RSAF hones combat skills at Ex Pitch Black 2022

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30 Aug 2022 | OPS & TRAINING

RSAF hones combat skills at Ex Pitch Black 2022

// Story by Koh Eng Beng

// Photos by Kenneth Lin and courtesy of RSAF

English 华文

The RSAF is training with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, among other aircraft, in this large-scale multilateral air combat exercise.

Three RSAF F-15SGs flying in formation with other fighter aircraft from Australia and Japan.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) aircraft are taking to the skies over Darwin, Australia as Exercise Pitch Black returns after a four-year hiatus.

They are among the over 90 aircraft from 17 nations participating in the biennial exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The 2020 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An RSAF F-15SG (right) flying alongside an USMC F-35B at Ex Pitch Black.

At this year's exercise, participating air forces pit their combat skills against simulated threats in both day and night missions. Up to 2,500 personnel are involved in the exercise which started on 19 Aug.

The exercise will conclude on 8 Sep.

Large deployment from RSAF

The RSAF is one of the largest participating air forces in terms of personnel numbers and assets.

It has deployed over 400 personnel, as well as eight F-15SG and eight F-16D+ fighter aircraft, one G550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft, and — for the first time — an A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (A330 MRTT) aircraft.

The A330 MRTT will conduct air-to-air refuelling operations to extend the endurance of participating fighter aircraft.

Honing combat skills

The RSAF has been participating in every Ex Pitch Black since its debut in 1990.

RSAF exercise director Colonel (COL) Mark Tan said the exercise allows the RSAF to hone its operational competencies and benchmark its capabilities with established air forces.

"The large force employment training opportunities allow our air crew to train in realistic threat scenarios, and to operate at a scale and complexity that cannot be replicated back in Singapore," said COL Tan.

In a Large Force Employment exercise, pilots operate in a complex environment, with a greater number of aircraft in the airspace than normal training would usually allow.

Enhancing coordination

Among the aircraft participating in this year's Ex Pitch Black include Su-30s from India and – for the first time – Eurofighter Typhoons from Germany and the United Kingdom, and Mitsubishi F-2s from Japan.

Also making their debut are the RAAF's and United States Marine Corps' fifth generation stealth fighters – the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

The increase in the number and type of aircraft for this year's exercise meant that the complexity of the exercise has increased, said COL Tan.

RSAF exercise director COL Tan oversees all RSAF operations at Ex Pitch Black.

F-15SG pilot Major (MAJ) Arumugam Sivaraj, 36, who is participating in Ex Pitch Black for the third time, said: "When you have more aircraft and more aircraft type…your ability to integrate and interoperate becomes a little bit more difficult.

"In terms of challenges, we have language barriers, (and) we have different ways of operating, (with) different tactics (and) different capabilities."

F-15SG pilot MAJ Sivaraj has found the exercise useful for enhancing cooperation with air forces worldwide.

To overcome these challenges, RSAF personnel work closely with their foreign counterparts during mission planning, said Captain (CPT) Clarence Ng, a Weapon Systems Officer.

"What we do is we'll try to find a common ground so that we are able to integrate together," said the 30-year-old who operates the F-16D+.

"Knowing what their capabilities are, what they can bring to the table, we will be able to formulate the best plan available that allows us to reach mission success."

Understanding F-35's capabilities

At Ex Pitch Black, training with the F-35s had given the RSAF valuable insights into their advanced capabilities, and how they can be integrated into the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) warfighting systems, said COL Tan.

The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant has been earmarked to replace the RSAF's F-16s after 2030.

Four F-35Bs are expected to be delivered to the SAF around 2026, and deployed in the US for training and evaluation.

In a mission at Ex Pitch Black last week, the F-35s flew against a dedicated adversarial team with up to two times more aircraft, but they were still able to effectively target and take down all enemy aircraft, said COL Tan.

MAJ Sivaraj, who was part of the adversarial team, added: "Through this, we can actually see how capable the F-35s are — the way the aircraft fly, how they target (the) adversaries, and how they work together as a team were quite impressive."

Forging defence ties

Besides honing combat skills, RSAF was able to forge defence relations, as well as personal friendship with other air forces at Ex Pitch Black.

Just one week into the exercise, the interactions, both on and off work, had allowed personnel from the different air forces to understand one another better.

"We meet outside of work, discuss the highs and lows of what we do during our missions," said MAJ Sivaraj. "And we actually learn from each other – we can tweak the way we do things if we find good habits and practices."

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