Singapore Air Show

RSAF’s F-15s shop far and wide for warfighter excellence

 - November 30, 2006, 11:45 AM

The Boeing F-15SG fighter recently selected by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will feature some of the avionics found on the F-15I version already in service with the Israeli Air Force (IAF), combined with the latest U.S. active-array radar and electro-optical targeting technology.

When the Ministry of Defence here confirmed the order for 12 Strike Eagles plus eight options last December, it stated that they would be delivered “in the most advanced variant, a configuration unique to Singapore.” It declined to add any detail to that comment for Aviation International News, and so did Boeing. But local defense sources and foreign industry officials that were close to the competition, speaking to AIN on condition of anonymity, agreed that the combination of Israeli and U.S. equipment, as already seen on the RSAF’s F-16s, was a powerful factor in the selection of the F-15SG.

The losing French Rafale team think that global politics was the key factor. “After [Singapore Prime Minister] B-G Lee visited President Bush at his ranch in Texas, the stream of technical questions being asked about our proposal ceased abruptly,” noted one member of the French team. Then, he added, the Singapore ambassador to France called Dassault chairman and CEO Charles Edelstenne to explain that Singapore could not select the Rafale while French relations with the U.S. remained so cool. The announcement that the F-15 had been selected followed two days later.

But Singapore’s chief defense scientist, Prof. Liu Pao Chuen, insisted to AIN here Monday that “politics was not the driving factor. We looked at best value for money. There’s no question that the F-15 gives us more capability.” Liu also noted that the F-15 had been much upgraded since it first entered service.

More Kit To Come

“The F-15 has plenty of room for new black boxes which might be developed,” noted a local defense source. Asked whether the U.S. might restrict Singapore’s ability to independently modify F-15 hardware or software, he said, “You would be surprised at the flexibility that the U.S. is prepared to grant. After all, we are their only truly reliable friend in this region.”

In fact, by specifying some key Israeli avionics for the F-15SG, Singapore may be able to avoid some U.S. restrictions. The Israeli F-15I has an Elbit mission computer and an Elisra SPS-2100 electronic warfare system. As usual, Israeli defense industry officials have refused to comment on their export clients. But a statement from Elisra early last month that it had been selected to supply electronic warfare systems for combat aircraft to an international customer, may be relevant to the competition here. The value of this deal was $80 million which is commensurate with the scale of the Singapore order.

The F-15SG will be equipped with other systems that are already in production, such as the Raytheon APG-63(V)3 which has an active electronically scanned array (AESA). The French offered Singapore co-development of an AESA version of the Rafale’s Thales RBE2 radar. But sources told AIN that the attraction of buying off-the-shelf outweighed that of industrial participation in a yet-to-be-proved system. The same rationale caused Singapore to eliminate the Eurofighter Typhoon from the competition last April.

The APG-63(V)3 radar features a much larger number of smaller transmit/receive modules than the (V)2 that is fitted to some U.S. Air Force F-15Cs. “The new array is 240 pounds lighter than the (V)2 and each T/R module has four channels. The (V)3 leverages what we learned in designing the APG-79 arrays for the F/A-18E/F. In the process we have shortened some of the manufacturing timelines from three weeks to one day,” explained a Raytheon official.

LM Sniper Pod

The RSAF has selected the Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pod over the Rafael Litening for its F-15SG fleet. Lockhead Martin officials would not comment, but Singapore’s Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean was heard to confirm the choice in a chance remark, as he toured the exhibition here on opening day.

Regarding other potential equipments, the RSAF is thought likely to take most (if not all) of the following list that was notified to the U.S. Congress last August: 200 AIM-120C AMRAAM and 200 AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles; 60 Raytheon AGM-154A/C joint stand-off weapons (JSOWs); 50 GBU-38 joint dircet attack munitions (JDAMs); 44 AN/AVS-9 night vision goggles; and 24 Link 16 data link terminals. The total value of the package, which comprises training and logistical support as well as weapons, to be supplied as a foreign military sale, “could be as high as $741 million,” according to the Pentagon. The aircraft itself, together with the General Electric F110-GE-129 powerplants, are being supplied in a commercial sale.

The RSAF has made its choice, perhaps due to no small amount of pressure by the U.S. government, which wants to keep the F-15 line open as long as possible before taking a step which it has historically been reluctant to take: winnowing down to one lone supplier of fighter aircraft to the USAF, Lockheed Martin. It is entirely possible that both sides may, in the long run, wish that the decision had gone the other way toward the Rafale. Pricing on this program by Boeing and the other suppliers was based on a 20 aircraft buy. If the RSAF does not follow through with the follow-on order for another eight F-15s there could be little or no profit in this program for the U.S. manufacturers.

Singapore may also end up regretting that it passed on the chance to participate with Team Rafale on the development of a fourth-generation fighter.