Many thanks for the RSAF's invitation to Lim Chu Kang Road Alternate Runway Exercise, codenamed Ex Torrent VI, on 30 Nov 08. Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, Second Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen were the Guest of Honor.
I was also invited for the Pre-Exercise briefing on 15 Nov 08. This briefing was to apprise us of the preparations behind the Exercise. At the point of time, I would not yet be able to visualize the full picture of the transformation of a public road into a runway.
It was my first invitation to this event, a real experience in seeing the fighter aircraft taking off and landing on a public road. When the fighter plane took off, it was not only deafening (we had to use ear plugs), you would feel the ground vibrate, and the air gushing on you, although we sat at a tentage together with the VIPs at the side of the road.
Less known for the fact that the groundwork for Exercise Torrent was laid more than 30 years ago. The capabilities the RSAF demonstrated today can be traced to the Operational Master Plan (OMP) for RSAF air bases that the Ministry of Defence drew up in the mid-1970s. Dr Goh Keng Swee, the architect of the Singapore Armed Forces, was defence minister then and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister. Singapore's defence planners recognised even then that attacks against air bases could clip the RSAF's wings.
The RSAF's warplane fleet would count for nothing if runways were damaged and its air power grounded. Lack of air cover would, in turn, jeopardise the mobilisation of SAF units during the critical hours of an emergency when large numbers of citizen soldiers reporting at mobilisation centres would present the enemy with a target-rich environment.
Despite its brevity, however, the conversion of a public road into an improvised military airstrip during Exercise Torrent VI provided a vivid demonstration of the degree to which Singapore's air power resides with the RSAF's Air Power Generation Command (APGC).
Some 400 personnel from the command took 48 hours to transform the 2,500m long road into a runway. Twelve warplanes - representing all of the RSAF's fighter types in service and one E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning plane from the RSAF's Air Combat Command - broke the speed limit along Lim Chu Kang Road as they showcased the air force's little-known capability to launch and recover aircraft using a public road.
The RSAF has staged Exercise Torrent six times in the past 22 years. The speed with which the air force has transformed itself into a Third Generation fighting force becomes evident when one considers that the only common elements between the first and latest exercise are these: the road itself and the professionalism of RSAF personnel.