War games debut of drones marks evolution of SAF

The Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle's intelligence gathering capabilities will play a central role in the 17-day live-firing exercise in the United States. The Heron was first inaugurated in 2012.
The Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle's intelligence gathering capabilities will play a central role in the 17-day live-firing exercise in the United States. The Heron was first inaugurated in 2012.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Singapore's most advanced warplanes, drones, weapons and electronic battlefield network will be put to the test today, as the Republic demonstrates the combined firepower of its third-generation armed forces.

Codenamed Forging Sabre, the 17-day live-firing exercise will test how some 600 ground and air troops work together to mount a precise and overwhelming strike against an enemy.

Armed with high-tech combat systems, they have been practising how to exchange real-time battle data and suppress enemy forces in the shortest possible time over the last two weeks. The action has been taking place in the rugged 1.6 million ha terrain of the Barry M. Goldwater training area in Arizona, about 20 times the size of Singapore.

The war games also represent the final hurdle for Singapore's latest eye in the sky - Heron 1 - to be declared battle-ready.

Four of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are making their debut in the war games, will have to scan over and beyond the horizon in reconnaissance missions to hunt down enemy targets and pinpoint them with laser beams.

Swooping in to destroy the targets will be 29 F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) detachments at Arizona, Texas and Idaho.

They will be hammering the enemy with nearly 100 muni-tions, which include the Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions smart bombs and anti-tank Hellfire missiles.

The integrated live-fire drill, the fifth in the Forging Sabre series since 2005, is the most complex and realistic yet, said exercise director Tommy Tan.

Men and machines are pitted against more sophisticated and unpredictable enemy "red forces". One of the mock war scenarios requires troops to spot and shoot all six "fleeting" targets, up from two in the 2013 edition, said Colonel Tan, commander of the RSAF's Air Combat Command.

"We are testing the whole loop, from fighting all the way in, dropping the bomb, seeing how the bomb drops... from there, when the guy comes back, he has to find a way out, to survive coming back."

Witnessing the final outcome will be Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is arriving in Arizona from Washington, DC.

Heron 1 pilot Collin Tan said his team of 70 men has been fine-tuning skills such as perfecting maintenance checks and reconnaissance procedures in order to be operationalised next year.

Making a difference in the operations, said Major Tan, are the Air Imagery Intelligence Experts who scrutinise the data collected to identify the enemy.

The flight commander in 119 Squadron, said: "Image without analysis is not intelligence."

The coordinated thrusts in the exercise are a result of the Singapore Armed Forces' ongoing modernisation drive to integrate all its weapons, sensors and other systems into one network to multiply its firepower and give it a deadlier punch.

Senior Lieutenant Liew Boon Peng, the exercise air director, said: "We have expanded the scope (of warfare)... You are no longer tied to your own weapon systems to be precise (in firing), you can leverage on another platform to hit quickly and accurately."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'War games debut of drones marks evolution of SAF'. Print Edition | Subscribe