RSAF's top fighters: 143 SQN143 SQN, which operates the F-16 fighter aircraft, has won their third consecutive Best Fighter Squadron title.
// Story by Koh Eng Beng
// Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of RSAF
A third consecutive win in the Singapore Armed Forces' Best Unit Competition has cemented 143 Squadron (SQN) as the "Top Gun" in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
The competition, which was introduced in 1969, recognises units which have excelled in the areas of combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence.
In 1989 and 1990, the squadron won the award while operating the A-4SU Super Skyhawk fighter jet.
Just how good are these fighter pilots from 143 SQN?
They came out top in the Top Ace challenge held earlier this year. This is an annual competition for RSAF fighter squadrons to pit their skills against one another in various combat scenarios.
These fighter pilots had to execute dog-fighting manoeuvres, similar to those shown in the recent hit movie, Top Gun: Maverick.
One of the participants from 143 SQN was Captain (CPT) Akshay Sharma. He teamed up with a fellow F-16 pilot to take out an adversary aircraft within two minutes.
"The human body is sometimes the limitation in such scenarios," said the 31-year-old fighter pilot, who has been with 143 SQN for nine years. "We were experiencing high levels of G-force (gravitational force) so we had to ensure that we were physically fit enough to push ourselves and our aircraft to the limit."
Another challenge, he said, was to pick up a visual of the enemy aircraft quickly so that they were not put in a defensive situation from the get-go.
"Once we achieved a visual on the enemy aircraft…we manoeuvered our aircraft based on the techniques that we were taught over the last couple of years, to ensure that we achieve a kill on the adversary quickly," said CPT Akshay.
Benchmarking against the world's bests
To sharpen their combat skills, 143 SQN actively participates in overseas exercises to put their skills to the test with foreign air forces.
Last year, it took part in Exercise Bersama Shield and Exercise Bersama Gold, training alongside assets and personnel from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
The squadron also carried out missions with the Royal Thai Air Force and the United States Air Force at Exercise Cope Tiger in Thailand earlier in March this year.
"Participating in regional exercises allows us to benchmark ourselves with foreign air forces and continually train and hone our flying abilities," said CPT Akshay, who previously won the best F-16 wingman award in Exercise Cope Tiger 2016.
Last year, 143 SQN was deployed to Guam for a two-month training detachment. The crew trained with their F-15SG counterparts from the RSAF to hone their operational and tactical readiness.
Over there, they also participated in Exercise Pacific Griffin, a bilateral exercise between the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and United States Navy.
The RSAF and RSN executed successful coordinated missile firings, among other air-sea integration missions. "It showcases the air-sea integration that we (have) achieved with our Navy," said CPT Akshay.
It's one thing to win the title but another to win it three times in a row. Their winning formula?
Their culture of chasing excellence, said CPT Akshay.
He explained: "We have worked hand in hand over the last three years to ensure that all of us put in our best efforts and become the best fighter pilots that we can be.
"All these culminate into us chasing excellence, and success naturally follows if you are the best in the craft that you do."
Commanding Officer Major (MAJ) Joel Ng, 37, who took over command of 143 SQN in February this year, added that their third straight win is a testament to "the operational readiness and high-performance culture that has really taken root in the squadron".
Case in point: In 2019, the squadron's readiness was put to the test when it received a bomb threat alert on board Singapore Airlines flight SQ423 – the crew swiftly launched two F-16s to intercept and escort the flight to Changi Airport safely.
While the bomb threat turned out to be a hoax, the successful mission showed the readiness of the squadron to protect Singapore at any time.
Last year, the squadron had to spend a prolonged period overseas for multiple exercises and training. The duration was, in part, longer than usual due to the COVID-19 quarantine requirement.
MAJ Ng was thankful for the crew's sacrifice as well as their families' understanding. "The squadron came together, they understood what the mission was and the importance of continuing our training. They never once faltered (and) proceeded to push on for every deployment."
Going forward, MAJ Ng wants them to continue strengthening their fundamentals and become better fighter pilots. "Having strong fundamentals will allow them to handle any evolving threats," he said.
MAJ Ng, who was a fighter weapons instructor in 143 SQN from 2016 to 2018, added: "I advocate one simple thing to them every day: 'I just want you to be one percent better every day for every flight.' That's all I'm asking from them."