After Dark: Watching our skies like an I-Hawk

Report and pictures by: 
Gary Goh

Under the cover of darkness while the rest of Singapore is still asleep, a unit is out defending the skies at a classified location.

With strict discipline on the use of light-emitting devices, individuals from the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) 163 Squadron deploy the Improved-Hawk (I-Hawk) surface-to-air missile system that is part of a multi-layered defence shield.

The I-Hawk is a semi-active homing system that can hit targets up to 40km away, with missiles flying at speeds of up to 2.7 times the speed of sound. Each missile has a 85 per cent probability of hitting its target.

With rotating crews comprising national serviceman and regulars, personnel from 163 Squadron are on permanent round-the-clock standby to defend Singapore from any air intrusion.

The New Paper had an exclusive look at the life of these air defenders during an exercise the squadron took part in over two nights recently.

While the unit’s personnel trained diligently, we could feel their comradeship, especially during lull periods such as meal breaks.

Crew chief Corporal Gordon Tan said that camaraderie felt by his crew of four is developed through the time they have spent together.

Calling themselves a “brotherhood”, Cpl Tan and his crew plan birthday surprises for one another and go on movie marathons when they are not on duty.  

BROTHERHOOD

The 20-year-old said: “Although we may part ways after our (NS) stint, I believe that the memories we have forged during our time here are testament to our brotherhood.

“I have faith that we will make time in the future to catch up with one another.” For the regulars who signed up for the job, it is family support that keeps them going despite the long work hours and graveyard shifts.

For Flight Warrant Officer-In-Charge Yuen Pui Leng, 36, her parents have been her biggest source of support throughout her 18 years with the squadron.

With her parents making little gestures such as keeping dinner warm for her when she gets home late and calling her while she is out training, the petite woman has never regretted the career decision she made 18 years ago.

Although Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Yuen admitted that she did not fully understood what the job was about when she signed the contract, she said: “I can honestly say that I love my job and enjoy coming to work every day to handle new challenges 18 years on.”

On the dedication of the men of 163 Squadron, Lieutenant-Colonel Ace Tey, its commanding officer, said: “Our people... are a group of highly motivated professionals and team players who take great pride in what they do and have a deep sense of satisfaction in contributing to the defence of this nation.”

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on 4 October 2013.