In a first for the RAAF, a KC-30A tanker was refuelled in the air by a foreign air force when the Republic of Singapore Air Force took part in what was dubbed Boom Camp in the Northern Territory.

Boom Camp was held at RAAF Base Darwin from October 25 to 30.

Both nations operate variants of the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft, which in the RAAF is called a KC-30A.

The aircraft carries hose-and-drogue refuelling pods as well as an advanced refuelling boom system, which was used extensively during Boom Camp.

Flight Lieutenant Nicolas Barnes, a pilot with RAAF’s No. 33 Squadron, said the training met a number of objectives such as receiver flying, away-base operations, heavy boom tanker consolidation, rendezvous procedures, and formation probe-and-drogue fighter refuelling.

“The event also provided an important opportunity for the RAAF and RSAF to share knowledge and operational experiences as operators of the same aircraft type,” he said.

The RAAF was the world’s first MRTT operator, introducing the aircraft to service in 2011.

The RSAF received its first MRTT in 2018, but has extensive experience in air-to-air refuelling with the older KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft.

Air-to-air refuelling is essential to air power operations in the Indo-Pacific region, giving aircraft increased range.

The MRTT, which can carry a fuel load in excess of 100 tonnes, is an important capability for both Singapore and Australia.

Historically, Singaporean and Australian tanker crews have trained together in Australia at Exercise Pitch Black and Bersama Five Power Defence Arrangements exercises in Singapore and Malaysia, but Pitch Black was cancelled this year because of COVID-19.

Flight Lieutenant Barnes said he hoped training alongside the RSAF’s No. 112 Squadron would become a regular event.

“Globally, there are very few exercises and activities that cater specifically to tanker training,” he said.

Deputy Commanding Officer of RSAF’s No. 112 Squadron Lieutenant Colonel Cheng Li Seng said the training at RAAF Base Darwin was valuable as it provided opportunities to share operational experiences and for crews to strengthen interpersonal ties.

He also said the combined training allowed the RSAF to benchmark itself against an established MRTT operator.

“As a small country with limited airspace available for training, we are especially grateful to the RAAF and to the Australian Government for their consistent and strong support in allowing the RSAF to continue to deploy to Darwin amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lieutenant Colonel Cheng said.