The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Singapore Had A Secret
by James Dunnigan
October 22, 2014
Singapore has quietly expanded its F-15 fleet from 24 to 40 aircraft. Digging through Congressional records (because warplane exports, even to “unnamed countries” must get Congressional approval) and financial statements the F-15 manufacturer must release to its shareholders, it was possible to track an additional 16 F-15s sent to Singapore with no publicity or fanfare at all.
Singapore ordered 12 F-15SGs in 2005 but even before it received those the order was doubled. The first dozen started arriving in 2008 and the second dozen began to arrive in in 2010. After 2007 the additional 16 aircraft were quietly ordered, manufactured and delivered.
The Singapore F-15SGs are improved versions of the U.S. Air Force F-15E. These are similar to the South Korean version (the F-15K.) The South Koreans ordered 40 of the F-15K and were so pleased with their performance that more were ordered. These aircraft can carry ten tons of munitions for several thousand kilometers, and employ smart bombs as well as the latest air-to-air weapons. Singapore's neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, are buying MiG-29s and Su-30s. Malaysia and Indonesia are much larger (in terms of population and territory), and both are envious of Singapore's wealth, and position astride the Straits of Malacca (through which a large portion of the world’s trade moves). Singapore thus puts a lot of effort and money into its military.
The F-15E/K/SG is a two seat version of the F-15, optimized for precision, long range, bombing. The 36 ton F-15E was developed in the 1980s as a replacement for the two decade old F-111, and entered service in 1988. Costing over $100 million each, the foreign user version of the F-15E (including the Israeli F-15I) have been very successful.
In mid-2014 Singapore ordered another 963 JDAM kits. When added to an unguided bomb (228 kg/500 pound on up to 912 kg) the kit (GPS, flight computer, batteries and movable fins to guide the bomb) turns the “dumb” bomb into a smart bomb. Singapore uses JDAM on its newly acquired F-15E fighter-bombers. These were ordered in 2007 and had arrived by 2011. Back in 2008 Singapore ordered 200 AIM-120C AMRAAM radar guided air-to-air missiles, 200 AIM-9X heat seeking air-to-air missiles, 150 JDAM kits, and 60 AIM-154 JSOW (JDAM with wings, and the ability to glide 50-130 kilometers) for their F-15SGs. In addition, maintenance equipment and practice missiles are also on order.
JDAM bombs proved more useful than anyone anticipated when the idea was first implemented during the 1990s and Singapore is well aware of this. In 1991, the GPS system was just coming into service. There were already plans for something like JDAM, but no one was sure that it would work. Once the engineers got onto it, it was discovered that JDAM not only worked, but cost less than half as much to build ($18,000 per bomb) as the air force expected ($40,000 a bomb, or about $63,000 adjusted for inflation and upgrades). Mass production of JDAM kits began in 1996.
During their first use, in the 1999 Kosovo campaign, 98 percent of the 652 JDAMs used hit their targets. In 2001, JDAM proved the ideal weapon for supporting the few hundred Special Forces and CIA personnel the U.S. had on the ground in Afghanistan. The JDAM was more accurate, and effective, than anticipated. By January, 2002, the U.S. had dropped about half their inventory, of 10,000 JDAMs, in Afghanistan.
In 2003, 6,500 JDAM were used in the three week 2003 Iraq invasion. Since 1999, American aircraft have used less than 30,000. New versions have added more capabilities. The latest versions are even more accurate, putting half the bombs within ten meters of the aiming point. JDAMs are pretty rugged. F-22s have dropped half ton JDAMs, from 16,100 meters feet (50,000), while moving at over 1,500 kilometers an hour. Singapore expects all these precision bombs and missiles to make their 40 F-15SGs a decisive force in their neighborhood.