RSAF 50th anniversary: Defending Singapore's skies and beyond

Captain Benjamin Lim (left) and former major Mark Lim at the air force museum in Paya Lebar last week. They were called to intercept an aircraft with possibly hostile intentions during a 2008 mission.
Captain Benjamin Lim (left) and former major Mark Lim at the air force museum in Paya Lebar last week. They were called to intercept an aircraft with possibly hostile intentions during a 2008 mission.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

As the Republic of Singapore Air Force celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, The Straits Times speaks to current and former airmen, who share their stories of how they responded to the call of duty.

First humanitarian mission a big chapter in RSAF's history

It was a particular incident during his 11-day humanitarian aid deployment in Malaysia that reminded former helicopter pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret) Leo Tin Boon, of the importance of his mission.

He and a fellow crewman were delivering supplies to villagers in Kuantan, on the east coast of Malaysia, following floods that forced thousands to flee their homes.

Some of the sacks of rice had torn and their contents had spilled out.

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At the ready to safeguard Singapore's skies

It had seemed like another day of routine air defence duty on Jan 22, 2008, for weapon systems officer Major (NS) Mark Lim and fighter pilot Captain Benjamin Lim.

But within minutes of receiving a call at 6.40pm, their fighter jet took to the air from Changi Air Base.

It was not a drill. Their mission was to intercept an aircraft with possibly hostile intentions that had entered Singapore's airspace.

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LT Leo Tin Boon (third from right), then a 21-year-old helicopter pilot, back in Singapore with the rest of the Kuantan detachment in 1971. It was the RSAF's - then the Singapore Air Defence Command - first humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
LT Leo Tin Boon (third from right), then a 21-year-old helicopter pilot, back in Singapore with the rest of the Kuantan detachment in 1971. It was the RSAF's - then the Singapore Air Defence Command - first humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation. PHOTO: MINDEF

Lean crew on daily missions in war zone

No amount of training can fully prepare one for conditions in a war-torn country still fending off insurgents and rebuilding its government.

This was what Lieutenant-Colonel Low Jun Horng, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot, learnt when he was deployed to Afghanistan. He was in the country as part of a 52-man UAV team tasked with providing surveillance and reconnaissance for international forces there.

Said LTC Low, 39: "When you hear the loud 'boom' (of a bomb going off) a distance away, you definitely would feel the initial fear...But I would say that most of us who were there were trained and experienced enough to carry out our duties in spite of the circumstances."

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A Searcher UAV being prepared for take-off in Afghanistan. The RSAF's UAV team, which was deployed in the war zone from August to November 2010, was tasked with providing surveillance and reconnaissance for international forces there.
A Searcher UAV being prepared for take-off in Afghanistan. The RSAF's UAV team, which was deployed in the war zone from August to November 2010, was tasked with providing surveillance and reconnaissance for international forces there. PHOTO: MINDEF


Call to duty: Rescue, peacekeeping and relief efforts

1983: Activated to rescue stranded passengers during the Sentosa cable car accident, saving 13 lives.

1986: Deployed helicopters to evacuate casualties from the Hotel New World collapse and take them to Singapore General Hospital.

1990: Delivered relief and medical supplies to Amman, Jordan, in a joint Singapore-Brunei effort to handle the humanitarian crisis created by the first Gulf War.

 

1993: In its first UN peacekeeping mission, the RSAF deployed four Super Puma helicopters and 65 personnel to support the UN-sponsored elections in Cambodia.

2000: A C-130 detachment with 24 crew and three military officers was deployed to Timor-Leste to assist in the transition from the International Force for East Timor to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.

2005: Three CH-47 Chinook helicopters from Peace Prairie Detachment in Texas were deployed to assist in relief operations in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

2009: The RSAF deployed two Super Pumas as part of the SAF Task Group sent to the Gulf of Aden to support international counter-piracy efforts.

2014: A C-130 transport aircraft, a Fokker-50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a Sikorsky S-70B helicopter were deployed in the search for the missing Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

2015: A KC-135R and an imagery analysis team were deployed to support the multinational coalition against extremist threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

2017: C-130s, Fokker-50s, Super Pumas and Chinooks were deployed to support the search-and-locate efforts following the collision of US warship USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker in Singapore waters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'RSAF 50th anniversary: Defending Singapore's skies and beyond '. Print Edition | Subscribe