The flight was symbolic of the progress the RSAF had made in expanding its operational envelope from land to sea, now that Seahawks acquired under CAF's watch as part of Project Peace Triton are ready for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.
As the general prepared to step up to the role of Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Forces, one final flight awaited him in his capacity as CAF. This time, in a fixed wing fighter.
Many people love to play guessing games, which is why Singapore Pools is doing so well.
The latest buzz among military buffs centres on the type and number of warplane Singapore
The stakes were opened by a 25 March 2013 online article with a headline that screamed "Singapore Poised to Announce Purchase of 12 F-35Bs". Click here for the full story.
The AOL Defense story's intro reads:"Singapore is expected to announce sometime in the next 10 days that it plans to buy its first squadron --12 planes -- of some 75 of Lockheed Martin's F-35Bs, further bolstering what had been the flagging fortunes of the world's most expensive conventional weapon system."
That definitive-sounding opener got the tribe uber excited.
The story reignited dormant discussion threads on the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes.
It stoked numerous theories on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of spending money on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet when the American warplane had generated and continues to sustain mixed reviews from the United States military aviation community.
It triggered countless Google searches on the F-35 from netizens eager to polish their familiarity with a new generation stealth fighter marketed by Lockheed as the next big thing.
Well, those 10 days have come and gone. We have yet to hear the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) say anything and there's no official word from the defense community in CONUS either. Not a squeak.
Saying a lot without saying anything
Scroll back to early March and one would find MINDEF's longest statement on the F-35 in recent years - a statement that could have led observers to think there is no smoke without fire.
Wrapping up the debate on the defence budget, Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen said:"Investing steadily over the long-term allows MINDEF to keep a constant lookout for platforms with cutting-edge capabilities that can provide Singapore with that strategic advantage. For this reason, we joined the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Programme as a Security Cooperation Participant (SCP) back in 2004. The JSF, as some members know, now the F-35, has the potential to be the most advanced multi-role fighter aircraft for decades to come.
"Though the F-35 aircraft is still in development, we are nonetheless interested in the platform for our future needs. The F-35 will be the vanguard of next generation fighter aircraft when operational. Our F-5s are nearing the end of their operational life and our F-16s are at their mid-way mark. For the longer term, the RSAF has identified the F-35 as a suitable aircraft to further modernise our fighter fleet. We are now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35. So in the interest of transparency, I'm telling you we're now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35. MINDEF will have to be satisfied that this state-of-the-art multi-role fighter meets our long-term needs, is on track to be operationally capable and, most importantly, is a cost-effective platform. I've given many necessary caveats before we make a final decision, but we are evaluating the platform."
Whether you're for or against the F-35, Dr Ng's carefully calibrated lines appear to indicate that it is only a matter of time before a deal is struck. And then again, perhaps not as you'll notice that the statement gives MINDEF wriggle room to back out of any decision without losing face.
It would not be the first time Singov has come out openly to discuss fighter purchases.
S'pore's 1st fighter purchase
In the late 1960s, Britain offered to sell English Electric Lightning F.6 fighter jets to the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC). The 12 Lightnings that Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) based at RAF Tengah were then regarded as the fastest fighter interceptors in the region. The twin-engined warplanes served with the RAF's Number 74 "Tiger" Squadron.
The supersonic Lightnings - in their time the Royal Air Force's most capable interceptor - were rejected in favour of subsonic Hawker Hunter fighter/ground attack aircraft. RAF Hunters operated out of RAF Tengah with Number 20 Squadron.
The idea was for the Lightnings to serve as day interceptors for air defence while Hawker Hunters were described with the innocuous term as "trainers". *rolls eyeballs*
At the time of acquisition, the Hunters were combat proven, adored by pilots who flew them and respected by those who flew against these warbirds. So the then Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC, forerunner to today's RSAF) had few sceptics to contend with. In the end, the plan to introduce two advanced jet fighters to the fledgling air force was judged overly ambitious and Lightnings were quietly axed from the air force's wish-list.
Singaporean fighter pilots had to wait a full decade before Northrop F-5 warplanes capable of flying supersonic were added to RSAF flightline under Project Peace "O" (full project name deleted).
Lightning strikes twice
Having once rejected a Lightning warplane (the English Electric Lightning F.6), will the Lightning name (this time the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II) also be shown the door by Singapore's air defence planners?
The claims and counter-claims from both F-35 camps aren't all bad.
It serves to promote awareness of RSAF airpower. It gives Singapore's air force free publicity in cyberspace as netizens speculate, theorise and argue over its future order of battle.
It prods people to ask why Singapore has built up its air power the way it is.
But the presence of sceptics, particularly those from the US aviation community whose professional credentials cannot be scoffed at, signals that any F-35 decision ought to be accompanied by a public relations game plan that explains our case.
In other words, we do not want to be seen as having bought a lemon if a deal is struck.
And if all bets are off, Singaporeans deserve assurance that the RSAF will continue to maintain its capability edge while fielding other types of manned and unmanned air assets.
Among the RSAF's stable of high performance warplanes, Maj-Gen Ng picked the twin-seater F-5T Tiger II as his choice for his last flight as CAF. The F-5T - the oldest jet trainer in the RSAF's stable - was chosen over twin-seater F-16D, F-16D+ and F-15SGs and this choice did not go unnoticed by airmen who had worked with and seen Maj-Gen Ng's career earn him top spot in the RSAF's command tree.
This flight was rich in symbolism too. The slender F-5 was the fighter jet that CAF was trained to fly and fight as a pilot trainee. He climbed through the ranks to command the RSAF's 144 Squadron - the air force's first squadron to fly supersonic F-5s - as his first squadron command. [Incidentally, the command tour of RSAF F-5 unit, 149 Squadron, was cherished by Maj-Gen Ng's elder brother, Maj-Gen Ng Chee Khern so much that it was no coincidence that 149 SQN was chosen to operate the Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagles - Singapore's most advanced warplane.]
As the F-5T soared off the runway for the flight to Tengah Air Base, the landscape observed by the outgoing CAF had changed much from the time he first strapped on an F-5E. Still, the constraints of being a tiny island city-state, the urban density and Singapore's position astride one of the world's most important shipping lanes were plainly obvious beneath his fighter jet.
As Chief of Defence Force, the general would likely preside over the drawdown of the RSAF's F-5 community.
This CDF - who is only the second air force officer to hold that title - will likely preside over a paradigm shift in RSAF air power as the decision over a new warplane type and unveiling of a replacement for the 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns are likely to take place during his watch. Exciting times await us.