SINGAPORE - The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) marked its 50th anniversary at Tengah Air Base on Saturday (Sept 1) with a 480-man strong parade, a flypast, and a display of 20 aircraft and weapon systems, including its latest aircraft acquisition.
Making its first appearance was the new, next-generation Airbus A330 Multi-role Tanker Transport (MRTT), an aerial refuelling tanker aircraft which will replace the KC-135 aircraft that has been in service for more than 20 years.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated at the RSAF 50th anniversary parade, which draws the curtain on the RSAF's year-long golden jubilee celebrations.
The parade was attended by about 1,400 guests, including Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, Chief of Air Force Major-General Mervyn Tan, six former chiefs of air force including labour chief Ng Chee Meng, as well as Asean air force chiefs, and former air force servicemen.
In his speech, PM Lee, who recalled attending the RSAF’s 20th anniversary celebrations held at Paya Lebar Air Base, said the RSAF began its early steps in a hurry.
He said the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) was set up on Sept 1, 1968 with great urgency after the British Government announced that they could no longer afford to maintain a military presence East of Suez, and so were accelerating the withdrawal of British forces from Singapore.
"We needed to create an air force quickly. Singapore was and still is a small country with no strategic depth. We have no room to fall back, to trade space for time, or to regroup in the event of an attack. An effective air force would be our first line of deterrence and defence," he added.
But what the RSAF pioneers lacked in resources and manpower, they more than made up for with their passion and determination by going for overseas training, pulling long shifts and pitching in to do daily airbase maintenance tasks such as painting runway markings by hand, said PM Lee.
Their work helped the SADC become a credible force by 1971, and it was established as one of three independent services in the Singapore Armed Forces and renamed the Republic of Singapore Air Force in 1975.
Describing the RSAF today as "a professional, well-trained and well-equipped air force", PM Lee said it is a continuing and unending task to ensure its equipment, technology and systems are up to date.
"It must be pursued consistently and resolutely, with adequate resources, conscious of our defence needs and the international context. We don't simply go for the most expensive and newest. But we always acquire what makes the most operational sense for us," he added.
PM Lee cited how the RSAF will receive the Airbus H225M Medium Lift and the Boeing CH-47F Chinook Heavy lift Helicopters from 2020 to replace those it has had since the early 1980s and 1990s.
But a first-class air force is not just about the latest technology and equipment, said PM Lee, adding that it is equally, if not more, important that the RSAF upholds discipline, team work and commitment, core values that pioneer officers embodied and passed on.
"The RSAF must continue to attract men and women with the right heart and spirit. Serving in it requires a deep sense of commitment to the nation," he added.
RSAF chief Mervyn Tan, in his speech, paid tribute to the force’s pioneers as well as servicemen who had lost their lives in the line of duty.
“Because of their sacrifices and the successes of the men and women who came before us, the RSAF today can welcome the future from a position of strength, and with confidence and optimism for even greater things to come,” he said.
He added that the force will continue its transformation into the Next Generation RSAF, with a big part of the journey involving the induction of new platforms and weapon systems that give it the critical edge.
He cited examples such as the MRTT, which was the centrepiece of the static display at the parade.
The plane is capable of conducting air-to-air refuelling and airlift roles at the same time. It can carry 111,000 kg of fuel, which can be used to refuel both drogue-refuelled and boom-refuelled aircraft.
Compared to the KC-135 tanker it replaces, the MRTT has better endurance, cargo and passenger capacity. It can carry up to 37,000 kg of cargo or 266 personnel.
Other than extending the flying time of fighter aircraft, the MRTT will also enhance the RSAF's ability to contribute to international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, and peace support operations.
When required, the aircraft can also be fitted with medical equipment for aero-medical evacuation missions.
PM Lee also unveiled the RSAF50 Commemorative Mural, formed by 50,000 photographs measuring 2.8cm by 2.8cm each, contributed by the public since February.
The completed picture, measuring 10m by 4m, shows RSAF’s aircraft over the Singapore skyline over Marina Bay against an older backdrop with retired flying assets, signifying the air force’s transformation from the old to the new.
It will be displayed at the Air Force Museum for public viewing after the parade
Colonel Lau Boon Ping, who is the RSAF50 Parade chairman, told reporters after a rehearsal on Tuesday (Aug 28) that the parade included elements of the past, the present and the future, with the theme "Honouring the Past, Celebrating the Present and Inspiring the Future".
Elaborating on the significance of Tengah Air Base, Colonel Lau said the base has a rich heritage and was the first fighter air base that Singapore inherited from the British.
It is also where the RSAF's commemorative parade is usually held every five years.
He said: "This parade is bigger, with more people in the contingents, more aircraft in the static display. The flypast this year is also more elaborate, given this is our golden jubilee celebrations."