Sunday, April 23, 2017

Flight of the intruder: Q&A with pilot who beat Singapore's RSAF air defence network in April 1975


If you were to choose an aircraft to penetrate Singapore's air defence network, a lumbering C-130 Hercules would probably not top that list.

But 42 years ago this month, a C-130 from South Vietnam (serial HCF 460) did just that.

Then Defence Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee told MINDEF and HQ RSAF that this would not happen again. It led to a review of CONOPS for air surveillance and interceptions. The incident also seeded awareness of the need to detect aerial intruders as early as possible to give RSAF the early warning required to scramble fighters.

At the time of the intrusion, the subsonic Hawker Hunter was the main RSAF interceptor. It wasn't till 1979 that the RSAF could fly supersonic. This followed the delivery of the first F-5s acquired under Project Peace O.

Incidentally, the C-130 intrusion took place just two days after the RSAF was formed. From a public relations standpoint, the incident was not good for the RSAF's image. The unfortunate timing is an example of how von Moltke's advice, No plan survives first contact with the enemy, applies to info ops.

Here is Senang Diri's interview with former Vietnam Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Pham Quang Khiem. He described the flight that beat our air defence system. We hope you find the Q&A interesting.


1. How many passengers did you have aboard? How many were military personnel?
There were 56 total on board. All the civilians were family. Six of us were in the air force consisting of four crew members and my two brothers who were VNAF officers.  Two were Army Officers.

2. Describe the flight profile en route to Singapore.
From the time we took off from Long-Thanh Airfield , we kept at our low level for about two hours. We then climbed to 15 thousand feet until we got to Singapore. 

The altitude we maintained was extremely low - only about 5 to 10 feet above sea level (ground effect).  It was so low that the passenger compartment had fog so thick that my family members told me they couldn’t see each other. 

I plotted the chart to Singapore using onboard radar doppler. Our speed was around 250 knots.

3. What model of C-130 was 460? What happened to the aircraft in Singapore?It was C-130A Model. The US Embassy at Singapore claimed it. The aircraft then flew to Korea for service with US Air Force for a while then flew back to US for service with the National Guard. In 1987 this aircraft was selected by Smithsonian in Washington DC to be put on display at the Smithsonian Air Museum. The aircraft now is in storage there. It’s future is unknown.  I am hoping that it gets moved to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum here in Dayton, OH (where I am at) however the cost of transporting it is too much.

4. Did you have weapons onboard?
 Yes we did carry our personal revolver as part of our uniform when on duty.  Total revolvers were 4.

5. Why didn't you try landing in Kuantan, Malaysia, or Butterworth, near Penang? Did you make up your mind on destination Singapore before you took off?
I did make up my mind for Singapore well before we took off.  For me, there was no other alternative. I heard Singapore was in need of pilots and thought they may need to use us.

6. What was your approach to Singapore like?We had an approach chart to Singapore. We flew directly southeast from Vietnam, to the south west of the airport was runway 02. 

We were at 15 thousand feet when we contacted Singapore.

Approaching from about 80 Miles out I called Singapore. However, the radio had a lot of static so I skipped approach control and directly contacted the Singapore Tower. It was never a thought of mine that I may be intercepted by Singapore Air Force.

7. What happened after you landed at Paya Lebar Airport?
We arrived in Singapore around 7 PM. It was dark and raining when I called Approach Control for instructions. I couldn't understand their reply, so I just changed to Tower Frequency, and called, "Singapore Tower, Herky 460. Request landing instruction." They replied, "Herky 460, cleared to land Runway 02.” They gave me the wind and altimeter setting, but didn't ask, "Who are you?" or "What the hell are you doing here?" So we just went in and landed on 02!

This was the civilian international airport and I thought that they would get excited when a military aircraft landed there. But when we parked on the ramp, the ground personnel came and hooked up an auxiliary power cart when the engines were shut down, then left. I told my people that they were now in a free country, but that no one was allowed to leave the aircraft until we had surrendered to the proper authorities.

My friend, my brother and I all changed into our civilian clothes, got off the airplane, and headed for the terminal building. It took us a half hour to find the airport office. When I explained to the guard on duty that we were a group of Vietnamese who had just gotten out of the country, and that we wanted to talk to his boss, he said, "Well, the airport office closes at 5 PM. Why don't you guys come back at eight tomorrow morning?" We finally convinced him that we had entered his country illegally, and that he had to do something about it. Well, he couldn't find his boss, who was out partying somewhere. We wandered around the airport until midnight, then went back out to the airplane. I found that my people were well taken care of. Some of the ground crew from the airlines had become curious, and had come over to our airplane. When they found 56 refugees from the war, they brought food and drink from the airline service area.

Finally, at about 1 AM, twenty trucks filled with police surrounded our airplane, and we surrendered to the Chief of Police. We explained that we would like political asylum in Singapore, but that if they could not take us, we would like the gas to get to Australia or New Zealand. They called the Vietnamese counsel, and he came down to the airport. We told him that we did not want to go back to Vietnam, and that we wanted asylum. He left without commenting, and we never heard from him again. The local officials could not make up their minds what to do with us. It was obvious that we had created a problem that they did not want to deal with. (It was a problem they had not had before.) 

As I first stepped off the aircraft onto Singapore land, I warned them to stay on the aircraft since we were entering Singapore illegally.  We were all full of mix emotions since we had no idea what would happen next.  As you well know, we are safe and happy we found freedom.

8. Describe your family please. How old were your children or siblings when you did your escape?

The oldest member was the mother in law of my oldest sister who was 86.  My son was the youngest at five months.  My son now has three kids and my daughter, who was two when we left, has two children.  In 1976, we had another daughter born in Dayton, OH. She now is also married with one child. Our family has been very blessed. Our perseverance, strength and trust in the Lord made us strong. (All onboard were Christian protestant)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Singapore's homeland security forces on high alert amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula


In the coming days, we will know if all that talk about growing or crimping North Korea's nuclear weapons capability is all bluff and bluster.

One side wants to set off a nuclear device. The other has threatened pre-emptive strikes to stop it.

Should war break out between North Korea and the United States, Singapore may have to rely on more than deft diplomacy to stay out of the fight.

It will be hard to stay neutral, not when US air and naval units routinely use facilities here to refuel warplanes and warships, and as a rest and recreation stopover.

Make no mistake: Pyongyang knows this.

The US Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, that is now an irritant to Pyongyang, cut short her visit here earlier this month to set course for the seas around Korea.

If and when the shooting starts, our island nation's homeland security forces will need to stay on their guard should North Korea expand its sphere of operations against American military units stationed in the region. US military personnel who use facilities in Singapore could be hit, along with Singaporeans in the vicinity of any attack who could end up as collateral damage.

American forces in the Lion City may be outside the range rings of North Korean missiles, but Pyongyang has other options to make its presence felt.

This is the price Singapore pays for helping the US military sustain its presence in the Asia-Pacific.

While it may sound alarmist, the record of direct action initiated against perceived threats or enemies of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) - as North Korea is formally known - serves as a reminder to the type of security situations our security forces could face.

The poisoning of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of DPRK ruler Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur, is a case in point. Creatively executed by proxies and shrugged off by North Korea due to the lack of credible evidence, the assassination is yet another example of an operation staged far from the Korean peninsula.

In 1983, the bombing of the Martyr's Mausoleum in Rangoon, Burma, pointed to a plot hatched by Pyongyang. Four South Korean ministers were killed along with more than a dozen people after a bomb rigged for visiting South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan exploded minutes before he was due to pay his respects at the mausoleum. Individuals said to be from North Korea were captured and implicated in the plot, which the DPRK denied.

While US military forces in Singapore are far from the Korean peninsula and are hard to target, we need to stay vigilant. These units are located within protected areas - key installations in military parlance - which are guarded round-the-clock by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) units.

Our vanguards: The SAF's Island Defence Task Force and the SPF's Protective Security Command.

Their nemesis: Individuals or groups operating out of uniform and wielding tactics that do not discriminate between military or civilian targets. Their concept of operations involves scenarios that can be plausibly denied. Oblivious to established laws and norms of civilised warfare, these operatives are likely to be highly-motivated and well-trained in the use of firearms, explosives and close combat tactics and techniques. They would also have been indoctrinated in the art of escape and evasion. Man for man, it would be like pitting special forces against citizen soldiers in the midst of serving out their full-time national service.

That's the good news.

A worst-case scenario could involve a device like a dirty bomb - an explosive device laced with radioactive material to maximise its lethality - to knock out high-value assets like visiting US Navy warships. A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier could represent an important enough strategic target where the end justifies the means.

To redress this imbalance, Singapore's intelligence services under various ministries must work together to give SAF and SPF units early warning of impending threats. Truth be told, such warning may not be ample. This means we may get wind of the plot only after it is underway.

If the worst happens, we will need to rely on intelligence services to piece together how the attack unfolded and to identify its authors.

As tension escalates on the Korean peninsula, defence observers fear the toll that could be exacted on both sides of the 38th parallel should deterrence fail will be enormous.

The fallout for the rest of the region will likely be devastating.

North Koreans killing South Koreans would be like brother killing brother.

And that notion hasn't stopped hostile action before, has it?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Upgraded Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF Apache shows off new bumps


Seen on a training flight over Singapore, this Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) AH-64D Apache attack helicopter is thought to have undergone a capability-enhancing mid-life upgrade.



Visible on the portside stub wing is a dome-like protrusion which resembles the one seen on Israeli Longbow Apaches. A similar protrusion is believed to adorn the upper surface of the starboard wing stub on Singapore's upgraded Apache.

The upgraded RSAF Apache is thought to be the rebuilt machine (Redhawk 01-2069) that made an emergency landing in an open field in Woodlands on 30 September 2010. The prang severed the tail rotor though both pilots walked away unhurt.

The RSAF's first Apaches were delivered under the Peace Vanguard programme in 2002.

The AH's are Singapore's third armed helos tasked to support the Singapore Army's manoeuvre forces.

The first generation gunships were Bell UH-1 Hueys armed with the Emerson Electric MAMEE armament subsystem comprising 7.62mm miniguns and rocket pods. These were supplanted by the Eurocopter AS.550A2 Fennec light observation helicopter armed with a Giat 20mm cannon and CRV-7 rockets and the more powerfully-armed AS.550C2 light attack helicopter armed with the Helitow TOW-2A wire-guided anti-tank missiles.

The RSAF is progressively upgrading its stable of rotary-wing machines.

Future capabilities may include the wider fielding of a non-line of sight missile, a specialised munition that certain land forces units are not unfamiliar with. See Tidbits on the SAF. Click here

A  CH-47 Chinook  featured in a Feb'17 MINDEF advertorial showed off lumps and bumps from an ongoing upgrade that enhances the Chinook's ability to link up with satellites and detect hostile emitters/beams from all quadrants.