Republic of Singapore Air Force

Defending Our Skies from the Ground

Besides aircraft in the skies, the Republic of Singapore Air Force also boasts impressive Ground-Based Air Defence systems to defend Singapore against a wide spectrum of air threats. Although CPT Nathaniel Wong does not take to the skies, his work in the command booth is vital to the network that keeps our airspace safe. He hopes his experience will instil a sense of purpose in others and inspire them to contribute to our nation’s defence.

CPT Nathaniel Wong Kin Yew is an SAF Scholar with a degree in Computer Engineering from Northwestern University. He currently serves as an Air Warfare Officer (Air Defence Weapons) in the RSAF, leading a fire unit of 12 personnel.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) upholds the cardinal charter of maintaining our sovereignty in the air. This is only possible because of the vital contributions of world-class airmen and women.

Among these RSAF servicemen is CPT Nathaniel Wong, a Fire Unit Commander from 163 Squadron, who leads his unit in the operation of the ASTER 30 Missile System. As the system is operated by multiple team members working in unison, smooth cooperation is essential for their operations.

He shares his story of how he transformed from an ordinary young boy to an airman deployed at the frontline of our aerial defence.

From One Generation to the Next

CPT Nathaniel’s interest in the RSAF began in his childhood. His father served as an Airforce Technician in the 1980s. He would take his son to witness aerial displays and RSAF Open Houses whenever possible, which piqued his interest in aviation.

“I think this left an indelible impression on me at a young age about the RSAF and made the RSAF a profession that I aspired towards as I was growing up,” CPT Nathaniel recalled.

Taking the First Step

His teachers recognised his talents and potential to excel at school, and strongly encouraged him to apply for the SAF Scholarship. He seized the opportunity – and has had no regrets since.

“The SAF Scholarship offered the dynamic career that I was looking for while allowing me to serve a greater good and contribute to Singapore’s security and stability.”

Under the scholarship, CPT Nathaniel obtained his degree in Computer Engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, United States. Education abroad exposed him to a whole new world of seemingly limitless academic and non-academic possibilities, and CPT Nathaniel was determined to embrace it all. Besides studying hard, he took on personal research projects, was active in residential life, and served on the residential board of his college.

These demanding activities taught him important skills such as critical thinking, engaging multiple perspectives in problem-solving, time management, and interpersonal skills – all of which CPT Nathaniel puts to good use in his work operating defence systems and managing a diverse team.

“While this is often mentioned, I cannot emphasise more the usefulness of these soft skills in navigating the many complex issues faced at work, such as making decisions under time pressure and communicating effectively and succinctly,” he highlighted.

A Leader of Men

Upon his return, CPT Nathaniel began his career as an Air Warfare Officer (Air Defence Weapons) (AWO (ADW)), leading a fire unit comprising 12 team members, commanders, air defence system specialists, and air defence weapon specialists.

“The AWO (ADW) vocation was uniquely attractive as it allowed me to be a part of ground operations, leading small teams, while still being able to contribute to Air Operations,” he explained, regarding his choice for this vocation.

His primary role is to operate the ASTER 30 Missile system, which can counter and engage multiple aircraft and munitions simultaneously within a range of 70km. He is also responsible for the training and safety of the men under his charge, keeping their standards up and their morale high.

Leading a team of so many different vocations and specialists, including a mix of regulars and Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs), is not without its challenges. This is where CPT Nathaniel relies on the good relationships and communication he has with his men. “The ASTER 30 Missile system is deployed in different camps as part of the RSAF’s Island Air Defence system. Even though we may be operating the system at different sites, the tight teamwork we have established helps us to successfully execute our mission. Mutual trust, and good and clear communication are imperative.”

CPT Nathaniel also believes in nurturing his NSFs during their two years of NS. He takes joy in building their confidence and makes it a point to encourage them to look beyond their day-to-day tasks, and find opportunities to develop themselves. He hopes that they will uncover their passion and interests during this time and hopefully pursue a career with the RSAF.

“I encourage all prospective scholarship applicants to consider the many vocations that the RSAF has to offer – flying operations, engineering, air warfare, and intelligence, and more. Common to all of these vocations is a sense of mission and a willingness to challenge ourselves to be the best that we can be both individually and as a team.” CPT Nathaniel Wong

Growing with the RSAF

CPT Nathaniel relishes the challenge of working in a fast-paced environment which requires quick decision-making. “While daunting at first, operating my system has become second nature to me now, and I enjoy the constant challenge to improve myself as an operator and commander.”

He concluded: “I encourage all prospective scholarship holders to consider the many vocations that the RSAF has to offer – flying operations, engineering, air warfare, and intelligence, and more. Common to all of these vocations is a sense of mission and a willingness to challenge ourselves to be the best that we can be, both individually and as a team.”

“In the RSAF, you are never alone – whether on the ground or in the sky, the mission of protecting Singapore unites us all.”