Republic of Singapore air force unit activates

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- After eight months of planning and preparation, the Republic of Singapore air force passed a significant milestone when a new fighter training squadron activated here during a ceremony May 18.

During the event, the Air Force reactivated the 428th Fighter Squadron to serve as the republic of Singapore's flying training unit at Mountain Home. Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Keith Gibson assumed command of the 428th FS, also known as the Buccaneers.

The joint U.S. and Singapore organization is identical to other RSAF training units based in the United States.

"It's been a very hectic and stressful eight months but very rewarding at the same time," Colonel Gibson said in his first address as the squadron's commander. "To be able to go from literally nothing at Mountain Home to what you see today and ready to begin flying operations starting on the first of June is simply amazing."

As part of a long-standing international partnership, the 428th FS will fly 10 Singapore F-15SG aircraft maintained and flown by 180 RSAF active duty members and an additional 130 support personnel. The first four of these jets arrived here May 7 with the others scheduled to arrive in coming months.

"It has not been an easy road," said Col. James McGovern, 366th Operations Group commander. "The thousands of independent miracles that had to occur simultaneously to make this squadron ready for today are beyond measure. But the impossible was made possible thanks to a combined team ... all working seamlessly together to produce this brilliant aircraft and set the ground work for flying training operations [at Mountain Home]."

The F-15SG is an advanced version of the F-15E Strike Eagle currently flown by two squadrons at Mountain Home. At a casual glance, the F-15SG is indistinguishable from a Strike Eagle.

Mountain Home was selected to house the training squadron following an Air Force study that began in 2005 to determine the most suitable location for the RSAF unit. Mountain Home was deemed the ideal location for this training unit because of the base's extensive range complex, ideal year-round flying conditions, existing facilities and highly trained people.

A similar flight training program began at Luke AFB, Ariz., in 1990 and at Cannon AFB, N.M., from 1998 to 2005 as part of a continuing long-term relationship between Singapore and the United States. This partnership is expected to remain at Mountain Home for the next 25 years.

For Colonel Gibson, this week's ceremony was somewhat of a homecoming. From November 1993 to May 1994, the colonel flew F-111 fighters with the Buccaneers during the 428th's four-year history at Cannon.

"This is a very special day for me. I never considered back during my F-111 training days ... that I'd be eventually commanding this squadron at a different base with different aircraft and a professional, international cadre," Colonel Gibson said.

The Republic of Singapore is a key partner of the United States and has been known as the as the "gatekeeper" of the Straits of Malacca -- a strategic shipping lane that connects the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean," Colonel McGovern said. "Through those straits flow the commerce and trade for a third of the world, engendering the growth of democracies far and wide."