A distress call has been received by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). A commercial aircraft has been hijacked by terrorists and is en route to Singapore. The terrorists threaten to blow up the aircraft and kill all the passengers and crew on board.
The Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) Air Defence Task Force (ADTF) immediately kicks into high gear. Two F-16 C/D fighter jets are scrambled and deployed to investigate.
On the ground, an I-HAWK and two RBS-70 Ground-Based Air Defence systems are primed and ready.
The F-16s locate the hijacked aircraft and successfully escort it to Changi Air Base, keeping a close eye from the air until it comes to a complete stop. Singapore Police Force (SPF) officers are already in position to cordon it off.
This was the scenario played out during Exercise Vigilant Shield, which was conducted by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) on 14 Mar. The exercise tests the coordinated response by the RSAF, SPF and CAAS in defending Singapore against a simulated hijacked aircraft.
The exercise was witnessed by Senior Minister of State for Defence, Mr Heng Chee How, who reiterated that Singapore remains a terrorist target and that security forces must remain robust to tackle the evolving threats: "On the part of the (security) forces, we monitor very closely all the developments, whether in technology, equipment, (or) methods of operation. And we will develop the capabilities in tandem with these changes and make sure that we are on top of them."
Noting previous hijacking incidents that had occurred in Singapore, such as the hijacking of Singapore Airlines flight SQ117 in 1991, Mr Heng said that evolving methods used by terrorists were worrying but also "cause us to want to be ever vigilant, and to coordinate among the different forces – not only those within the SAF…but also with related agencies such as the Police and CAAS, to make sure that our reflexes are honed and we are able to respond resolutely, swiftly, decisively."
This is the third iteration of the exercise, which tests the RSAF's capabilities in responding to transnational terrorist threats from the air. It was previously conducted in 2014 and 2016.
While the exercise scenarios always involve the hijacking of a civil aircraft, the response may be different. Thus it is important for the agencies to work together to test their linkages, said Exercise Vigilant Shield 2019 Chief Planner Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Zanna Lee.
"When a threat situation occurs in the air, we must make sure that the information flow between the various agencies remains robust and tight, so that the appropriate ground action can be carried out when we land the aircraft…
"All these agencies play an important part in how we orchestrate our air defence and protect the sovereignty of Singapore and the safety of our people. This exercise allows us to oil all these processes and linkages, to ensure that everyone keeps current of how we do things," said the 43-year-old Air Warfare Officer.
She added that this year's exercise also reflected the future expansion plans of Changi Airport, and took into consideration increased air traffic and the safety of nearby civil aircraft during operations.
Superintendent Chong Chung Meng, Head Operations, Airport Police Division, agreed. "Nothing beats having a real exercise to ensure that the agencies are able to coordinate, because on the ground there may be some differences in understanding.
"This exercise was critical in helping our officers to practise these processes to make sure that the comms, coordination and movement of officers are in line with the plans. And together with our RSAF counterparts, we are able to ensure that our response is swift and to the point of where we want them to be," said the 41-year-old.
Exercises such as this are crucial in preparing the forces for real threats and operations, said Captain (CPT) Spencer Lee. The Air Warfare Officer was the Air Defence Coordinator for the Scoot TR634 incident in April 2018. Two RSAF F-15SG jets were scrambled to escort the plane, headed for Hat Yai Thailand, back to Singapore when a passenger reported a false bomb threat.
"These exercises are important so that we can continue to work with one another and identify potential gaps and address them properly, and address the security challenges that we may face in the future," said the 32-year-old, who is now a Staff Officer in the Air Warfare Centre.
"We should never take for granted the peace that we have today. We need to safeguard our interests (and) security, and this can be done through regular exercises."