End-to-end action for SAF at exercise in new US location

Forging Sabre Exercise director Brigadier-General Ho Kum Luen, with one of the F-15SG fighter aircraft hosted at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. The training airspace there is more than three times that of Singapore's training airspace. ST PHO
Forging Sabre Exercise director Brigadier-General Ho Kum Luen, with one of the F-15SG fighter aircraft hosted at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. The training airspace there is more than three times that of Singapore's training airspace. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

In a vast airspace more than 20 times the size of Singapore, an air force Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operating silently detects and tracks six vehicles moving in a line.

This information is sent back to a command post at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in the United States, which determines that the vehicles are, in fact, enemy forces.

The command post requests four F-15SG fighter aircraft, which use lasers to target the vehicles and destroy them simultaneously to prevent any of them from escaping.

The ability of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to conduct such end-to-end missions - from detection to live firing - is being honed at the biennial Exercise Forging Sabre, which returns for its seventh edition at a new location in Mountain Home, Idaho.

The Mountain Home Range Complex, about an hour's drive from Idaho's capital city of Boise, is where about 600 SAF soldiers are being been put through such training in both day and night scenarios since last Monday.

The training airspace at the range is more than three times the size of Singapore's training airspace.

It also has more urban structures and is larger than the training airspace in Arizona, where the last four editions of Forging Sabre were conducted.

The integrated strike exercise, which ends on Thursday, also marks the overseas exercise debut of the recently acquired A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aerial refuelling aircraft, which was first delivered to Singapore last year.

 
 
 
 

Other units involved are a detachment of the Singapore Army's commandos, five of the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) AH-64D Apache helicopters, three Heron 1 UAVs, 10 F-15SGs and nine F-16 fighter aircraft.

The commandos on the ground provide information for strike assets such as the fighter aircraft to destroy targets with greater accuracy, and also to avoid collateral damage and friendly fire.

Exercise director Brigadier-General Ho Kum Luen told reporters that the value of Forging Sabre is the ability to do this end-to-end training, which cannot be done in Singapore.

He said that the complexity of the exercise comes in when different components work together, such as intelligence assets feeding information to the command post and munitions actually hitting the targets on the ground.

"So this end-to-end exercising is something that Exercise Forging Sabre gives us that we cannot do anywhere else," said B-G Ho, who is also the commander of the RSAF's Air Combat Command.

He added that the MRTT allows increased endurance and range for the RSAF's fighter aircraft.

"This allows the decision makers at the command post more flexibility in choosing the strike assets to prosecute the targets around the target area."

Other than the Mountain Home range, high explosives live firing is also conducted at the Utah Test and Training Range.

To ensure realistic training, moving targets are towed by remote-controlled vehicles. There are also smoking targets which simulate surface-to-air missiles and radar emitters for fighter aircraft to react to.

Other than the one MRTT which flew in from Singapore and the Heron 1 UAVs, which were shipped in, the other aircraft are based in the US - such as from the Peace Carvin V detachment at Mountain Home Air Force Base and the Peace Carvin II detachment at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

B-G Ho, 40, said exercise participants have been put through increasingly difficult missions.

This is done through, for example, increasing the number of targets that are to be struck simultaneously, and shortening the "sense-to-strike" loop.

This refers to the time that sensors in the air pick out targets on the ground to the time the strikers hit the targets.

"We want to keep this loop as short as possible, and this is what we have been challenging our warfighters to do throughout the exercise," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2019, with the headline 'End-to-end action for SAF at exercise in new US location'. Subscribe