MELBOURNE, Australia — The Republic of Singapore Air Force celebrates its 50th anniversary this year as it continues its transformation into a modern fighting force, with the service due to take delivery of new platforms this year amid a number of ongoing procurement programs.
The Southeast Asian island nation — which measures roughly one-third the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island in terms of land area and is strategically located at the southern end of the Straits of Malacca, through which a significant portion of the world’s maritime trade passes — is a security cooperation partner of the United States and operates one of the most advanced militaries in the region.
The Singaporean military is transforming itself into an integrated, networked fighting force, and the Air Force is no exception. The service recently completed taking delivery of 40 Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagle multirole fighters, which serve alongside other aircraft and helicopters such as Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52/52+ Fighting Falcons and Boeing AH-64D Apache helicopter gunships.
The Air Force will also start taking delivery of the first of six Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transports, which will replace four ex-U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers acquired in the late 1990s along with five Lockheed Martin KC-130B/H Hercules tankers/transports, which have now gone back to serve as airlifters in Singapore’s Air Force alongside five C-130Hs.
The service is also expected to receive two Lockheed Martin S-70B Seahawk anti-submarine helicopters this year, bringing its fleet to eight.
It is also recapitalizing its transport helicopter fleet with the order of the Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal medium-lift helicopter and the Boeing CH-47F Chinook to replace earlier versions of both helicopter types. Their delivery is expected to begin around the 2019-2020 time frame.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is upgrading the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s fleet of 60 F-16s under a contract signed in 2014. They will be fitted with the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, which is an active electronically scanned array radar, and Link 16 data links. The F-16s will be expected to serve until the 2030s.
Due to a shortage of airspace for training, 12 of Singapore’s F-16s are based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for training in a mixed squadron of personnel from the Singaporean and American air forces.
A similar arrangement is in place for F-15SG crew training at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, while Singaporean Apache and Chinook crews train with their National Guard counterparts in Arizona and Texas, respectively.
Singapore has a reputation as a discerning buyer of military equipment. The country has evaluated the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, with particular interest in the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing, or STOVL, variant although it has requested information on all three variants of the F-35, according to former F-35 Joint Program Office head Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan.
With its limited land area and the upcoming closure of one of its three fighter bases, the STOVL variant would offer Singapore the ability to generate air power even in the event of a successful strike on its runways. However, Singapore’s defense minister, Ng Eng Hen, has said that despite being impressed with the F-35, the country is in no hurry to place an order given the Air Force sees no need for a new fighter until the latter half of the 2020s, at the earliest.
Other ongoing procurement programs include the acquisition of new maritime patrol aircraft to replace five Fokker 50 Maritime Enforcer Mark 2 aircraft that have been in service since the late 1990s, along with the replacement of the Air Force’s 10 Hercules transports. The Boeing P-8 Poseidon has been flagged as a possible contender for the former requirement, though sources close to the program tell Defense News the Air Force prefers a less manpower-intensive solution, with business jet-based platforms such as Saab’s Swordfish or Israel Aerospace Industries’ EL/I-3360 also in the running.
Both offerings are based on the Global Express series of business jets. Saab says the Swordfish offers similar capability to the P-8 at a fraction of the operating cost.
Singapore also operates four Fokker 50s in its baseline light transport/utility configuration alongside the Maritime Enforcer 2s, but it’s unknown if they will be replaced.
Despite undergoing an upgrade program to bring its avionics to a modern, fleetwide common cockpit configuration that will allow the fleet to operate in line with international aviation requirements, Singapore’s fleet of C-130B/H Hercules airlifters will likely need to be replaced soon. The oldest aircraft ― two ex-U.S. Air Force and a number of former Jordanian C-130Bs ― were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s and have provided sterling service since they were acquired by Singapore’s Air Force in the 1970s.
Both Airbus and Lockheed Martin have been marketing the A400M and C-130J respectively in Singapore, even though the Air Force there has given no indication it plans to replace the venerable Hercules. However, with the C-130Bs approaching six decades of service, a search for a replacement would surely take on an increasing urgency.