Over 80 fighter jets from two opposing camps lit up the dark skies above the Northern Territory of Australia with trails of orange flames from their jet engines. Among them were F-15SG and F-16C/D fighter jets from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
These aircraft were taking part in Exercise Pitch Black – the largest and most complex air combat exercise conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This is a large force employment training which brings a large number of aircraft into the airspace all at once to play out realistic war time scenarios in day and night.
About 100 aircraft and 2,300 personnel are taking part in the ongoing exercise which started on 1 Aug and will conclude on 22 Aug. This year’s biennial exercise saw new players France and United Arab Emirates joining Australia, Singapore, Thailand, United States and New Zealand.
During the exercise, the air forces conducted air-to-air combat, and air-to ground attacks against simulated threats, through day and night. They also practiced airborne early warning and control, and air-to-air refueling.
The RSAF deployed about 300 personnel, six F-15SG and eight F-16C/D fighter aircraft, a Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning (G550-AEW) aircraft, and a KC-135R air-to-air refueling aircraft.
The vast airspace and bombing ranges in Darwin form a realistic training environment for the RSAF servicemen to sharpen their operational capabilities, said RSAF Exercise Director Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Linus Tan.
For example, the RSAF’s F-16C/D fighters successfully conducted their first live drop of the GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II laser-guided bomb during the exercise.
“Having that opportunity to do such stand-off weapon employment is critical…(it) gives the air crew and the ground crew the confidence in terms of the platform capability,” said SLTC Tan.
Stand-off weapons can be launched from a sufficient distance that allows the attacker to evade defensive fire from the target area.
For pilot, Captain (CPT) Adrian Tan, the greatest takeaway was being able to operate with other aircraft such as the RAAF’s F/A-18F Super Hornet.
“We need to match each other’s capabilities, to form up, to come up with the best game plan to achieve the objectives,” said 32-year-old F-15SG pilot from 149 Squadron. “It’s really a good learning experience.”
The ground crew also gained valuable experience working under poor visibility during night operations.
“Night flying preparations can be dangerous due to poor light conditions,” said Military Expert (ME) 2 -1 Bevin Gabriel, a Dedicated Crew Chief of 111 SQN which operates the G550-AEW.
“(But) we have a set of crew who are well trained and professional in their job. So there is no need to worry.”
This was something which Group Captain Michael Gray, the overall Exercise Director from RAAF would agree with. In an interview with cyberpioneer, he noted that Singapore had been a proven participant in the exercise series since 1990.
He said: “Singapore performed very well in a whole range in all areas… They have significant capabilities in their aircraft and in their aircrew from their training. So (we are) always pleased to work with them.”