Several firsts at Forging Sabre exercise in US as SAF seeks to be a more integrated military

Air crew conducting inspections on F-15 fighters during Exercise Forging Sabre, in Phoenix, Arizona, on Dec 4, 2017.
Air crew conducting inspections on F-15 fighters during Exercise Forging Sabre, in Phoenix, Arizona, on Dec 4, 2017. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Apache attack helicopters taking off from Gila Bend Air Base to head to the live-fire range during Exercise Forging Sabre.
Apache attack helicopters taking off from Gila Bend Air Base to head to the live-fire range during Exercise Forging Sabre.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
An Air Force engineer checking a bomb that has been mounted on an F-15 fighter, during Exercise Forging Sabre.
An Air Force engineer checking a bomb that has been mounted on an F-15 fighter, during Exercise Forging Sabre.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

PHOENIX - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is stepping up its push towards a more integrated and lethal military with several breakthroughs in the biennial Forging Sabre exercise in Arizona.

The 16-day live-firing exercise near Phoenix started on Nov 28 and features upgrades to weapon systems to help the Singapore Army and Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) work more seamlessly in detecting and destroying enemy targets.

For instance, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or Himars, will be able to fire guided M31 Unitary rockets at multiple targets at once, up from one target previously.

A Himars battery deployed for the first time in the Forging Sabre series will also feature a new Command Post that facilitates on-the-go operations and enhances battlefield monitoring. The new system sports a fully automated deployment of antenna masts that were previously manually operated.

The exercise will also unveil and test new upgrades to the SAF's real-time battlefield network system - referred to as the command and control (C2) system - by allowing better assessment of enemy targets with inputs from drones and other sensors.

A reconnaissance team from the artillery unit - known as the STrike ObserveR Mission (Storm) - will also try out a new laser designator technology at night that helps mark out multiple moving enemy targets for fighter jets employing laser-guided bombs.

The Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday (Dec 5) that the exercise will see an increased level of integration between sense and strike assets from the RSAF and the Singapore Army to conduct complex and dynamic live-firing missions.

Brigadier-General Tommy Tan, co-director for Exercise Forging Sabre 2017, told a media briefing at Luke Air Force Base on Monday morning that the exercise is covering a bigger target area in the 1.6 million ha Barry M. Goldwater training zone, which is about 20 times the size of Singapore.

While past exercises in the Forging Sabre series focused on only one area of around 300 sq km, SAF troops this year have to also detect and eliminate targets moving and hiding within another new and bigger area of around 780 sq km.

"This time round, with more participating assets and enhanced integration levels, we have more targets on the ground in two areas. Targets are moving around in them, which gives us the increased complexity to take out targets as soon as we want," he added.

"Decision-makers at the Command Post must be able to make sense of the target movement and use the best resource on the ground or in the air to take them out."

Colonel Michael Ma, Chief Artillery Officer and also director for the land component, said a key value of the Forging Sabre exercises is its live-firing aspect on a large scale, apart from the opportunity for personnel from across different units to interact and integrate with one another.

"You can talk about it. You can train for it back home, but nothing beats seeing the actual live munition destroy a target or for soldiers out there in the field to experience the live-firing themselves and to literally smell the explosives. That certainly builds confidence in our guys out there on the ground," he added.

"Also, nothing beats having live aircraft and live munitions in an exercise to force you to be really paying more attention to details and safety."

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Perry Lim and Chief of Air Force Major-General (MG) Mervyn Tan witnessed the exercise and also interacted with personnel.

In a statement, MG Tan said achievements from this exercise will be testament to the professionalism and commitment of servicemen and women, from both the Air Force and the Army.

"With limited air and land space in Singapore, we need overseas exercises like this for our airmen and soldiers to hone their skills and maintain a high level of operational readiness," he added.

"I am grateful to our United States partners for providing us with this important opportunity. The success of Exercise Forging Sabre gives us a lot of confidence that the SAF is ready to defend Singapore."