RSAF takes part in Exercise Wallaby in Australia for 25th year

A rehearsal for the advance party's landing was conducted on Nov 9, 2018, in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland where Exercise Trident is conducted. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

ROCKHAMPTON (Queensland) - To launch a full-scale ship-to-shore operation on enemy land, an advance party is first sent in by helicopter to secure the area before the main forces arrive.

Providing this air support is one of the key roles of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) in Exercise Trident this year - the signature bilateral exercise between the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Australian Defence Force.

The ship-to-shore operation on Saturday (Nov 10) will be the highlight of the exercise, and will be observed by Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How and Australian Assistant Defence Minister David Fawcett.

The exercise is the third phase of Exercise Wallaby, which is SAF's largest overseas training exercise and began in September.

A rehearsal for the advance party's landing was conducted on Friday (Nov 9) in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland where Exercise Trident is conducted from Oct 31 to Nov 14.

The air force first participated in Exercise Wallaby in 1993.

In the past 25 years, the annual drill has been a platform to test new capabilities.

In 2006, the AH-64D Apache helicopters joined army battalions in Exercise Wallaby for the first time.

Three years after the F-15 fighter jets were declared fully operational in 2013, they made their debut at the exercise in 2016.

While there are no new capabilities being tested this year, the air force has deployed six AS332 Super Puma helicopters, four CH-47D Chinook helicopters, 12 vehicles and systems, and about 200 personnel for Exercise Trident.

Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Maxmillion Goh, 42, who is Exercise Trident's Air Director, said its value lies in how the three services can train together.

"By having our airmen, sailors and soldiers all together within one arena, we go through a very deliberate planning and coordination process to make sure we develop a close understanding of each other's platforms, capabilities and operational requirements," he said.

He added that the thick vegetation in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area means that helicopter pilots have a hard time trying to identify where the simulated enemy forces are.

"This forces our pilots to plan their flight routes in a very tactical manner," said SLTC Goh.

Other than the troop lift using two types of helicopters - the Chinook and the Super Puma - RSAF personnel also coordinate the airspace for the tri-service operation, and are on standby for any life-threatening medical evacuation.

Captain Eileen Yeo, 30, an air-land tactical controller, said: "Our training area in Singapore is much smaller, and we don't get to practice much on a tri-service level. In Singapore, we focus more on improving our own skills."

Her job involves ensuring there are no conflicts between the different forces when they are in the same area. For instance, information about where not to fly when there is live-firing is given to pilots.

Master Sergeant (NS) Han Jun Kwang, 29, who is a Super Puma Air Crew Specialist, said the Australia terrain presents different challenges compared to flying in Singapore.

"Over here, because of the dry terrain, when we land there's a chance there might be a brown-out (where dust or sand can surround the aircraft and reduce visibility). This is something that might not happen back in Singapore."

MSG (NS) Han volunteered for the deployment, and was motivated by his father, who was an army regular who participated in Exercise Wallaby frequently.

"He has been telling me stories since I was young, so for me to come here to see what he did, my dad was more than happy for me," said the financial planner.

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