ROCKHAMPTON, Australia: Sand and walls of hot exhaust slammed into us as a helicopter deftly lowered itself into a grassy clearing some distance away.
The helicopter's ramp lowered and men in green filed out with their weapons and gear, promptly dropping to the ground prone in anticipation of an enemy ambush.
The men were part of an advance party, rehearsing a scenario in which they were airlifted from a landing ship tank (LST) out at sea to eliminate enemy forces inland before the main troops arrive at the scene.
On Saturday (Nov 10), these Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) troops and assets will see action in the grand finale of Exercise Trident.
The 10 RSAF aircraft – six Super Pumas and four Chinooks – will be flying troops inland as part of a helicopter and ship-to-shore operation that also involves the Singapore navy and army, as well as the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
To the air force personnel involved in the Trident’s helicopter operations, it is a rare opportunity that allows them to work with their army and navy counterparts.
“This is the part where we see the real value of Exercise Trident,” said Exercise Air Director Senior Lieutenant-Colonel (SLTC) Maxmillion Goh.
“By having all our airmen, sailors as well as our soldiers all together within the same arena, we go through a very deliberate planning and coordination process to make sure we develop with close understanding in terms of each other’s platforms and capabilities and each other’s operational considerations and requirements.”
For air-land tactical controller (CPT) Eileen Yeo, coordination with navy and army personnel is crucial in helping her team maintain a safe airspace for pilots over land and sea.
“We don’t get to practice on a tri-service level in Singapore,” CPT Yeo said. “In Singapore, we focus on our own skills to make sure we are very good at it, so that when it comes to exercises like these, we can work together and make sure it is synced and integrated.”
She added that the area under her charge back in Singapore is “much smaller” compared to the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) – an area four times the size of Singapore – where they train in Australia.
“Here, you get the experience of coordinating with all three services, something I don’t often get to do back home.”
This year’s Exercise Trident involves more than 1,300 personnel from the SAF and the ADF and features the largest number of participating troops from the ADF since Trident kicked off in 2013. Trident is the signature bilateral exercise featuring battalion-level amphibious operations executed by the SAF and the ADF.
Even for Trident veterans like Second Warrant Officer Vijaikumar Rangabashayam, each year’s mission holds something new.
“The dynamics of the whole exercise with more assets being involved also changes and that provides us with a different challenge for every Trident, and we see how we work around it,” said the Chinook Aircrew Specialist Leader, who has taken part in Exercise Trident three times.
“The scenarios are always evolving and changing so that we always stay relevant to current situations everywhere.”