Republic of Singapore Air Force
By Marco Pennings
Introduction Singapore declared independence from Britain unilaterally in August 1963, before joining the Federation of Malaysia in September. Singapore was expelled from the Federation two years later, after a heated conflict between the state's PAP government and the federal government in Kuala Lumpur. Three years after Singapore had formally declared independence on August 9, 1965, the RSAF took flight as the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) on September 1, 1968. In January 1968, the British had announced the imminent withdrawal of all their troops east of Suez by September 1971. When Britain brought forward its plan to withdraw its forces, the SADC was suddenly entrusted with a huge responsibility and resources. Britain’s former air bases – Tengah, Seletar, Sembawang and Changi – were handed over to the SADC, as well as its air defence radar station and Bloodhound II surface-to-air missiles. Prior to then, Singapore had depended completely on Britain's Royal Air Force for its air defence, while the newly established Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had concentrated its efforts mainly on building up the Singapore Army. On April 1, 1975, the SADC was renamed the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
The SADC’s immediate task was to set up the Flying Training School to train pilots. Basic training for pilots was carried out using two Cessna 172s from the Singapore Flying Club. In September 1968, the SADC purchased its first aircraft, a Cessna 172H from a private owner. However, a more important milestone was the procurement of eight Cessna 172K Skyhawks to form the SADC's first flying unit, Falcon Squadron. The eight aircraft arrived at RAF Seletar in May 1969. The pace of training pilots and ground crew picked up gradually. On August 1, 1969, the Flying Training School (FTS) was inaugurated at Tengah Air Base (then known as RAF Tengah). This brought SADC closer to its goal of fulfilling the heavy responsibility of defending Singapore's airspace. The subsequent arrival of sixteen BAC Strikemaster Mk84s from October 1969, used for the advanced flying training phase with 130 Squadron, meant that pilot trainees were now able to earn their initial wings locally rather than overseas. Gradually, the SADC had its own pilots, flying instructors, air traffic controllers, and ground crew. The Strikemaster was replaced by the S.211 from 1984.
The SF260MS was chosen as a Cessna 172 replacement during 1971, for the basic flying training role. Sixteen aircraft were ordered and twelve additional SF260WS by 1981. The aircraft entered service with 150 Squadron at Seletar in 1972. The fleet of SF260s was withdrawn from use in November 1999 after the RSAF shifted its pilot training programme to Australia and switched to a different type of trainer aircraft. The history of 150 Squadron was passed on to the A-4 Skyhawk squadron based at Cazaux, France.
During the late 1970s the RSAF underwent a rapid expansion in aircraft, particularly in fast jets. To facilitate this expansion, the RSAF needed a new trainer aircraft. As a result, twenty ex-Armee de l'Air Lockheed T-33As were acquired, these being delivered between 1979 and 1982. No 131 Squadron was formed in Tengah to operate these aircraft. With the consolidation of the RSAF FTS at Paya Lebar in 1983, 131 Squadron moved to its new home that year. Beginning in 1984, the newly acquired S.211 trainer started operating with the RSAF, and by 1987 the last T-33s were retired. A total of 32 S.211s were received and operated by 130 Squadron and 131 Squadron at Paya Lebar from 1984. All surviving S.211s were concentrated in 130 Squadron and moved to RAAF Pearce from September 1993. The S.211 was replaced by the PC-21 between April and August 2008.
The Fighter Force
In July 1968, an agreement was sealed with the British aircraft company Hawker Siddeley, to deliver an initial batch of twenty Hawker Hunters for the SADC; twelve FGA74s, four T75s and four FR74As, which were to be delivered from December 1969. Initial pilot training was provided by the Singapore Operational Training Flight based at RAF Chivenor and part of 229 OCU. As a result of the purchase, the first fighter squadron in the SADC, 140 Squadron was formed at Tengah in September 1970, comprising both local and British personnel. A second deal provided another 27 Hunters to the SADC; 22 Hunter FR74B recce aircraft and five Hunter T75As. This time, 141 Squadron was formed at Tengah in November 1972. Also in 1972, a team of SADC officers made their way to the United States to select and purchase used A-4Bs from the US Navy. The first test flight of the modified A-4S was successfully concluded on July 14, 1973. The first A-4S/TA-4S Skyhawk unit, 142 Squadron, was formed at Changi in February 1974 while 143 Squadron was also raised at Changi in February 1975.
With the purchase of additional A-4B/C airframes, an upgraded Skyhawk was produced; the T/A-4S-1. This allowed for the formation of 145 Squadron at Tengah on April 1, 1984, and the replacement of the older T/A-4S. A second upgrade of the T/A-4S-1 airframes produced the final T/A-4SU version, which became operational in 1989. The RSAF Skyhawk training unit based at Tengah, 143 Squadron, was disbanded in late 1997 with its aircraft reassigned to 150 Squadron, which was subsequently relocated to Cazaux Air Base in France as an advanced training squadron providing lead-in fighter training for RSAF F-16 pilots. This site was selected because it provided access to bombing ranges and airspace over the North Atlantic. In 2003, 145 Squadron retired its Skyhawks. The last A-4 Skyhawk squadron based in Singapore, 142 Gryphons, was disbanded on March 31, 2005. However, 150 Squadron continues to provide weapons training and qualification.
By late 1976, a Letter of Offer for the supply of eighteen Northrop F-5Es and three F-5Fs was taken up by the Government of Singapore. The first batch arrived at Tengah on February 19, 1979 on board a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy. Operator of these aircraft was 144 Squadron formed on February 13, 1979. Its main role was interception, doubling as Operational Conversion Unit (OCU). 144 Squadron was the first to operate the upgraded STAero/Northrop F-5S and F-5T from 1996, maintaining its role as a fighter unit and as an OCU. Today, 144 Squadron is the last remaining F-5 unit. The sale of an additional six Northrop F-5Es was notified to the US Congress in July 1980. They were delivered in mid-1981. Nine more F-5E/Fs were delivered, and when enough aircraft were finally available; 149 Squadron based at Tengah was formed as the second F-5 unit on June 1, 1985. Conversion of 149 Squadron to the more advanced STAero/Northrop F-5S/F-5T followed in 1998.
Having served for the best part of twenty years, it was time for the RSAF to replace the ageing Hunters with newer aircraft that would expand its operational capabilities and lead it to the next millennium. In 1985, the RSAF announced that it would be purchasing F-16s to replace the Hunter Fleet. The first batch of eight F-16A/Bs was based at Luke AFB for two years, from 1988 to 1989. On January 9, 1990, the first of four F-16As and four F-16Bs arrived at Paya Lebar from the Peace Carvin I detachment at Luke AFB. On February 8, 1990, 140 Squadron was re-commissioned at Tengah, replacing Hunter with Falcon. From August 1998, F-16C/Ds from the Peace Carvin II (Luke AFB) and Peace Carvin III (Cannon AFB) detachments augmented the fleet. The surviving F-16A/Bs were given to the Thai AF in 2005. 141 Squadron was the last Hawker Hunter FR74/FGA74/T75 equipped unit. It disbanded following the final landing of a Hunter at Paya Lebar on March 26, 1992. Late 1994, the squadron reformed at Paya Lebar with the F-5E and eight RF-5Es converted from F-5Es by STAero. The unit later re-equipped with the STAero/Northrop F-5S/T/RF-5S. It was finally disbanded in November 2005, with its aircraft being reassigned to 144 Squadron and 149 Squadron.
Late 1997, the RSAF advanced jet training unit 143 Squadron was disbanded at Tengah, and its T/A-4SUs were transferred to 150 Squadron at Cazaux in France in September 1998. In 2000, 143 Squadron was reactivated again at Tengah, flying the F-16C/D. A total of 22 F-16Cs and twenty F-16Ds were bought by Singapore. After almost twenty years using the Skyhawk, 145 Squadron at Tengah ceased A-4SU operations on April 30, 2003. On July 3, 2004, the squadron was re-activated at Changi (East), a new airbase east of Changi International Airport. The unit operates the ultimate Falcon in the shape of twenty F-16D-52+ fighters delivered under project Peace Carvin IV and became operational on May 24, 2006. The latest addition to Singapore’s impressive fighter force is the F-15SG. Twelve were ordered in December 2005 under Peace Carvin V, with another twelve soon afterwards. On April 5, 2010, 149 Squadron was inaugurated at Paya Lebar as the first local F-15SG unit.
On September 30, 1969, the first Alouette III helicopter arrived. Subsequently the Alouette Squadron was formed at Seletar on Oct 1, 1969. It was initially located at Royal Air Force (RAF) Seletar and came under the command of the FTS. Being the pioneer of the helicopter squadron, it bore the responsibility for training future helicopter pilots. On December 16, 1973, the squadron's designation was changed to 120 Squadron. The squadron continued to operate the Alouettes until 1977, when the aircraft were no longer able to meet the SAF's growing needs. In 1977, three Bell 212s for search-and-rescue (SAR) duties and seventeen general-purpose UH-1Hs were acquired, and the helicopters joined the squadron in February and August respectively. In February 1978, 120 Squadron bade farewell to its Alouettes. Their new Hueys would lead the way into the new decade. 120 Squadron initiated the RSAF's first permanent overseas detachment in September 1978, when three UH-1s were deployed to Brunei for the first time. Their role was primarily to support the SAF's jungle training conducted there. SAR duties were transferred to 125 Squadron at the end of 1985, and the Bell 212s were retired after a decade of eventful service by November 1986. The squadron’s main roles remained air recce, internal security, rappelling, trooplift and logistics support. In the early 80’s, 120 Squadron moved from Changi to Kangaw Camp. When the Singapore Artillery shifted to Khatib Camp in 1983, Kangaw Camp was handed over to the RSAF and renamed as Sembawang Air Base (SBAB). SBAB became the focal point of helicopter operations. The last UH-1H flight in Singapore took place on July 11, 2005. Five helicopters remained in Brunei until late 2005, after which the type was withdrawn from use. As a replacement for the UH-1H, Singapore ordered eight AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, and the first one was handed over on May 17, 2002. An extra batch of twelve Apaches was ordered in 2001, so eventually the RSAF received twenty of these sophisticated helicopters. With eight helicopters remaining in the US for training with the Peace Vanguard detachment, the remainder formed 120 Squadron at Sembawang on June 26, 2006.
A new unit, 123 Squadron, was established at Changi to take care of basic rotary wing training in July 1979. The squadron shared aircraft with 120 Squadron until 1980, when it received its own helicopters. Thirty UH-1Bs were removed from MASDC in Arizona, and twenty refurbished airframes became operational leaving ten as spares. In July 1981, an Ops Flight was formed, adding an operational dimension to 123 Squadron's roles and functions. To cope with the increased intake of helicopter pilots, the RSAF then procured a new fleet of six AS350B Ecureuil helicopters in September 1982. These aircraft were used for the basic training phase, while the UH-1B became the advanced trainer. Ten years later, ten AS550C-2 and ten AS550U-2 Fennecs were purchased to replace the Ecureuil and UH-1B, and were delivered in 1991. The aircraft were used as basic trainers, but could also be configured to take on observation and light attack roles. 123 Squadron was reorganised in October 1993, taking on the latter roles, while 124 Squadron was formed to take on training responsibilities. The UH-1B was withdrawn form service in 1992, followed by the AS350B. By February 2004, 123 Squadron at Sembawang had been disbanded, and her AS550C-2s transferred to 124 Squadron which also used the AS550U-2. All Fennecs were then used for training purposes. The first two EC120B training helicopters of five ordered were delivered to Singapore in September 2006. They replaced the AS550 Fennec in the training role but at 20% less operating cost. On January 26, 2007, 124 Squadron was inaugurated on the EC120B at Seletar. On January 21, 2005, it was announced that Singapore would buy six Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk Naval Helicopters, to be operated from the new Formidable Class frigates. The inauguration ceremony of the Republic of Singapore Air Force Peace Triton Sikorsky Seahawk Naval Helicopter detachment in the United States Navy Maritime Strike Weapons School at NAS North Island, San Diego was on November 16, 2009. Three S-70s returned to Singapore in July 2010 and entered service with 123 Squadron at Sembawang.
In February 1985, the RSAF formed 125 Squadron, consisting of the newly-purchased AS332M Super Puma. The first of 23 Super Pumas made its way to Singapore in July and the unit was officially inaugurated at Sembawang on October 4, 1985. The squadron took over SAR duties and three AS332Ms are painted in a striking red-white SAR colour scheme. The 1990’s saw a dramatic change in the battlefield. The Army became smaller, but with technological improvements, had stronger combat power. The agility, mobility and speed of the helicopter became more prominent as a force multiplier for the Army. The growth started with the acquisition of thirteen AS532UL Cougar helicopters, which essentially are improved Super Pumas, and the formation of 126 Squadron at Sembawang in 1992. The squadron took over the SAR responsibilities besides complementing 125 Squadron in joint operations. SBAB formed its third permanent helicopter detachment in August 1998, when twelve Super Pumas and Cougars were deployed to the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey, Australia. Oakey serves as the high-end training area for the Super Puma crews, where advanced training and large-scale joint exercises can be conducted. In September 1998, 126 Squadron moved in from Sembawang to take control of the Continuation and Operational Conversion Training.
In March 1994, it was announced that the RSAF would be purchasing six CH-47D Chinooks to boost its SAR capabilities and provide support for the Army. In 1996, the RSAF set up the Peace Prairie detachment in Grand Prairie, Texas to train its pilots and crew on the new helicopter. A new batch of six CH-47SDs was ordered in 1997, later augmented with four extra airframes to bring the total to sixteen Chinooks. On June 8, 1999, 127 Squadron was inaugurated in a ceremony held at Sembawang. A good illustration of how the RSAF has integrated its helicopter operations with the Army and Navy was demonstrated during Operation Flying Eagle, Singapore's response to the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. Chinooks from 127 Squadron and Super Pumas from 125 Squadron were sent to Phuket in Thailand and Aceh in Indonesia to assist in the SAF's humanitarian efforts. The helicopters were heavily involved in the airlifting of personnel, equipment, supplies and casualties to and from the tsunami-hit areas. In Meulaboh, Aceh, the Super Pumas worked from the decks of the Landing Ship Tanks and were instrumental in air-lifting disaster victims and SAF soldiers working at the disaster areas.
Transports, Tankers and Early Warning
In 1973, the SADC procured their first transports in the shape of six Shorts SC7-3M Skyvans and formed 121 Squadron at Changi. The Skyvans soldiered on until 1995. Their replacements were four Fokker F50UTAs and five Fokker F50MPAs which started arriving in October 1993. In February 1977, two C-130Bs were purchased from the United States Air Force. Two more C-130Bs were bought from the Jordanian Air Force in 1978. In 1980, four new C-130Hs were bought directly from Lockheed Martin and the same year saw 122 Squadron being officially inaugurated. The old C-130Bs were converted to KC-130B tankers by late 1988. 111 Squadron was formed at Tengah when the RSAF acquired four Grumman E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning aircraft in 1987. Singapore’s defence ministry confirmed in 2007 that it had bought four Gulfstream G550s with airborne early warning (AEW) equipment, to be modified by Israel Aerospace Industries' Elta Systems subsidiary at Ben Gurion. The first one arrived at IAI in March 2007. On February 19, 2009, 111 Squadron received its first G550 AEW aircraft (in Israel known as G550 Nachshon Eitam) at Tengah. On October 15, 2010, the E-2C made its last flight. On December 12, 2000, 112 Squadron was inaugurated at McConnell AFB, Kansas, as the Peace Guardian detachment. They fly four KC-135R aerial tankers. In November 2003, the Peace Guardian detachment was disbanded and 112 Squadron can now be found at Changi.
The first public appearance of the Hunter was made in 1973 during the SAF Day celebrations as part of the Osprey Reds aerobatics team. It was in 1974 that the team changed its name to the Black Knights, which is still being used today. The Hunters were used in aerobatic performances until 1983 when it made its final appearance at the SAF Day held at West Coast Park. The Black Knights is not a full-time aerobatics team, and over the years, and not even every year, they performed on just a few selected events such as the National Day Parades. Aircraft used have been; Hawker Hunter (1974-1983), F-5E Tigers (1981), A-4SU Super Skyhawks (1990-2000), F-16A (2000) and F-16C (2008).
Training in the US
Over the years, seven RSAF training detachments in the US have supported the introduction of new aircraft and the training of aircrew. Below is a short recap.
Various Peace detachments
Peace Carvin I detachment with the 311th TFTS at Luke AFB, Arizona. They used four F-16As and four F-16Bs from February 1988 until all aircraft moved to Singapore from January 1990 to form 140 Squadron.
Peace Carvin II detachment with the 425th FS Black Widows at Luke AFB, Arizona. This squadron was formed on December 30, 1992 and received nine borrowed ex-Thunderbirds F-16A/Bs. These remained in use until January 1996. From December 1995, eleven borrowed F-16CG/DGs replaced the older models. From August 1998, new Peace Carvin II and Lease & Buy F-16C/Ds form the latest equipment of this unit.
Peace Carvin III detachment with the 428th FS Buccaneers at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. The Buccaneers were activated on September 15, 1998, and received Peace Carvin II/III and Lease & Buy F-16C/Ds in 1999. After nine aircraft had left for Singapore on June 2, 2005, the squadron was deactivated on July 6.
Peace Carvin V detachment with the 428th FS Buccaneers at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. On May 6, 2009, the first four F-15SGs arrived at Mountain Home AFB. On May 18, the 428th Fighter Squadron Buccaneers was reactivated as the F-15SG training squadron. The first F-15SG left for Singapore late March 2010 for 149 Squadron. The Peace Carvin V detachment will operate from Mountain Home AFB for the next 25 years.
Peace Prairie detachment with the G/149th AVN at Grand Prairie Muni, Dallas, Texas. This unit was formed in January 1996 and received six CH-47Ds.
Peace Guardian detachment with the 22 ARW at McConnell AFB, Kansas. On December 12, 2000, 112 Squadron was inaugurated at McConnell AFB as the Peace Guardian detachment. They used four KC-135R aerial tankers. In November 2003, the Peace Guardian detachment was disbanded and 112 Squadron can now be found at Changi.
Peace Vanguard detachment with the E Company, 1st Battalion, 285 Aviation regiment (E/1-285 AVN) at Silverbell Army Heliport, Marana, Arizona. The first of twenty AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters was handed over on May 17, 2002. On April 9, 2003, the AH-64D Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter Detachment was inaugurated at Marana. Today they operate eight helicopters while the remainder moved to Singapore to form 120 Squadron.
Plans for the Future
On July 7, 2010, MINDEF revealed that Singapore had chosen Italy's Alenia Aermacchi M346 Master as the next Advanced Jet Trainer. Twelve Masters will replace the T/A-4SU with 150 Squadron at Cazaux in France. The introduction of a next generation fighter aircraft is also considered. In February 2003, Singapore joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) System Design and Development (SDD) Phase, as a Security Co-operation Participant (SCP). Singapore appeared likely to start buying as many as 100 standard F-35s around 2012, with first deliveries not expected before 2015. However, with the current price-inflation of the JSF, it remains to be seen what will evolve. As of 2011, two fighter squadrons remain inactive; 141 Squadron (ex R/F-5S/T) and 142 Squadron (ex T/A-4SU), while 144 Squadron is the last remaining F-5S/T unit.