Over 10 – 25 August No. 5 Squadron deployed one of their six P-3K Orion’s to South East Asia to participate in Exercise Deep Sabre 05. As PLTOFF Jason Lush reports, working out of Singapore, the aim of Deep Sabre was to conduct maritime interdiction operations.
The backdrop to the exercise was the South China Sea and the Malacca Straits, with its busy sea lanes annually carrying up to 35% of the world’s sea trade. The scenario itself involved several merchant ships suspected of carrying weapons. Naval and air assets were requested to locate and shadow vessels of interest (VOIs). Once located and identified by Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), naval assets would track the VOIs, eventually boarding and escorting them into port in Singapore. There Customs personnel from various nations would carry out alongside searches.
The task for the Kiwis was to fly two sorties, each about seven hours long. Each sortie involved gaining radio contact with the aircraft already in the area of operations, obtaining any information they had on the VOIs and then proceeding to re- locate, report, and shadow the targets. With the assistance of an awesome ground crew keeping us running we were able to carry out every facet of the exercise and overall deployment as tasked.
AFN67 FEBRUARY 06
Sortie one saw us airborne at 1am to take over from the Japanese JMSDF P-3C who had seen some success, finding one of the two target vessels. The target vessels for this sortie were to be Naval Replenishment ships, HMAS Westralia, and HMS Black Rover. This made our job slightly more difficult, as we had to distinguish between these ships and the friendly naval vessels we were co-operating with. After a short transit to the area we soon picked up the Westralia. Following a short search we also picked up the Black Rover. Having located both vessels all that remained to do was track them and pass their positions to the friendly forces below.
Sortie two developed much the same as the first flight, this time with the target vessels being three civilian merchant ships associated with the exercise. Based on this alone, we knew that if the previous aircraft hadn’t found the ships our job would be made slightly more difficult due to the sheer number of merchant traffic in the area. On average there are 1000 ship movements through Singapore per day. Picking out one ship that looks like 100’s of others wasn’t going to be easy at night. We were once again airborne at 1 am and shortly afterwards gained radio contact
with the Japanese P-3C who informed us they had found the three ships and had been tracking them most of the night. For our crew this was essentially the end of the exercise, with only the interdiction of the target vessel by naval forces and the alongside search by Customs remaining to be carried out.
As well as some sight seeing the crew spent an afternoon affiliation with RSAF’s 121 MPA Squadron, who support the Singaporean maritime surveillance requirements utilising the Fokker F-50 Enforcer. This was a chance for the crew to swap a few war stories and taste a few Singaporean culinary delights prior to conducting respective Squadron operation and development briefs.
Exercise Deep Sabre ’05 provided No. 5 Squadron Crew One with an excellent opportunity to operate in an extremely challenging environment. Each flight saw us locate over 300 vessels within a seven-hour period, something that is unseen in New Zealand’s waters. The exercise also provided some of the more junior crewmembers with exposure to flying away from home, and gave us an appreciation of how other nations carry out maritime air operations.