Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) celebrates its 40th year; warplanes from all FPDA signatories fly into Singapore

Typhoon warning: Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon from 6 Squadron enters the landing circuit at the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Changi Airbase (East) on 1 November 2011. The RAF sent a contingent to the RSAF airbase to take part in a static display to mark the FPDA's 40th year. The Typhoon was last seen in Singapore skies during the Next Fighter Replacement Programme (NFRP) flyoff that saw the RSAF pick Boeing's F-15SG Strike Eagle as the A-4 Skyhawk replacement.

The Five Power Defence Arrangements marked its 40th anniversary in Singapore this afternoon with a display of airpower at Changi Air Base (East), off Changi Airport.

Supporting the display were warplanes from all five FPDA signatories, viz Australia (RAAF F/A-18A Hornet), Malaysia (TUDM F/A-18D Hornet), New Zealand (RNZAF P-3K Orion), Singapore (RSAF F-15SG Strike Eagle) and the United Kingdom (RAF Typhoon).

We span the ocean: The open weapons bay doors and EO device under the nose of this Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion maritime patrol aircraft from 5 Squadron RNZAF are perhaps the only hints that this turboprop has teeth. Despite the lack of fast jets, the RNZAF is one of the world's leading proponents of blue water surveillance, having honed its crews on long range, long duration missions over the unforgiving southern oceans. New Zealander Orion crews routinely fly 15-hour missions over featureless ocean with two engines shut down (!) to maximise mission endurance.

The warplanes are deployed to the region for FPDA war games codenamed Exercise Bersama Lima, which pits air and naval forces from the five nations against a simulated attack by conventional forces against peninsula Malaysia and Singapore.

Heavy air activity over West Malaysia and Singapore island provided Singaporean plane spotters with a bonanza of aircraft spotting opportunities. This includes flying activity this past weekend from the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Paya Lebar Airbase, which had a busy time sending up and recovering multiple strike packages comprising F-15SG Strike Eagles and C-130 Hercules sorties.

This morning, attention was centered on Changi's Runway 3 as FPDA warplanes came in to roost at the RSAF's Changi Airbase (East).

Lenses were trained on warplanes rarely seen in Singapore skies such as the Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon, which was supported for her Far East deployment by a VC-10K tanker. The Typhoon's appearance at Bersama Lima is significant as it is the type's first appearance in the Far East since Typhoons were engaged in combat operations over Libya. Experience gained from operations over Libya are likely to have fuelled many war story sessions in aircrew messes in Malaysia and Singapore.

Storm warning: Not a typhoon but a thunderstorm. A Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon from 6 Squadron is framed by a approaching thunderstorm as Changi Airbase (East) secures itself for Cat 1 lightning risk conditions. The Cat 1 condition put an end to the ground viewing of the aircraft after just 10 minutes. Out of frame is the RSAF safety officer, a one-woman crowd control party, who was busy shepherding everyone off the open area before the storm broke.

The visit to CAB was ruined by an incoming thundercloud that imposed a lightning risk of Cat 1 on the airbase. As such, we had just 10 minutes at the Transport Apron to literally shoot-and-scoot and there was no chance to loiter. :-(

It was ironic that the secondary effort ended up contributing the motherload of images (some of which you see here) when the point of main effort inside the base was scuppered. Well, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Unsung hero: Royal Air Force deployments to the Far East depend heavily on tanker/transports such as the VC-10, which is flown by 101 Squadron RAF. Apart from tanker support which gives warplanes longer legs, such converted airliners also carry groundcrew, spares and equipment for first line maintenance work - the lack of which will crimp any air force's ability to generate and sustain airpower during deployments far from home.

Proud heritage: Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18A Hornet wearing special anniversary livery to commemorate 75 Squadron's 70th year. Defence buffs might remember that RAAF 75 SQN has a special link with Singapore because the unit's Mirage IIIO interceptors used to be based at Tengah Airbase years ago.

Double trouble: A pair of Boeing Hornets flown by Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) partner nations, Australia and Malaysia, grace the Transport Apron at Changi Airbase (East). The Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18A wears a special colour scheme to make 75 Squadron's 70th anniversary (1942-2012) while the Royal Malaysian Air Force F/A-18D from 18 Squadron wears darker warpaint almost similar to the grey on RSAF F-15SGs.  

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the RSAF Air Operations Department, the Public Affairs Directorate at the Ministry of Defence, Singapore, and the team at Changi Air Base (East) for facilitating this rare spotting opportunity.

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