The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) celebrates its 55th anniversary this year. The public open house held over this weekend begun with a heavy downpour, but instead of dampening spirits, it was an opportunity to showcase the RSAF’s dedication and commitment to its mission.
During the jet scramble capability demonstration, two F-15SG were readied for departure amid heavy rain. Sure, it wasn’t those once-in-50-years type of downpour, but it was a legit downpour nonetheless. Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State for Defence, remarked about how the RSAF was an “all weather air force”.
I think this is a great show of how the RSAF operates. They are always working, through rain or shine, through public holidays or not, round the clock, never ever stopping.
I served my NSF and reservist in an air base. Although I was not directly involved in air operations, I’m cognisant of the work involved, partly because the same sense of mission also applied in my work.
So often times, I feel miffed when people think that the work in the RSAF is “relaxed”. For example, in the last year when I visited a private clinic for a COVID jab, the doctor while making small talk enquired about where I did my NSF and reservist, and remarked how life must have been very good. The insinuation, of course, is that our work is quite “idle”.
I wanted to correct him, but it would have taken too much time to educate him, so I just let it pass.
The truth could not be more different. A key differentiating factor is about how operational the nature of work is in order to support the mission of the RSAF. People are serious about their work. They take pride in achieving excellence. They take responsibility for the outcomes.
The all weather air force comment reminded me of a field exercise during one of my ICT. It had started to rain heavily toward the end of the exercise. People had expected the exercise to be suspended, or perhaps even cut, since after all it was only a few more hours before the official cessation. Neither of that happened. The exercise continued through the rain. The rain served to remind us about the realities of our operations. Battles are not suspended because of rain. Mind you, I’m not talking about old times, but in recent enough era where normally a “cat 1” would have cancelled many outfield activities.
I cannot help but reiterate about how the nature of work in the air base is very operational. We are not spending out days in a training environment. It is a live environment with real aircraft, real people, real incidents. A lapse of concentration, a mistake, an oversight, or other missteps can have very serious consequences.
Even a mundane task like FOD walk is taken very seriously. This is an activity where many people are tasked to talk through an area of flight line to retrieve FOD (trash, rocks, loose metal objects). This is important because FOD ingested by jet engines can be catastrophic.
Here’s another example. We do not “lose” things in the air base. If you can’t find your screwdriver, you might think that’s a non-issue right, you just replace it, or sign 1206. It is just a screwdriver. No, not in the airfield; that screwdriver is a big deal. A screwdriver doesn’t disappear into thin air. You left it somewhere. The question is where. Maybe it was left in a jet engine. That would be catastrophic. It may be fatal too. So, you don’t lose a screwdriver. We don’t care how, but you gotta find it.
I used to not understand the meaning of “lull period”, “stand down”, or “stand by” when other friends talk about their units, because in the air base, every day is the same; the air base is always forever 100% on ready standby for any action. How could such a concept of “stand down” even make sense?
We can have base-wide exercises while still being 100% on ready standby. While RSAF open house is ongoing, there is no compromise on operational readiness.
Be it rain, public holiday, Chinese New Year, COVID, Presidential Election, we have to be always 100% ready. That’s no other way to it.