Deliveries of upgraded RSAF F-16 fighters have started, F-35s on track: Air Force chief

The F-16's replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, remains projected to be delivered around 2026. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Deliveries for the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) upgraded F-16s have started since June last year and the fighter jets will be good for at least another decade, even as the acquisition of the next-generation F-35s remains on track.

The Chief of Air Force, Major-General Kelvin Khong, gave this update on the RSAF's fighter fleet in a written interview on Monday (Feb 14) ahead of the Singapore Airshow, which runs from Tuesday  to Friday.

New capabilities of the upgraded F-16s include an extended range for threat detection and engagement. The cockpit has also been enhanced with an additional new display, improving battle-space awareness.

Maj-Gen Khong said subsequent deliveries of the upgraded jet will be rolled out progressively. The F-16 entered service in 1998 and faces obsolescence beyond 2030.

"We will continue to operate these fighter aircraft for at least another decade and are working towards replacing the F-16s at the end of their operational life," he added.

The F-16's replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, remains projected to be delivered around 2026.

The Ministry of Defence had in 2019 announced the acquisition of four B models of the F-35, which will be deployed in continental United States for training and evaluation.

Said Maj-Gen Khong: "We have stringent and rigorous evaluation processes in place and have been following the developments of the F-35 closely. We will ensure that the F-35Bs meet our requirements before inducting them for operations."

The F-15SG multi-role fighter, meanwhile, remains a crucial component of the RSAF's fighter fleet in the next-generation SAF, the air force chief said. The first F-15SG was delivered in 2009.

He added that the air force will continue to evaluate the need for an upgrade to ensure the F-15SG's operational relevance and effectiveness.

In a wide-ranging interview, Maj-Gen Khong addressed topics such as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, new operating concepts for drones, and the air force's sustainability efforts.

He said the RSAF has adapted to strict safe management measures at work places, and continued training overseas safely, such as in Australia, the US, and France.

When the pandemic hit, the RSAF reviewed its maintenance and logistics requirements and took steps to strengthen its supply chains, said Maj-Gen Khong, who took over as air force chief in 2019.

This was aimed at increasing resilience against further global supply chain disruptions.

"Thankfully, our hardware acquisitions and upgrades have remained largely on track."

Looking ahead, he said the RSAF will continue to invest in conventional air combat capabilities while building capabilities to handle emerging threats.

Air combat will not be limited to the traditional fights between large formations of aircraft, he said.

"Instead (it will) be about how well an air force can seamlessly integrate traditional air combat capabilities with technology across multiple domains to create a force multiplier effect."

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will continue to play a crucial role in providing air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for the Singapore Armed Forces, he said.

Smaller drones offer new options to meet SAF's operational requirements and enhances situational awareness in the battlefield when paired with larger ones.

He said this concept was validated during Exercise Forging Sabre last year, where the larger Heron 1 UAV and a smaller drone worked collaboratively to scan the battlefield from different altitudes.

"The results yielded were promising - from a higher altitude, the Heron 1 UAV provided a bird's-eye view of the battlefield, while the smaller drone operated at a lower altitude to conduct in-depth surveillance of specific areas.

"We are keeping a close watch on such technology developments and will continue to study potential new concepts, inclusive of man-unmanned teaming to enhance the capabilities of the RSAF."

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