SAF to double training time in Germany to sharpen skills

New agreement allows more soldiers to sharpen skills in biannual exercise

More than 1,300 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armour troops will spend over 100 days in Germany under a new training agreement that allows them to sharpen their firing and manoeuvring skills.

Besides training between April and May, the soldiers will also be put through their paces between September and November.

The biannual drill, dubbed Panzer Strike, will be the SAF's longest armour overseas unilateral exercise. Singapore's armour troops also train in Australia and India, but only for between 20 and 60 days. Previously, only about 200 troops from the SAF's armour formation got to train for about 40 days in Bergen, Germany. The training period has been extended this year, as part of an agreement that was inked between Singapore and Germany in 2009.

The first of this year's exercises is ongoing in the dusty plains of the Nato-Bergen training area, in north-west Germany.

For the first time, the Singapore-made Bionix 1 Infantry Fighting Vehicle is being used there - 11 of them have been deployed alongside 14 Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks. In another first, officer cadets and specialist cadets are undergoing manoeuvre training and live-fire exercises that are unthinkable back home.

In Singapore, troops are limited to small manoeuvres and can only fire up to a range of 800m. But the training area in Germany - at 280 sq km - is half the size of Singapore. It also offers three times the firing range.

In the wide expanse of the shrub-dotted training area in Bergen, troops can fire and move further over different terrain.

Brigadier-General Siew Kum Wong, the SAF's Chief Armour Officer, told The Straits Times: "We make full use of the targetry systems and vast engagement distances to challenge our crews under realistic operational conditions." Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who witnessed a live-fire exercise on Tuesday, said the German training ground is "crucial" as "Singapore is just too small".

"So it really gives them (troops) a boost in terms of their confidence on what our tanks can do and confidence in their own abilities," Dr Ng added.

Although the SAF has been carrying out unilateral war games in Germany since 2009, troops only started training alongside their German counterparts last year. Dr Ng said it is "useful" to learn from the German army, which has a very strong and rich tradition of tank tactics.

Germany is among the dozen or so countries where the SAF conducts overseas training. These include the United States, India and South Africa.

jermync@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Lim Min Zhang