RSN commands multinational task unit in Hawaii
Rough sea conditions and having to operate in unfamiliar waters did little to dampen the spirits of RSS Formidable crew during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012. The frigate, currently into the fifth day of the 24-day sea phase, is now situated off the coast of Hawaii.
This year's world's largest multinational maritime warfare exercise, RIMPAC involves more than 40 ships, six submarines, 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel from 22 participating nations.
It also saw the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) assume command of a Combined Task Unit (CTU) for the first time in the history of the exercise. The RSN's task unit compromises warships from Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States.
When asked about the challenges of helming the task unit, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Ong Chee Wei, Commanding Officer, RSS Formidable, said: "We have to make sure that plans are well executed and that the ships work together, in terms of operability and to gain knowledge of each other's tactics and procedures."
The groundwork was laid as early as December last year when the RSN started formulating its plans for the exercise. In the preceding months to April this year, representatives of the participating nations attended three official planning conferences held in various parts of the world.
RSN Fleet Commander Rear-Admiral Lai Chung Han (third from left) cheering with the rest of the crew in the CIC as they receive the news that both missiles were on target. (photo : Mindef)
"Each naval force has different procedures. There were also language and cultural differences. There was a real need to work out the best ways to conduct each serial," explained Captain (CPT) Esmond Han, Operations Officer 1, RSS Formidable. He is in-charge of planning operations for the CTU. RIMPAC begins with several serials of various naval war fighting drills before transiting into war games.
For example, the RSS Formidable conducted flight deck familiarisation briefings on 6 Jul for foreign pilots who would be landing on the frigate over the course of the exercise, while berthed at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. These briefings are important for safe helicopter operations as landing and take-off procedures are different across navies.
Communications, too, posed its own set of challenges as some of the naval forces were more comfortable conversing in their own language. There were also the individual radio call signs which had to be assigned, as well as ironing out some differences in terms of radio protocol.
Though the planning process was long and tough, CPT Han said: "Overcoming these challenges will only make us a better and more capable naval force."
The thorough preparations paid off as the CTU transited into the sea phase on 10 Jul. The Combat Information Centre (CIC) on board the RSS Formidable was a hive of activity as Principal Warfare Officers and ship crew seamlessly directed and coordinated the other four ships in the CTU to neutralise simulated threats.
RSS Formidable berthed at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii during the shore phase of RIMPAC. (photo : Mindef)
Over the past four days, the CTU conducted combined anti-submarine, anti-surface and anti-air exercise serials. Each of these serials took between four to six hours to complete.
During the anti-submarine serial, the embarked S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter's dipping sonar, an advanced underwater detection capability, was used to complement the RSS Formidable's on-board sonar systems.
With a longer range and speed, the S-70B functions as the "eyes" and "ears" of its mothership when it is dispatched to investigate and survey areas of interest.
"Thus far, we have achieved a very good level of shared awareness and showed a high degree of interoperability (with the other CTU ships)," said LTC Ong.
Adding another feather to their cap was the successful simultaneous live-firing of two Harpoon Surface-to-Surface missiles on 14 Jul. As they received news that both missiles hit their target, the usually silent CIC broke into cheers.
Refuelling of the embarked S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter while the rotors are still spinning. This is known as a "hot juice" operation which enable faster turnaround times. (photo : Mindef)
A complex operation which involves the entire ship, firing two missiles simultaneously increases the chance of a direct hit as opposing forces will have less time to deal with multiple incoming missiles.
"The crew was well-drilled and was very aware of what lay ahead, every minute of the time (leading up to the live-firing)," said LTC Ong.
This is the third time that the RSN is participating in the biennial RIMPAC exercise, following its inaugural involvement in 2008.
"Exercise RIMPAC is a good opportunity for the RSN to train with other established navies to perform complex maritime operations in a high intensity environment," said LTC Ong.