Everything can be found from the Internet. Reports from numerous aviation sites including IHS Janes and Flightglobal suggest that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) may just have over than the initially announced 24 F-15SG. Pictures from foreign spotters in the States and Australia shows construction numbers as big as “05-0032” and an attempted grey-taped serial number ’26’ respectively. Similarly, FAA registration has revealed eight civilian registered numbers under the F-15SG airframe. Military pundits are discussing if the true numbers is 32 or 40 units, I will leave them to so until the announcement is out.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is notoriously known for their over-secretive and sometimes ridiculous information management doctrines. On top of the undisclosed aircraft numbers, the SAF does not reveal weapon orders, installation and usually is very camera shy. Some classic moments in my recent memory and experience include;
2010 National Day Parade (Elephant in the Room): The Leopard 2A4 was officially announced by Mindef as the SAF’s Main Battle Tank in 2008, and was busy parading around City Hall. A couple of Leopard Armour Recovery Vehicle (ARV) “Bergepanzer Buffel” were parked around town on standby. The soldiers profusely denied any photo taking on the 53 tons behemoth parked in board daylight in public areas. Few years later, the Buffel is shown publicly with full details. By then, local enthusiasts and public had lost interest in the Engineer vehicle. Also with the introduction of the superior Leopard, the elusive MBTs purchased decades ago remained to be an unannounced open secret.
2010 Korat Air Base (For Others Eyes Only): The RSAF celebrates 30 years of F-5 Tiger service with elaborate paint job on a F-5T. While there has been a super low-res image of the aircraft on Air Force website, the aircraft was not publicly revealed in Singapore, similarly not even in the 2011 Air Force Open House. It was later spotted in Korat Air Base for Cope Tiger where foreign media had full coverage of the aircraft, leaving Singaporean spotters up in arms. Other cases include Exercise Hot Shot tail flashes, which was only publicly revealed in the RSAF Facebook in 2014.
2014 Singapore Airshow (Bad Timing): The RSAF was on the verge of ordering, or shall I say already had ordered, the Airbus A330 MRTT tankers to replace the KC135. While industry players were waiting for good news from Mindef at the airshow, our poor friends from Airbus were anticipating to pop their champagne, ending their show in high note. Nothing was heard in the show the Airbus Military team headed home disappointed, and it was much till later in the Parliamentary seating where the Minister announced the ordering of the aircraft. Similarly, no numbers were revealed by the ministry. Local news also did not announce the purchase of the aircraft. Announcing the MRTT in the Singapore Airshow will up the hype of the show, and no apt time to celebrate the RSAF 45th anniversary at the pavilion.
My point in this article is that with the hyper-connected world of internet, social media, crowd sourcing and international arms trade regulation, virtually there are no military procurements, that will be left secret, well for long, as the Chinese saying goes, “You can’t wrap fire with paper”. The F-15SG scoop is taken from readily available information from the internet, and pictures from spotting friends in the States. While RSAF hasn’t denied this information, the tardiness of such news will just make industry watchers go ” uh huh..ok”. losing the excitement and awe usually such news usually bring and leaving the organisation red-faced. On the contrary, the official announcements of an increased F-15 fleet will increase public confidence and interest on the RSAF, and deterrence to potential foes.
The SAF has embarked on a social media campaign, showing a more relaxed stature on their info sharing, but apparently other armed forces are upping their ante. Even secretive and war fighting forces like Korean Air Force, Israeli Defence Force etc have open policies on their information management, with only some faces censored, IDF photographed and videoed released their war fighting operations. A friend once recounts he witness a young boy asking a local pilot on the Seahawk, and his colleague whispered to the pilot “Don’t say too much.” This culture of over secrecy or “fog of information” in this case can be rather harmful, to local commitment to defence, interest on the armed forces from the public, and nurturing future passionate soldiers.
The SAF has been harping on knowledge-based operations, but it seems sometimes foreigners and local military pundits have a clearer picture of what is going on with all the available information around them. I will not be surprised if some of our RSAF guys do not even know that we have 24 F-15s in the first place.Top brass have to understand the new rule of information technology and in the future please do not be surprised on how others know so much.