Stretching the Buck- SAF’s Life Extension Rundown Pt 1

Minister of Defense Dr Ng Eng Hen mentioned many times in his speeches one of the key factors on Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) success is the the steady and prudent approach when comes to spending and acquiring new platform into the Orbat. FY 13 saw Mindef receiving $12.3 4billion dollars , the highest in the region and many might know, one of the highest per capita in the world. Despite the huge sum allocated to defence, the Ministry thread carefully when purchasing equipment, ensuring our requirements are met and at the same time stretching the buck to the maximum and at the best value.

Making the purchase is only one problem solved,and the bulk of the expense would go to training, maintenance and operating the SAF year round. Point in case is the JP-8 fuel of an air sortie, at $3.5 per gallon, a single F-16 sortie, with her internal and external tanks filled, would come up to a $6,268 bill. Now imagine that for a day’s mission in the RSAF .

This series of article will show how the SAF stretch its buck on the equipment, with the chart below, it will illustrate the years in service, and upgrades undergone. While there are many factors to consider when comes to the economics of procurements, this article will solely focus on the life extension programs in the SAF.

AIR

t72--2

-A darker shade of green would represent an upgrade on the platform.

*Asterisk indicate imminent replacement/ retirement

Britain’s announcement in 1967 to pull out all UK forces east of Suez come as a blow to Singapore. Singapore Armed Forces was at her infancy and there was virtually no functioning Air force, the need to defend Singapore from the air was a priority and the Singapore Air Defence Command was quickly set up with the help of Britain in 1968. The British would leave behind excellent infrastructure, the RAF Tengah, Seletar and Changi to allow SADC to operate. The cash strapped SAF received 50 million pounds loan from the British and set up the SADC to defend herself with the Hawker Hunters and Bloodhound SAM.

Hawker Hunter

SADC’s first jet fighters were 46 ex-RAF Hunters of various models. Most built in the 1950s, and in order to meet RSAF requirements for a proper air defense fighter (original Hunters are not AAM capable) they received an upgrade in the late 1970s with the addition of 2x wing pylons for AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and 2x fuselage pylons . These upgrade aircraft continued to serve RSAF till 1992, after 22 years of service. 21 of these aircraft remained to be airworthy and continued to fly in private owners in Australia. The excellent conditions of these aircraft prove to be a testament of careful and professional maintenance and care by RSAF airmen.

Bloodhound

RAF’s 63rd Sqn operated the Bloodhound Mk II since 1963/64, and transfer deal included a $73 million refurbishment deal and training package. 170 SADC operated the Bloodhounds till 1990.

Oerlikon 35mm GF-001

Together with the Bloodhounds, the 35mm were introduced in 1970 and the second batch of guns, in GF-002 standards were added to 160 SADC, now 160 Sqn, in 1980. The guns remained to be in service till today after 44 years, the longest serving equipment in the RSAF orbat. There are plans to replace them for a newer platform within the couple of years.

A-4 Skyhawk

One of the most successful local upgrade program, 50 ex US A-4Bs were acquired in 1973 to plug the attack aircraft role. Initial upgrades to A-4S standards include the installation of new avionics, change-out of 20mm canons to ADEN 30mm cannons, and addition of 2 extra pylons from the initial 3. By 1980s, 150 airframes were delivered with some being used for spares, all were converted into the ‘S’ standards.

Singapore Aerospace Industry, now ST Aero, was awarded the contract to upgrade and further extend the life of the A-4S. It was refitted with non after-burning GE F404-GE-100D turbofan, additional avionics upgrade, Pave Penny laser seekers, TACAN, Radar Warning Receivers and chaff/flare launchers. It was then designated as A-4SU Super Skyhawk.

The A-4 were finally retired in 2005, 32 years of service. It is a testament of RSAF’s policy of making the most out of a single platform to fully meet their requirements. The Super Skyhawk upgrade saw the A-4 move into the 21st century with modern avionics suites and laser designation systems for the modern air warfare.

C-130 Hercules 

Part of a growing RSAF include the introduction of transport/ support aircrafts. Ex Jordanian and US C-130B were transferred to Singapore, and together with new C-130s, they entered service with 122 Sqn in 1977. ST Aerospace, in 2010, started a fleet wide upgrade on the airframes and cockpit with new glass cockpit and GPS navigation systems which will see the Charlie continue to operate into the next decade or so.

F-5 Tiger

The F-5 are one of the first combat platforms the RSAF bought first hand, decked out in the F-5E configuration, they arrived in Tengah in 1979. Taking over the Hunter in the defence role, they received some minor upgrades in the 80s which saw the inclusion of refueling probes. Fleet wide upgrade by ST Aero took place in 1995, the upgrade consist of the avionics changeout assist by Israeli Elbit Systems, coloured glass displays, HOTAS, INS etc. The Leading Edge Root Extensions (LERX) were modified to improve maneuverability, and due to the bigger radar and systems, the starboard gun was removed. The unit price for each upgrade is approximately $6 million dollars. The Es were brought up to the S standards which saw the Tigers, like the Skyhawks, suited for modern 21st Century air warfare. This year, the F-5 will be celebrating its 35th year in service, but with its current fleet age, will be facing the axe soon. They will probably be replaced by a second squadron of F-15SG or converted into a F-35 squadron in the near future.

F-16 Fighting Falcon

The RSAF selected the F-16 as the Hunter replacement in 1985, under the Peace Carvin Program. The initial batch of 8 F-16A/B(with one lost in South China Sea following a mid air collision) were replaced by the C/D models following their deliveries in 1998. One who is familiar with F-16s will note that all RSAF D Vipers has a dorsal spine running down the fuselage of the aircraft, similar to those of Israeli Vipers, which are believed to be housing ECM suites. The latest batch of Ds, delivered in 2003, are designated as the D+ in RSAF are similar if not the same as the F-16I Sufa, equipped with the Conformal Fuel Tanks and RWR sensors throughout the aircraft. These discern purchasing are evident of SAF theory of getting the ‘not only good, but very good and whatever thats comes together with it’. These significantly upgraded F-16s allow RSAF’s fighters to already have the upper hand in an air combat, even if they foe is throwing F-16s at them.

AT 2013, the oldest, but relatively young airframe was in service for 15 years. Mindef announced the Vipers will be” under going an avionics upgrade to extends their life span”. It is believed that such upgrades will be similar to those of Republic of Korea and Taiwan, and the change out to highly capable AESA radars, similar to those on the F-15SG, and although no contract has been issued, ST Aero will definitely have a foot in it. Upgrading and extending the life of enormous fleet of 60 or so F-16s will be an economical one, which will enable them to fight better alongside the F-15SG, while Mindef considers their future replacements.

Overview

The RSAF has already established herself into a potent fighting force and operational requirements met, and do not impulsively purchase a new platform type from the sky. Unless there is another operational/ tactical need, maybe an armed UAV squadron or heavy lift squadron, it is unlikely a new platform and squadron will be introduced. In the contrary, the RSAF has since decommissioned two fighter squadrons (141 and 142 Squadron) with a leaner meaner force of F-16s.  A quick look at the chart would suggest a certain pattern on RSAF’s orbat changeout, with the 35mm Oerlikon as an exception, most new platforms would be replaced once hitting the 30 odd mark. Second hand equipments, at the 20 year mark upon delivery.  IF the chart and pattern stand true, currently the I Hawk and Rapiers are being replaced at age 32, we would see the Ministry calling out for contenders for a Medium Lift Helicopter (Super Puma at 32), AAR Aircraft  (KC135 at 15{air frame at 50yrs }) and the impending air defence weapon (35mm at 44years ) soon.

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