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PHOENIX: Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will face more enemies, a larger war games arena and tougher challenges at this year’s Exercise Forging Sabre in Arizona. 

An additional tactical range, which is the size of Singapore and contains “enemies” that can move and hide, doubles the size of the overall battlefront compared with two years ago. 

“We used to have the moving targets in the east tactical range,” said exercise air director Colonel (COL) Liew Boon Ping. “Now, we have replicated the same set in the north and south. So, you can’t really game it. You have to go out there, find them and make your decision.”

With a larger target area, more troops are needed, said exercise co-director Brigadier General (BG) Tommy Tan. “Different people will operate different platforms and weapon systems in order to get the mission done,” he added.

Air force personnel congregate beside an Apache. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

This year’s edition involves about 800 personnel from the air force and army, up from the 600 who participated two years ago. Assets include 10 F-15SG fighter jets, 10 F-16C/D fighter jets and six Apache attack helicopters, with a record six High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) being reintroduced.

This hardware comes with new assets.

Air force personnel transporting a 500-pound bomb. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

For the first time during an exercise, the F-15SG will drop the 2,000-pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition bomb, designed to obliterate reinforced structures. The HIMARS will be equipped with a new command post that can operate on the move, saving time and improving range.

INTEGRATION REMAINS KEY FOR ‘NOT BIG’ SAF

“The exercise showcases our ability to integrate different weapon systems, be it from the air force or the army, and carry out the integrated strike as fast as we want it to be,” BG Tan said.

And rather than increasing numbers, it is this integration between forces that remains SAF’s focus, he noted. “This integration is very important, knowing that our SAF is not a big one.”

An F-15SG at Luke Air Force Base. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

For example, a HIMARS can help a fighter jet destroy a cluster of targets simultaneously, rather than wait for it to complete part of the job first, COL Liew said. In that case, an air force commander is able to command an army-led strike too.

“We found a common platform where our army and air force assets can communicate,” he added. “Right now, regardless of what is the preferred mode of operation, we are consistently in the same secured chat.”

In addition, a sensor like the Heron-1 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can work seamlessly with a shooter like the HIMARS, said exercise land director COL Michael Ma.

“We don’t have a unique pairing,” he added. “This is the beauty of doing an integrated command post. Whatever sensor is out there, the information comes back to the command post, it’s fused together, then we use the most optimal shooter to prosecute the mission.”

COMMAND AND CONTROL SYSTEM

The integrated command post is driven by a locally-developed command and control system, which acts as the brain behind this high level of integration.

In another first for this exercise, the system applies video analytics technology to a real-time UAV video feed to automatically derive target locations, meaning command post personnel can quickly see whether a bomb has destroyed its target. This shortens the decision-making process.

The integrated command post. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

The system also overlays the UAV feed onto a map containing data like building types, vegetation and road names. This allows personnel to assess situations quicker.

“In the past, the system was not able to do that integration itself,” said Military Expert 4 (NS) Gary Tan, an imagery analyst at the command post. “Communication (between the UAV pilot and command post) was the main method of doing that. With this system, everything is on one platform, so you’re able to synchronise everything.”

Command post personnel at work. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

On top of that, commanders can use the system to simulate more complex enemies when there are physical limitations, and still see the scenario played out in real time. The system set-up time was also reduced from two weeks to one by replacing bulky physical servers with virtual ones.

“With our move towards a more digitised SAF and more robust battlefield Internet system, a lot more things can go on data,” COL Ma said. “This means a larger amount of information can be shared more quickly.”

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