It is said Singapore has the world’s most tightly-guarded patch of airspace. Even a casual browse through the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) list of combat types suggests this is true. The tiny country, which measures 700 square kilometres, boasts more than 100 combat aircraft, of which a large portion are highly capable Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52s, backed up by a powerful force of Boeing F-15SGs.

The man responsible for directing this force for the last three years is Maj Gen Hoo Cher Mou. Hoo has served with the air force since 1984 and his educational credits include Cambridge, Harvard, and the Royal Australian Air Force Command and Staff College. Unlike past RSAF chiefs, Hoo never served as a combat pilot. Rather, he is an expert on air defence. He once led the service’s 203 Sqn, which is tasked with monitoring and controlling Singapore’s sovereign airspace.

Despite its powerful military, Singapore resides in one of the world’s more peaceful regions. Although the site of a major battle in the Second World War owing to its strategic location, as a sovereign nation the country has never been at war. Nonetheless, in an email interview with Flightglobal, Hoo stresses the importance of being ready.

“Our regional security environment is becoming increasingly complex and challenging, given the increased tensions in the South China Sea and the real threat of terrorism and extremism,” he says. “The emergence of hybrid warfare such as the conduct of cyber-attacks and information operations, could also pose a greater challenge to our security environment.”

To deal with this, Hoo says the RSAF’s acquisition strategy is geared to develop capabilities that can be used in wide ranging scenarios, allowing it to meet both conventional and non-conventional threats. Apart from just buying hardware, the service emphasises training and people.

Hoo is candid about the air force's broader role, but his comments about specific acquisitions are carefully calibrated. One pointed question Flightglobal posed was about Singapore’s degree of interest in Lockheed's short take-off and landing F-35B. Its defence minister has seen demonstrations of the Joint Strike Fighter variant in the past, and industry observers feel the model is the ideal platform for land-scarce Singapore.

“The RSAF has identified the F-35 as a potential candidate to enhance our fighter fleet, and is in the advanced stages of evaluating the F-35,” says Hoo. “Each of the F-35 variants has its unique strengths that could enhance our operational capability. We will make our final decision when we are satisfied that this state-of-the-art, multi-role fighter meets our long-term defence needs, is on track to be operationally capable, and most importantly, is a cost-effective platform.”

In a similar vein, he offers little information about perhaps the greatest question facing his service at this year’s Singapore air show: which new rotorcraft will replace the country’s ageing Airbus Helicopters AS332/532 Super Pumas? He says only that suitable, cost-effective replacements are being considered, and that “we expect a decision soon”. Frontrunners for the requirement are believed to include the NH Industries NH90 and Sikorsky S-92.

Hoo also sheds some light on Singapore’s permanent deployment of six Alenia Aermacchi M-346 advanced jet trainers with 150 Sqn at Cazaux air base in France. He says pilots trained on the type have “benefited significantly from the enhanced quality and realism of our flying training.”

He implies, however, the road has not been entirely smooth.

“Being the first air force to train students on the M-346 means that there are no earlier references,” he says. “We do encounter issues which may be expected in operationalising a new training system and we are working closely with Alenia Aermacchi to resolve them. Aermacchi has assured us that [it remains] fully committed to the RSAF M-346 programme and will do [its] utmost to ensure that we reap the full benefits of the advanced jet trainer.”

Hoo adds, realistic scenario training continues to play a role for the RSAF’s frontline fighter fleet. The service is a regular participant in a number of bilateral and multilateral international exercises.

“The mission of the RSAF will always be to defend our nation’s skies and to safeguard our sovereignty,” says Hoo. “While our core mission will remain unchanged, we recognise that the security environment is becoming increasingly complex, given the rise of non-conventional threats, such as transnational terrorism.”

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Source: Flight International