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Singapore initiates clear priorities against emerging global conflicts

by Adrian David

SINGAPORE, 27 FEB –  The armed conflicts in the Middle-East and Europe have become emerging threats, calling on Singapore to initiate clear priorities to reinforce itself.

Retiring Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) chief Major-General Kelvin Khong Boon Leong warned that there was an urgent need to develop innovative solutions that were cost-and-operationally effective to safeguard the island nation’s sovereignty.

Relating this, Khong highlighted the increased contestation in air littorals (the airspace between ground forces and high-altitude fighter jets or bombers) in such conflicts.

“The threats include small, low-cost unmanned aerial systems and loitering munitions which are autonomous drones with warheads that can identify a target to attack.

“Other threats include commercial off-the-shelf drones employing shuttlecock grenades that are dropped vertically onto targets,” Khong said, citing the tactics employed by the Ukrainian army against Russian forces in the on-going war; and the Yemeni Houthis who targeted commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Khong spoke on how combating threats using traditional means costed more, as against innovative and sustainable solutions.

“While conventional air power capabilities are still important, we require the ability to rapidly prototype and operationalise new capabilities.

“This is clearly evident in the Russia-Ukraine war which reinforced the importance of achieving air superiority, which can tilt the outcome on very different trajectory.

“There is a higher probability of the conflict not prolonging and being protracted,” Khong said in conjunction with the Singapore Airshow on Feb 20-25.

On the RSAF’s modernisation, he divulged that the AH-64D Apache multi-mission helicopters, acquired in 1999, would be given a life-extension programme to be airworthy till 2030.

At the same time, Khong pointed out that the RSAF’s H225M medium-lift helicopters had fully taken over search and rescue missions from the aged AS332M Super Pumas, in service since 1983.

The H225M has about 20 per cent longer range capability than the Super Pumas and would meet the Singapore Armed Forces’ requirements more efficiently.

Also being upgraded were the RSAF’s F-16 deployed at its Peace Carvin II detachment at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the United States.

“This upgrading programme will keep the F-16 operational until the 2030, when it is planned to be replaced,

“Similarly, we will closely review the F-15SG, acquired in 2009, and refurbish them when necessary as they are still an important part of the air force’s fighter fleet,” Khong said.

The RSAF, he added, expected to take delivery of four next-generation F35B fighters by 2026, and the remaining eight in the following years.

“Training for a core group of pilots will start, with the arrival of the first four jets, in the US to enable the RSAF to utilise the large airspace to hone the pilots’ operational skills and air combat-readiness, and train with US forces,” he said.

On the delivery of Orbiter 4 close-range unmanned aerial vehicles, acquired in March 2022, Khong said it had been delayed to a suitable date.

“There are also plans to replace the Hermes 450 and Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicles in due course.

“These are all part of developing a smart airbase utilising drones to patrol, detect intruders and assess damage to a runway.

“The air force has plans to invest in new platforms and technology to reduce the manpower requirements at its airbases.

“Other measures being explored are the use of artificial intelligence technology to use data generated by pilots in simulators to enhance pilot training.

“We have established experimental facilities to study the effective use of digital technologies in training,” Khong said.

In a related development, Singapore’s Defence Ministry announced that Khong would be succeeded by the ministry’s deputy secretary (policy) Brigadier-General Kelvin Fan Sui Siong on March 22.

Khong, 48, had joined the RSAF in 1995 and graduated as a fighter pilot on the F-16 and F-15SG.

He later became the commanding officer of the 149th Squadron, the RSAF’s first local F-15SG squadron.

Other key appointments he held in the SAF included Air Plans Department head, Air Combat Command chief, Air Operations Department head and as chief-of-staff for Air Staff and Joint Staff.

Khong was appointed RSAF chief on March 22, 2019.

“Under his stewardship, the RSAF maintained a high level of operational readiness to safeguard Singapore’s sovereignty, and achieved operational success across a wide range of missions.

“Khong was instrumental in sharpening the RSAF’s capability edge.

“He led the attainment of full operational capability for the A330 multi-role tanker transport aircraft, the Aster 30 ground based air defence system, and oversaw the acquisition of the F-35 fighter aircraft to enhance the RSAF’s operational edge. “Khong also initiated people development efforts to ensure that RSAF airmen and women are ready for the future,” the statement said.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Khong’s leadership continued to defend Singapore’s skies while concurrently supporting the national fight against the disease.

“The RSAF also participated in several Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions, such as the delivery of humanitarian aid for Gaza, the airlift operations of Afghan evacuees from Qatar to Germany, as well as the bushfire and flood relief operations in Australia.

“Last year, Khong directed the conduct of the ‘RSAF 55 Open House’ at Paya Lebar Air Base, as well as a range of community outreach activities to commemorate 55 years of defending our skies with fellow Singaporeans,” it said.

Fan, 44, joined the SAF in 1998 and is an air warfare officer by training.

He has held a range of senior command and staff appointments within the ministry and SAF.

These include commanding officer of the 163rd Squadron, Air Plans Department head, Director of the Defence Policy Office, Air Operations Department head, Commander Air Defence and Operations Command, chief-of-staff – Air Staff, chief-of-staff – Joint Staff and ministry deputy secretary (Policy).

“Fan also drove many operations, capability developments, digitalisation and innovation efforts within the RSAF – such as the ‘Total Defence 40’ campaign and Singapore’s inaugural ‘Total Defence’ exercise and ‘Exercise SG Ready’ to enhance Singaporeans’ readiness for crises and disruptions.

“He also contributed to expanding our defence diplomacy efforts with various countries,” said the statement. – airtimes.my

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