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Singapore Airshow 2024: Singapore’s Apache upgrade among plans to renew RSAF capabilities

20th February 2024 - 10:35 GMT | by Roy Choo in Singapore


A small number of RSAF Apaches received SATCOM and a self-protection suite in 2017 but there has been no further progression beyond those updates. (Photo: Roy Choo)

Singapore’s air force chief has confirmed plans to extend the life of the RSAF’s Apaches to beyond 2030, as well as revealing the next steps for future purchases of F-35s, replacements for its UAV fleet and updates to its ground-based air defence systems.

Maj Gen Kelvin Khong, Singapore’s chief of air force, revealed that the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF’s) fleet of AH-64D Apache attack helicopter would undergo an upgrade as he provided an update prior to Singapore Airshow 2024 on capability enhancements within country’s air force.

Khong, who will retire from the appointment in March this after five years in the role, said: “The RSAF will embark on a Life Extension Programme for our AH-64Ds to ensure they remain operationally ready beyond 2030.”

Singapore purchased a batch of eight AH-64Ds in 1999 and a second batch of 12 in 2001, along with a number of Longbow fire-control radars, Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rockets. Eight of these were based at the Arizona National Guard Silverbell Army Heliport in the US for crew training as part of the Peace Vanguard detachment. The remaining 12 were deployed at Sembawang Air Base in Singapore to form 120 Squadron.

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Apart from supporting operations in the land and maritime domains through the provision of firepower, the RSAF’s Apaches could also be tasked with air defence with the interception of slow-moving air threats.

It remained unknown if all the original fleet of 20 Apaches remained in service. At least one of the Arizona-based helicopters has returned to Singapore in 2022 pointing to a possible fleet consolidation.

It has been understood that RSAF Apaches progressively received software and hardware updates over the years. In 2017, a single Singapore-based AH-64D and a handful of Arizona-based aircraft received modifications not dissimilar to the AH-64DI of the Israeli Air Force, including a SATCOM capability and an integrated electronic warfare system from Elbit Systems.

The upgrades have, however, not been rolled out to the rest of the Apache fleet since, prompting speculation that the effort had fallen through. It was previously reported at Singapore Airshow 2020 that Boeing was in talks with the RSAF about rebuilding 12 of its Apaches to the AH-64E variant.

As with most of the RSAF upgrade programmes, the Apache life extension, announced by Khong, maybe of a bespoke standard to suit its unique requirements.

Khong also provided an update on Singapore’s purchase of the F-35 as a replacement of the F-16 fleet from the mid-2030s onwards. Training of a core group of pilots will commence once the first four F-35s have been delivered by 2026. Singapore has committed to 12 STOVL F-35Bs and further purchases will be expected. The purchase of the conventional F-35A in subsequent batches cannot be ruled out as discussed by Shephard previously.

While Singapore has committed to 12 F-35Bs, further purchases – including of other variants – cannot be discounted. (Photo: Australian Department of Defence)

On Singapore’s fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Khong shared that its fleet of Elbit Hermes 450 and IAI Heron 1 UAVs, having entered service in 2007 and 2012, respectively, were due for replacement. Shephard understood that the Heron MK II and Hermes 900 were in the running for the requirement, with speculation surfacing in 2021 that the latter may have won the competition.

On the RSAF’s ground-based air defence (GBAD) systems, Khong revealed that the SPYDER GBAD system had recently been adapted to provide coverage for its army forces. Prior to this, the RSAF deployed the SPYDER system in designated locations around Singapore as part of the Island Air Defence system.

The revelation came a number of years after the retirement of the M113-based Mechanised Igla, which had provided air defence coverage for army manoeuvre forces. Modifications to the basic SPYDER system, such as the installation of a radar sensor for the detection, tracking and engagement of threats – akin to the SPYDER AIO concept – remained probable.

The RSAF has deployed the SPYDER GBAD system for more than a decade but has adapted it in recent times to provide air defence for army manoeuvre forces. (Photo: Roy Choo)

The RSAF has also been looking to replace its FPS-117 long-range surveillance radar. As disclosed in a Lockheed Martin media briefing last week, the company has positioned its TPY-4 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar for the requirement.

Shephard's Singapore Airshow 2024 coverage is sponsored by:

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Roy Choo


Roy Choo

Rex Choo is a freelance journalist based in Australia.

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