RSAF gets a chance to spread its wings

Exercise Pitch Black offers greater training experience and opportunity to beef up ties

Senior Lieutenant-Colonel David Lim says the vast air space available in the exercise allows the Republic of Singapore Air Force to deploy weapons that explode on the ground.
Senior Lieutenant-Colonel David Lim says the vast air space available in the exercise allows the Republic of Singapore Air Force to deploy weapons that explode on the ground.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The ability to deploy live explosives and skirt land threats in a multinational air combat exercise have helped Singapore's air force greatly, said key personnel involved.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has also been able to strengthen its ties with militaries from other nations participating in the exercise, called Pitch Black, the largest multilateral air combat exercise held in the Australian continent.

The exercise is hosted every two years by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and involves the air forces of countries such as the United States, Germany, Indonesia and Singapore. It ends on Aug 19.

Besides the vast air space it offers, the exercise allows the RSAF to deploy weapons that explode on the ground, said Senior Lieutenant- Colonel David Lim, 42, the RSAF's exercise director.

In Singapore, the air force cannot do so as most of its training air space is over water in the South China Sea, he added.

The exercise also allowed pilots to practise avoiding land threats, such as ground-based air defence units, said Captain Louis Tan, 31, an F-15SG pilot from RSAF's 149 Squadron. Again, this cannot be simulated in Singapore.

"In Singapore, our air spaces are over the water so there's not much of terrain manoeuvring," he said.

Air craft maintenance crew are also put through a rigorous training process, due to the fast pace of the exercise, said Military Expert 2 Wong Heng Boon, an air force engineer with 815 Squadron.

The time available to rectify defects in aircraft in between missions can be as short as two hours, the 37-year-old said, adding that she maintains things like the lights of F-16 aircraft.

"This exercise has trained me to be more focused and to be able to handle stress in a very high-tempo environment. It's something that I probably won't experience back home in Singapore," she said.

On top of offering geographical elements that are conducive to training, the exercise also exposes airmen to complex scenarios, said Wing Commander Grant Burr of the RAAF, who is commanding officer of the 77 Squadron.

"(At the exercise), our air crew not only have to understand their own capabilities and limitations but also (that) of different aircraft from around the world. That just adds another layer of complexity," he said.

Through this, air crew also understand what working with other countries could look like in a conflict situation, he added.

Wing Commander Burr also held the RSAF in high regard.

"I did a mission (during the exercise) where the mission commander was a pilot from Singapore and he did a fantastic job with a very complex problem," he said, adding that Singapore's air force "always steps through a very deliberate process of pulling the problem apart".

"(The RSAF) was very consultative with the other nations that were in the room (and) the feedback on board," he said.

The RSAF deployed about 450 personnel in the exercise this year, up from about 300 personnel in 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'RSAF gets a chance to spread its wings'. Print Edition | Subscribe