143 Squadron that responded to SQ423 bomb threat awarded in SAF Best Unit Competition

(From left) 3SG Tan Sheng Wei, Maj Norman Teo, ME3 Desmond Ong and Cpt Dinesh Christopher Rajendram from the RSAF’s 143 Squadron. PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - Notified of a bomb threat aboard a Singapore Airlines flight in March last year, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) immediately scrambled two fighter jets.

The F-16s from 143 Squadron - part of the RSAF's front-line air defence operations - intercepted SQ Flight 423 in midair en route to Singapore from Mumbai, and escorted it to Changi Airport.

While the bomb threat turned out to be a hoax, the situation was something the unit had been preparing for.

Major Norman Teo, 36, commanding officer of 143 Squadron, described the incident as the "biggest test" of operational readiness.

"Everything that you have trained thus far... culminates in these few minutes that you are called to scramble," he said.

143 Squadron was named the Best Fighter Squadron in this year's Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Best Unit Competition, the Ministry of Defence announced on Wednesday (June 24).

The competition, which was introduced in 1969, recognises units which have excelled in the areas of combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence. A separate competition for national service units was introduced in 1993.

This is the squadron's second win since it started operating the F-16C/D multi-role fighter aircraft. It also received the award in 2017.

Besides conducting a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, 143 Squadron had also been involved in the 2018 Trump-Kim summit, taking to the skies to watch over Singapore's airspace.

Commanding Officer of 143 SQN, Major Norman Teo, conducting pre-flight checks before setting off on a mission. PHOTO: MINDEF

Maj Teo said that it was the unit's dedication and focus that allowed it to accomplish its missions.

"Everyone over in 143 Squadron understands their contribution to the air defence of Singapore," he said, adding that each member of the team "is filled with the determination to pursue excellence, regardless of whether the accolades come".

Other winners include the 1st Commando Battalion, which clinched its 17th consecutive win for the Best Combat Unit, and RSS Vigour, which won the Best Fleet Unit award.

It was the commando unit's 34th Best Combat Unit award. The last time another unit won the award was in 2003, when the 1st Battalion, Singapore Guards clinched the honour.

Commanding officer of the 1st Commando Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Fabian Pwi, 37, attributed the win to the soldiers' "dedication to give their best in everything they do".

Commanding Officer of 1st Commando Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Fabian Pwi, at Hendon Camp. PHOTO: MINDEF

"In my opinion, it is the culture in the unit. It is the DNA in every soldier in the 1st Commando Battalion, whether you wear the red beret or not," he added.

The 1st Commando Battalion will also be presented with the State Colours during the SAF Day ceremony next Wednesday, which will be livestreamed from the Safti Military Institute.

Eighteen awards will be given to active units and 11 to national service units for being the best in their formation. This year, the awards will be handed out in separate ceremonies officiated by the respective service chiefs.

Commanding Officer of RSS Vigour, Lieutenant-Colonel Loy Shing Tong, giving his approval to engage the enemy. PHOTO: MINDEF

Lieutenant-Colonel Loy Shing Tong, 39, the commanding officer of RSS Vigour, said winning the Best Fleet Unit was the best birthday gift for the Victory-class missile corvette, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in December last year.

"A ship is only as good as its people. Every single individual on board is important."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.