19 Januari 2011

Naval Helicopters to Enhance Seaward Defence

19 Januari 2011

Singapore's S-70B ASW helicopter for Formidable class frigates (photo : Mindef)

With the return of all six Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopters to Singapore in October 2010, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) reached a significant milestone in its transformation into a 3rd Generation fighting force.

At a ceremony marking the inauguration of the naval helicopters into 123 Squadron (SQN) on 18 Jan, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen expressed confidence in the squadron's ability to "build on its tradition of cross-service integration as it embarks on a new chapter of air-sea operations."

Set up in 1979, 123 SQN initially operated as a basic training wing for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). In 1992, the squadron was restructured to support the Singapore Army, with the introduction of Singapore's first dedicated armed helicopter, the AS550 Fennec (which has been retired from service).

With the addition of the S-70B naval helicopter, the squadron will continue to provide cross-Service interoperability between the RSAF and the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

"The naval helicopter and frigate are able to fight together as an integrated system," said Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Jonathan Tan, Commanding Officer of 123 SQN. "In a way, the helicopter serves as the extended arm of the ship it is embarked on, allowing personnel to act faster, see further and make more decisive operational decisions."

As a helicopter pilot himself, SLTC Tan described naval-based operations as "challenging" but not without their own sense of satisfaction. "Operating on board a ship presents its own set of challenges. The ship is in constant motion and that makes it harder to land the aircraft," he explained.

Details of ASW equipment on S-70B (image : Mindef)

The integration of the RSN's frigates with the naval helicopters enables the frigates to undertake anti-surface and anti-submarine missions at much longer ranges. Each frigate's sophisticated command and communications suite allows it to network with a wide array of SAF assets.
The RSN's S-70B naval helicopters carry a dipping sonar system which can be lowered below sea surface to detect submarines which may be lurking in the vicinity. It also has the capability to fire torpedoes.

Each helicopter is operated by two pilots from the RSAF, and a Tactical Coordination Officer (TACCO) and a Sensor Supervisor (SENSUP) from the RSN. Cross-service integration between the crew is thus crucial to the success of their missions.

"It's natural for SAF people to gel together to achieve their missions," said Major (MAJ) Eng Cheng Heng, who serves as a TACCO in 123 SQN.

Due to differences in the way individual Services communicate with each other, there were some teething problems when the RSAF and RSN first got together to operate the S-70B naval helicopters. "We are moving closer towards a common operating language and have developed procedures to further streamline operations," said MAJ Eng.

"It was an eye-opening experience to be able to see more of how the RSAF works since the SAF is moving towards integrated operations," he added of his experience in the United States (US).
Personnel from the squadron trained intensively with the US Navy from March to September 2010, as part of the Peace Triton detachment stationed in San Diego.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Permjit Singh, Chief Aircrew Specialist in 123 SQN spoke highly of his RSN counterparts' hospitality. "Whenever we came on board during training, the ship crew would reduce its frequency of piping calls in order not to disturb our rest," he said. Akin to public address systems in the civilian world, piping systems on board warships are used to broadcast meal times, page for certain personnel, amongst other operational messages.

Following the inauguration, 123 SQN will continue training to achieve full operational capability.

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