LUKE AIR FORCE BASE (ARIZONA) - Seated inside the F-15SG fighter jet, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen flew over the rugged terrain of the Arizona desert at 18,000 ft (5,486m) to observe how air and ground troops worked together to bring to bear the 3G SAF's entire arsenal against the enemy.
He witnessed first-hand how pilots from other F-15s and F-16s exchanged information seamlessly with troops and battle planners through a battle network to overcome hostile fire and destroy two moving enemy rocket launchers with smart bombs.
The live-fire strike operation is part of the Singapore Armed Forces' most complex unilateral exercise yet, codenamed Forging Sabre.
The biennial drill, held in the Barry M. Goldwater Training Area that is 20 times the size of Singapore, is the fifth in the Forging Sabre series, which started in 2005.
Back then, Dr Ng, as the second defence minister, was perched on a rocky hill in the Mojave Desert in California to see how airmen and soldiers experimented with joint strike missions in the inaugural integrated live-firing exercise.
Yesterday's coordinated attacks showed how the SAF has come a long way in the last 10 years as a Third Generation fighting force and made great strides, said Dr Ng.
"Its because we do it constantly, just with regularity and the access to the training that makes a difference."
Noting that few militaries around the world can train like the SAF at such "high tempo and with such complex scenarios", Dr Ng said: "It's also because we have steady defence budget spending, we don't have ups and downs, we don't cancel programmes, platforms that we get, we integrate. We (have) a very strong defence technology community, very strong maintenance....we just have to keep doing it."
Speaking to reporters after his 90 minute flight, Dr Ng said that the drills provide troops with "the kind of robustness and resilient system to be able to, in each exercise, learn something and then to just improve on it".
In previous Forging Sabre drills, men and machines were put through scenarios to tighten their communication and weapons systems network, sharpen and multiple their combat power to strike stationary and moving targets. New weapons systems like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) were also being put through their paces.
While airborne on Saturday, Dr Ng saw how the SAF's latest eye in the sky, the Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle, successfully spotted and pinpointed with laser beams moving hostile targets that had to be destroyed. The UAVs, which were launched in 2012, had to hit the mark in the 17-day live-firing drill in order to be declared operational next year.
This is the Dr Ng's second time flying in the backseat of a fighter jet - the first time was in 2005 inside an F-16.
Flying alongside the defence minister was Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou. Before his flight, Dr Ng visited the exercise troops, and mingled with the servicemen and their families who live in Phoenix, Arizona. The southwestern US city is where the RSAF's Peace Carvin II detachment, which operates the F-16s, is based.
During his two-day visit, which ends on Sunday (Dec13), Dr Ng also got a close-up look at the United States Air Force F-35A joint strike fighter (JSF), as Singapore mulls over whether to buy the Lockheed Martin fifth-generation fighter jet.
When asked, Dr Ng would only say that defence planners were still evaluating, though "we are in no hurry to decide on the JSF".
Noting however, that the US Air Force is on track to declare its F-35A models operational by the second half of next year(2016), Dr Ng said: "So the more mature the programme is, the more steady the production lines for JSF, the more boxes are ticked when we evaluate it..."
But while Singapore will continue to buy the war machines it needs, Dr Ng said what will define its military might is the ability to integrate them into the fighting force to sharpen its firepower.
"Just the fine tuning...the (warfighting) tactic, the ability to find precise options for specific targets and specific needs, is what will define our SAF so I think we're progressing very well and we'll just keep doing that."