There is a 6 April 2013, Malaysian news article "Singapore looks to ties that bind
", that looks at the proposed F-35 buy from a US-Singapore relationship angle that is surprisingly understanding.
The key to understanding the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is that Singapore is a status quo
noteworthy rising power, sitting at a major maritime chokepoint (that is interested in limited sea control for specific purposes and supportive of freedom of navigation through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore). The Singapore Navy is a green water navy, with some special features, including being used as a tool for diplomacy. Through the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), Singapore's land based air power dominates these chokepoints, as a status quo
power. The hard power that controls the adjacent land to the chokepoint, also controls passage of vessels. The ability to operate via FOBs and disperse forces, gives the SAF flexibility in the conduct of its defence, at a place and time of its choosing. Compounding its geo-strategic vulnerability, Singapore is the smallest country in land size within ASEAN.
Having been dealt a geo-strategically disadvantaged hand at the country's formation on 9 August 1965 in the mist of tension with its ambitious neighbours, Singapore has to build military capabilities that it needs, first, and that has been the country's singular focus since August 1967. The SAF is not an expeditionary army, nor is the RSN a blue water navy; but it is the world's smallest country with a tertiary air force. Singapore's lack of depth has resulted in a clear focus on the building the basic force structure for regional over-match, if threatened; and the RSAF's capabilities serve to deter larger powers from acting unilaterally and buys valuable time for the citizen soldiers should they be required to engage in the forward defence of Singapore. Over the years, along with falling birth rates and as the SAF became more capable the duration of service required of Singapore men, as citizen-soldiers, has been reduced.
It is interesting that Singapore has expressed interest in a number of F35B to replace the F-5/A4 and not the A model like Australia and the USAF is acquiring.
Yes, it has come as a shock to some Singaporeans that Mindef is evaluating the F-35B, rather than the A model and it is clearly reflected in Singaporean posts in various forums. However, it is important to note that while the F-35B study was requested, the decision has not been made (see above post for the quote from the Minister of Defence dated 12 March 2013).
We are all keenly awaiting the official announcement of the procurement decision.
It does make tactical sense with such a small area to defend and will greatly improve the RSAF flexibility in deploying the aircraft, but it does have implications with the maintenance side of the equation with the B model expected to be more expensive to maintain than the F35A...
A F-35B procurement will cost more to acquire and to sustain. But cost is not the reason for the choice. The F-35B study requested by Singapore is classified and will not be released as an open source document (but I have speculated on a possible tactical reason in my prior post, above - h/t to David Boey for stealing his ideas and prior discussions on Exercise Torrent).
I can see why the RSAF would be interested in the F35B coupled with flexible basing and with the US expanding into the pacific...
A F-35B acquisition would enable the SAF (and its rapid deployment division - 21st Division, which is supported by 4 LPDs) to operate more like the US Marines (but without a LHD). Dispersion of forward deployed Singapore forces via FOBs is possible through the exploitation of the proposed acquisition of the F-35B, the refurbished KC-130 tankers, and the existing AH-64D Apaches, supported by Singapore's CH-47SDs. Dispersion allows RSAF aircraft to conduct flight operations for several days from numerous sites like stretches of highway, or expeditionary airfields using matting (eg. San Carlos Harrier FOB, built by the British in 1982 on the Falkland Islands - the runway length was 260m long). A main base located in the rear would provide logistical and maintenance support for ongoing operations and subsequent overhauling and repairing of aircraft. Since only some of the surveyed sites would be occupied, enemy targeting would be reduced to a complicated shell game.
It is clear, the SAF is keen and capable of learning from the US Marines, their concept of operations and strive to inter-operate with them at a joint service level (eg. on 9 February 1991, US Marines AV-8B Harriers operated out of a forward site at Tanajib, less than 40 miles from ground operations, to support Operation Desert Storm; Tanajib was an oil field support base that had an airstrip but this was expanded by the use of matting for taxiways and aircraft parking). Over time SAF will declassify more of Singapore's military capabilities and it will all become much clearer to both you and me.
Notable SAF deployments over the years :
See this 2009 RSAF video: "Making a difference
1. First overseas mission in 1970 when a 47-man team was deployed to provide humanitarian assistance to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) when the country was hit by a deadly cyclone.
2. First partnership with the UN in 1989 when a 14-man team was deployed to Nambia, Southwest Africa to assist the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) during the country's elections.
3. In July 1990, a massive earthquake that struck Baguio, Luzon Island, in the Philippines. A 28-man SAF medical team was deployed by C-130 and their mission lasted from 19 July to 2 August 1990. This small SAF medical team treated visited all of the major villages surrounding Baguio and had treated a total of 5,500 patients.
4. Joining the coalition forces for the first time, the SAF deployed a 30-strong SAF medical team during the First Gulf War (from 20 January to 13 March 1991). Led by then MAJ (Dr) Tan Chi Chiu, the SAF medical team was assigned to the 205th General Hospital, a 600-bed British Army Rear Hospital located inside King Khalid International Airport.
5. On 27 March 1991, Singapore special operations forces killed four terrorists to rescue the passengers and crew members of SQ117, which was hijacked in KL (see here for details
). 1991 was also a period of tension between Singapore and her neighbours.
6. Participation in the UN Iraq Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) in 1991 to monitor the demilitarised zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border after the first Gulf war. The SAF had deployed a total of nine teams by the time the mission ended in 2003.
7. In 1993, four Super Puma helicopters and 65 SAF personnel were dispatched to Cambodia to assist the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), the UN mission overseeing the electoral process in Cambodia.
8. In 1996, the Indonesian and Singapore armed forces worked together in a hostage rescue operation in West Papua. Singapore sent a remotely piloted vehicle detachment to provide ISR for Indonesian special forces in Timika, West Papua, which facilitated the successful rescue of Indonesian and foreign hostages (from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany) taken by the Organisasi Papua Merdeka or Free Papua Movement.
9. On 9 July 1997, six flights of C-130 aircraft flew about 450 Singaporeans and foreigners out of the Phnom Penh, Cambodia and it marked the first successful non-combatant evacuation operation conducted by the SAF.
10. The RSAF Chinook training detachment in Texas had in the past assisted in:-
(a) fire-fighting operations in May 1998 (when a forest fire broke out in the Chinati mountain area in southwestern Texas);
(b) flood relief operations in September 1998 (in southern Texas); and
(c) in Hurricane Katrina relief operations in September 2005.
11. Between 1999 and 2003, the SAF, in support of the UN peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste, contributed over 1,000 personnel and equipment that included naval vessels (LSTs) and UH-1H helicopters in the international effort to restore peace and security to Timor-Leste. The UH-1H helicopters was used to insert LRRPs to conduct green helmet patrols at the border of Timor-Leste. The conduct of these border patrols, intelligence gathering efforts, and presence of a quick reaction force enabled the SAF to effectively disarm militia-men and criminal elements in their assigned sector (to stop the cycle of violence). Further, at one stage of the mission, Singapore Navy LSTs provided up to 50% of all sea-lift to support the UN peacekeeping mission.
12. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 998 SAF personnel participated in the multinational effort to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq via deployment of a C-130; multiple deployments of Endurance Class LPDs, which helped the elite Naval Diving Unit develop its ROEs to deal with coordinated suicide boat attacks on Iraqi oil terminals in the Persian Gulf; the Singapore navy also brought into service, the Protector USV is a four ton, 9 meter (30 foot) long armed speedboat to deal with suicide boat attacks on the Iraqi oil terminals; and multiple deployments of KC-135R tankers. Between 2004 to 2008, the RSAF deployed KC-135R tankers (in 5 deployments for 3 month stretches each time) in support of coalition forces in Iraqi. RSAF KC-135Rs offloaded 14 million pounds of fuel to more than 1,400 coalition aircraft in over 300 refuelling sorties.
13. In the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004, more than 1,500 SAF personnel were deployed to Indonesia (along with Commander 21st Division and his command staff to Banda Aceh) and Thailand to provide humanitarian assistance / disaster relief assistance in the largest SAF overseas operation conducted so far. The SAF unilaterally deployed three Endurance Class LPDs (RSS Endurance was the first foreign navy ship to re-established a life-line to Meulaboh, a coastal town in West Sumatra that was previously completely cut off after the tsunami), eight CH-47 Chinook and four Super Puma helicopters, six C-130 transport aircraft, two F-50 utility aircraft and a mobile air traffic control tower as part of Singapore's direct contributions to the relief effort. With host nation support in Singapore, US Commands (Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific and Naval Regional Contracting Center Singapore) worked 24/7 to surge supply capacity in support of the humanitarian effort in Operation Unified Assistance. Further, during the conduct of Operation Unified Assistance by US PACOM, two SAF officers proficiently in Bahasa Indonesia, with in-depth knowledge of Indonesian culture, psyche, and sensitivities to the presence of foreign military forces, were posted as Liaison Officers to enable the US to deliver aid to Indonesia with less fiction.
14. Since 2007, more than 470 SAF personnel have been deployed to Afghanistan to participate in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peace support operations and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Beyond reconstruction work, providing small teams of institutional trainers to train Afghan forces (artillery and counter IED combat engineers); multiple rotations of imagery analysts (to exploit data gathered from UAV feeds); the SAF also deployed a 52-man Search II UAV team; and multiple rotations of artillery hunting radar teams for 15 months to provide early warning for rocket attacks on the ISAF base in the outskirts of Tarin Kowt (within "n" seconds of rocket launch detection). For their service in Iraq, Afghanistan and the War on Terror various SAF officers have been awarded US service medals as pats on their backs. These include the US Legion of Merit, the US Joint Service Commendation Medal, the US Army Bronze Star and the US Army Commendation Medal, just to name a few. Currently, just six servicemen from the SAF's final deployment remain in Afghanistan as imagery analysts.
15. Since 2009, more than 700 sailors, soldiers and airmen have operated under the ambit of the multinational CTF 151 as part of the counter-piracy effort in the Gulf of Aden (GoA). In September 2012, a 145-person task group comprising of RSS Intrepid and a naval helicopter was deployed to the GoA under CTF 151. Further, Singapore naval officers and their command teams have been deployed to command CTF 151 in another three separate occasions, with the latest Singapore command team of 28 and six international officers (Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Korea) deployed in March 2013.
16. On 22 February 2011, 116 SAF personnel, were involved in an annual joint exercise with the NZDF, when the New Zealand earthquake struck. These SAF personnel were deployed along with NZDF personnel to Christchurch to provide disaster relief and to support the evacuation of civilians and emergency workers. To augment the relief efforts, additional SAF personnel (including a command team), 4 rescue dogs and the Singapore Civil Defence Force's (SCDF) heavy urban search and rescue team and their gear were airlifted over 8,400 km to Christchurch. Thereafter, the two RSAF C130s were deployed alongside NZDF aircraft to create an air bridge to transport relief supplies and people for the duration of the relief efforts.
The SAF's Army Development Force (SG_ADF), which has a high readiness Company of Guardsmen, 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade (7SIB) and its parent division, the 21st Division are the force of choice in joint Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) with American and Australian forces in Asia. The choice of which of these Singapore Guards formations (SG_ADF, 7SIB or 21st Division) deployed depends on scale of operations. This is frequently practiced as part of Exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand via the deployment of a Singapore Division Command element for the exercise.
For the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, commander 7SIB was deployed along with the men.
For the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean Tsunami, commander 21st Division (a 1 star) and his command staff were deployed to support operations in Indonesia. SAF operations at Meulaboh, with over 1,500 troops was a brigade sized command at work in humanitarian assistance / disaster relief operations. The SAF has been observing the US Marines and their concept of operational maneuver from the sea. The SAF's conduct of operations at Meulaboh, was live demonstration of this capability at reinforced battalion size level (in multiple phases, supported by the Naval Diving Unit and Engineers for the beachhead pushing supplies to shore from 3 LPDs) and with the brigade HQ (operating like a mini-US Marine MEU, but with lesser resources and people), under a Colonel (who speaks fluent Bahasa), controlling the heli-mobile element (our our terminal air guidance teams set up multiple LZs) to deliver aid to the Indonesians. The then Colonel that was in command at Meulaboh, is now a Minister in the Singapore Government (after retiring as head of Tradoc, at a 1 star level).
By dispersing the SAF's air assets, Commander 21st Division can circumvent some of the restrictions of sea-based flight operations due to the limited aviation capabilities of the Endurance Class LPDs. The synergy that will result from dispersing RSAF aircraft (the proposed F-35Bs and the exisiting AH-64Ds) on land and/or on sea will provide the Commander 21st Division with air support that can be exploited at the time and place of his choosing in support of his subordinate Brigade Commands in their operational maneuver from the sea (OMFTS). OMFTS has the potential to force an enemy to defend a large area in the face of 21st Division's heli-mobility and ability to come by the sea (to conduct power projection in the face of light opposition).
The acquisition of the F-35B, if it occurs
, will give an augmented 7SIB the combat power of a reinforced US Marine MEB, without its ability to sustain the force. Without a LHD/LHA to sustain the F-35Bs, Singapore has limited ability to sustain the force (but the intent is to fit our force into a coalition, rather than go it alone). It would be premature to talk about LHDs/LHAs in 2013 as Singapore lacks the resources to develop and sustain this capability (with the current defence budget). Singapore is further away from such a naval force structure, due to limited national resources to raise, train and sustain.
If you look at Singapore's 2012 or 2013 defence budget, it is not classed as a middle power (Australia, Canada, South Korea or Spain, just to name a few). Keep in mind that Singapore defence spending is one level below and there are limits to what the SAF can do to stretch Singaporean defence dollars at this time. The SAF is simply not as well resourced as the USMC (with the 8 Wasp class LHDs and the America class LHAs being built), the Italians (with the Cavour) or the British (with the Queen Elizabeth class), who are resourced for fixed wing naval air operations.
...but would it be more logical to go with the A with commonalty with Australia in a logistical spares footprint since I would imagine most of their training would be in Australia.
Not so simple.
I have spoken to ADMk2 on the trends in ADF and SAF force development over the last few years. We agree that both countries seem to be developing complementary capabilities and this means different but complementary equipment, for slightly different roles. Both Defence Ministers do consult each other for overseas deployments, burden sharing in operations, and have formalized this as an annual meeting (the relationship has grown by leaps and bounds since East Timor). Case in point, RAAF acquires Growlers and RSAF acquires the F-15SG, giving us complementary aircraft to form a combined strike package and the same or similar logic may apply to the F-35A and F-35B acquisition by the two respective air forces.
There is some RSAF training in Australia but it is done on a unilateral basis and it only part of the basic portion of the fighter pilot training cycle. RSAF pilots are selected at the Air Grading Center (AGC), which is based in Tamworth, Australia (operating the CT-4 aircraft). After AGC, the trainees are sent to OCS in Singapore for training. Thereafter, these trainees attend the Basic Wings Course (BWC) with 130 Squadron. The BWC is 34 weeks and is held in Pearce, Western Australia with training conducted on the newly acquired Pilatus PC-21. Before proceeding for advanced training, trainees are also commissioned as officers upon completion of this basic phase of training.
The transition to the M346 aircraft in 150 Squadron (at Cazaux Airbase in France) and with the introduction of new training capabilities will allow the RSAF to conduct her own ab-initio WSO (Fighter) courses. Currently, for a WSO (Fighter), he or she attends a 72 week course to meet WSO requirements at either Naval Air Station Pensacola, USA and Salon or Tours Air Bases in France, respectively. Upon successful completion, they earn the coveted WSO (Fighter) Wings before their next training stint.
Next, the trainees are posted to the US at either Luke AFB (F-16C/D) or Mountain Home AFB (F-15SG) for fighter training, to stand-up as a squadron. It is a long training cycle.