NSmen fighter pilot, engineer hone skills at 17-nation air combat drill in Australia

Major (NS) Robin Chew (left) and Military Expert 1-2 (NS) Isaac Ee took part in Exercise Pitch Black in Australia. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

DARWIN - For Major (NS) Robin Chew, the adrenaline rush of piloting a fighter jet is what keeps him coming back to Exercise Pitch Black in Australia.

The operationally ready national serviceman (NSman), 43, has volunteered for the multinational air combat drill three times, and is currently in Darwin, Australia.

Singapore is among 17 countries, including Australia, Britain, the United States and Japan, taking part in the biennial event from Aug 19 to Sept 8.

Maj Chew, who flies an F-15SG, was part of a simulated enemy force for a mission during the exercise.

Speaking to the media on Thursday after returning from the three-hour mission, he said that with more airspace, Australia offers better training opportunities.

The exercise, which involves more than 100 aircraft, also presented him with different challenges.

"In terms of foreign assets and interoperability, coming here, we can benchmark ourselves against the others," said the flight simulator instructor with ST Engineering.

He said he had the opportunity to face off against the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters. Singapore will take delivery of four of the B variant in 2026.

The pilot praised the F-35s' advanced sensor systems, which he said made the jets extremely deadly.

Of the 400 personnel in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) contingent, more than 35 are full-time national servicemen (NSFs) or NSmen.

NSmen pilots need to spend more days on in-camp training (ICT) than the average NSman as they need to maintain currency with the platforms they operate.

Maj Chew said he completes close to 40 days of ICT each year. This means he spends at least a day every fortnight flying the F-15SG fighter jet.

The constant training means he can get back to a high level of proficiency fairly quickly, but said it would not have been possible without strong support from his family and company.

An F35-A jet belonging to the Royal Australian Air Force during the exercise. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Military Expert 1-2 (NS) Isaac Ee, 30, said his wife has been his pillar of support. She gave the engineer with ST Engineering her blessing to attend the three-week exercise.

He is a flight line crew chief in Darwin, and is responsible for preparing the RSAF's fleet of fighter jets for the pilots.

"My job is something a lot of people say anybody can do, but you really need to put in effort and heart... to spot things that are off," he said.

ME1-2 Ee said his crew has had to work through the dry and arid climate in Darwin.

"Due to how dry the weather is here, there's actually a higher amount of static.

"For a flight line crew chief who is out hours on end on the flight line, it really takes a lot out of us," he added.

"As NSmen, we take pride in the jobs we do. Coming back to serve is something that I'm happy to do any time.

"And it's always nice to return and be with friends," said ME1-2 Ee.

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