Friday, 16 November 2012

What The Republic Of Singapore Air Force Should Acquire

This is a lay citizen's opinion of what the Air Force should be buying, based on information that is openly available over the web. The RSAF has recently acquired 24 Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagle to replace its McDonnell Douglas A-4SU fighter, 6 Sikorsky S70B naval helicopters to equip the Formidable class stealth frigates, 4 Gulfstream G550 Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft to replace the venerable Grumman E2C Hawkeye, 12 Alenia Aermacchi M-346 advanced jet trainer to replace the TA-4SU Skyhawk, 19 Pilatus PC-21 basic trainers to replace the SIAI-Marchetti S.211, IAI-Malat Heron 1 medium altitude long endurance UAV to replace the Searcher 2 UAV ... but there are more old hardware that are in need for replacement. For all we know, the Singapore Armed Forces may already be in the process of procuring some of these toys. Here's the list.

Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor ( USA )

F-22A Raptor Source : Wikipaedia


Proposed as a replacement for RSAF's ageing fleet of 49 1970s vintage Northrop F-5E and F5F Tiger II fighter. The F-5E is a modernised verion of the 1950 era F-5A Freedom Fighter, a low cost light weight fighter designed for export to the less developed allies of the US. They have been last upgraded 18 years ago in 1994 by ST Aerospace and designated F-5S and F-5T, and are probably near the end of their useful life.

The F-22A Raptor stealth fighter is the western bloc's most advance jet fighter. Apart from having the latest stealth technology, the F-22A has super-cruising capabilities and is super-maneuverable with thrust vectoring. It has internal bomb bays for beyond visual range ( BVR ) missiles, namely the Raytheon AIM-120 and is strike capable and compatible with the deployment of the 250 lb GBU-39 small diameter bomb ( SDB ). With its origins as the Advanced Tactical Fighter programme of the mid-80s, it was meant to be a one for one replacement of the F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, to counter the Russian Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters then in development. However production has stopped after only 187 planes have been delivered to the USAF from an initial target of 750 planes. This was due to budget cuts, the then perceived lack of threats from delayed Russian and Chinese stealth fighter programmes and the impending availability of the then assumingly cheaper F-35 stealth fighter. The premature termination of production meant that the per unit cost of the F-22A escalated to a mind-bloggling USD 412 million. However should production be restarted for another 75 aircraft, it would probably cost the US government an additional USD 75 million a piece in a 2009 estimate. That's just USD 25 million more than a F-15SG.

Although Singapore has joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Programme as a Security Cooperative Participant ( for a grand sum of USD 10 million ), it is not something we should look forward to buying eventually. Recurring massive cost overruns have now pushed the unit cost of the 5th LRIP batch ( Low-Rate Initial Production ) F-35s to more than USD 200 million. This fighter has also been plagued by performance issues and has yet to complete many tests. It is many times less capable than the F-22 in many ways and has been estimated to cost USD 35000 in maintenance per hour of flight, much more than the F-16s and F-18s that it was supposed to replace.

The only catch with the F-22A is that there is currently a blanket federal export ban on this aircraft. Not even for a scaled down F-22EX export version for key allies of the United States. Hopefully the US will wise up and ditch the F-35 and restart production of the F-22. The USAF needs the original planned numbers of 700+ F-22 to counter the huge proliferation of 4th and 5th generation Russian and Chinese fighters all over the world. If only they could replace the planned 2443 F-35 purchase with F-22s and renounce the export ban, the F-22 could be much more affordable.

The F-22A Raptor, if inducted into the RSAF, would definitely be more than a match for Malaysia's Su-30MKM, Indonesia's Su-30MK2, Vietnam's Su-30MK2V or Thailand's JAS-39. It will ensure US and its close allies air superiority for many years to come.

Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules

C-130J Super Hercules Source : Lockheed Martin


This latest stretched version of the venerable C-130 Hercules tactical transport is ideal to replace the 10 C-130H and KC-130B ( tanker version ) bought second hand since 1977. The J model looks similar to the older models externally but have new engines with all-composite six bladed propellers, new flight deck with digital avionics, countermaesures, HUDs and glass cockpits. The J model thus have enhanced performance in almost every field compared to the older models : 40% shorter take-off distance, 21% greater speed, 40% greater range. The stretched versions have a longer fuselage with the cargo floor length increased from 44ft to 55ft and can carry 128 equipped combat troops or 92 paratroopers. Crewed by just 2 pilots and a loadmaster, there is significant reduction in manpower requirements.

The C-130 has been in continuous production since 1954 and over 2300 has been built for 67 countries. Since the first delivery to the Royal Air Force in 1999, more than 300 C-130Js have been ordered. It has been configured as troop transport, aerial refueling tanker, aerial gunship, ECM platform, weather reconnaissance platform ( hurricane hunter ), fire fighter, search and rescue platform etc. Its ability to land and takeoff on unprepared runways is legendary. Many resupply flights to the scientific research bases in Antartica are made by C-130s which actually land and takeoff on ice runways.

Having these latest stretched Super Hercules will definitely increase the tactical airlift capabilities of the SAF while reducing the operational cost through better efficiency and reduced crewing.

Note : since RSAF's C-130s have just been upgraded by ST Aerospace recently, they may yet last a little longer before new transport aircraft needs to be procured.

Boeing KC-46A Aerial Refueling Tanker ( USA )

KC-46A refueling F/A-18 Hornets Source : Boeing


This wide body tanker is the intended replacement for another venerable aircraft - the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker of which some 732 had been built between 1957 and 1965 for the USAF. To this day, about 550 are still in active service with the USAF, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves. 4 of the upgraded KC-135R versions were sold to Singapore in 1997 to replace the ageing KC-130B Hercules Tanker and they have all been delivered by 1999. The KC-135s were a derivative of the Boeing 367-80 jet transport "proof of concept" demonstrator which the Boeing 707 civilian airliner also evolved from. As such, the KC-135 looks similar to the Boeing 707 but has a narrower and shorter fuselage. The KC-135 predates the 707 and even the youngest airframe is now 47 years old and urgent replacement is due.

So just how good is the KC-46A supposed to be? It is essentially a tanker variant of the Boeing 767-200LRF freighter, one of the most fuel-efficient aircraft in its class of wide bodied jet. It would be rather similar to the KC-767s operated by the Italian Air Force and Japanese Air Self Defense Force which are based on the Boeing 767-200ER freighter.

Apart from better fuel-efficiency and lower maintenance cost compared to the KC-135R, the KC-46 also fields an improved boom like the one found on the KC-10 Extender heavy tanker. It can carry thrice the fuel load, twice the passenger load and has a longer range. Add to that a digital flight deck taken from Boeing's latest 787 Dreamliner passenger jet and upgrading is a no-brainer.

Having just won the KC-X next generation tanker tender in the US in 2011, the KC-46A is understandably not yet available even to the USAF. The current contract calls for Boeing to deliver 18 KC-46A for initial operations in 2017. By the time the KC-46As can be made available for foreign sales, the KC-135Rs would have served the RSAF for more than twenty years, with airframes more than half a century old!

2013 latest : Singapore is the first foreign country to express an interest on the KC-46 Tanker ......

2014 Just In : RSAF will acquire 6 Airbus Military A330-200 MRTT ( Multi Role Tanker Transport ) to replace the ageing KC-135. It makes much sense as Singapore Airlines is currently flying the A330 as well and that will make the maintenance a lot easier. Also, the KC-46 can only be available after 2018 and RSAF, it seems, could not wait that long.

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper aka Predator B ( USA )

MQ-9 Reaper. Note AGM-114 Hellfire missiles on wing pylons. Source : Wikipedia


What would you look forward to after owning tactical UAVs like the Elbit Hermes-450 and medium altitude long endurance UAVs like the Heron-1? These unarmed UAVs are used mainly for surveillance and reconnaissance and lack the teeth to strike at the target. Although there are unofficial accounts of armed Hermes-450, there is only so much you can load on a small UAV with a 39KW engine.

Enter the MQ-9 Reaper. Also known as the Predator-B, the first thing you notice about the Reaper is that it is BIG. It has a wing span of 20m, twice that of the Hermes-450 and a troboprop engine rated at 671KW. It can carry a load of 1700kg ( about 360kg internally and 1360kg externally ). Its seven ordnance hardpoints can be configured to carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 500lb GBU-12 Paveway laser guided bombs, 500lb GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions ( JDAM ), and feul tanks. Efforts are underway to adapt the MQ-9 for firing air to air missiles.

The Reaper has a maximum speed of close to 483km/h and a service ceiling of 16000m. It has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded and perhaps 42 hours maximum endurance with external fuel tanks. It is a force multiplier that compliments piloted strike aircraft.

Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow Block III ( USA )

Boeing AH-64D Apache Block III Source : Boeing


The AH-64 Apache is the most advanced multi-role combat helicopter of the United States and will remain its primary attack helicopter for decades, ever since the cancellation of its replacement, the RAH-66 Comanche stealth attack helicopter programme. Singapore operates a fleet of 20 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters with the initial purchase of 8 helicopters dating back to 1998. These are most likely the Block II versions. With the latest Block III offering, there will be 26 new technological innovations that among other things, improve flight performance , lower maintenance costs, allow control of UAVs etc. Of course Singapore does not have to buy new-built AH-64D Block IIIs. The existing fleet of Block II Apaches can simply be sent back to Boeing's Mesa, Arizona facilities to be upgraded to Block III standard. This will be less costly than an outright purchase.


  1. There's one issue, the USA doesn't sell their F-22 outside of the USA

  2. RSAF r upgrading the apache. It is a special upgrade. It is an israeli upgrade which the apache can fire SPIKE NLOS missile something new.