Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)
From humble beginnings in 1968, the RSAF has transformed itself into a First Class Air Force. It has today a modern aerial force, consisting of new generation fighters, attack helicopters, high-technology surveillance and mobility platforms as well as a deterrent air defence capability. To marshal these forces, the RSAF has developed a robust command and control capability with advanced equipment. Besides core missions of air defence and air superiority, Air Force missions have expanded to significantly influence the surface campaign as well. By adopting a truly tri-service approach, the RSAF has developed a synergistic fighting force with the Army and Navy.
In 1968, when the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) was set up, its only aircraft were one purchased Cessna 172K and two borrowed Cessna 172G civilian planes. As the British withdrawal commenced, the SADC began to establish itself over the air infrastructure. The air bases in Seletar, Tengah and Changi were soon taken over, along with the naval air base at Sembawang. By 1972, after taking over the air defence radar unit at Bukit Gombak, the SADC had assumed full responsibility for the air defence of Singapore. In 1975, recognising its growing capabilities, the SADC was commissioned as the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), launching a new chapter in the history of our air command. With this change, the accent was duly shifted from an initial developmental phase to the acquisition and upgrading of our capabilities. In the decades that followed, the fledgling service grew stronger by the day, maturing into the full-fledged Air Force that it is today.
Fighter aircraft were organized into intercept and ground-attack squadrons. There were additional aircraft squadrons for long-distance troop and equipment transport and early warning; surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft gun units for air defense; and helicopter squadrons for transporting airmobile infantry into battle or search-and-rescue operations. Air defense missions were controlled from the ground by the Air Defence Command at Bukit Gombak and from the air by Grumman E-2C early warning and control aircraft. Ground control included a number of radar stations strategically deployed throughout the country.
The potential of air power in helping to shape the outcomes of land and sea battles has never been disputed. An army fights on land, while a navy fights at sea; an air force, on the other hand, fights over both land and sea. The remarkable expansion of capabilities over the years has equipped the RSAF with the means to undertake a diverse range of operations. Apart from defending Singapore's skies, the RSAF today is entrusted with a multi-faceted mission in support of air, land and sea operations. Underlying this approach is the philosophy that in order to defeat adversaries, the Air Force, Army and Navy must fight as one.
Vital to Singapore's survival is the mission of air defence, a continuous operation of airspace surveillance by land-based and airborne radars. Air intrusions will be dealt with by the multi-layered air defence shield, which is comprised of interceptors, SAM systems and anti-aircraft guns. Reinforcing one another, these multiple layers of defence ensure that Singapore's assets and key installations remain unscathed.
Air strike missions may be carried out to support Army operations by neutralising enemy targets on land. Modern warfare requires flexibility and responsiveness in the movement of troops and equipment. By providing air mobility to our Army forces, fighting units can be airlifted and inserted into strategic positions to support the ground battle. Heavy combat equipment can also be air-dropped to locations not easily accessible by land. In the naval arena, maritime air operations are conducted to support Navy operations. The RSAF reinforces the Navy's watch over Singapore's waters and sea lines of communication, dedicating patrol aircraft for maritime air surveillance.
On 11 September 2001, terrorist elements attacked the United States, and the world was struck by the grim reality that no country was immune to the threat of terror. Since that fateful day, also known as 9/11, the RSAF's mission of air defence has assumed another dimension. Modern warfare requires flexibility and responsiveness in moving troops and equipment. Air mobility is therefore crucial. An important mission of the RSAF is to provide air mobility to the SAF. The RSAF's participation in the modern integrated warfare are illustrated at apability demonstration exercises where the RSAF, together with Navy assets, is used to support the Army in a beach assault.
A clearly defined and crucial defence need of Singapore is the safety of the sea lanes which surround the island. Upon these highways of the world travel the goods and services which are crucial to the economic survival of this island state. The mission of maritime air surveillance is to keep these sea lanes safe.
In order to stay ahead in the technology race, the RSAF adopts a strategy that revolves around new procurements on the one hand, and the upgrading of existing capabilities on the other. In collaboration with the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and strategic partners including Singapore Technologies Engineering (ST Engg), weapons systems are acquired and upgraded. Aiming to build up in-country expertise and infrastructure, DSTA continually works with ST Engg to reinforce the operational capabilities of the RSAF. Some of the services provided by ST Engg include routine logistics support, depot-level maintenance, supply of munitions and, most crucially, the expertise for upgrading our weapons systems. DSTA has undertaken key projects ranging from the acquisition of the AH-64D Longbow Apache and F-16C/D Fighting Falcon, to the joint RSAF and DSTA conceptualisation and design of our Changi East complex at Changi Air Base. DSTA ensures that new infrastructure and equipment are best suted to RSAF's operational requirements.
Changi East, an extension of Changi Air Base, marks the first time that air base facilities of such complexity and magnitude are being conceptualised and developed jointly by RSAF and DSTA. Once completed, Changi East would improve the efficiency and robustness of the RSAF's overall readiness and operational capability.
Although RSAF doctrine emphasises air power's centrality in Singapore's overall military deterrent, public statements naturally avoid mentioning its potential role in pre-emptive operations. Instead, the air force's status as the 'first line of defence' against threats to Singapore is emphasised, together with its air defence role exercised through a multi-layered 'shield' consisting of various types of radar (including AEW), interceptor aircraft, SAMs and anti-aircraft guns. Air power is also seen as playing a key role in supporting surface forces, through interdiction (targeting hostile forces' infrastructure and supply lines), tactical strike and reconnaissance, the provision of air mobility for the army and maritime reconnaissance for the navy. Ancillary roles include search and rescue and emergency relief operations in the event of civilian disasters.
Particularly in light of the limited resources at the RSAF's disposal, it is understandable that senior RSAF officers are sceptical of the notion, advanced by some western strategists during were 1990s, that air power can win conflicts on its own: they emphasise instead close integration with the other services. However, during the 1990s the RSAF became a more assertive partner in joint operations, attempting to anticipate rather than merely react to the requirements of the army and the navy by providing these services with 'plans and options' for the use of air power.
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