Friday, May 29, 2020

Circuit breaker Day 53 pix: Guide to Paya Lebar Air Base air activities

If you're working from home near a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) air base, chances are you would have noticed the high level of air activities on weekdays.

And if you're an eastie living near Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) and you're looking at this post in daylight (caveat: Mon to Sat except Thurs, some flying on Sundays during RSAF/FPDA exercises), there's a good chance that you can hear RSAF aircraft flying overhead as you read this.

The three F-15SG Strike Eagles in the top image are among nine such fighter jets that have been observed taking off and returning to Paya Lebar together. The nine F-15s are probably practising for the National Day 2020 flypast.

Here's a visual guide to RSAF planes and helicopters that folks living around PLAB see regularly.

Our thanks to our reader who's stuck at home every day with these flying machines flashing past his window. Every shot posted here was taken by him from the comfort of his living room. All social distancing regulations were strictly observed. He shared them in near real-time with our private chat group, so what you see here is the same as what we usually see on our chat group.
This 149 Squadron F-15SG Strike Eagle is one of PLAB's residents. When F-15s are airborne, you'll hear them soon enough. Noteworthy are the sunset patrol sorties that takeoff around sundown and return about an hour to 1.5 hours later. This one is wheels-up for a go-around.
The 122 Squadron C-130 Hercules is a familiar sight to people living around PLAB. We love watching the pod-equipped "KC-130s" lift off early in the morning around 7AM+ before they head east towards Pedra Branca and the South China Sea. The drone from the Charlies as they climb to their training altitude can be heard all the way from Marine Parade to Hougang. Their sorties last several hours. It's a mystery why the Hercules transports continue to carry two "hose-and-drogue air-to-air refuelling pods" as none of the RSAF fighters are refuelled this way and the pods may be deadweight. Blade antenna configurations vary.

A regular visitor is the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport from 112 SQN. Big and powerful, the MRTT is much quieter than she looks.
Occasional visitors to PLAB include 121 Squadron Fokker 50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, still looking immaculate after many years in service.  
A non-resident fighter type is the F-16 Fighting Falcon. When Tengah Air Base had her runway resurfaced, large numbers of F-16s were seen using PLAB as their temporary home. 
Super Puma medium-lift helicopters (above), Apache attack helicopters, Chinook heavy-lifters and Seahawk naval helicopters have been spotted at PLAB. The wokka-wokka throb of the Chinook's rotors is fairly distinctive and usually heralds the big chopper's approach before you spot it.   
 AH-64D Apache from 120 SQN
CH-47 Chinook from 127 SQN


Chinito said...

Don't forget the C-90 (Victor Foxtrot Kilo) and the civil variant of the G550 that swing by for some pattern work! Would love to contribute if wanted.

Gur Yur said...

Whether the hose-and-drogue method is catered for possible rapid conversion of CH-47SD to MH-47 configuration...

David Boey said...

Not our practice to show all the cards.

@Gur Yur,
The war would be over by the time untested helicopter crews are trained and qualified for AAR. It takes more than just bolting on a probe to the helo :-)

Jinn said...

Have a question, is it wise to get rid of PLAB?

Even with F35B introduced, most ops likely will require runway.

Changi is heavily civilian utilized and exposed to view of commercial traffic.

One closure to TAB as mentioned and all eggs in one basket.

Would it make more sense to shut Sembawang redistribute rotary assets between TAB and PLAB (Say Attack helo TAB, Assault/Heavylift PLAB)?

Sembawang is a substantial tract of land for land re-purposing as well. Plus if Seletar remains problematic, maybe some commercial concerns can be moved to take over Changi air base East and surroundings. Some of that land can re-purpose for other use as well which should make up for space envisioned by releasing PLAB.

Personally, would prefer to have as much redundancy as possible in terms of runways.

sepecatgr1a said...

The picture of the AH64 shows a spherical dome above the port side stub wing.
Looks very similar to that installed in AH64D-I Sarafs.

sepecatgr1a said...

Apart from fixed wing fighters, RSAF has many other fixed wing aircraft ( such as the MRTTs, Fokker 50s, C130s, G550 CAEW ) all of which require long runways.

The only offensive aircraft that do not depend on long runways will be the short ranged AH64s and the future F35Bs ( if RSAF really buys them is any meaningful quantities ).

With PLAB no longer available in future, RSAF then will only have two available locations at TAB and CAB to operate all fixed wing aircraft except F35Bs.

RSAF's large fixed wing aircraft are located in above ground hangars and open parking areas in the airbases. These aircraft are extremely vulnerable to rocket / artillery / aircraft attack.
Enemy planners will also have it easy to destroy aircraft located in less than a handful of locations. Airbases are in addition very vulnerable to commando / terrorist style attacks. RSAF force multipliers will probably be wiped out very quickly.

Much has been said about the ability to repair damaged runways quickly. But enemy artillery and rockets fired round the clock over several days will make all repair work quite impossible while at the same time further damaging more runways & taxiways. Intermittent air attack will add to the melee. There will be no airpower generation during these few days.

The only counter to the above type of attack will be AA defences , rapid & overwhelming counter artillery / rocket assets. But with only one HIMARS battalion and shorter ranged 39 caliber Primus, SAF is woefully short on mobile precision rocket / artillery assets.

We do not have the luxury of locating fighter aircraft in hardened cavern / mountain shelters such those in Switzerland & Sweden.

However, man made bunkers may be the solution. But protecting large aircraft in bunkers will be a challenge. However as shown in world war two, even large assets such as German U boats can be protected by concrete bunkers ( e.g. in Lorient, France ). These U boat pens were next to impossible to destroy and remain intact till today.

Locust said...

1) It will help us justify light aircraft carrier/lhd hybrids better - even though RSN may be discreet in revealing its true capabilities at the outset.
2) Doesnt SBW have a new runaway? One that can used or repurposed quickly for F35bs
3) Aside: I think we may buy both F35A and Bs. So 3 fighter types.

Jinn said...

Hey Sepecat...

Very interesting points.

My problem with SBW runway is it puts aircraft very close to Malaysian airspace.As is, this is complicated already in peace time.

PLAB and TAB not much better but still a bit more give.

And even IF we switch to F35B, I don't think we will nominally beusing VTOL as it will be costly

As far as artillery harassment ala HAMAS (homemade)rocket fire, it seems sensible BOTH to pair an Irondome system in Singapore WITH a CRAM.

BUT it also makes (KiasuKiaSee) Singapore sensibility to have asmany redundant runways available still. IF we go down to two airfields (Changi/Tengah), even less spread of targets for the enemy to concentrate their efforts on.

Which is why I can't understand why no let go of Sembawang instead of PLAB (Granted PLAB land area slightly greater). Does no make much sense to me from tactical/strategic POV but perhaps its economics that is overidding.

Jinn said...

@Sepecat...I notice as well that there is a Quarry just south east of PLAB airfield near the Bedok resevoir...perhaps a good "natural" feature to convert/use as an underground bunker for aircraft as you mentioned.

PLUS...PLAB very close to Changi. Could be an easy link to transfer assets over to spare runways at the Civilian airport during times of duress.

sepecatgr1a said...

IMHO RSN's proposed JMMS ( speculatively an Endurance type 160 m LHD ) will simply not be a cost effective F35B carrier. It's too small to be a platform to have a meaningful & more importantly sustainable strike capability. I guess it can embark not more than 6 to 8 F35Bs. And the F35 program still has many major outstanding issues to address. The current low availability of mission capable F35s means that even less than the above number of aircraft will be available for combat.
The JMMS, if it does embark F35Bs, will at best be used to protect a task force type naval force i.e. a self defence role to protect capital ships in a task force type scenario.

The F35B can take off from less than 200 m of runway. That gives RSAF more options to disperse F35Bs. But to generate sorties will require more than just being able to disperse aircraft. One also requires arming / refueling / maintenance facilities at each dispersal point. One will also require local ground defences to protect each dispersal point. So this will require a large & well organized logistics train.
A study of forward based cold war era Harrier operations will probably give insights into what is really needed for dispersed aircraft operations.

Locust said...

This is a known known since the early days of Singapores inception - that Sfs airfields or even army camps are vulnerable to long range artillery strikes.

It is nothing new. The elephant in the room you are missing is that wars do not happen overnight. Tensions will need to rise, troop movements made, troop recall orders made, etc.

There are clear red lines communicated by the Sg govt to Malaysia on conditions we will take matters seriously -re:Vivien Balakrishnan on Malaysian incursion into Sg waters.

How do you know how many 52 cal, 39 cal and himars we have to state we are woefully lacking in them? The simple answer is you do not.

Locust said...

Why would it not be cost effective for F35b to operate from JMMS? It does not mean that these planes will need to be based on them indefinitely. These are multi mission ships.

Why would 6 to 8 f35bs if indeed true be not sufficient? Firstly, they will act as part of a larger networked force. Secondly, who are they going up against? There is also the Endurance 170 i.e. up to 180m vessel, larger than dokdo by displacement. But St marine has said there has been no orders. So, it may well be a foreign design. Previously, it was reported that Singapore has seen the Spanish LHD/light carrier and Italian Cavour(?).

Locust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Locust said...

For certain, the 2 JMMS ships will not be a cost effective carrier because they are not carriers per se. But I assume they can embark F35bs. There is a difference between simply embarking F35bs and basing them on a lhd because the former takes the form of a mobile air strip. Even so, 8 to 10 f35bs per lhd is a potent strike force vis a vis air forces in the region. More so, they will be working in a networked environment with other sensors and shooters. Somehow, the part on networked centric warfare is missing.

HC said...

Perhaps in future Pulau Sudong can be enlarged through land reclamation and its runway lengthened to be a full fledged air base. It will be well away from residential and commercial areas.

sepecatgr1a said...

Not only did the Malaysian vessels make incursions, their vessels anchored in SG waters and refused to leave. Did’nt they already cross a red line when doing this ? My answer is a resounding yes. And note that this was at a time when there were no major bilateral issues let alone any hint of hostilities before the said events. Surely, these are the actions of a less than friendly neigbour. The lesson is that they capable of probably anything at any time.

Any first strike against the SAF will easily wipe out all major air & naval assets. F15s, F16s, MRTTs, G550 CAEWs, billion dollar 218SGs, Formidable frigates, future JMMS’ & MRCVs etc which are extremely tempting targets when held in the open in only a handful of locations.
Although this vulnerability is not new for SG, we now have a lot more very high value air & naval assets in even fewer locations than in the past.

Even in times of tension nations are caught by surprise attacks. The attacker has the upper hand in the timing and location of an attack e.g. the US Navy in Pearl Harbor in WW2 ( nearly all of the US Pacific fleet - and by chance less the carriers - was wiped out ) , the Egyptian & Syrian Air Forces in the Six Day War, the Israelis in the Yom Kippur War etc.

In my opinion, hardening of all major military critical assets especially air and naval assets should take the highest priority. There is no point in acquiring high value assets when they are all extremely vulnerable to surprise attacks be it by aircraft, drones, artillery, rockets, terrorists, commando raids etc.

It is very clear that the SAF is woefully short on mobile armored long range self propelled rocket & arty assets. Tactically, getting these assets into & out of action quickly is critical for shoot & scoot tactics and survival. A quick check on SG arty & rocket assets from open sources confirms this. The only long ranged self propelled armored counter battery SG asset is the 18 numbers of Himars. The other longed ranged asset is the unprotected 52 cal FH2000 which is not amenable for shoot & scoot tactics. The self propelled armored 39 cal Primus is much more survivable but alas short ranged.

SG is outgunned by Malaysia’s 54 Astros II launchers, 28 45cal G5s, 20+ 39cal M109s, 15 39cal FH70s. Add the shorter ranged 120 mm mortars , LG105s (18) , Oto Melara 105 pack howitzers (110) and we will be overwhelmed very quickly.

Even with a very optimistic F35B full mission availability rate of 70% and possibly embarking a maximum of 16 aircraft on two ships, to sustain an offensive capability with only 11 aircraft on ships not designed to be a fixed wing aircraft carriers is highly questionable.
These vessels are themselves vulnerable to submarines, aircraft, long range ASMs etc. As with the RN in the Falklands the JMMS's will not have embarked AEW capability which is a great disadvantage.

Jinn said...

Interesting conversation

The concerning issue is Asymmetric actors not entirely State endorsed and out of full control with nudge and wink.

Lessons from Israel and HAMAS firing relatively simple rocketry likely applicable and have been studied...Singapore bases have even less strategic depth...

Iron dome and a CRAM (say MANTIS) likely important future assets.

BUT even so, I would feel safer retaining the longer runway of PLAB over Sembawang. Land size freed up slightly less but the take off distance as well from Sembawang to Malaysian air space (during times of instigation) should be noted.

Seletar IMO can also be partially given up. Some of the commercial end jet services could be shifted to Changi East as Changi West is developed.

Lighter aircraft (Junior Flying club) etc can be moved to Sudong (which as mentioned can be expanded slightly)

BUT I would think 3 airbases TAB/PLAB/Changi still a safer bet than going down to two.

I am still to be convinced even with VSTOL F35B capability that this is necessarily the best way to go from tactical stand point. Way too many assets require runways and shut down of one base will make things extremely congested (particularly as mentioned if not in a full conflict scenario)

The other thing I feel may warrant some attention is attack Helicopter assets. Of course Singapore very good at hiding true numbers and increase may precipitate neighbouring competition but in light of airfield vulnerability/Strategic depth, feel 20 AH64 is light considering some will be overseas stationed.

These assets IMO (As in Gulf War 1 when Helos /Stealth first wave took out eyes and ears) may need additions to sustain sortie rates and take out rocket fire like against HAMAS in Gaza conflict, provide persistent over watch.

I don't see the JMMS as a potentially viable platform alternative to runways personally. Length of ship (160-170m?) slightly too small. IMO they should advertise as 160 but quietly run it to 200. Maybe they are.

Jinn said...


Those artillery assets are worrying.

Harassment fire from well concealed positions, only takes several lucky strikes to disrupt airbases.

Counter artillery fire (radar) may take some assets out but damage may already been inflicted.

Which is why I feel it is a risk not to have the added redundancy (runways)

sepecatgr1a said...

I believe that it is possible to more easily protect smaller RSAF aircraft such as fighters, AH64s, G550s, helis & drones in hardened shelters such as reinforced concrete bunkers either above or underground. F35Bs will complicate an attacker's plans if these are
in dispersed locations not necessarily close to long runways. However, hardened infrastructure also needs to be built at these locations for sustained operations. Also, as many possible 200 to 300 m "runways" must already be identified and built with appropriate facilities

However, it will be more difficult to protect the MRTTs, Fokker 50s, C130s since they are much larger and must be located close to long runways. So an attacker has the advantage of knowing exactly where these assets are even if they are hardened. They must also be sufficiently hardened. In the first Gulf war I recall images of Iraqi air force above ground reinforced concrete aircraft shelters all with neat holes in their roofs where coalition air forces' LGBs entered.

Also, one must not forget to protect fuel / ordnance storage facilities. I suppose these really need to be located deep underground.

Again, in my opinion having hardened & dispersed facilities as suggested above makes any potential attacker's ability to mount a successful first strike on SG very much less tempting or possible. The ability to keeping our military assets intact in the event of the worst case scenario should command the highest priority.

I think that the SAF really needs additional Himars and new self propelled armored 52 cal guns.

But our towed artillery can still be extremely effective. Taking a leaf from North Korea's playbook, towed arty can be located in underground reinforced bunkers & moved to the open to conduct shoot & hide tactics. If situated in scores of bunkers in dispersed locations, these assets will be extremely difficult to neutralize. The attacker will require numerous high precision munitions to destroy each position if at all possible.