Saviours In The Sky: How The RSAF Is Ever-Ready To Tackle Air Threats And Offer Help
STORY: Sim Ding En & Nicholas Yong
30 September 2022
As a passenger with a window seat on a plane, there are sometimes gorgeous sights to behold when you look out: a glorious sunrise over a sea of clouds, a bird's eye view of the city below, the myriad of stars in the night sky.
But seeing a fighter-jet escorting your flight can bring about mixed feelings, to say the least. For Twitter user Vera @veratheape, she noted that "fighter jets were circling around us for a good hour until we landed" and thought "someone important just arrived".
Vera was one of the passengers on board Singapore Airlines flight SQ33 that was delayed due to an in-flight bomb hoax. The plane departed San Francisco on 26 Sep 2022 (Mon) at 10.26pm.
According to the Singapore Police Force (SPF), preliminary investigations indicated that a 37-year-old male passenger had allegedly claimed that there was a bomb in a hand-carry bag, and had assaulted the crew.
A Facebook post by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) pointed out that "the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and SPF were mobilised immediately. The Republic of Singapore Air Force’s F-16C/Ds escorted the aircraft to safety at Changi Airport, and teams from The Singapore Army’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defence Group and Airport Police Division were on site to verify the claims".
Under the escort of the two RSAF fighter jets, SQ33 landed safely at Changi Airport on 28 Sep (Wed) at about 5.50am. The threat was subsequently verified to be false, and the suspicious person was arrested.
Here, a list of how the RSAF is every-ready to defend our skies, tackle air threats, and offer aid.
Scrambling jets to tackle air threats
No, it has nothing to do with eggs. When jets are scrambled, they (the pilots and their aircraft) are ordered to take off immediately in an emergency or for action.
According to PIONEER, the RSAF's Air Defence Task Force deals with more than 350 suspicious air threats each year.
On 11 Sep 2021, for instance, RSAF F-16 jets were scrambled to investigate an unauthorised entry by a Royal Malaysian Police helicopter into Singapore’s territorial airspace, specifically the eastern part of Pulau Tekong. Thankfully, our security wasn't compromised, and the F-16 jets were stood down.
Offering aid in rescue efforts
On 27 Aug 2021, the RSAF's A330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) lived up to its name of being a multi-role machine and showed that it was more than ready to provide humanitarian aid. With a 77-person crew, one landed in Qatar to airlift 149 Afghan evacuees to Germany.
Fun fact: The A330 MRTT can transform into a "flying hospital". Indeed, it can be configured to support aeromedical evacuation missions, so that the SAF can deploy medical forces overseas to ensure our soldiers have quality healthcare and medical support. It is also able to mount stretchers in the cabin itself, making them sturdier and more secure in the event of turbulence.
Furthermore, medical equipment on board is powered by the plane's own power supply. Previously, in the KC-135R, portable batteries had to be used.
Offering aid in relief efforts
2020 didn't start on a great note, especially for the folks Down Under. Bush fires in Australia burnt out of control, destroying thousands of homes. Two RSAF Chinooks were deployed with 42 SAF personnel to aid relief efforts. Aside from transporting firefighting and relief supplies, the helicopters were also used to evacuate Australians living in areas affected by the fires.
(Armed) force for good
The RSAF has always answered the call of duty, providing aid whenever the world needs help. Here, a timeline of some of its rescue, peacekeeping, and relief efforts:
1971: The then-Singapore Air Defence Command's first HADR mission was in Pahang, Malaysia (shown above) to transport food and medical supplies, as well as rescue survivors affected by a flood. The air force was only three years old.
1983: The RSAF saved 13 lives during the Sentosa cable car accident.
1986: Helicopters were deployed to evacuate the Hotel New World collapse casualties.
1990: In a joint Singapore-Brunei operation, the RSAF delivered relief and medical supplies to Amman, Jordan.
1993: Four Super Puma helicopters and 65 crew were sent on the RSAF’s first UN peacekeeping mission to support Cambodia’s elections sponsored by the UN.
2000: A C-130 detachment, along with three military officers and 24 crew were sent to Timor-Leste to assist in the International Force for East Timor transition to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.
2005: RSAF’s three CH-47 Chinook helicopters were deployed from the Peace Prairie Detachment in Texas, US (shown above), to assist in Hurricane Katrina relief operations in Louisiana.
2009: Since 2009, RSAF Super Pumas, the S-70B Naval helicopter, and Fokker 50 Maritime Patrol aircraft have been deployed to the Gulf of Aden, part of the SAF Task Group under the multinational CTF 151 to support counter-piracy efforts in the area.
2011: A C-130 transport aircraft, a KC-135 tanker aircraft, and 115 SAF personnel were deployed to provide disaster relief during the New Zealand earthquake.
2014: During the MH370 crisis, the RSAF deployed a Fokker-50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, a C-130 transport aircraft, and a Sikorsky S-70B helicopter to search for the missing plane.
2015: A RSAF imagery analysis team and one KC-135R were sent to Iraq and Syria to support a multinational coalition effort against the Islamic State extremist threat.
2015: The RSAF made 11 flights into Nepal since 26 April that year during the Nepal earthquake (shown above), to transport personnel, equipment, and relief supplies, as well as evacuate 71 Singaporeans and 24 other nationals.
2017: Following a collision between an oil tanker and the US warship USS John S. McCain in Singapore waters, the RSAF deployed Super Pumas, Chinooks, Fokker-50s, and C-130s in search-and-locate efforts.
2017: Four RSAF CH-47 Chinook and 34 RSAF personnel were deployed to Temple, Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief operations.
2018: Following a 7.5-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Central Sulawesi on 28 Sep 2018, two RSAF C-130 transport aircraft were deployed by the SAF to support the Indonesian government's disaster relief efforts. According to MINDEF, the RSAF flew more than 90 sorties (a sortie is an operational flight by a single military aircraft), transported over 800 displaced persons out of the affected areas, and ferried about 250 tons of supplies.
2020: Two RSAF CH-47 Chinook helicopters were deployed to support bushfire relief efforts in Australia. In total, the RSAF helicopters flew over 30 sorties, transported more than 260 persons and ferried close to 73 tons of supplies.
2021: One of the RSAF's new A330 MRTTs was deployed to provide humanitarian aid by assisting to airlift 149 Afghan evacuees from Qatar to Germany.