The Transformation of the RSAF–A Brief History

RSAF_Crest.svgThe RSAF is a First Class Air Force, always ready to deter aggression and defend Singapore and its interests.
We will respond decisively to the full spectrum of missions from peace to war as part of an integrated SAF.
We will be superior in the air and decisively influence the ground and maritime battles.

The RSAF is founded on the core values and competencies of its World Class People.
We are committed to the nation, the SAF, the RSAF and to one another.
Together, we will overcome adversity with courage and fortitude.
Above all, our people are the heart of our organisation.
– The RSAF Vision & Mission

The Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) was inaugurated on 1 September 1968 with a single Cessna 172H, and assumed the responsibility of defending the new nation of Singapore. On 1 April 1975, it was officially renamed to the now familiar Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). In the years since, the RSAF has transformed itself into a modern Full Spectrum Force.

As the RSAF prepares to celebrate its 48th birthday on 1 September 2016, we’ll take a short walk back through its history to highlight key significant moments since its birth.

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1 Sep 1968 – The SADC was inaugurated, 8 months after the British announcement of their pull out from Singapore.
6 Mar 1969 – The Singapore Armed Forces Technical Training Institute (SAFTECH) was formed to conduct technical training for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel. In May 1972, SAFTECH was disbanded, and the Air Engineering Training Institute (AETI) was inaugurated on 10 Nov 1972 to train all SADC technical personnel.
1 Aug 1969 – Mr Lim Kim San, Minister of the Interior and Defence, inaugurated the Flying Training School (FTS) in Tengah. The first intake of 35 cadets began training with 8 Cessna 172K trainer aircraft purchased in May 1969.
16 Apr 1969 – Seletar Airport was taken over by SADC, and Seletar Tower became the first operational control unit. In 1971, Seletar Air Base was handed over to the Department of Civil Aviation for general aviation development.
30 Sep 1969 – The first SADC operational flying unit, 120 Squadron, was formed with the arrival of the Alouette III helicopters. The squadron was entrusted with transport, patrol and search-and-rescue (SAR) missions.
1 Jun 1970 – 160 Battalion was inaugurated to operate the Oerlikon 35mm Anti-Aircraft guns for airbase defence, which were purchased in Oct 1969.
8 Sep 1970 – The first SADC fighter squadron, 140 Squadron, was inaugurated to operate 20 Hakwer Hunter aircraft. 141 Squadron was formed two years later with another batch of 20 Hawker Hunters.
0016 Jan 1971 – The SADC’s first operational deployment was to assist in the Kuantan Flood Relief Operation in Pahang, Malaysia. The deployment lasted 13 days involving 75 crew members and four Alouette III helicopters.
1 Nov 1971 – The Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) was established among Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to help retain security cooperation. The FPDA is still in force today.
9 Dec 1971 – The complete withdrawal of the British forces from Singapore was completed with the SADC taking over Changi Air Base and HMS Simbang (today’s Sembawang Air Base) on 9 Dec 1971. Tengah Air Base was taken over earlier on 15 Sep 1971.
14 Jan 1972 – The SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 trainer aircraft made its maiden flight on 14 Jan 1972. The SF-260 was bought to replace the Cessna 172Ks of 150 Squadron and the first two aircraft arrived on 6 Sep 1971.
7 Jun 1972 – 170 Squadron was inaugurated by Permanent Secretary for Defence, Mr Pang Tee Pow, to operate the Bristol Bloodhound Mark II Surface-to-Air (SAM) missiles, and was our first Ground-Based Air Defence (GBAD) weapon system.
5 Feb 1974 – 142 Squadron was formed to operated the McDonnell Douglas A-4S Skyhawks purchased and refurbished by Lockheed in 1971. 143 and 145 Squadrons were formed later to also operate the A-4S Skyhawk.
7 Jun 1974 – The Black Knights aerobatic team made their public debut before 30,000 spectators at the SAF Day Parade.
1 Apr 1975 – The SADC was officially renamed the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to mark its growth as a seperate service in the SAF. This inception reflected the increasing role of air power in Singapore’s national security and its move from a Command to an operationally ready Air Force.
20 Jul 1975 – The RSAF took delivery of the AN/TPS-43 Mobile Radar, which complemented the long-range radars at Bukit Gombak, to bring a three-dimensional surveillance capability to the RSAF.
21 Feb 1977 – The first RSAF Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft landed in Singapore. 122 Squadron was inaugurated in 30 Apr 1980 to operate the C-130.
19 Feb 1979 – 144 Squadron was inaugurated to operate the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft. The aircraft was subsequently operated by 141 and 149 Squadrons. The F-5 heralded the RSAF’s entry into supersonic flight.
10 Feb 1977 – 120 Squadron was expanded with the purchase of 3 Bell 212 and 17 UH-1H Huey helicopters which replaced the Alouette IIIs.
1 Feb 1980 – 3 Singapore Air Defence Artillery (SADA) was inaugurated to operate the Bofors RBS 70 missile system and the Ericsson Giraffe radar. These were also subsequently operated by 6 SADA and 9 SADA.
30 Mar 1980 – The first batch of Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star aircraft arrived to supplement the BAC Strikemasters as basic flying trainers.
1 Oct 1980 – The Long Range Radar and Display system was acquired to replace the Decca Air Surveillance Radar for the control of both civil and military aircraft movement with Singapore’s territorial airspace and FIR (Flight Information Region). With this, the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre (JATCC) was shifted to Changi.
00528 Sep 1982 – Aerospatiale AS350B Ecureuil helicopters were introduced to 123 Squadron for dedicated helicopter pilot training.
27 Oct 1982 – The I-HAWK (Improved Homing All the Way Killer) SAM missile system was delivered to 163 Squadron. Its first live firing of the I-HAWK was conducted in Sep 1982.
22 Oct 1982 – The Aeromedical Centre (ARMC) was inaugurated at Paya Lebar Airport, equipped with the Vertifuge, Somatogyral Turntable and Laboratory facilities.
29 Jan 1983 – Two Bell 212 helicopters from 120 Squadron responded to the Cable Car accident when the Eniwetok oil rig struck the cable cars cable. After a 3.5 hour operation, 13 passengers were rescued from the 4 trapped cable cars.
1 Aug 1983 – 165 SADA was inaugurated to operate the British Aerospace Rapier SAM system, which achieved Full Operational Capability status in Mar 1986.
30 Nov 1984 – The first SIAI-Marchetti S-211 jet trainer was received by the RSAF to replace the BAC Strikemasters and Lockheed T-33s.

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15 Mar 1986 – 120 Squadron’s Bell 212 and UH-1H helicopters provided round-the-clock casualty evacuation operations in the aftermath of the Hotel New World collapse disaster. The operation lasted 6 days and 17 victims were rescued.
8 Oct 1986 – The RSAF conducted its first air-to-air refuelling mission with 2 Lockheed KC-130 Hercules which refuelled 8 Skyhawks en route to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
1 Sep 1986 – The Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma helicopters attained Full Operational Capability status. The Super Pumas were assgined to 125 and 126 Squadrons.
16 Apr 1986 – The first Exercise Torrent was conducted by the RSAF to launch and recover its aircraft from Lim Chu Kang Road. F-5 and A-4 aircraft were launched in both day and night conditions to showcase the RSAF’s operational readiness.
30 Apr 1987 – The Flight Simulator Centre was set up to provide realistic pilot training.
1 Nov 1988 – The RSAF took over command of the Army’s Field Photo Unit, which operated the IAI Scout RPV (Remote Piloted Vehicle). The unit was subsequently renamed as 128 Squadron.
8 Feb 1990 – The General Dynamics F-16A/B Fighting Falcon was commissioned by then Minister for Trade and Industry, and Second Minister for Defence, BG(RET) Lee Hsien Loong, and assigned to 140 Squadron. This marked a new era in the RSAF’s operational capabilities.
24 Apr 1990 – The Grumman E-2C Hawkeye aircraft, operated by 111 Squadron, was declared fully operational by Chief of General Staff, LG Winston Choo.
00220 Mar 1991 – 124 Squadron was inaugurated to conduct basic helicopter flying training, taking over from 123 Squadron. They subsequently operated the Aerospatiale AS550 Fennec which replaced the AS350 Ecureuil.
20 May 1993 – The RSAF deployed four AS332 Super Pumas and 62 personnel from 126 Squadron to Cambodia for its first United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission.
28 Mar 1995 – The AS332 Super Puma Helicopter Simulator Centre was inaugurated at Sembawang Air Base.
18 Nov 1996 – The state-of-the-art G-Flight Environment Trainer (G-FET) was commissioned by then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Dr Tony Tan, at the Aeromedical Centre.
19 Feb 1997 – The Fokker 50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) operated by 121 Squadron, was declared fully operational by then Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, RADM (NS) Teo Chee Hean. The Fokker 50 aircrraft was acquired in 1993 to replace the Short Skyvans.
2 Jul 1997 – The Mistral SAM system and the Portable Search and Targeting Acquisition Radar (P-STAR) attained Full Operational Capability status.
15 Oct 1997 – The IGLA Missile system was acquired and operated by 18 Divisional Air Defence Artillery Battalion.
3 Mar 1998 – The IAI Searcher UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) was inaugurated at Murai Camp, operated by 128 and 119 Squadrons.
13 Jul 1998 – The Lockheed Martin AN/FPS-117 was declared fully operastional. This  advanced, all-weather, long-range surveillance radar replaced the ITT RS 320 radar to become the main surveillance system for the 24/7 defence of Singapore’s airspace.
14 Aug 1998 – The first Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon arrived in Singapore and was assigned to 140 Squadron at Tengah Air Base. 143 Squadron also started operating the F-16C/D in Oct 2000.
8 Jun 1999 – The Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters were assigned to 127 Squadron at Sembawang Air Base. The Chinooks were first delivered in 1996 and have been based in Grand Prairie, Texas for training.
0055 Jan 2001 – The Air Force School (AFS) was inaugurated to centralise and integrate basic airman training, which was previously conducted by several vocational schools. This became the hallmark of the RSAF’s commitment to the holistic and professional development of its people.
23 Aug 2002 – The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, operated by 112 Squadron, achieved Full Operational Capability status. It was previously inaugurated into the RSAF on 12 Dec 2000.
3 Feb 2004 – The RSAF deployed a C-130 Hercules to the Middle East to conduct airlift and transport missions as part of a contribution to the multinational reconstruction effort in Iraq. Subsequently 5 KC-135 detachments were deployed between 2004 and 2008 to support coalition forces.
29 Nov 2004 – Changi Air Base (East) was inaugurated by then Minister for Defence, RADM(NS) Teo Chee Hean, marking the first RSAF air base jointly design and developed by the RSAF and DSTA. At the same ceremony, the F-16D Block 52+ aircraft was also inaugurated into 145 Squadron, and the Air Logistics, Airfield Maintenance and Flying Support squadrons of Changi Air Base were also commissioned.
28 Dec 2004 – In the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami, the SAF activated Operation Flying Eagle, its largest humanitarian relief support mission till date. The RSAF activated 8 CH-47 Chinooks, 4 AS332 Super Pumas, 6 C-130 Hercules and 2 Fokker 50s, with Paya Lebar Air Base as a transit point to support the operation.
29 Aug 2005 – The RSAF assisted in the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operation following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US. A total of 4 CH-47 Chinooks and 47 personnel from the Peace Prairie detachment in Texas took part.

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24 May 2006 – The Lockheed Martin F-16D Block 52+, operated by 145 Squadron, was declared fully operational by then Minister for Defence, Mr Teo Chee Hean.
26 Jun 2006 – The Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter was inaugurated into 120 Squadron at Sembawang Air Base. They were first acquired in 1999 and delivered to the Peace Vanguard detachment in Marana, Arizona in 2002.
5 Jan 2007 – Then Minister for Defence, Mr Teo Chee Hean, announced the restructuring of the RSAF into Operational Commands. The first command, Air Defence and Operations Command, was inaugurated.
26 Jan 2007 – The Eurocopter EC120B Colibri was inaugurated for the Rotary Wing Course, and replaces the AS550 Fennec operated by 124 Squadron.
23 Apr 2007 – The RSAF unveiled the Networked Air Defence system at Tengah Air Base, and introduced the Ericsson Giraffe Agile Multiple Beam Radar, Upgraded I-HAWK SAM system, Mechanised IGLA system and Enhanced Remote Weapon Display to improve the operational capabilities.
00425 May 2007 – The RSAF acquires the Hermes 450 UAV to enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The aircraft is operated by 116 Squadron.
22 Jan 2008 – 2 RSAF F-16 aircraft were scrambled to intercept a Cessna 208 Caravan which was headed towards Singapore airspace without an approved flight plan. The Cessna was escorted to land at Singapore Changi Airport.
13 Jul 2008 – The RSAF acquired the Pilatus PC-21 aircraft trainer to replace the SIAI-Marchetti S-211 for Basic Wing Course training in Pearce, Australia.
9 Apr 2009 – The RSAF deployed 2 Super Pumas as part of the SAF Task Group deployed to the Gulf of Aden to support international counter-piracy efforts.
27 Aug 2010 – A 52-man UAV Task Group commenced operations in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, to augment the International Security Assistance Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
28 Sep 2010 – The RSAF acquire twelve Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master trainer aircraft to replace the McDonnell Douglas A-4SU Super Skyhawk in the Advanced Jet Training program.
23 Feb 2011 – The RSAF deployed 2 C-130 Hercules and 1 KC-135 Stratotanker to assist the New Zealand Defence Force in disaster relief operations in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake. The deployment lasted 17 days.
2 Mar 2011 – The IAI HEron 1 UAV and the Rafael SPYDER (Surface-to-air PYthon-5 and DERby) GBAD system were acquired to replace the IAI Searcher UAV and Rapier GBAD system respectively.
11 Apr 2011 – A 38-man Fokker 50 MPA detachment was deployed for 3 months at Djibouti to support international counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden.
13 Apr 2012 – At a ceremony officiated by the Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, the Gulfstream G550-AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft operated by 111 Squadron was declared fully operational.
15 May 2012 – The Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk helicopter achieved Full Operational Capability status. It was inaugurated into 123 Squadron earlier on 18 Jan 2011.
23 May 2012 – The Heron 1 UAV was inaugurated into 119 Squadron.
4 Sep 2012 – The S-70B Seahawk was deployed for the first time as part of the SAF Task Group in the Gulf of Aden for 3 months. It was also 123 Squadron’s first overseas mission.
18 Sep 2013 – The Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagle aircraft was declared fully operational at a ceremony officiated by the Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen. The F-15SG replaced the A-4SUs and was inaugurated into 149 Squadron on 5 Apr 2010.00312 Nov 2013 – The RSAF deployed 2 C-130 Hercules and crew to the Philippines to deliver relief supplies in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. The team evacuated a total of 389 civilians from Tacloban to Manila.
9 Mar 2014 – The RSAF deployed the C-130, S-70B and Fokker 50 MPA to assist in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
26 Aug 2014 – 129 Squadron was formed to conduct imagery intelligence operations to support the SAF’s operational requirements.
3 Sep 2014 – The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master trainer was inaugurated into 150 Squadron at Cazaux Air Base in France.
28 Dec 2014 – Within hours of the disappearance of AirAsia flight QZ8501, the RSAF deployed 2 C-130 Hercules and 2 Super Pumas to assist in the search operations.
30 Dec 2014 – The RSAF deployed its C-130 Hercules to transport 4 SAF Water Purification Units (WPUs) and 34 personnel to support the flood relief efforts in Kelantan, Malaysia. A second batch of 3 donated WPUs were also transported by C-130.
18 Mar 2015 – Two CH-47 Chinooks were deployed to Chiang Mai to conduct aerial fire fighting and ferry operations.
25 Apr 2015 – Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal which claimed more than 7800 lives, a C-130 Hercules was deployed to airlift a Singapore relief contingent and their equipment to assist in the relief efforts.
9 Aug 2015 – 50 RSAF aircraft participated in the Golden Jubilee National Day Parade to mark the country’s 50th year of independence and 20 F-16s formed the number “50” as a salute to the nation. This was the largest number of aircraft ever to be featured in a National Day Parade.

The MAphotoSG team would like to wish the RSAF a Happy 48th Birthday!


Editor: This article is based on information presented to the public during the RSAF Open House 2016.

About MAphotoSG
MAphotoSG (Military Aviation Photography Singapore) was founded by Raymond and David in 2015, and currently consists of a group of passionate volunteer local aircraft spotters that share the common interest of aviation photography. Core activities include the coverage of aviation events and aircraft spotting, both local and overseas.

Some of the key significant events captured by the group include the Exclusive Preview of the RSAF at Singapore Airshow 2016, the first sighting of 142 Squadron’s F-15SGs and the F/A-18Ds of Exercise Commando Sling 16-2. The group was also featured in a pre-Singapore Airshow 2016 article published by the local compact, TODAY.

1 thought on “The Transformation of the RSAF–A Brief History”

  1. It is sad that 130 Squadron is not mentioned at all, and being the pioneer of being trained and establishing day to day managment, till the disbandment of the Squadron . A one sentence of the aircraft being replaced by the T-33 is a far cry injustice to all that have served with the Strikemasters be it ground crew or pilots. I am very proud of the fact that I served the SADC/RSAF since being ‘recruited’ in late 1968 till 1987, surely some form of scrutiny is appreciated when drafting an article of such significance!

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