SINGAPORE — The small island nation of Singapore has a reputation for being one of the most well-equipped and advanced air forces in Southeast Asia. Less well known, however, is its provision of airborne search and rescue services for some of the busiest sea lanes in the world.
At the forefront of this are the personnel and helicopters belonging to 125 Squadron and 126 Squadron of the Republic of Singapore Air Force, which operate the AS332 Super Puma medium-lift helicopter, made by Aerospatiale (now known as Airbus Helicopters).
This includes three Super Pumas painted in a striking red and white color scheme dedicated to the rescue mission, with one helicopter always maintained on a 15-minute standby for search and rescue missions in Singapore’s expansive aeronautical search and rescue region, or ASRR.
The Air Force provides additional helicopters for the rescue mission should a simultaneous rescue or a complex mission demand more than one helicopter.
The service conducts two real-world rescue missions in Singapore’s ASRR per month on average, according to the Defence Ministry. These usually involve sick or injured crew members on the commercial ships plying regional waters.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore says the country’s ASRR spans about 870,000 square kilometers (about 335,900 square miles) and encompasses its entire flight information region, which extends into the southern reaches of the South China Sea and includes some of the busiest commercial shipping routes in the world. In contrast, Singapore’s total land area measures a little more than 700 square kilometers.
A country’s flight information region is airspace in which flight data and alert services are provided by its aviation authorities and is delegated by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
A new asset
The Air Force’s fleet of Super Pumas have been in use since 1985 and are progressively being replaced by the Airbus H225M medium-lift helicopter, ordered in 2015. Singapore has taken delivery of five H225Ms since the first aircraft arrived in the country in 2021, with 125 Squadron in the process of converting to the new type.
There are no public announcements about how many H225Ms Singapore has on order, although French civil aviation registration data suggests 16 airframes were built or assigned to Singapore, tallying with what Defense News reported in 2017.
Speaking during a visit by Defense News to Singapore’s Sembawang Air Base to observe operations, H225M pilot Capt. Aruno Segaran said the new helicopter offers improved performance over the Super Puma, including longer range, improved payload capacity and faster cruise speeds.
The service’s H225M pilots are also equipped with the Thales Scorpion helmet-mounted display, which Segaran said allows them to access critical flight data without having to scan physical instruments, which in turn enables them to maintain situational awareness.
The H225M is slated to take over the entire mission set currently performed by the Super Puma. At least one helicopter is still at the Airbus Helicopters facility on the property of Marseille Provence Airport in France; it was photographed in the familiar red and white scheme.
One of the newly delivered H225Ms will also be at the static display area of the Singapore Airshow, which will run Feb. 15-18. The aircraft is fitted with the helicopter integrated electronic warfare suite, a satellite communications dome, an electro-optical turret and an 800-watt Trakka A800 searchlight that is compatible with night vision systems.
Several of these systems are unique to the Singaporean H225Ms, with engineers and other personnel from Singapore having been sent to Airbus Helicopters in France to work on the integration and certification of the systems unique to Singapore’s H225Ms and to train on the new type.
Benjamin Ang, a principal engineer for helicopter aerospace systems at Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency, told Defense News that despite being able to trace its lineage to the Super Puma, the H225M is a vastly different machine from its predecessor, having been designed from the outset with modern avionics, including a digital glass cockpit.
However, he added, the agency and Air Force’s familiarity with the Super Puma has helped with a relatively speedy process in operationalizing the H225M into the service’s inventory.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.