Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on Relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen: Madam Speaker, the member Mr Lim Wee Kiak has asked a highly relevant question as the relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase (PLAB) must never compromise the ability of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to safeguard Singapore's security and sovereignty.
Indeed, this was the over-riding and primary consideration when MINDEF and the SAF studied the possibility of relocating PLAB. We were mindful that the current capabilities of the RSAF were achieved over four decades and remain critical to protect a small country like Singapore which lacks strategic depth.
The RSAF's superior air defence and strike capabilities have been built up through prudent and steady investments of resources and land allocation for our defence needs. And over the years, we have acquired, adapted and developed advanced technologies and state-of-the-art platforms to provide more accurate and timely early warning and situational awareness of potential threats. We will continue to invest in these capabilities.
In particular, the RSAF is putting into place a state-of-art multi-layered Island Air Defence System to provide a comprehensive shield protecting Singapore against airborne threats. This includes at the outer perimeter, our existing Gulfstream-550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft, which replaced our E2C in 2012, and significantly enhanced our early warning and air defence capabilities through its better endurance and longer range of detection.
I would like to announce today that the SAF will also be acquiring the ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile System. This missile defence system against airborne threats is used by advanced militaries such as France and Italy. The ASTER-30's capabilities are many times more potent than our current I-HAWK ground-based air defence system. The ASTER will allow us to engage multiple threats simultaneously and from a longer distance. It will complement the SPYDER, which we have already operationalised - it is a mobile, shorter-range, quick reaction ground-based air defence system - and together, they will provide a layered air defence shield.
The RSAF will also be looking to upgrade its fighter fleet. We plan to upgrade our F-16s to modernise their avionics and extend their lifespan. Our F-15SGs were recently acquired and have proven themselves in recent multilateral military exercises with advanced Air Forces like those from the US and Australia during Exercise Cope Tiger and Exercise Pitch Black. Also, as announced at the Committee of Supply in March this year, we are evaluating the suitability of advanced multi-role F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in meeting our long-term security needs to further modernise our fighter fleet and replace our older aircraft.
These advanced capabilities that I have mentioned have been built up through steady defence investments over the years, and have now provided the confidence for MINDEF and the SAF to consider relocating PLAB in the long term to meet national development needs.
In 2011, MINDEF and the SAF conducted a thorough assessment of our capabilities and security threats for the long term. We satisfied ourselves that our security would not be compromised and that relocation of PLAB could take place after existing airbases at Changi East (CAB) and Tengah (TAB) have been expanded to accommodate relocated assets and facilities.
The expansion of Changi Air Base and Tengah Air Base will be necessary to house relocated fighter and support squadrons as well as accommodate facilities currently housed in PLAB. As members would recognise, this undertaking is complex but the RSAF will use this opportunity to build anew through innovative operational concepts and advanced airbase designs, and this will enhance the effectiveness and resilience of our air bases. Newly expanded and improved airbases together with advanced fighter fleets protected by a multi-layered air defence shield will ensure that the RSAF maintains its deterrent edge and continues to be an effective and formidable Air Force.
PLAB's relocation will be a long-term and complex undertaking. MINDEF will be working closely with MND on the detailed planning and implementation of the relocation over the next two decades. Thank you.
* This is MINDEF's transcript of Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen's reply to the oral parliamentary query on 8 Apr 2013. The official record of the Singapore Parliament Report can be found on the parliament website: http://www.parliament.gov.sg/
Notable among these is the yet-unanswered question of where the RSAF's long-serving 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns have gone and what - if anything - will replace this low-level air defence system.
The 35mm Oerlikons are conspicuous by their absence in the schematic above, which has inserted the contribution that Aster 30s will add to Singapore's integrated air defence system when the system has yet to arrive.
The statement in Parliament (see above) by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, outlines several big ticket RSAF initiatives. The staff officer(s) who drafted the speech did a good job sketching the strategic basis for a strong and evolving Third Generation RSAF ("lacks strategic depth", "early warning", "situational awareness", "multi-layered").
But the cherry on the cake would have been small mention - just a one liner would suffice - that the RSAF is marking its 45th anniversary this year. It would have reminded Singaporeans how far we have come in the past decades. The Parliamentary statement is, afterall, a major roadmap of the RSAF's future emphasis and direction.
Major projects outlined by the Defence Minister include:
* A planned upgrade for the RSAF's Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighter fleet. As the F-16 is the most numerous fighter type in the RSAF's inventory, the mid-life upgrade for our F-16s could turn out to be the biggest upgrade ever undertaken by the RSAF since the 1980s era A-4 Super Skyhawk project.
The scope and scale of the work for the RSAF Air Combat Command - AESA radar, black boxes for integrating F-16s into the Singapore Armed Forces battlenet - is likely to generate keen interests among defence players for a piece of the action.
The announcement is timely as organisers of next year's Singapore Airshow 2014 go into the last mile to persuade aerospace and defence companies to set up shop at the biennial airshow.
* Expansion of Changi Air Base and Tengah Air Base. Base infrastructure is set to grow at Tengah - presently the RSAF's largest fighter base - while a new Changi Air Base (East) will rise from a greenfield site at the future Changi Airport Runway 4, outside Changi Naval Base.
Having the RSAF give up Paya Lebar Air Base will release military airspace west of Changi Airport's Runway 1. The net effect of this enormous volume of airspace would allow Changi to cope with increased air traffic in decades to come.
Compared to warplanes and combat helicopters, air bases are unsexy and do not stir one's loins in the same way as an F-15SG Strike Eagle thundering off WSAP on full reheat.
But the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF planners understand why the RSAF stood up its Air Power Generation Command in the first place. Today's statement underlines Singapore's willingness to follow through with investments needed to generate and sustain air power.
* And now back to the MBDA Aster 30s. English language grammar specialists - and there are a good number who visit this site - would recognise that Dr Ng used the future tense for describing the Aster 30 purchase.
He said:" I would like to announce today that the SAF will also be acquiring the ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile System. This missile defence system against airborne threats is used by advanced militaries such as France and Italy. The ASTER-30's capabilities are many times more potent than our current I-HAWK ground-based air defence system. The ASTER will allow us to engage multiple threats simultaneously and from a longer distance."
His statement indicates that the I-HAWKS will remain in service in the interim (a no-brainer), as no time frame was mentioned for the Aster 30s to take over from the I-HAWKS.
The 70-km range Aster 30s will give the RSAF Air Defence and Operations Command (ADOC) the reach and killing power to enlarge the sphere of contested airspace around Singapore. To this Ground Based Air Defence System, one might add the contribution of the Republic of Singapore Navy's Aster 15s - a Sea Based Air Defence System? - which could further extend the outer edge of ADOC's range rings.
When the Aster 30s turn operational, a decision to add the squadron to the Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) maintained by forces from Australia, Great Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) is likely to boost air defence coverage of peninsular Malaysia.
When one uses today's statement to telescope RSAF capabilities into the future, what one sees is a determined effort by our defence planners to make investments that will give the RSAF the numbers, the reach, the sustainability, lethality and technological edge that represent the air force's contribution to deterrence.
It is indeed encouraging to note that our defence planners have thus far steered clear of buying trophy armaments that look good in a flypast, positively spiffy on parade, but have little fighting value.
We fight as a system. And the system of systems that the future RSAF will command should be a sight to behold.
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