SAF to buy Aster-30 missile system

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will buy a new Aster-30 surface-to-air missile system to boost its air defence shield, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday.

The new system, along with other steps being taken, will help ensure that Singapore's security would not be compromised by plans to move Paya Lebar Airbase to Changi.

The shift would be costly but yield "many billion dollars" in returns as land is freed up for new homes and offices, and height limits are lifted for development, Dr Ng added. The airbase occupies 800ha, which is bigger than Ang Mo Kio HDB estate.

Announcing plans to buy the new missile system in Parliament, he said it is "many times more potent" than the current 30-year-old I-Hawk air defence system. It is also used by the military of advanced countries like France. "The Aster will allow us to engage multiple threats simultaneously and from a longer distance," Dr Ng said, without disclosing the cost and number of units to be bought.

He assured the House of continued investment in a state-of-the-art multi-layered air defence system, when replying to Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) on the air force's operational readiness when Paya Lebar Airbase is moved around 2030.

Mindef said in a statement later the Aster-30 system, developed by European aerospace consortium MBDA, can take on fighter aircraft up to 70km away, and also counter-attack drones and precision-guided missiles. The I-Hawk has a range of 40km.

Other layers of Singapore's air-defence system include the ground-based Spyder which was acquired in 2011 and has a 15km range, and the Gulfstream-550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft that replaced the E-2C Hawkeyes last year. The Gulfstream plane can spot threats beyond 370km.

Singapore's air force is looking at upgrading its fighter fleet as well. It plans to modernise the F-16s' avionics system and extend the jets' lifespan. It is still evaluating the suitability of the multi-role F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to replace its older aircraft.

The advanced capabilities being built up gave Mindef and SAF the confidence to move Paya Lebar Airbase, a decision taken after a 2011 study of Singapore's capabilities and security threats for the long term, Dr Ng said.

"We satisfied ourselves that our security would not be compromised," he said, with the move taking place after the airbases at Changi East and Tengah have been expanded.

He stressed that Singapore's security, in terms of the need to protect a small country that lacks strategic depth, was the over-riding consideration.

Dr Ng also assured Nominated MP Nicholas Fang there were no other plans or studies to further consolidate the airbases.

Defence analyst Bernand Loo said the Aster-30's ability to simultaneously fire missiles at eight different targets with a few seconds' notice, provides a "fairly significant increase" to the defence capability of the air force.

A spokesman for MBDA said delivery of 10 Aster-30 batteries to the French Air Force and five to the Italian Army will be completed by next year.

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