Rough seas affect Exercise Trident ship-to-shore element but are ‘not a showstopper’, says Heng Chee How

ROCKHAMPTON, Australia: Men dressed in varying shades of green file out solemnly onto the heaving deck of the RSS Resolution – the Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) landing ship tank – and head for the thundering Chinook sitting on the flight deck.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Australian Defence Force (ADF) troops embarking the helicopter in unison are part of the advance party being transported to an inland landing site to eliminate enemy forces ahead of the main fighting force. 

ADF and SAF troops

The soldiers are in the thick of action, executing the ship-to-shore element of Exercise Trident – a bilateral exercise featuring battalion-level amphibious operations.

The exercise was rehearsed in the lead-up to Saturday’s (Nov 10) finale, with the main forces arriving on shore by Fast Craft Utility (FCU) and Fast Craft Equipment and Personnel (FCEP) vessels.

READ: SAF troops rehearse for Exercise Trident finale amid challenging conditions

However, the final showdown saw most of the troops being transported by CH-47D Chinook and AS332 Super Puma helicopters instead, due to rough seas at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia, resulting in the mission not being able to witness the storming of the beach until sea conditions later improved.

Visiting SAF and ADF soldiers participating in the exercise on Saturday, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How and Australia Assistant Minister for Defence David Fawcett were not fazed by the change of plans in the mission.

Speaking to reporters on board the RSS Resolution, Mr Heng commended both armies for being able to operate together when faced with the elements.

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“I think in the nature of military operations, you have to adapt to the environment, including the weather and the sea state as well," he said. "What it means is that we will find different ways and means to attain our operational objectives."

During their visit, Mr Heng and Mr Fawcett witnessed the heli-borne insertion of the advance party from RSS Resolution to an inland landing site and also flew on board the Super Puma helicopters.

“The fact that we are not able to do this particular tactical manoeuvre today is not a showstopper because really … it’s an all-weather partnership that has gone on for years," said Mr Heng. 

"We have been at Shoalwater Bay for 28 years and we will continue to be here to expand our collaboration, so when you look at today’s activity, we will make adjustments – instead of going in by ship or craft, we will go in by helicopter and the exercise will go on.”

The exercise has been no stranger to challenging conditions since action began two weeks ago, having to contend with the elements and an army-wide safety timeout following the death of a full-time national serviceman last Saturday.

This year’s Exercise Trident involved more than 1,300 personnel from the SAF and the ADF, featuring the largest number of participating ADF troops since the inaugural exercise in 2013. 

A signature military exercise birthed by the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between both nations, it highlights the interoperability between SAF and ADF, demonstrating the “closeness of our defence relations” according to Mr Heng.

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Echoing his sentiments, Mr Fawcett said: “The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that we have and are developing is a good bedrock for bilateral training … in this exercise, we bring the two forces together and we improve our ability to operate.”

Other than the gainful military partnership borne out of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, Mr Fawcett added that investment in the area by Singapore is not only building collaborative capability, but also "investing in infrastructure and industrial capability here in Australia".

CARD GAMES, SINGLISH LESSONS

Some SAF soldiers spent five days with their ADF counterparts and conducted joint planning and rehearsals in the lead-up to Exercise Trident. 

The interactions between both sides were valuable experiences, according to officers from both armies who spoke to reporters on Friday.

"The troops from Australia are very professional and forthcoming. They are very willing to share their experiences and deployment experiences," said Captain Brian Chua, officer commanding of Bravo company in 1st Guards Battalion.

"On the more personal level, our soldiers attempted to teach them a bit of Singlish as well."

Procedures between the two are very similar, said Major Pat D’arcy, an officer commanding of the Alpha Company of the 8th/9th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment.

"Integration between troops has been fantastic," he said while speaking to reporters on Friday. "At the moment the troops are playing cards with each other at the tent."

"They’ve been doing PT (physical training) together in the mornings and evenings in their own time and they’ve also been going to dinner together and talking and smiling, so it’s been fantastic."

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RSAF Celebrates 20 Years of Training in Oakey, Australia (15)The Republic of Singapore Air Force commemorated 20 years of helicopter training in Oakley, Australia on Nov 10. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

RSAF CELEBRATES 20 YEARS OF TRAINING IN OAKEY

Meanwhile, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) on Saturday also celebrated 20 years of helicopter training in Oakey, Australia with a commemorative event held at Warriors’ Camp, Rockhampton.

As part of the celebrations, Mr Heng and Mr Fawcett unveiled a symbolic mural of the Super Puma and Chinook helicopters depicting the RSAF’s training in Oakey.

Speaking at the event, Mr Heng thanked the Australian Department of Defence and the ADF for their long-standing support in hosting the RSAF’s training in Oakey.

"This anniversary celebration is yet another reflection of the deep and longstanding friendship between our two defence establishments, and between Australia and Singapore," he said.

RSAF Celebrates 20 Years of Training in Oakey, Australia (16)Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How and Australia Assistant Minister for Defence David Fawcett visiting the training ground in Oakley, Australia. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

In 1996, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Tony Tan and Australia’s then-Minister for Defence Ian Mclachlan signed the Oakey agreement, which allowed the RSAF to deploy up to 16 helicopters to train its pilots in the area.

In 2012, an agreement between Singapore and Australia was signed for the continued conduct of the RSAF’s helicopter training in Oakey for another 15 years until 2027.