Scholars' experience Details

SAF officers are leading, serving and defending the nation amid the tumult of living in pandemic times

SAF officers are leading, serving and defending the nation amid the tumult of living in pandemic times

Published 19 Feb 2021

Caption: SLTC Sebastian Chai (pictured right) in the cockpit. PHOTO: MINDEF

Defence diplomacy amid Covid-19

To Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Sebastian Chai, 2020 has further accentuated existing geopolitical fault lines and exposed the limits of multilateralism. 

“We have seen protectionist and nativist tendencies taking over as countries turned inward-looking. It takes strong leadership to look beyond the immediate crisis and garner buy-in for international cooperation,” he notes.

As a Director for International Policy in the Defence Policy Office, SLTC Chai experienced this first-hand when he and his team had to think creatively about how to resume physical defence diplomacy interactions with international partners in a safe and meaningful manner, after Singapore’s circuit breaker period.

“We had no past templates to work off. We had to familiarise ourselves with the virus and all the different Covid-19 testing methods very quickly, and work with various ministries on our proposed Covid-19 protocols and safeguards,” he explains.

The 35-year-old, who holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London, decided to join the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and applied for the SAF Merit Scholarship when he was 19. Since then, he has studied in the United Kingdom and the United States, and undergone pilot training courses in Australia and the United States. 


Holding his own

He has also been deployed to Thailand, Malaysia, Canada and Australia for bilateral and multilateral exercises. 

In 2014, for instance, he was the Mission Commander for a Large Force Employment mission during Exercise Pitch Black 2014, a biennial multilateral exercise in Darwin, Australia. During this complex mission, SLTC Chai led more than 40 aircraft from six countries to penetrate heavily defended “enemy” territory and take out ground targets within a short window of opportunity.

His most fulfilling tour so far, he says, was his previous appointment as Commanding Officer of 145 Squadron, which operates a fleet of F-16D+ aircraft. 

“It brings me great pride whenever I see our RSAF fighter aircrew holding our own against the best Air Forces around the world in multilateral exercises,” he says. 

He tells interested applicants to “be prepared for a purposeful adventure”. 

“The RSAF will take you to places around the world and develop you to the best of your ability,” he adds.

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