MELBOURNE, Australia — Singapore’s F-16 fighter jets have been seen carrying Elbit Systems-made reconnaissance pods, suggesting a hitherto unannounced airborne long-range surveillance capability thought to have been missing from the country’s inventory since 2005.
Defense News has seen several images of different Lockheed Martin-made F-16D Block 52 Fighting Falcons in service with the Republic of Singapore Air Force. In those images, the aircraft were carrying what has been verified to be the Elbit Condor 2 Long Range Oblique Photography system on their centerline station.
The images were shown to Defense News from different sources and were taken over Singapore during several months in mid-2019, although we understand that the system has already been in use for a few years.
One of the photos — which Defense News is not publishing, as the photographers did not grant permission to do so — was shown to Elbit and Singapore’s Ministry of Defence to ask if they can confirm the pod’s identity and provide further details.
The ministry was also asked if the Condor 2 LOROP pod was to replace the Air Force’s eight Northrop Grumman RF-5S Tigereye photo reconnaissance platforms, and whether there was a gap between the RF-5S retirement and the introduction of the Condor 2. The older jets retired quietly from service in 2005 without any publicly identified successor, although Singapore had previously identified a real-time LOROP capability as a core requirement as far back as 2004.
Elbit did not respond, and the ministry declined to comment.
It is also unclear if Singapore was the customer described to be from the Asia-Pacific region in a “follow-on contract award” for the Condor 2 worth $82 million and announced by Elbit in March 2017.
Company documentation from 2016 listed four users of the pod, which include Israel, India and now Singapore.
In addition to the F-16, the Condor family of reconnaissance pods is also carried by the Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, as well as unnamed business jets and maritime patrol aircraft.
The Condor 2 is an electro-optical/infrared system that Elbit says provides simultaneous, high-resolution visible and infrared reconnaissance images at a long standoff distance from the target, covering wide areas in a short time span.
The Israeli company says this reduces the risk to the parent aircraft by enabling photography to be carried out at higher altitudes (which is listed in company documentation as 50,000 feet) and longer distances of up to 50 miles at speeds of up to Mach 1.4. Elbit also says the system can transmit images in real time via an onboard data link to a ground-based image exploitation station.
Singapore has a fleet of 60 F-16s, split equally between single-seat F-16C Block 52s, two-seat F-16D Block 52s and F-16D Block 52+ aircraft. Three squadrons with 48 aircraft are based in Singapore, while the remainder are assigned to an Arizona-based detachment for training.
The fleet is currently receiving upgrades of new active electronically scanned array radars, new mission computers and other avionics.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.