The A-4 Skyhawk originally appeared in 1956 as a product of the Douglas Aircraft Company, later absorbed into McDonnell Douglas. The aircraft proved a success as it saw considerable action in the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and some 2,960 units were produced with operators spanning the globe. The United States gave up use of the series in 2003 (USN) and the Israeli Air Force followed in 2015 (trainer versions were the last to go). Operators continuing to service the line include Argentina (as the modernized "Fightinghawk"), Brazil, and Singapore - the latter operating what is referred to as the definitive variant of the Skyhawk.
As the A-4 was ending its frontline reign, Singapore took the initiative - with help from American defense industry powerhouse Lockheed Martin - to locally modernize and vastly upgrade the A-4S models it maintained. The charge fell to Singapore Aircraft Industries (SAI) (now ST Aerospace) and the company produced the newer A-4SU "Super Skyhawk" form. A first-flight was recorded on September 19th, 1986 with service introduction following in 1989. About 150 Skyhawks were rebuilt to this standard, the first eight completed by Lockheed Martin, and a dedicated single-seat strike form and two-seat advanced jet trainer form emerged. Only the latter (A-4SU) remains in service with the Republic of Singapore Air Force as of this writing (2016).
To squeeze more life out of the existing inventory of still-useful-but-aging A-4S airframes (their engines were becoming more akin to museum pieces than proper military propulsion systems - thusly more expensive to maintain and repair with spare parts becoming increasingly hard to come by), a mid-1980s program (1984) was pushed through that saw the original Wright J65 turbojet engines replaced by non-afterburning General Electric F-404-GE-1000D turbofan engine of 10,800 lb thrust output. The avionics package was also upgraded to a more modern standard (AN/APG-145 Mapping and Ranging Radar, Litton LN-93 series Inertial Navigation System, GEC-Ferranti 4510 HUD, BAe Systems MED-2067 series MFDs) and the nose carried a Lockheed Martin "Pave Penny" laser seeker system for delivery of laser-guided munitions. A new CounterMeasures (CM) unit was installed and Radar Warning Receivers (RWRs) added at front- and rear-facing positions to help increase the product's battlefield survivability.
The program was broken down into Phase 1 and Phase 2. Phase 1 dealt with turbofan engines and involved Grumman and General Electric as the airframe had to accommodate the newer, larger and heavier engine which also forced a revision to the air intakes along the fuselage sides. The introduction of the F404 resulted in an immediate 15% increase to straightline speeds as nearly 30% more power became available to the airframe. This also led to an improved rate-of-climb (35%) and better initial thrust acceleration (up to 40% greater).
First-flight of a prototype was completed on September 19th, 1986 and service entry of this new mark was in 1989 through 143 Squadron, 142 Squadron and 145 Squadron (in that order) and the aircraft also formed the mount-of-choice for the "Black Knights" of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aerobatic team. 52 A-4S Skyhawks were converted to the A-4SU "Super Skyhawk" standard. Phase 2 involved Ferranti (BAe Systems) applying their advanced avionics kit detailed above.
"Super Skyhawks" served the Singapore Air Force for over thirty years and appeared across two distinct variants, the "A-4SU" built from A-4S-1 aircraft and the "TA-4SU" built from TA-4S and TA-4S-1 trainer aircraft. Final trainer forms have been succeeded by Italian-originated Alenia Aermacchi M-346 "Master" advanced jet trainers (detailed elsewhere on this site).
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ST Aerospace (Singapore Aircraft Industries) - Singapore / Grumman - USA Manufacturer(s)
Up to 9,900lb of externally-held ordnance across five hardpoints including Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs), Air-to-Surface Missiles (ASMs), rocket pods, laser-guided bombs, conventional drop bombs and up to 3 x jettisonable fuel tanks for increased range.
A-4SU "Super Skyhawk" - Base Series Name; single-seat fighter-bomber form built from existing A-4S operational models.
TA-4SU "Super Skyhawk" - Tandem two-seat advanced jet trainer form.
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