SHAH ALAM: This year’s Exercise Bersama Lima 16 ended on Friday (Oct. 21) with the closing ceremony conducted in Singapore, the host of this year’s event. The fact that Singapore hosted the exercise was the reason given that there was no chance to cover the activities conducted by the RMN and RMAF during Bersama Lima 16.
That said its normal that the coverage for Bersama Lima is limited to the opening and closing ceremonies even when Malaysia is hosting the exercise. And the favour is returned when its Singapore’s turn. Its like a tradition that even media-savvy Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) realised it. Unlike its own exercise for example Pitch Black which they even organised a Public Day – for Bersama Lima series – RAAF and RAN – simply up-load the photographs of its activities on its website and social media pages for every one to see.
A press release outlining its participation was also issued to the media. There was no such announcement from Malaysia apart from the Facebook posting of the opening (and closing) ceremony on the Joint Force Facebook page.
For the Royal Air Force (RAF) the media black-out is probably something incomprehensible. After spending millions to send its contingent and planes some 10,800km for almost three weeks, the least the host can do is to arrange a media tour. That did not happened for the last two Bersama Lima (2010 and 2012). So this time around, the RAF made sure that its contingent for Bersama Lima 16 based at the Butterworth airbase got some media coverage. They were already active in the social media but probably felt it was necessary to engage the local media directly like they did everywhere else.
It was for this reason, I joined two other reporters from the mainstream media for a visit to the RAF contingent at Butterworth last week. On hand to speak to us were the commanders of the unit involved in the exercise, No 1 (F) Squadron based at the RAF Lossiemouth station, Scotland.
The CO of 1 Squadron Wing Commander Mike Sutton, a command pilot, was full of praise for the training afforded during Bersama Lima. He also briefed us the capabilities of the Eurofighter Typhoon (FGA4 in RAF parlance) and its future enhancements.
According to him the six Typhoons deployed to Bersama Lima were the Tranche 1 version. Sutton says the aircraft were capable for swing role operations though for Bersama Lima they only conducted air-to-air operations as that was the capabilities that were called for by the exercise planners.
Prior to the start of Bersama Lima, the Typhoons and the RAAF F/A-18 Hornet (77 Squadron) conducted air-to-air drills with RMAF Sukhoi Su-30MKMs. Sutton says the Typhoons did very well and they had recordings of the sorties to confirm their success.
Most of the encounters were in Within Visual Range (WVR) where the Typhoon’s BAE Systems Striker 1 helmet mounted sighting system (HMSS) proved to be a decisive factor in the engagements. I did not get a chance to see the recordings nor able to speak to RMAF Sukhoi’s pilots to confirm what the Typhoon squadron CO said.
It must be noted that this was first time the Typhoons and RAAF classic Hornets had the opportunity to engage RMAF Fankers in air-to-air engagements at Bersama Lima. For the record, it must be noted that both the Hornets and Flankers are also equipped with helmet mounted sight, the JHMICS and Sura M , respectively.
The Typhoons also tangled with Republic of Singapore Air Force F16s and F15s during Bersama Lima and Sutton said that his squadrons did very well in the engagements. Like the RAAF Hornets, both the RSAF’s planes are also equipped with JHMICS.
Asked whether they encountered RMAF Mig-29 Fulcrums during the exercise, Sutton said they did not see them at all.
The Typhoons also conducted mock strikes on naval ships taking part in Bersama Lima. The mock strikes are mostly to train the gunners on board the ships on how to defend against low level air attacks.
The squadron engineering officer Squadron Leader Rob South said the Typhoons had performed without a hitch during the exercise. With an availability rate of 85 per cent, the squadron launched four to six aircraft several times a day with only six ground personnel to prepare them for flights and a minimal ground support equipment.
During the interview, four Typhoons took off in quick succession for their sorties that afternoon. The time from engine start to take off was around five minutes for each of them.
“We took the decision not to use the dispersal shed though they were available to us. We were lucky in a sense that the weather had been good, not too much rain.
A hangar was also available for them to conduct routine maintenance on the Typhoons even at night as it was well lit.
RAF Lossiemouth CO Group Captain Paul Godfrey, who also flies the Typhoon, said the opportunity to fly against the Flankers were a boon to the pilots, as most of them had never encountered the Russian made jet before.
Godfrey explained four of the Typhoons will be going to Japan and South Korea after Bersama Lima. From South Korea, the four will then be flown to the United States to take part in a Red Flag exercise.
Two of the Typhoons flown during Bersama Lima will be stored at Butterworth until further orders. Godfrey said he has not been informed on the future tasking of the two Typhoons as well another pair which were left in India as the RAF contingent flew to Malaysia for Bersama Lima.
There is the possibility that two Typhoons at Butterworth will take part in Lima 17 though no official confirmation is yet to be available at the moment.
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