The army's Black Hawk helicopter regiment is honing its counter-terrorism skills for the Olympics. Tony Koch went along for the rideTHE two fishermen on the rocks at the base of The Heads in Sydney Harbour would have been totally unaware they were being watched.
Perhaps over the lapping of waves on the rocks they might have heard the noise of helicopters a kilometre or two away, flying at 160m above the water.
The four army Black Hawks, flying in formation, had no visible lights. But every move the fishermen made could be clearly observed from the helicopters.
Crew outfitted with the latest technology _ in this case the Anvis 6 night-vision imaging goggles _ can see, but not be seen.
The goggles resemble small binoculars attached to the brim of the flying helmet, and their purpose is to allow the crew member to see in the dark. Containers on a darkened wharf appear to the naked eye to be just a shadow. But when they come into the field of view of the goggles, the ownership markings on the crates become clearly discernible.
And so would be a terrorist or sniper who thought he or she could hide on a roof at the Olympic village or some other building, and perhaps cause some politically inspired disruption to the Sydney 2000 Games.
The Black Hawks are operated by the Townsville-based 5th Aviation Regiment under the control of Lt-Col Mark Wheatley.
Captain Dave Burke, the pilot who survived the 1996 Black Hawke collision in Townsville which resulted in three 5th Regiment soldiers being killed along with 15 SAS commandos, is possibly the most outspoken advocate of the Black Hawk.
Capt Burke taps the ceiling and tells how there are ``three of everything for back-up'' _ fuel and oil lines, hydraulics and so on. He then explains that this is ``in case a bullet takes one out, then the computer shuts that damaged line off and the others kick in''.
The training is not just about showing the media how spectacular Sydney is from the air _ it's all about preparing for that moment when bullets could be flying.
The 1996 Townsville accident still plays on the minds of military people. Col Wheatley, who took command of the regiment after the collision, said there was a rock taken from the crash site and kept at the Townsville barracks.
``I told the men and women of the 5th when I came in 1997 that they had to stop clinging to that rock _ to cease the mourning,'' he said. ``The collision on June 12 will always be with us and it was a sad day in Australia's military history, but the important thing is to learn from history, or it will be repeated.
``We all learned a lot from the accident. The new procedures and rules emanated from that. In fact, our rule book throughout history can be traced to various incidents. Consequently, it is often said that our rules are written in blood, and that's probably the truth.
``The subsequent inquiry laid plain the shortcomings of the regiment, particularly with funding, planning, training and equipment.
``That has now been rectified. We have a new competency-based system where planning, risk-management and training are paramount.
``I need money for 2800 hours' flying hours in Black Hawks to maintain the competency of my crews. I have been given funding for more than 7000 hours. That demonstrates how serious we are.''
Col Wheatley said the average age of Black Hawk pilots was about 30, with some as young as 25. There is one female pilot, Capt Irvana Gorlin, based in Townsville. Capt Burke at 38 is the oldest and most experienced Black Hawk pilot in the Australian Defence Force.
The craft cost about $20 million each, and there are 25 Black Hawks at the 5th as well as four Chinooks. Two new Chinooks costing $80 million are due to be delivered soon.
The counter-terrorism exercises are not confined to the Olympic village. During the past few weeks, the Black Hawks have completed exercises on the Malanda football stadium in Townsville, and other sites will also be used so the crews can experience as many different situations as possible.