SAF hones capabilities at Exercise Wallaby

RSAF personnel at Rockhampton Airport preparing F-15 aircraft for a night mission during Exercise Wallaby 2016. This is the first time that F-15 fighter jets are taking part in Exercise Wallaby, which started in 1990.
RSAF personnel at Rockhampton Airport preparing F-15 aircraft for a night mission during Exercise Wallaby 2016. This is the first time that F-15 fighter jets are taking part in Exercise Wallaby, which started in 1990.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

4,600 personnel involved in annual drill, SAF's largest unilateral overseas exercise

In a parched landscape Down Under, where the grass appears to have been baked pale brown, F-15 fighter jets, light strike vehicles and Bionix infantry fighting vehicles from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are all part of an ambitious training exercise.

Taking place over an area about four times the size of Singapore, Exercise Wallaby is the SAF's largest unilateral overseas drill. About 4,600 SAF personnel are involved in the annual event from Sept 15 to Nov 7 at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia.

They include 1,200 personnel from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), which has about 20 aircraft taking part. This marks the largest number of air force assets and personnel in the exercise to date.

The air force's F-15SG fighter jets are also making their debut at the exercise, which started in 1990.

The larger number of units allows the RSAF to dedicate more forces to serving as the opposition in scenarios, honing the operational capabilities of the troops involved, said Brigadier-General Jonathan Tan, 47, air director of Exercise Wallaby 2016.

"(They) don't just walk through the park. (They) have to face pretty real enemy forces and that builds the operational instinct of our people," he said.

Brigadier-General Chua Boon Keat, director of this year's Exercise Wallaby, said the large training area makes possible one of the drill's missions - moving a brigade command post over 70km, which is more than the length of Singapore.

Participants told The Straits Times they welcomed the chance to work with other services, as the army, air force and navy are all involved in the exercise.

For instance, the army and air force have improved on their coordination by joining forces in striking at a common adversary.

A collaboration scenario may involve an unmanned aircraft vehicle first being used to spot the enemy, followed by both the army and air force striking at the enemy, with the attack coordinated by a command post, BG Chua noted.

Army personnel told The Straits Times the exercise had sharpened their soldiering capabilities.

Corporal Andrew Ow Xian Da, 21, a brigade support company trooper at 54 Singapore Armoured Brigade, said he got to fire a live Spike anti- tank missile at the exercise, something not possible in Singapore due to space constraints.

From the live shoot, he learnt that the missile's performance can be quite easily compromised by wind conditions. "Back in Singapore, we've been doing simulations over and over again, but being out here in the field is a totally different experience," he said.

Other activities at the exercise include armour exercises at the brigade or battalion level, manoeuvre exercises for guardsmen as well as amphibious operations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'SAF hones capabilities at Exercise Wallaby'. Print Edition | Subscribe