Saturday, July 14, 2012

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) air staff takes creative approach in studying airpower

Armed forces have much to learn from one another in the art, science and conduct of military operations.

Learning opportunities abound in the civilian world too, as evidenced by a study trip said to have been made by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to a courier company in a foreign country some time ago.

Singapore air force officers spent many hours on an airplane to get to their destination just to see air activity unfold over a span of some three hours. And the ops tempo was intense. In that time, well over 100 air cargo planes arrived at the air hub to have tonnes of cargo sorted, redirected and sent on its way - all within a tight timeline.

Bound by delivery standards that customers pay to expect in the cut throat courier business, the civilian company's staff had to work fast and load each freighter accurately according to its fresh cargo manifest. Late arrivals had a knock-on effect on departure timetables as cargo needed to be moved from one aircraft to another and a late package could hold up a departing flight.

The sheer volume of cargo transactions meant that even a tiny percentage error rate could result in a sizeable amount of missing cargo or items despatched on a longer journey when it could have gone on a more direct flight.

The RSAF study group watched intently as a steady stream of incoming freighters landed and were marshalled to their respective parking bays before a small army of ground support staff swarmed round the planes to get cargo pallets unloaded.

In a cavernous sorting area, conveyor belts hummed as a steady stream of boxes, packages, perishable and fragile cargo from all over the world - containing items of inestimable monetary and intrinsic value - flooded the sorting area in what is described as organised chaos. Within hours, the ground staff had to work out the destination airport that would get the package to its address in the shortest possible time. Weight limits for cargo pallets were calculated and freighters reloaded, refuelled and sent on their way. With the clock ticking, this was no place for slackers.

Management processes fine-tuned by this courier company were the RSAF's takeaway as it sought to find a better way to generate and sustain its airpower.

If you think about it, there are many parallels with how an air force perfects SOPs to turnaround warplanes, combat helicopters and drones. Aircraft on ground are targets. They become weapons of war only when they are airborne, armed and fuelled with the right mix of munitions and flown by an aircrew well appraised of the air situation picture and the determination to get the warload to its destination.

In the RSAF, mission readiness exercises such as Exercise Hotshot provide excellent opportunities for air crew, ground staff and RSAF engineers to demonstrate how they intend to keep airpower airborne. For example, when the A-4 Super Skyhawk was our principal air strike platform, hot refuellings were routinely practised during Hotshot with the Skyhawk's turbofan running. Armourers were timed on how fast munitions could be loaded onto hardpoints rapidly and accurately, in daylight and low light for simulated night attack missions. Keeping the turnaround time as short as possible is a valuable force multiplier.

As there are some 500 combinations to load an F-16 warplane with munitions, sensors and fuel tanks, the job of RSAF air strike planners can be daunting. Add in the different performance envelopes for different RSAF warplanes (F-15SG, F-16C, F-16D, F-16D+, F-5S), the number and mix of war machines needed (air defence suppression, strike, escort, AEW/MPA, recce and CSAR) to achieve mission success, and the operational necessity of working alongside Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units in the event of coordinated strikes and the work load grows significantly.

In addition, planners have to think about how to deconflict airspace because the same patch of sky could be used by manned and unmanned RSAF assets. Airspace could also be used as firing lanes by Singapore Artillery, whose barrages of tube and rocket munitions could pose a hazard to RSAF strike packages.

That study trip to the courier company is commendable. It is reassuring to know that the RSAF's air staff is prepared to think unconventionally in its quest to assess and adopt best practices from the military and civilian world in its learning journey and no distance is too far to acquire such insight.


owntimeowntarget said...


David Boey said...


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