivors who needed urgent treatment were sent to the evacuation point by ambulance.


Survivors were then airlifted to SGH via the UH-1H helicopter within four minutes. 


The Search and Rescue operation not only involved the SAF and several government agencies but also volunteer groups and even the public.

“It was a very short and sharp affair. The casualties arrived and were brought in almost immediately after start-up. We took off with six on board and, in less than five minutes, were touching down at the SGH helipad.”

 CPT Simon Tan, Pilot, 1986  who was one of the UH-1H pilots who airlifted casualties to SGH

April 1986


As part of the RSAF’s initiative to raise its operational readiness, aircraft were launched and recovered from a public road for the first time on 16 April 1986. Exercise Torrent saw A-4s and F-5s taking off from the 2.5km-long Lim Chu Kang Road, which had been converted into a military airstrip. In the exercise, airmen familiarised themselves with operating on an emergency runway in day and night conditions.


Exercise Torrent was the first RSAF road runway exercise that involved the F-5 and A-4 aircraft.


An F-5 landing on Lim Chu Kang Road, which was converted into a military airstrip.


The RSAF conducted air-to-air refuelling for the first time when two KC-130Bs refuelled eight Skyhawks that were en route to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Operated by 122 Squadron, the KC-130Bs were modified from the C-130Bs by Singapore Technologies Aerospace.


A KC-130B refuelling two A-4s that were en route to Clark Air Base.

December 1986


To enlarge the pool of RSAF pilot recruitment, the Aeromedical Centre began accepting trainee pilots with mild myopia from December 1986.


An RSAF recruitment brochure in the 1980s.

November 1987


The Peace Carvin detachment was established in 1987, when the RSAF acquired an initial batch of eight F-16A/B Fighting Falcons. The fi­rst detachment was set up at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. It ended in 1990 when all eight F-16A/Bs were flown back to Singapore and were assigned to 140 Squadron.


The RSAF established the Peace Carvin Detachment to help new aircraft become fully operational more quickly.


The detachment also allowed the RSAF to overcome the constraints of limited training airspace and terrain in Singapore.

“When Singapore decided to purchase the F-16A/Bs in 1983...we kept the aircraft in the United States for two years. This detachment in the United States was very beneficial to the pilots and crew. By the time the F-16s reached Singapore in January, they were already operational.”

BG (Ret) Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Trade and Industry and Second Minister for Defence, 1990


The F-16A/Bs in Arizona in 1987.

March 1987


The four E-2C Hawkeyes acquired from the United States in the mid-1980s provided continuous air surveillance and early warning of air threats. Together with engineers from the Singapore defence industry, the aircraft’s computing software systems were upgraded and entirely rewritten to meet real-time performance needs. The aircraft were assigned to the newly inaugurated 111 Squadron at Tengah Air Base in April 1990 and provided over-the-horizon surveillance, which significantly improved the RSAF’s operational response to air threats. 


The RSAF’s ­first two E-2C Hawkeyes arrived at Paya Lebar Air Base on 18 March 1987.


Acquiring the E-2C Hawkeye enabled the RSAF to be the first Air Force in the region to have an Airborne Early Warning capability.


The E-2C improved the RSAF’s operational response to air threats.

April 1987


Due to the lack of training airspace in Singapore, the RSAF set up the FSC to accelerate the speed and learning curve of A-4 and F-5 trainee pilots through advanced computer-based flight simulation training. Flight simulators have been playing a bigger role in the development of the RSAF by complementing, supplementing, and, in certain cases, replacing actual flights. They are also useful in assessing a pilot’s proficiency, mental awareness, and judgement in handling operational situations

The FSC housed two Operational Flight Trainers and a double-domed Air Combat Simulator (ACS).

The A-4 Operational Flight Trainer was used for basic and advanced training for A-4 and F-5 pilots.


Operators at the ACS control terminal

“Many studies have shown the effectiveness of simulator training…we also intend to employ the simulators for other purposes such as the development of tactics and the exploration of new operational concepts.’’

 BG (Ret) Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Trade and Industry and Second Minister for Defence, 1987who officiated at the opening of the centre at Paya Lebar Air Base

“With the acquisition of more complex aircraft systems and advanced inflight simulation, the RSAF will continue to look into ways and means to ensure that the pilots remain proficient and that every flight hour is well utilised.”

MAJ Goh Chye Lee, Commanding Officer, Flight Simulator Centre, 1987 on the FSC's importance to pilot training

“Simulators provide safe training at a lower cost for the operators, saving fuel and reducing adverse environmental effects. With the aid of the simulators, pilots and aircrew will be able to master the operation and management of aircraft avionics and systems even before they step into the actual aircraft.”

Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Labour and Second Minister for Defence, 1992

August 1987


In 1987, LTC Timothy De Souza became the first RSAF officer to be appointed parade commander for the National Day Parade


The National Day Parade at the Padang in 1987 had an RSAF officer as the parade commander for the first time.


The state flag flypast in 1987 also involved the Super Pumas for the first time, led by MAJ Chia Sin Kwong.

January 1988


The A-4 Skyhawks that the RSAF had received in 1973 were saved from obsolescence after they were locally refurbished by the Singapore Aerospace Maintenance Company, which is known today as Singapore Technologies Aerospace. The new A-4SU Super Skyhawks were retrofitted with advanced engines and had more than 100 modifications before they made their public debut in January 1988.

The major changes that transformed the Skyhawk into the Super Skyhawk.


The Skyhawk upgrading marked the first major collaboration between the RSAF and Singapore’s nascent aviation industry.


Thanks to the enhanced performance of the A-4SUs, 143 Squadron went on to win the best fighter squadron award at the SAF Best Unit Competition in 1989 and 1990.

April 1988


In 1988, 165 SADA received its fi­rst batch of Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) who had been trained in Air Defence Artillery (ADA). NSFs began playing a more prominent role in the RSAF.


The pioneer batch of NSFs who were trained in Air Defence Artillery.


The Rapier crew after a successful live-firing exercise.


The second Rapier live firing at the Royal Artillery Range Hebrides in Britain.


Gunners being congratulated for hitting the target at 165 SADA's first Rapier live firing in Hebrides.

September 1988


The Air Force Museum was first established at Changi Air Base in 1988 to capture the RSAF's spirit and heritage. It was revamped and reopened on 3 September 1991, with three halls showcasing over 1,000 exhibits and a large aircraft display area. 


The Air Force Museum was first opened on 1 September 1988.


An aerial view of the Air Force Museum when it was first built.


It had over 1,000 exhibits spread over three halls and a large aircraft display


A poster of the museum’s opening in 1988.


Chief of Defence Force LG Winston Choo signing the visitor book at the reopening ceremony.

January 1989


The Singapore Air Defence Artillery badge was launched in 1989 to instill a sense of identity, pride, and belonging among personnel trained in ADA. It recognised their professionalism and expertise in operating ADA systems.


Chief of General Staff LG Winston Choo pinning the SADA badge on LTC Yam Ah Mee, Commander of SADA


These SADA badges were worn by ADA Officers and Warrant Officers from 1989.

March 1989


In March 1989, the Siabu Air Weapons Range in Indonesia was commissioned. The range enabled the RSAF and the Indonesian Air Force to conduct air weapons training with various types of combat aircraft. Here, pilots from both Air Forces learned from one another and honed their skills in air-to-ground target practices such as rocketry, gunnery, and bombing.

Last updated on 23 Feb 2017
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