RSAF 50th anniversary - Defending Singapore's skies and beyond

Lean crew on daily missions in war zone

A Searcher UAV being prepared for take-off in Afghanistan. The RSAF's UAV team, which was deployed in the war zone from August to November 2010, was tasked with providing surveillance and reconnaissance for international forces there.
A Searcher UAV being prepared for take-off in Afghanistan. The RSAF's UAV team, which was deployed in the war zone from August to November 2010, was tasked with providing surveillance and reconnaissance for international forces there.PHOTO: MINDEF

As the Republic of Singapore Air Force celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, The Straits Times speaks to current and former airmen, who share their stories of how they responded to the call of duty, from protecting Singapore's airspace to rescue operations and multinational reconstruction efforts.

No amount of training can fully prepare one for conditions in a war-torn country still fending off insurgents and rebuilding its government.

This was what Lieutenant-Colonel Low Jun Horng, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot, learnt when he was deployed to Afghanistan. He was in the country as part of a 52-man UAV team tasked with providing surveillance and reconnaissance for international forces there.

Said LTC Low, 39: "When you hear the loud 'boom' (of a bomb going off) a distance away, you definitely would feel the initial fear...But I would say that most of us who were there were trained and experienced enough to carry out our duties in spite of the circumstances."

LTC Low and his teammate, Military Expert 3 Lim Chin Hoe, are glad for their contribution during their deployment from August to November 2010. The team provided valuable information using Searcher UAVs that helped save lives.

Having seen injured and dead people being rolled out of helicopters, LTC Low said: "That was a very sombre reminder of the importance of what we do. When you have the responsibility to give the intelligence to people, and you don't do it well, people could die because of the loss of that information."

The team successfully fulfilled 112 flights based in Multinational Base Tarin Kowt. Their mission is the Republic of Singapore Air Force's only UAV overseas deployment thus far.

Throughout their deployment, the crew did not leave their base and could go to only a few places within the camp. Each crew member carried out two missions every day, six days a week, with each mission lasting at least six hours.

 
 
 

The occasional cheer and break from this regimented lifestyle came in the form of gifts and "I love you, Daddy" cards from home, and celebrating festivals such as Deepavali with roti prata.

In the desert, the team had to make do with a very lean crew , said LTC Low, who was a flight commander during the mission. Even then, they wanted no excuse for failure.

ME3 Lim, 46, who served as the UAV detachment's logistic officer, said: "We came in early and even prepared extra aircraft, so that there was zero per cent chance of failure."

Lim Min Zhang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Lean crew on daily missions in war zone'. Print Edition | Subscribe