Battle for RSAF's Best Hotshot Squadron begins

Soldiers erect a fresh target for a strafing run (above), where the F-16 pilot will fire a burst of 20mm rounds from his cannon. Sand is kicked into the air as a practice bomb from an F-16 aircraft hits the target on Pulau Pawai (left).
Soldiers erect a fresh target for a strafing run (above), where the F-16 pilot will fire a burst of 20mm rounds from his cannon.
Soldiers erect a fresh target for a strafing run (above), where the F-16 pilot will fire a burst of 20mm rounds from his cannon. Sand is kicked into the air as a practice bomb from an F-16 aircraft hits the target on Pulau Pawai (left).
Sand is kicked into the air as a practice bomb from an F-16 aircraft hits the target on Pulau Pawai (above).
An assessor measures the accuracy of the precision marshaller in stopping the F-16 on its mark as the aircraft comes in to park at the Tengah Air Base after a mission.
An assessor measures the accuracy of the precision marshaller in stopping the F-16 on its mark as the aircraft comes in to park at the Tengah Air Base after a mission.ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

'Missions' in biennial competition test capabilities of crews across all platforms

He may have flown the F-16 for 24 years but fighter pilot Kwok Yong Kuan still felt nervous in the cockpit yesterday as he swooped in on "targets".

His mission - to locate the enemy target, strike it with precision and fight his way out - was part of the biennial Hotshot Challenge.

It is one of seven different challenges to test the capabilities of the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) platforms, such as fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) , and airmen.

The 44-year-old major, who left the RSAF two years ago to become a commercial pilot, said: "The difficulty is in handling the anxieties as everyone wants to do well, especially in such an important event."

Major Kwok joins 131 personnel, a mix of RSAF regulars, NSFs and NSmen in competing for this year's Best Hotshot Squadron.

Four squadrons - 140, 143, 145 and 149 SQN - are vying for the title. Altogether, 15 F-16 and five F-15SG fighter jets will compete in basic weaponry skills and tactical employment.

Soldiers erect a fresh target for a strafing run (above), where the F-16 pilot will fire a burst of 20mm rounds from his cannon. Sand is kicked into the air as a practice bomb from an F-16 aircraft hits the target on Pulau Pawai (left).

TEST OF NERVES

The difficulty is in handling the anxieties as everyone wants to do well, especially in such an important event.

MAJOR KWOK YONG KUAN (above), a fighter pilot, talking about the biennial Hotshot Challenge

Colonel Linus Tan, Commander of Fighter Group, said: "These challenges provide an excellent opportunity to better appreciate each other's role to achieving mission success."

A high level of integration and coordination across the different platforms is needed for teams to succeed. The Hotshot Challenge will test aircrews' skills in deploying unguided bombs and guns in four different scenarios. They are also required to successfully destroy a ground target amid realistic threats in roughly 90 minutes.

Equally important to a team's success is the ground crew handling of the logistics of a mission. They will similarly be tested in four different components.

Part of that crew is Third Sergeant (3SG) Alvindev Singh, a 25-year-old NSF senior technician from 140 SQN. Under normal circumstances, he is the ground marshal for the pilot but for this competition, he heads his squadron's creative marshalling segment. This segment allows each squadron to come up with different and unique ways to allow the ground crew to communicate with the pilot in launching and parking the aircraft.

3SG Singh said: "Normally, we end with a final salute to the pilot so this challenges us to come up with a creative way to send the pilot off." Once the aircraft is parked, instead of the usual simple salute, the squadrons have to come up with a more creative display.

While tight-lipped on what he has planned for this Friday's challenge, he said it would involve six people, instead of the usual one, and took about three weeks to finalise.

An idea of how creative marshalling can get is in the viral video posted by RSAF in 2014, in which Military Expert 1 Tan Wen Kai helped to launch a F-15SG with a series of breakdancing moves, including a windmill, cartwheel and backflip.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'Battle for RSAF's Best Hotshot Squadron begins'. Print Edition | Subscribe