This year marks the 50th anniversary of the RSAF. Our Air Force has come a long way over these 50 years, when Singapore started with almost no air defence capability. Today, we have put together a formidable air defence arsenal and the RSAF is recognised as one of the most modern and competent air forces in the region.
The 1st Generation RSAF was known as the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC). It was inaugurated on 1 Sep 1968, and later renamed as the RSAF in July 1975. The SADC started off with two Cessna aircraft from the Singapore Flying Club. It achieved its first milestone two years after its inauguration – the addition of the British-made Hawker Hunter on 8 Sep 1970 equipped the SADC with its first fighter aircraft, marking its foray into air warfare. Subsequently, the RSAF entered the realm of supersonic flight with the Northrop F-5/F Tiger II fighter aircraft on 19 Feb 1979, strengthening its air superiority and its ability to execute many more air defence and air combat operations. Today, the RSAF is currently operating both the F-16C/D and F-15SG fighter aircraft, which are among the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. The next milestone for the SADC was the inauguration of its first helicopter SQN, which was declared operational on 29 Sep 1969. It operated the French-made Alouette III helicopter and was primarily used for Search-and-Rescue (SAR) missions and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) missions. Within two years of its formation, the SQN was called upon to participate in the Kuantan flood relief operations. Likewise, the RSAF’s helicopters have developed new roles and capabilities locally and overseas, particularly in joint operations with the Army and Navy. This was particularly so with the acquisition of the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter, CH-47D Chinook helicopter, AS332M Super Puma helicopter and S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter.
Apart from aircraft, Ground-Based Air Defence (GBAD) systems were also necessary to enhance the SADC’s capability to defend Singapore's skies. In order to achieve this, the SADC acquired the Swiss-made 35mm Oerlikon Gun as well as the Bristol Bloodhound Mark II Surface-to-Air missiles. The RSAF has since evolved tremendously and acquired many more advanced GBAD assets, providing Singapore with a multi-layered air defence. Today, the RSAF is currently operating the Improved Homing All the Way Killer (I-HAWK), RBS-70 and the Surface-to-Air PYthon and DERby (SPYDER) GBAD systems, as well as the Agile Multiple Beam Radar, the Portable Search and Target Acquisition Radar, the Multi-Mission Radar, and the System for Hybrid Interceptor Knowledge of Recognised Air Radar.
Our transport aircraft are the pillars of our air and land operations, enabling us to transport cargo, men and equipment as well as providing air surveillance and air support. During the SADC’s infancy, the Skyvans were purchased in 1972 to meet the SAF’s air transport and Search and Locate needs. It was later assigned to be the Navy’s “eye in the sky” after the concept of Maritime Air Surveillance developed. Following that, the C-130 and KC-135 transport aircraft, Fokker-50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and G-550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft were acquired to allow the RSAF and SAF to carry out a wide range of operations.
One of the most recent advancements in the RSAF's capabilities was marked by the Air Force's development of their unmanned capability. The RSAF acquired the Hermes 450 (H450) UAV in 2007, and it achieved Full Operational Capability (FOC) in 2015. The H450 was the RSAF's first advanced UAV, and boasts better sensors and image processing as well as a longer flight time compared to the older UAVs. The Heron 1 UAV, the latest in the RSAF's unmanned arsenal, achieved FOC in Mar 17, replacing the Searcher UAVs that were in service since 1994.
3rd Gen Transformation
The structure of the RSAF has evolved to meet Singapore’s increasingly complex air defence needs throughout the years. Before a reorganisation into the 3rd Generation RSAF, the Air Force was structured according to the Air Bases. Subsequently, as the RSAF grew, the re-organisation into the 3rd Gen RSAF allowed it to become a more responsive organisation.
On 5 Jan 07, then Minister for Defence, Mr Teo Chee Hean, announced the restructuring of the RSAF into five operational Commands during the inauguration of Air Defence and Operations Command at Chong Pang Camp. At the ceremony, Mr Teo emphasized the need for the RSAF to be vigilant. He said, “The RSAF must provide vigilant and robust island air defence, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to ensure the sovereignty of our territorial air-space and guard against transnational terrorist threats. It must also be ready to deploy for contingency operations in our region and beyond, including peace support missions and humanitarian and disaster relief operations, often at a moment’s notice. The RSAF therefore needs new and more flexible and capable structures to better undertake the full spectrum of operations from peace to war.” With this structural change to the 3rd Gen RSAF, the new Commands complemented HQ RSAF – which consists of established departments to oversee strategic and policy-level development of manpower, intelligence, operations, logistics, plans, training and safety issues for the RSAF. On 21 Mar 2010, the 6th Command, Air Force Training Command, was inaugurated. This marked the completion of the transformation to the 3rd Gen RSAF.
The re-organisation of the RSAF enhanced its ability to support the SAF in complex environments, allowing it to contribute more effectively to the SAF’s operations across the air, land and sea domains. The organisation’s transformation to meet Singapore’s growing air defence needs has cemented its position as one of the leading air forces in the region.
Maintaining operational readiness
Participation in local and overseas exercises has been essential in maintaining the RSAF’s capabilities as a cutting edge air force. Overseas bilateral exercises have allowed the RSAF to benchmark itself against leading international air forces, while local exercises have allowed the RSAF to maintain a high level of operational readiness. Large-scale exercises that the RSAF frequently participates in include Exercise Wallaby, the SAF’s largest unilateral overseas training exercise held in Shoalwater Bay, Australia; Exercise Pitch Black, a large-scale multinational air combat exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force in Darwin, Australia; Exercise Cope Tiger, an annual trilateral air exercise with the Royal Thai Air Force and the United States Air Force in Korat Air Base, Thailand; the Exercise Red Flag series, air combat exercises held in Nevada, United States of America; and Exercise Forging Sabre, an integrated strike exercise held in Phoenix, Arizona. Local exercises include Exercise Torrent, the RSAF’s alternate runway exercise which demonstrates the RSAF’s ability to convert a public road into an operational runway in times of contingency, as well as its operational capability and readiness to operate from a public road to deliver air power; and the Exercise Bersama series, which are major Five Power Defence Arrangements exercises.
In addition to having a strong and credible defence, the RSAF showed that it was able to respond effectively in times of need, both locally and overseas. It has taken part in several notable rescue missions such as the Singapore Cable Car Disaster in 1983 and the Hotel New World collapse in 1986; disaster relief operations for the Kuantan Flood in 1971, Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Nepal and Christchurch earthquakes; and fire-fighting aid to Thailand and Indonesia.