Singapore’s Defence – Fact or Fiction?

Every mother-father’s son in Singapore will eventually have to serve his National Service some day. Even our Olympic Gold Medalist wasn’t made any exception. This uniquely Singapore experience has unknowingly become every Singaporean man’s common topic and it is definitely not an uncommon sight to see strangers who just met at a bar getting along like long lost friends just by talking about their NS experience and the various “urban legends” they have came across during service.

Conspiracy theories or not, but here are what I have personally heard:

  1. The infamous No-Night-Training-Thursday
  2. The reason behind the IPPT 2.4km run and why it’s not 2.3km or 2.5km
  3. They story about our SAF crest.
  4.  Do you know that some roads in Singapore are always ready to become alternate runways?
  5. Why do we still wear the green uniform and practise jungle warfare when Singapore is really just an Urban Jungle?

I do not have all the answers to the above but there’s one I heard from the horse’s mouth. Or rather, with my own eyes (and camera).


Yup. Our RSAF has the capability of turning roads into temporary runways for planes.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has been conducting Exercise Torrent, also known as the Alternate Runway Exercise, from 10 to 14 November 2016. This is the seventh Exercise Torrent. The first exercise was conducted on 17 Apr 1986 with the participation of the A-4 and F-5 fighter aircraft. The previous exercise was conducted in 2008 and I was lucky to be part of the exercise this time round. (Erm… to cover the story. Not to help remove road signs.)

It’s funny how this exercise has been around for so long but not everybody knows that this is actually possible.


The conversion of Lim Chu Kang Road, which measures 2,500m in length and 24m in width, into a runway will take about 48 hours and involves 110 RSAF servicemen. In the 48 hours, public road fixtures such as lamp posts, traffic lights, bus stops, road signs and guard rails are removed with assistance from agencies such as the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA).



In addition, the setting up of airfield equipment and fixtures such as the Mobile Arrestor Gear (MAG), Solar Portable Airfield Lights (SPAL), and Precision Approach Path Indicators (PAPIs) are also accomplished. The remaining RSAF servicemen are involved in other critical tasks to support the exercise, such as engineering and logistical support for the aircraft and airfield systems, as well as runway and air base security.


The RSAF uses the MAG system which is equipped with a hookwire for aircraft arrestment operations. The MAG is a mechanical system that rapidly decelerates an aircraft after it touches down. The system can be used for short or temporary runways or in the unlikely scenario where the aircraft has difficulty stopping on its own due to aircraft fault.


In a short Q&A session, we also learn that this is not the only road in Singapore that can be transformed into an alternate run way for our planes during war time or any during any other event where the original runways may be unavailable.


So there, you have it. When the next time someone talks about this, you can proudly say that this is totally possible and not just another “urban legend”.

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