SAF holds high-tech integrated strike drill in US with 800 troops

Exercise debuting army assets is SAF's first major overseas one since pandemic began

One of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) most complex and high-end overseas drills, Exercise Forging Sabre, has returned with the debut of several army assets and an upgraded command post.

The biennial live-firing exercise is being held at Mountain Home Air Force Base in the state of Idaho, United States, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) yesterday. The exercise, which started on Sept 14, ends tomorrow.

The unilateral exercise, now in its eighth instalment since 2005, involves about 600 airmen from the Republic of Singapore Air Force and 200 soldiers from the Singapore Army.

Mindef said the vast training area at Mountain Home, with an airspace of more than 20 times the size of Singapore, allows the SAF to conduct larger-scale and realistic training to maintain high levels of readiness in Singapore's defence.

It is the SAF's first major overseas exercise since the coronavirus pandemic began last year.

This year, new "sense" assets, which scan the battlefield to collect intelligence of potential threats, are making their debut. These include the Veloce 15 mini UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and the TPQ-53 weapon-locating radar, which can track rocket, artillery and mortar threats up to 60km away.

Other "sense and strike" assets, such as the F-15SG fighters, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and Heron 1 UAV, are also part of the exercise.

The A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft is involved in extending the endurance of the fighters, which are working with commando lasing and strike observers mission teams to employ precision-guided munitions.

Headquarters Sense and Strike (HQ SS) - formed last November to integrate the army's tactical intelligence and fires capabilities - is also participating for the first time.

This year, there is stronger emphasis on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, said Exercise Director (Air), Brigadier-General Chan Ching Hao, 40.

Using such technologies makes these "sense-strike missions" more efficient and eases the cognitive workload of the commanders, he told reporters in a virtual interview on Monday from Idaho.

"Essentially, data analytics and AI will allow more higher-order tasks to be conducted, and for a lot of the lower-order things to be automated. So this will be quite a game changer for sense-strike operations."

These technologies are being used at the command post, the nerve centre of SAF operations, which is equipped with a system that provides a real-time picture of the battlefield.

A new software engine has been developed to recommend the most suitable strike assets to eliminate specific types of targets, easing the mental load of soldiers.

BG Chan said the highly demanding mission scenarios under realistic conditions at the exercise "stress-test all groups of exercise participants", from ground troops to the people flying in the air, as well as the commanders and battle staff at the command post.

Colonel Adrian Teng, 43, commander of the HQ SS, said the integration of the headquarters has allowed the army to "unlock new warfighting capabilities and concepts".

For instance, the headquarters can now tap the whole of the SAF's sensing capabilities for a round-the-clock, pervasive knowledge of targets, he said.

"With this pervasive intelligence, HQ SS can better decide the employment of strike assets, be they from the air force or the army, to destroy the target at the time and place of our choosing," he added.

Stringent safety measures have been taken in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Participants are all fully vaccinated and planning meetings are conducted virtually.

BG Chan said priority has been given to ensure that the safety measures have no impact on the rigour of the exercise.

"We are much more pandemic-ready, and I think we are also able to ensure that we are meeting our mission objectives in this exercise," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2021, with the headline 'SAF holds high-tech integrated strike drill in US with 800 troops'. Subscribe