Exercise Torrent 16 — Roadway to Runway

November 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Singapore is keenly aware that only with the uninterrupted ability to launch and recover its air assets could it employ effective air power, the linchpin of its military deterrence. Lessons from the Vietnam and Six-Day Wars had raised concerns of the vulnerability of its air force to artillery and air strikes in the 1970s.

As such, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has emphasised protection and built-in redundancy in the development of air base infrastructure. It has gone through great lengths to conceal and harden its critical facilities and established a rapid airfield repair capability to ensure enemy action will not cripple an air base easily. Several stretches of public roads were designated for use as airstrips and one is periodically practiced on during alternate runway exercises.

Road to Airstrip

After an eight-year hiatus, the latest RSAF road to runway exercise series codenamed "Torrent" was held from  10 – 13 November 2016 and involved 12 RSAF fighters. © Roy Choo

One of two remaining roads that could be transformed to allow airfield operations , the six-lane Lim Chu Kang Road is a thoroughfare used by heavy vehicles serving farms and industrial facilities in the north-western corner of Singapore. Connected to Tengah Airbase by two taxiways on the northern and southern ends, the 2,500m by 24m road lack a run-off unlike its overseas equivalents and fighters utilising the strip still rely on Tengah’s re-arming and refuelling facilities. The road has hosted seven of such alternate runway exercises — codenamed Torrent — since its first in 1986.

After an eight-year hiatus, the latest exercise was held from 10 – 13 November 2016 and involved 1,000 personnel  ranging from pilots, engineering and maintenance crew, air traffic controllers and force protection troopers, who provided parameter security.

As with past exercises, a 48-hour period was allowed for the road to airstrip transformation process. This mammoth task fell on the RSAF’s 505 Air Base Civil Engineering Squadron, which is also charged with the day-to-day upkeeping of the road to allow a quick conversion.  Over the two days, road fixtures were removed with assistance from associated national agencies.  In their place, airfield equipment such as solar portable airfield lights, distance-to-go markers and Mobile Arrestor Gear (MAG) systems on each end of the strip were set up. A mobile air traffic control (ATC) tower was also deployed to allow coordination and de-confliction of aircraft movements with Tengah’s ATC. 

The 505 Air Base Civil Engineering Squadron and associated national agencies were tasked with the road to airstrip transformation within 48 hours. © Roy Choo

With 12 aircraft launching in such close proximity, air traffic controllers on the mobile air traffic control tower deployed along Lim Chu Kang Road played an important role in the de-confliction of aircraft movements. © Roy Choo

Airpower Generation

Exercise Torrent 2016 (13 Nov 2016) - One of twenty F-16D+ operated by 145 Squadron launches from Lim Chu Kang Road. Flanked by trees and poultry farms on both sides, operating from the 2,500m by 24m airstrip requires precision with little room for error. © Roy Choo Equipped with conformal fuel tanks and more advanced avionics systems compared to the F-16C/Ds, one of twenty F-16D+ operated by 145 Squadron launches from Lim Chu Kang Road. © Roy Choo

There were a number of notable firsts for this year’s exercise. Apart from the demonstration of aircraft operations on the strip, the exercise highlighted the ability to conduct simultaneous aircraft launch and recovery on Tengah’s main runway, both its eastern and western taxiways as well as on Lim Chu Kang Road. “The use of these four platforms demonstrated that our fighters can launch and turn around as fast as possible. When we multiply this concept to the three fighter-capable air bases, one can imagine how rapidly we can re-generate and bring airpower to bear against threats,” said Brigadier-General Gan Siow Huang, Exercise Director and Commander, Air Power Generation Command. All twelve aircraft, including four F-15SG which inaugurated the type’s participation, launched within a mere three minutes on each of the two demonstrations.

Exercise Torrent 2016 (12 Nov 2016) - Four F-15SGs from 149 Squadron participated in Exercise Torrent 16, the type seeing its inaugural participation in the road to runway exercise series. © Roy Choo Though F-15SG 8320 is in the markings of newly established 142 Squadron, 149 Squadron led the F-15SG operations in Exercise Torrent 16. © Roy Choo

The participating aircrews were first-timers in the exercise, though lessons were shared by the pilots of previous exercises. Major Wang Kee Yong ‘Senbei’, an F-15SG Fighter Weapons Instructor with 149 Squadron discussed the preparations made by the F-15 crew, “As a work-up to this exercise, we focused on short-field training techniques, knowing that the runway would be narrow and short. But when we took off for the first time, we were still caught by surprise on how narrow it is because of the proximity of the trees around it.” Another first for the exercise was the simulation of an aircraft brake failure scenario, with an F-16C engaging the hookwire of a MAG laid across Lim Chu Kang Road.

While the RSAF has expressed interest in acquiring the F-35, with attention focussed on the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant, a decision on any purchase will not be made till sometime in the 2030s. As its relatively new F-15s and F-16s will remain the mainstay of its fighter force, alternate runway contingency plans and exercises like Torrent will remain relevant at least for the next decade.


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