SAF resumes Exercise Wallaby in Australia; scaled down with 580 troops

About 580 troops are in Queensland, Australia, for the exercise held from Sept 13 to Oct 21. PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - After a one-year suspension, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is holding a scaled-down Exercise Wallaby this year - traditionally its largest overseas exercise - amid ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

About 580 troops are in Queensland, Australia, for the exercise held from Sept 13 to Oct 21 that marked the debut of the Republic of Singapore Air Force's upgraded Chinook helicopters which were delivered this year.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said on Wednesday (Oct 20) the SAF conducted large-scale, coordinated missions to "strengthen air-land-sea integration" during the unilateral exercise at Shoalwater Bay Training Area.

These included live-firing by AH-64D Apache helicopters, air-drop missions from a C-130 transport aircraft and ship-to-shore exercises.

There was also deck-landing operations by the new CH-47F Chinook helicopters, and replenishment drills by Endurance-class landing ship tank RSS Endeavour.

Colonel Sherman Ong, 44, who is the exercise's air director, said efforts were made to ensure the risks of Covid-19 are mitigated.

Some units from the army and air force had to be withdrawn as part of "right-sizing efforts" during planning earlier this year, he said. The range of mission types conducted also had to be reduced given the smaller number of participating units.

"That being said, our focus to make the best use of the training area and vast airspace that we have here in Shoalwater Bay remains," he told reporters via teleconference on Tuesday.

"This year's exercise is important in that it ensured that our overall familiarity and experience levels specific to the training area does not drop too significantly for subsequent editions of the exercise."

Covid-19 safety measures taken include having all participants be fully vaccinated, doing pre- and post-deployment swab tests, and following a controlled itinerary in Australia to minimise interaction with the local population.

Past editions of the annual exercise, pre-pandemic, involved up to 4,000 troops and hundreds of platforms, lasting up to two months.

Mindef said the training area - with a land area about four times the size of Singapore - allows the SAF to conduct large-scale integrated training across all three services to exercise its range of capabilities and maintain training currency for its units.

A Republic of Singapore Air Force AH-64D Apache helicopter taking off for live-firing exercises as part of Exercise Wallaby 2021. PHOTO: MINDEF

For Col Ong, a Super Puma helicopter pilot by training, the highlight of the exercise was seeing the new CH-47Fs in action for the first time. He called it a significant milestone for the helicopter community and the air force.

The CH-47F is a heavy-lift helicopter with a fully integrated digital cockpit management system and advanced cargo handling capabilities, he noted.

The RSAF's CH-47F Chinook helicopter taking off from the Republic of Singapore Navy's RSS Endeavour with a land rover as part of a replenishment serial during Exercise Wallaby. PHOTO: MINDEF

"These features, coupled with capabilities such as an enhanced self-protection suite and satellite communications systems, will enable it to better meet the SAF's lift requirements."

The air force said in a Facebook post in May that the CH-47F will be delivered first to the Oakey Detachment in Australia. It is expected to be able to undertake a wide range of operations, including search and rescue, aeromedical evacuation and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

Mindef added that the resumption of Exercise Wallaby this year was testament to the trust and cooperation between the Singapore and Australian armed forces, as well as the close and longstanding bilateral defence relations between the two countries.

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