Singapore air force freezes F-16 training after crash

A RSAF F-16C is seen here taxiing. These aircraft are undergoing a comprehensive upgrade programme which will, among other additions, add a new radar to the aircraft. (Luhai Wong)

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has suspended training for its F-16 fleet as a safety measure after one of its Lockheed Martin F-16 combat aircraft crashed at Tengah Air Base in western Singapore on 8 May.

According to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), the pilot – who has accumulated over 2,000 hours of flight time on the F-16 – had experienced flight control issues shortly after taking off. He responded in accordance with emergency procedures and successfully ejected from the aircraft, which is believed to be a single-seat F-16C aircraft.

MINDEF added that F-16 training has been paused until investigations show that it is safe to resume.

The last RSAF fighter aircraft crash happened nearly 20 years ago on 19 May 2004 a F-16C crashed in Arizona. The pilot was killed in the crash.

“The last time we had a fighter jet crash incident was 20 years ago. It’s a credible record but obviously disappointed over this incident – the goal for the RSAF must still be zero crashes,” said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on his social media account. “Full investigations are underway to make sure all factors are identified and rectified decisively.”

The RSAF is well in the process of upgrading its F-16 fighter fleet, which entered service from the late 1980s.

MINDEF announced in 2015 that the aircraft fleet will undergo a comprehensive mid-life upgrade (MLU) programme, with key enhancements centred on a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar – likely the Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar – and updated avionics including the Link-16 Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Low Volume Terminals (MIDS-LVT) which would enable the F-16s to share and receive data more readily with the newer F-15SG aircraft.

The MLU also includes a range of precision weapons and training munitions, Boeing GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs (SDB), KMU-572/B 500lb Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and KMU-556/B 2000lb JDAM tail kits. Of particular note is the SDBs, which would enable the F-16s to carry a greater number of precision munitions and increase their air-to-ground strike potential with their compact size and weight.

Upgrade work commenced in 2016 and is expected to be completed by around 2023, with the F-16 fleet remaining operational until the 2030s after which it will be replaced by an undisclosed number of F-35s. The status of the upgrade work has yet to be updated by MINDEF.

by Jr Ng