Too Many Airbases?

 

There is no such thing as too many airbases in the realm of air power generation. The recent news of Tengah Airbase being expanded westwards has raised some eyebrows.

800 hectares of land will be returned to the government in return for 108 ha west of Tengah air base. Thus leaving the RSAF with the new expanded Changi Airbase upon the completion of Terminal 5 and the said Tengah airbase, and the helicopter base at Sembawang.

The cliché saying of “never put all your eggs in the same basket” cannot be any truer in this example. Although Tengah will have two main runways by the 2030s timeframe, and probably two more in the expanded Changi Airport / Airbase, Changi and Tengah will be two gigantic target board for hostile artillery to aim at. A look at Google maps and you will see in order to squeeze all aircraft dispersals into Tengah and Changi, would mean that dispersals will have to be tightly packed which again increased risk from munitions strike.

One of the greatest fears for an airbase commanders are saturated attacks for hostile artillery and rocket systems, which will cripple airbase operations with portholes. The need to invest in advanced artillery warning systems like the SAFARI, high resolution radars and anti munitions air defence systems will move up the priority list. Currently the SAF has a number of anti-munitions systems in its arsenal, including the SPYDER-SR from 165 SQN and the Aster 15 from the Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class frigates. RSAF will receive their Aster 30 in the coming months as we speak.

The domino effect this removal will also fall into the lap of the Fighter and Transport Group of Air Combat Command, who now have to establish concept of operations for keeping fighters aloft longer should any runways be taken out.

In peacetime, more formidable than any artillery risk is the unforgiving tropical weather. A saying in the C2 air traffic control (ATC) community, “Weather is always a player.” A tropical swell can engulf the entire Tengah (or Changi) zone, and RSAF commanders wants the flexibility to divert platforms to more airfield. Similarly, PLAB is the primary diversion airport for Changi International Airport; we have seen that happening a few times during inclement weather where SIA A380 and B777 were diverted to PLAB.

The removal of PLAB from RSAF operations is not just shifting fighter operations to the West and East. PLAB is also the home to numerous ancillary ‘services’ like the Air Force Training Command (AFTC), Aeromedical, Singapore Technologies Aerospace supply chain and simulator services. It will be a titanic task to relocate them elsewhere.

Despite the silver lining of being able to develop their next generation smart airbase from scratch, in the end of the day, it seems that the SAF and RSAF have gotten the short end of the stick.

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