Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16 fleet due to receive improved combat capabilities from Mid-Life Upgrade

Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) F-16s, the warplane that forms the core of the air force's striking power, are due for a mid-life upgrade (MLU) that will improve the fighter's ability to sense-make, fly and fight, in all weather, day and night.

Fresh data from the United States indicates that the value of this proposed project, cited as US$2.43 billion or around S$3.09 billion (US$1: S$1.27), could make this the most ambitious warplane MLU ever led by Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). The RSAF F-5 Tiger is the last fighter type upgraded by MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), under Project M.

Scope of Singapore's F-16 upgrade
The F-16 upgrade is significant because defence electronics have advanced since Singapore ordered its first F-16C/Ds in the early 1990s. Fighters of that era are equipped with defence electronics whose computing power, processing speed, bandwidth and networking ability pale in comparison with today's state-of-the-art - imagine using a handphone or PC from that era and you get the picture.

So while the RSAF's F-16s can do the job today, it is imperative that the black boxes that form the brain and nerve centre of the fighter are brought up to date with a new radar that can detect threats from a greater distance and therefore allow the pilot to make best use of longer range precision weapons, all this while exchanging data with other SAF assets seamlessly and securely in real-time and with minimal human intervention, thus cutting down on the pilot's workload.

The MLU would keep the RSAF F-16 fleet fighting fit for years to come, allowing the air force to maximise the airframe hours left on the type even after nearly two decades of operations (F-16C/Ds entered service in phases, so the bulk of the fleet is well below 20 years old).

A wish-list of items said to be destined for the RSAF's F-16s, posted online yesterday by the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), outlines the extensiveness of the MLU for RSAF current F-16 fleet, which is the most numerous fighter type in the RSAF order of battle.

The RSAF flies three types of single engine F-16s, the oldest of which were ordered 20 years ago. These are the single-seat F-16C, the twin-seat F-16D and twin-seat F-16D+, which are configured with additional electronics for self-protection against enemy missiles and conformal fuel tanks for extended range/loiter time.

RSAF units that fly the F-16 are:
* 140 Squadron (the RSAF's most established fighter squadron)
* 143 Squadron (it spearheaded the introduction of A-4 Super Skyhawks, in their day the RSAF's most numerous fighter type) and
* 145 Squadron (it flies the most extensively furnished Vipers, the F-16D+).

The DSCA, the US government agency that oversees arms sales to foreign nations, informed the American Congress on Monday of a "possible Foreign Military Sale to Singapore for an upgrade of F-16 Block 52 aircraft and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of US$2.43 billion".

F-16 MLU wish-list
The list of items  mentioned in the DSCA statement is likely to draw interest from defence buffs and Singapore watchers.

"The Government of Singapore has requested an upgrade of 60 F-16C/D/D+ aircraft.  The upgrades will address reliability, supportability, and combat effectiveness concerns associated with its aging F-16 fleet.

The items being procured in this proposed sale include:
   70  Active Electronically Scanned Array Radars (AESA)
   70  LN-260 Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems (GPS/INS)
   70  Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS)
   70 APX-125 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Combined Interrogator Transponders
   3   AIM-9X Block II Captive Air Training Missiles
   3   TGM-65G Maverick Missiles for testing and integration
   4   GBU-50 Guided Bomb Units (GBU) for testing and integration
   5   GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions for testing and integration
   3   CBU-105 (D-4)/B Sensor Fused Weapons for testing and integration
   1   AIS Interface Test Adapters for software updates
   1   Classified Computer Program Identification Numbers (CPINs)
   4   GBU-49 Enhanced Paveways for testing and integration
   2   DSU-38 Laser Seekers for testing and integration
   6   GBU-12 Paveway II, Guidance Control Units"

The RSAF is known to have some 500 different ways to equip its F-16s for combat missions.

From the look of things, the MLU is due to expand this repertoire even further should MINDEF/SAF adopt the US proposal to enable upgraded F-16s to carry CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapons, which is a smart munition optimised to hunt and kill armoured targets like tanks and armoured rocket launchers.

RF-16 recce fighters
Senang Diri understands the RSAF F-16C/D/D+ fleet has been phased through progressive capability improvements in the past two decades.

This includes taking on the battlefield reconnaissance role after the RSAF stood down its fleet of RF-5S Tigereye recce fighters, which were modified locally with nose-mounted optical sensors. Recce F-16s are said to fly the role using pod-mounted sensors. These allow RSAF air warfare planners maximum flexibility to field the fighter type for a variety of missions over land or sea. More than just a sensor platform, RSAF F-16s configured for recce flights are said to be able to share what the warplane has captured much faster than the RF-5s which had to land and offload their imagery (let's just leave it at that).

The proposed MLU is timely as the black boxes on RSAF F-16s are of a vintage eclipsed by the  current generation of computer software.

Potent air defences
In terms of flying ability, few would doubt that the F-16 continues to prove to be an agile and nimble fighter. The warplane's small profile and energy make the warplane a potent opponent in the air-to-air domain even without vectored thrust.

When complemented by the ability to shepherd our fighters to the right place, right altitude and right time using ground-controlled intercept, improved sense-making when linked to RSAF airborne early warning aircraft and air-to-air missiles that offer the pilot the ability to execute beyond visual range or off boresight engagements, the RSAF F-16's status as the mainstay of the RSAF's strike capability looks secure, with the proposed MLU extending the fighter's relevance for the coming years.

Add to this strength in numbers, with up to 60 RSAF F-16s on call during a national emergency, complemented by 24 F-15SGs and dwindling numbers of F-5S - when you're out of F-5s, you're out of fighters - as well as MINDEF/SAF interest in future manned platforms such as the Joint Strike Fighter as well as unmanned options and one can tell that the RSAF's Air Combat Command will have a busy and promising time well beyond WY 2014/15.

To the fighter mix, one must add multi-layered ground-based air defences operated by RSAF air defence squadrons, including but not limited to upgraded Improved HAWKs, Spyders, four types of MANPADS and the long-serving 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft artillery and other system fielded by RSAF 160 SQN :-)

Sea-based air defences, in the form of Aster batteries aboard Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class stealth frigates, can be expected to play their part in safeguarding the island nation's skies too.

Above all, a formidable combination for defending the Lion City against aerial threats.

See the RSAF Black Knights demonstrate what the F-16s can do in the air at the Singapore Airshow 2014.

You may also like:
This story of an unnamed fighter upgrade project. Click here.


Loyal citizen said...

Hi Boey,

I think what matters the most is the ability of our defence engineers to gain access to the warplanes source codes and the "Yanks" willingness to provide them. To maximise the combat potential of our existing warplanes really depend our defence scientists ability to integrate our "local systems" with the U.S ones. A stand alone system will only add burden to our pilots' workload and degrade their effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

Wonder whether our $16,000 a month MPs knows what the heck..are they approving the SAF budget...or simply wasting all the monies away...just to satisfy the ego of the the Americans / pilots etc...

Anonymous said...

What is the budget for the conversion..still in the discussion or "plucked" from the air..

Anonymous said...


/// LKY and Dr Goh, I can safely say that they all expected things to be perfect from Day 1. So now Ms Teo implying that because of their exacting standards, they were encouraging inefficiencies and wastefulness? ///

The difference is that the old guards were paid in thousands, and delivered superior performance from Day 1. Now the newbies are paid in the millions, and screwed up things royally. And instead of coming clean, blame the people instead.

Likewise, the old guard created global/regional companies like SIA, NOL, PSA, DBS, Keppel Corp, Sembawang Corp, etc. Now, what have the millionaires created? Charles & Keith? Hyflux? Wait, these are private sector companies and not that big anyway…….


Loyal citizen said...

In the era of electronic warfare and deceptions. The battle situation has become increasingly fluid. Should the unthinkable happens, RSAF must be tasked to adopt asymmetrical measure to deal a crippling blow to potential aggressors. In addition, our engineers must be tasked with the heavy responsibility of swiftly modifying our onboard systems to meet the changing threats.

Anonymous said...

January 15, 2014 at 9:08 PM "Wonder whether our $16,000 a month MPs knows what the heck..are they approving the SAF budget...or simply wasting all the monies away...just to satisfy the ego of the the Americans / pilots etc..."


Firstly, MPs do not approve or vote on such spending. This is up to the minister. Second, if you are a minister or MP, you approve everything if you want to be a minister or MP next term. Otherwise, plenty of people willing to take your place.

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to make a fair bet that some of these ministers wish they had not opened the can of worms that exists today. They wish they did not allow the mass import of foreigners that got businesses hooked, broke the public health and transportation systems, and can only be fixed by importing more foreigners. It can't be shut off without a catastrophic recession or worse, unrest. Eventually the foreigners will have them -and us- by the balls.

But too bad, they approved blindly or sat mute, as described above. Now they are out of options. I don't pity the victims, they were equally blind. If they suffer, it's natural justice. After decades of cheering when people got detained indefinitely for speaking up, no one owes them a bailout.

Anonymous said...

after the upgrade is completed, the RASF F-16 drivers will kick even more asses and take more names !

Anonymous said...

Hope that all our fighters are also well enough protected when on ( or under ???) the ground !!!

Much easier for an opponent to take out the handful of airstrips and bases than trying to neutralize air assets when they are in the air.

MINDEF shud perhaps spend more money in upgrading RSAF land ( & below ground ) assets

David Boey said...

Hi Anon 12:11AM 16 Jan14,
There is concern among some of us that some new citizens, whose endearing ties to their Motherland slip unnoticed by the security screeners, may one day stab us in the back.

This is why continuing engagements are important for our new citizens to settle in quickly to the SG way of life and build heartware with this place.

If you wish, please email me as I intend to expand upon the points you raised closer to Total Defence Day as thought-drivers. A discussion in a C2D related topic would be more apt than riding on this F-16 MLU post.

Key among them: Is this an inevitable death spiral or can something be done to pull us out of a (perceived?) flat spin, to use an air force analogy.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Dear David,

The devil as always is in the details. Do remember that DSCA announcements are of a DESIRE to sell and not necessarily of an actual sale.

Whats is interesting visa sa vis the SALE. Is two listed items and the details in the annex..One is " classified CPIN now " second is a "software maintenance laboratory ". and Modular Mission Computers.

In essence the "brains" and the source code behind the brains are being released to us.

You will also notice that apart from IFF and radar no ECM and defensive equipment are on the list.


Anonymous said...

Dear David

Airforces monthly has a picture of an F 16 with a RTP pod from ELta. or a SAR Elta Pod. The brochure below has a Reccelite GES on a SAF style truck.

All the pods are tactical. I do wonder if they have the strategic pods in stock. El Op and LOROP and the ELTA Long range SAR pod

Anonymous said...

Dear David

Airforces monthly has a picture of an F 16 with a RTP pod from ELta. or a SAR Elta Pod. The brochure below has a Reccelite GES on a SAF style truck.

All the pods are tactical. I do wonder if they have the strategic pods in stock. El Op and LOROP and the ELTA Long range SAR pod

Anonymous said...

I can foresee at least two possible ways in which new citizens may subvert our defence and our ability to chart our wider national destiny.

The first is a potential reluctance of our principal suppliers to give us access to their latest technology due to foreigners' presence in the armed forces or relationships with our armed forces personnel.

The second is the potential for a large foreign population to reduce the nation's freedom of action in a confrontation in which Singapore must choose sides. This outweighing and impacting Singapore's support for any militaries' activities, practicing with them and training in their territories in peace time.

With respect to "continuing engagements for our new citizens to settle in quickly to the SG way of life and build heartware with this place,"

Such efforts, even if successful with the foreigner population, will do nothing stop the few foreign agents sent to SG specifically for a mission for their motherland. They are a in a different class altogether.

Anonymous said...

Which is more cost effective?
Upgrading the F-16 or purchasing more F-15SG?

Anonymous said...

They are tailored for different missions. Why send a 5 ton truck to do a 1600cc grocery run ;-)

twin engine F15 fuel consumption plus to pay salary for the weapons officer drives up operating cost. Maybe need to balance between cost and minimal operational demand one can handle?


Anonymous said...


good points put across sensitively without naming names but we know lah haha ...

that is why first generation citizen are exempted from NS, you just do not want to put them as well as our security in a difficult position when ...

however, their children having grown up in SG among the locals is a different story.

The very sensitive topic of race and now nationality of late comes into play with regards to nation states that we are trying to purchase and get them to train our soldiers in... They may have reservations if the racial and "nationality" profile changes radically in the SAF. This trusting relationship was built by the first pioneer generation of SG leaders, come a long way. Please think thrice .

Anonymous said...

Your input does make sense..thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

Even if we only recruit 2nd generation PRs into NS, they still have a different upbringing, outlook and social environment from us. It is possible in Singapore to be friends only with people from your own country. We cannot discount the chances of one being recruited by a foreign power, even if not directly sent into Singapore.

I think the best thing to do is to make all eligible 1st generation PRs serve NS, as our defence is short of manpower. There are ample standard security clearance jobs in which they can pitch in. This way, we are also attracting only immigrants who have a commitment to Singapore. When PM Lee said that if we made 1st gen PRs serve NS, then (quote) "we would not get the people we want," I found it an odd contradiction of this logic.

However, I also believe that some PRs in the military will pose a challenge in the sense of disciplinary problems. Furthermore, our Singaporean recruits will be quick to either question any perceived differences in disciplinary treatment or exhibit the same behavioral norms. In other words, if PRs introduce a new standard, then it will become the force wide standard.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:43Pm

you propose we take in 1st gen citizens or PRs into NS?

1) 1st gen is one cetegory.
2) PR is a whole different category.

for 1) - just take a look at this Li Yi Ming (former PRC but now SG citizen), you tekan him a bit during training, he will threaten to call in the PLA 2nd artillery to nuke SG ... they are still at heart in the land of their birth.

for 2) - refer to 1) sama sama.

interestingly, in the US of A, they have this program where the USA grant green card to people who are willing to serve in the Armed Services and usually get shipped to Afghanistan. And if they survive and return "home", viola! They become citizens.

Maybe in the SG version, we can offer citizenship to young man who are willing to serve 2 years full time NS and 10 ICT cycles - we give them. But then again, SG does not have the lure like "the land of the free"...

During my NSF eons ago, we have a boy returned with his parents from Hong Kong i.e. he practically grew up in HK but returned to served NS as a sinkie. He took his A-levels here and follwed by full time NS. He's a good, quiet boy. A few years younger than us, so we treated him good and try to look after him. I think Hongkies are easier to assimilate because both grew up through the British administration, "acclimatized" with the idea of the rule of law, etc. ?

And 10+ years later during one of my last leg of reservist ICT, i knew this chap - a former PRC, 2nd gen. His parents worked here as ordinary workers and he only came to SG in his late teens. Din even have O-levels, but a joker LOL. We like to listen to his exploit in Geylang. At that time he was a construction plaster man. Just like us he has very colourful expletives about NS! In original hokkian version somemore as he hailed from Fujian province.

i am thinking you can only induct them into SAF - if and only if we spread them thinly throughout the ORBAT, and not let them congregate. They have no choice but to "talk" to us his platoon mates sinkies and become like us in order to survive the unit "politics" and dynamics.

Anonymous said...

continue from 9:21am

But i still think no. Stick with the second generation intake.

1) No 1st gen.
2) No PR.

Anonymous said...

I agree that PRs must be spread thinly throughout the ORBAT otherwise some of them will act like little gods in the SAF, and be hard to enforce discipline over like the rest of us obedient Singaporeans. However, if we exempt them from NS, are we not elevating their status to little gods in society, since Singaporeans are compelled to provide them with security?

There is something I treasure about the SAF- our NSFs care about their jobs. When you look at many conscript and even regular armed forces, you can see they are not as serious in their training. It is a sort of mental conditioning that you must do your job properly otherwise it is fair that you are punished. In other countries, just being there is considered good enough. It is really a uniquely Singaporean thing. This is something we risk losing if we induct PRs into NS.

Anonymous said...

How we Singaporeans feel about them as "little gods" is one thing, compromising our security is a real and potential danger if we frivolously induct them into our security apparatus.

Anonymous said...

True. The danger is potentially greater than any posed by our immediate neighbours.

So we have a few choices:
1. take in fewer PRs
2. take them in but don't make them serve
3. make 1st gen PRs and citizens serve NS. At age 18, go army or go jail- no skipping town. Only the willing will come forward to be PR here. Strengthen our vetting so they are not posted to sensitive units or vocations.

I like number 3. Ultimately we need to practice a little of number 1 if we want our Singaporean core to have heartware and to reproduce.

Anyway why am I talking so much. He rules as he sees fit.


Anonymous said...

True must practice no. 1 :-)
As for 3)- a) 1st Gen citizens, b) PRs.

3a) due to human nature reasons, make it voluntary. Those who come forward and is able to last the duration of the part-time 10 months BMT, followed by 10 ICT cycles - they become our brothers.

for 3b) if the PR wants to "fast track" their status from PR to citizen, we offer them the NS route. If they drop out mid way, back to the queue.

for young PRs, it is possible to take them for the full time NS but for already working adult PRs may allow to take the part time 10 months program.

Anonymous said...

I think 3a is a bit difficult in practice. Which employer is so good as to let you take one week off per month for 10 months? If you mean weekend BMT- sounds a bit difficult too.

Many PRs are also prefectly happy being PRs and have no desire to grab citizenship, what more if they must do NS. Hence they won't go for 3b.

I think the whole PR-and-Women-Corps is just a PR exercise to make foreigners look committed and make the whole population policy look good. It is a reservist scheme. But then if both man and woman get called for reservist, who will take care of the children? If it is the kind of unit where you can freely defer ICT and complete ICT individually, it must be a unit of no military value, in other words, a wayang.

Anonymous said...

And that is why the scheme is on a voluntary basis for 1st Gen and women, quite similar to the current police VC scheme.

somehow SG does not invoke the kind of passion in would be immigrants unlike the state of Israel or the USA.

if you were to implement a compulsory NS scheme on them, the gov will get a strong push back such that the later may be tempted to appease these new citizens and PRs by making them go thru a watered down version of BMT and then declaring that these PRs since they have served NS so they are eligible to vote in our general elections!

Not only do we have to fend ourselves against external threat but it is so sad that we need to read the motives of our very own leaders to make sure that we citizens have a place to call home.

Anonymous said...

Already we are seeing some tension in the social fabric of the Singapore family. We do not want to inflict this malady onto the SAF.

The SAF represent the business end of the nation's defence. They don't philosophise about defence, that is the purview of the defence academia. The SAF treat all credible threats that the academia can come up with as existential, real and potentially dangerous and all contingencies must be planned for. When the SAF is unleashed, it will be violent and terrible on the enemy. It cannot entertain self doubt. It has to strike as one.

Please do not introduce questionable elements and induct them into the SAF. It is easier to due with discontented sinkies after all we got no way to go, this is our only home, at the end of the day we are still family.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with your logic. A sad situation we are in.

"gov tempted to appease these new citizens and PRs by making them go thru a watered down version of BMT" An appeasement which has never before been granted to Singaporeans who have served NS and upheld the leaders' survival for four generations!

The SAF has prevailed even though the odds are stacked against us. Yes, our contest should be exclusively in the political arena. Even though the media, electoral, educational, housing upgrading, systems are are stacked against us, we too must find a way to prevail against the threat of extinction.

Anonymous said...

^ If we let PRs into the SAF, they may behave like this

Anonymous said...

the country is in good hands, that I can rest assure you.

The F-16 fleet is definitely a strong one.

-one of them

Unknown said...

the CBU does look very potent against stationary armoured vehicles in the open, not sure how it fare againts moving targets in a somewhat close terrain.

Anonymous said...

If we let PRs serve in war, with the level of self control of some examples, I am worried they will commit a war crime and put Singapore on the world map for the wrong reasons.

Better keep them away from the front and let these hitherto freeriders serve in a support vocation, to contribute to their own security.