Saturday, July 7, 2012

Republic of Singapore Air Force I-Hawk anti-aircraft missile batteries to mark 30 years of operations

If your business or schoolwork was done on a 30-year-old computer, people are more likely to notice the age of the system than be impressed by its computing power.

If you protected Singapore's skies with a 30-year-old guided missile system, the same thoughts might cross the mind of pilots tasked to fly against the weapon system.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) Improved Hawk (I-Hawk) surface-to-air missile batteries, which mark their 30th anniversary this month, may be old but are a force to be reckoned with.

RSAF I-Hawks have populated order of battle data sheets for the past three decades. The American-made weapon system is older than teenage full-time National Servicemen and indeed many of the RSAF regulars assigned to the I-Hawk missile squadron. In terms of computing power, the latest smart phones many of you use pack more juice than the I-Hawk command and control system when first delivered to the Singapore Air Defence Artillery (SADA) in the early 1980s.

The past 30 years have seen an interesting evolution for our I-Hawks. Today's Improved Homing All-the-Way Killers - the missile's full name - are no pyrotechnic antiques, thanks to improvements in weapons technology and modifications to concept of operations that guarantee hostile pilots will get a closer look at the dart-shaped missile than they bargained for.

Improving the Improved Hawk
From the get-go, Singapore's defence scientists and weapons engineers sought to reduce the footprint of a fully deployed I-Hawk missile unit by assessing how the system, which relied on several types of towed radars to scan airspace, could reduce its TO&E.

Gaps in operational capability, such as the weapon system's ability to detect, identify, track, engage and destroy low-level targets amid ground clutter, were identified and addressed. The air force did this by using Ericsson Super Giraffe radars to serve I-Hawk missile batteries even though neither Raytheon, the missile's manufacturer, nor the United States Army, had tried this configuration.

It is understood that because the Americans did not believe or support the proposed modification, Singapore had to buy several I-Hawk systems configured to full US specifications as a precondition for purchasing components of the weapon system (namely launcher and HPI) that RSAF air defence planners and Singaporean weapons engineers wanted to specially configure. This is why the RSAF ended up operating I-Hawk batteries in two configurations known colloqially as the American and Swedish fire units.

The RSAF added Super Giraffe radars to its I-Hawk missile batteries right from the start, pioneering what became known as the Swedish configuration of its Improved Assault Fire Unit (IAFU) in a nod to the Giraffe's Swedish origin. The Super Giraffe radar cabin, mounted on Mercedes Benz 6x6 trucks for enhanced cross-country mobility, doubled as a missile battery command and control post where I-Hawk air defence officers and NCOs would direct and fight the air battle.

The American and Swedish Improved Assault Fire Units IAFUs that resulted from the air defence study spearheaded by Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Headquarters RSAF and SADA added another credible layer to the multi-layer integrated air defence system, whose mission of defending Singapore skies in peace and war in a FIR criss-crossed by a heavy volume of civilian air traffic remains a complex one.

RSAF's multi-layered air defence
When the 80km-plus Bloodhound SAMs were stood down, the 40km x 18km high kill zone guarded by I-Hawks 24/7 formed the first line of missile defences that protected the Lion City against air attack. Today, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters have added Aster anti-aircraft missiles aboard Republic of Singapore Navy's Formidable-class stealth frigates to the national air defence network. This move underlines the importance of the Third Generation SAF to train and fight as an integrated fighting force with close collaboration and cooperation between land, air, naval and intelligence forces.

Long after staff officers responsible for the I-Hawk enhancements retired, the momentum from those early mods and determination to deliver an air defence guided weapon system that the RSAF can confidently use to deploy, detect and defend our skies continued unabated.

Old analogue hardware used to guide I-Hawk missiles to their target has been replaced by a fully digitised system which helps the system perform its assigned mission more reliably, even under threat of Enemy interference using soft or hard kill options.

I-Hawk Remote Engagement Section
The network of underground, protected fibre optic lines that link dispersed I-Hawk missile fire units, known as Remote Engagement Sections, keep RES missileers fully appraised of the air situation picture in their air defence identification zone even with no emitters close by to betray their presence to an Enemy with sharp ears. This fibre optic network is among the least appreciated of RSAF improvements but lies at the heart of efforts to harden Singapore against determined attempts to knock out or suppress our air defences.

Immune to jamming, the fibre optic network allows the air defence commander to wield I-Hawk fire units with maximum unity of command even under threat of enemy fire. The missile batteries have low or no electronic signature and can remain so till it is time for the I-Hawks to fly.

The I-Hawk missiles do not fight alone. Aerial intruders have to first punch through the RSAF's fighter screen flown by F-15SG Strike Eagles and F-16s before coming into the range rings of the I-Hawk, Spyder low to medium level SAMs and SHORADS such as the Igla (shoulder-launched and Dzhigit salvo launcher unit), Mistral, RBS-70 and radar-directed Oerlikon 35mm anti-aircraft artillery.

In the air defence arena, Singapore's small size turns out to be a defender's advantage - the range rings for all these weapon systems and RSAF sensors overlap and there are virtually no gaps to filter through, unlike larger countries with huge tracts to airspace to defend. The difficulty in countering all these air defence systems and the loss-exchange ratio that an aerial intruder must be prepared to endure adds to the deterrent value of the RSAF.

Unlike the vanilla I-Hawks delivered straight from Raytheon's factories and operated according to US doctrine, Singapore's modified IAFUs play the game differently, more creatively and are ready to meet and greet the Enemy day or night, under all weather conditions. Every mod and product improvement made by the RSAF had to be supported by a concept of operations that governed rules of engagement for IAFU configurations that were unique to Singapore.

After the upgrade, fewer emitters are slaved to each RSAF I-Hawk fire unit - those that are switched on may be decoys - and the High Power Illuminator that serves modified IAFUs armed with missile triplets on each launcher is about the only emitter needed for the I-HAWK to do its job. Being plugged into the wider range of RSAF sensors also allows the HPIs to up the pace of the air battle and the modified IAFU can service multiple targets at the same time.

Giraffe steps in
Adding new elements such as Super Giraffe radars to guard against low flying targets complicated the job of hostile fliers as the I-Hawk's kill zone was made more lethal for low level intruders. The Giraffes sharpened sense-making for RSAF missileers out to a range of 40km - which suited the I-Hawk fire unit wonderfully as the Super Giraffe's detection range matched the missile's maximum engagement range. With the truck-mounted Super Giraffe radar designed to scan a hemisphere of airspace from low to medium altitude, the Enemy pilot's job of sneaking in at low level was a risky business.

Having served faithfully for decades, the Super Giraffes have stepped aside for the Giraffe Agile Multi-Beam air defence radars that do the job even better, especially against intruders determined to deny an air defence system use of its eyes and ears.(Note: Unlike the SG radars, Giraffe AMBs may not be organic to the I-Hawk squadron but can share track data.)

The upgraded I-Hawk is a vast improvement from the 80s era weapon system and is able to make a positive and decisive impact in the air battle. With upgraded capabilities in sense making and battle management, the improved I-Hawks pack a punch and stand ready to give aerial intruders a warm welcome even after 30 years on active duty.

Such improvements are not happenstance as a weapon system or platform does not upgrade and renew itself automatically. Sustained efforts must be made by the Air Staff to challenge existing concept of operations and think through how the playbook can be improved to suit our specific operational requirements.

The ease with which integrated air defence systems in places like Iraq and more recently Libya were cut to size and rendered operationally ineffective shows that air defence strategists in HQ RSAF must be alert always to changing rules of this high stakes battle.

Happy Anniversary to the RSAF I-Hawk community, past and present, and our foreign friends for being there for this journey.


Anonymous said...

And the replacements for the i-hawks are...

Anonymous said...

Back to square one, our lack of strategic depth, multiple salvo of stand off missile scenario and simultanous MLRS/Arty. SADA is known for it IADS, our foes will go for stand of option, IMHO

Anonymous said...

S'pore's foes, most of the times, can't find their own asses with their own hands.

Anonymous said...

Most if not all enemy arty will be pulverized b4 they can fire a shot. this is the 21st century. it is impossible to conceal troop and equipment movements. who has the best sensors in the region?

Anonymous said...

the answer - the ever shiny "little red dot".

Logiculus said...

Surely some cheap(ish) Patriot batteries will be a significant upgrade.

Seems like we've taken out Rapiers with the Spyder for the low/medium altitude, short/medium range SAM coverage.

Most likely we'll see the Iron dome system which will cover quick reaction intercepts particularly for our installations and vulenrable airfields from any artillery rocket menace of the type similarly emplyed to some tactical menace by the Palestinians.

HIghly likely that we will add a system like Centurion or Mantis to complement iron dome as a final kill solution.

So the only thing missing is a long range intercept which the HAWKS currently cover and to some extent the Aster system.

No ballistic missile threat at the moment but a long range kill system will be effective and one that can to some extent have a limited anti ballisitc missile capability.

Anonymous said...

We can already knock out enemy arty with our own long range weapons - Himars wth 92km GMRLS range, JSOWs, , etc..etc. In the market, Vulcano ammunition is coming online with up to 100km range for tube artillery.

Sabo king said...

So easy to knock out?

Israel having a hard time with shoot and scoot tactics and simple Qassams.

Only need several hidden in jungles at variouas points shooting single shot per location.

Your GMLRS 92 km range will be rendered pointless.

Subramaniam said...

This is a very veeeery old system.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Israel is doing pretty fine managing the qassans et al, especially with iron dome. And you need open clearing to set up arty equipment. And the purpose of a system of multi spectrum sensors is to locate these equipment. And the point of having robust and flexible contigency plans to cope with these exigencies mean the enemy gonna get whacked no matter what happens - that our capabilites will stay largely intact. Most importantly, you cannot hide war preparations giving Sg unparalled benefits.

Anonymous said...

Only need several hidden in jungles at variouas points shooting single shot per location - ever heard of counter artillery radar? the latest ones have range of 100km or more.

Anonymous said...

Aster 30 SAMP/T with Block I missile and augmented by Block II missile will be a suitable replacement for I.HAWK system.

Anonymous said...

Stunner is better.abyfica

Anonymous said...

In fact one does not need sophisticated weapons to significantly degrade the RSAF ability to launch aircraft.

A dozen 120 mm mortars mounted on
M113 type armored vehicles employing shoot and shoot tactics will at at least shut down all the known RSAF runways.

Anonymous said...

Lol. It is one thing to talk about every possibility under the sun. Bear in mind the limitations of tactis and strategy. Those dozen mortar carriers will be smouldering chassis before they can launch anything. And RSAF's contigency plans ensure optimum air power generation.

Anonymous said...

If the thrust of this piece is that the RSAF is more innovative than the US military, it should be remembered that the US always fights only in foreign territory. You cannot prepare a fibre optic network waiting for your rapidly advancing expeditionary forces to plug into when they arrive.

David Boey said...

Hi Anonymous at 28 July 11:53 PM,
If the main theme was that the "RSAF is more innovative than the US military" (your choice of words), I would have said so directly without pulling punches and weathered the flak that comes with it.

This article commemorates 30 years of I-HAWK ops (as indicated in the headline) and talks about how we adapted the system to our specific ops requirements (as indicated in the text). This should not suggest we're one up against the Americans or anyone else.

What works for the RSAF may not suit someone else and vice versa. We at least make the effort to mod certain systems - not all Asian buyers do this.

Am wondering if I should have an executive summary to help some of you folks from reading too much into some postings here. :-)

Best regards,