Sky shield

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09 Jan 2017 | OPS & TRAINING
Melayu 华文

Sky shield

STORY // Teo Jing Ting
PHOTO // PIONEER Photographers & Courtesy of RSAF

English Melayu

It is 2am. A civil airliner suspected of being hijacked approaches Singapore's airspace.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and ADTF pick up this information, and within minutes, two F-15SGs from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) scramble to intercept the aircraft.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the RSAF Ground-Based Air Defence (GBAD) units and other assets are put on high alert. After intercepting the aircraft, the F-15SGs escort it to Changi Airport where the Singapore Police Force (SPF) awaits to cordon off the plane.

This coordinated response in Exercise Vigilant Shield was witnessed by Chief of Air Force Major-General (MG) Mervyn Tan on 28 Nov 2016.

Noting that the exercise showcased a robust networked air defence system and tight inter-agency links, MG Tan added that the RSAF would continue to strengthen its ability to defend Singapore's airspace.

Strengthening linkages

Organised by the ADTF, the biennial exercise involved about 400 participants from the RSAF, the CAAS and the SPF.

Assets from the RSAF included the F-15SG fighter aircraft, AH-64D Apache attack helicopter as well as GBAD systems such as the I-Hawk, Surface-to-Air PYthon and DERby (SPYDER) and the RBS 70.

Exercise Director and Commander ADTF Brigadier-General (BG) Tan Chee Wee highlighted that the exercise tests the linkages among the RSAF, SPF, CAAS and Changi Airport Group (CAG) to ensure that a strong air defence system is in place.

Formed in 2010, the ADTF has been monitoring the skies 24/7. BG Tan, who is also Commander Air Defence and Operations Command, said the task force has been working very closely with other units in the Singapore Armed Forces and with other agencies to protect Singapore against 9/11-style attacks coming from the air domain.

He added: "We investigate aircraft that may not have a clear identity or intent. Some of these incidents belong to the potential terror attacks' category, and we take them very seriously."

Flight interception

Once activated, the F-15SG Weapon Systems Operator (WSO) (Fighter) and his pilot will scramble to intercept the suspicious aircraft and find out its intentions.

Major (MAJ) Kenny Khoo, a WSO (Fighter), explained that the two F-15SGs will approach the aircraft from the 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock positions to get within visual range. They will subsequently rock their wings to get the pilot's attention before attempting to establish radio communications with the aircraft.

F-15SG pilot Lieutenant (LTA) Julian Low elaborated: "As I update the ground controller on the suspicious aircraft's intentions, he will pass me specific instructions on what it wants the aircraft to do. My WSO (Fighter) will then notify the aircraft."

In the exercise scenario, the initially unresponsive aircraft was found to have insufficient fuel to fly to its destination. Escorted by the F-15SGs, the aircraft was eventually cleared by the CAAS to land at the airport.


"As I update the ground controller on the suspicious aircraft's intentions, he will pass me specific instructions on what it wants the aircraft to do. My WSO (Fighter) will then notify the aircraft."
-During an interception, LTA Low will communicate with the RSAF controller while his WSO (Fighter)communicates with the pilot in the suspicious aircraft.


Look to the skies

Even as the pilots are intercepting the suspicious aircraft, the GBAD systems are already in position and on high alert.

Captain (CPT) Lokender Singh, an Air Warfare Officer (AWO) (GBAD) from 165 Squadron, said: "We take instructions from the controllers and observe the suspicious plane. If we need to execute the operation, we will do it accordingly."

As each GBAD system has its own optimal firing range,

these assets form part of the RSAF's multi-layered, networked air defence system, with the fighter jets forming the outermost ring, followed by the I-Hawk, SPYDER and the RBS 70 in the inner layers.

When needed, the AWO (Command, Control and Communications) [C3] will decide on the most suitable GBAD system to deal with the threat.

Always alert

Scenarios like these may be practised biennially, but the ADTF takes the initiative to conduct yearly table-top exercises with the various agencies.

They also step up vigilance and tighten security measures if necessary when reports of emerging air threats are received, said BG Tan.

"Whenever there are any developments overseas, such as terror attacks and alerts issued by the global community, we take them very seriously and conduct studies with our partners to look at the implications to Singapore's air defence (and then) take the necessary steps to upgrade our posture accordingly."

He added: "Together with the SPF and CAAS, we execute a whole-of-government approach to tackling air threats around Singapore.

"We (will always) identify areas that need to be strengthened, be they processes or linkages, so that our responses are always up to task."


Guarding our skies


Exercise Vigilant Shield demonstrates the Air Defence Task Force's (ADTF's) capabilities in responding to potential air threats with a robust 24/7 networked air defence system. The ADTF, part of the Singapore Armed Forces' High Readiness Core, monitors the skies over Singapore and responds swiftly and decisively to potential air threats.


The ADTF maintains 24/7 air surveillance over Singapore's skies. When a suspicious aircraft deviates from its flight path, the ADTF works quickly on sense-making and coordinating a response with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF). Air and ground security measures are enhanced.


The ADTF scrambles air defence fighters to respond to the suspicious aircraft. At the same time, it activates Ground-Based Air Defence (GBAD) units and other assigned assets to adopt a high-readiness posture, and also coordinates with CAAS to clear the surrounding airspace to deconflict civilian traffic from the suspicious aircraft.


The air defence fighters intercept and identify the suspicious aircraft. They then escort the suspicious aircraft to ensure that it obeys all instructions.


The air defence fighters continue to escort the suspicious aircraft while the GBAD systems remain on high alert until it lands. Once the aircraft lands, it will be cordoned off by SPF.


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