'Battle zone' gives soldiers the real deal

SINGAPORE - Soldiers will get 50 to 60 per cent more hands-on experience with firing live rounds during combat training, as the Singapore Armed Forces increasingly equips soldiers with the skills to fight in urban areas.

Chief Infantry Officer Chiang Hock Woon said yesterday that with modern battles more likely to be fought in such places, soldiers need to face realistic conditions that require them to be adept at firing live rounds in close-quarters combat.

Speaking at the launch of a new urban live-firing area in Lim Chu Kang, Brigadier-General Chiang said: "You can do a lot of training, but live firing is the most important part because that is as realistic as it can get before you submit and subject the soldiers to an operation."

Called the Murai Urban Live-Firing Facility (Mulfac), the mock urban combat zone will put soldiers through their paces at firing live rounds in enclosed rooms within five single- and double-storey buildings.

Some 120 soldiers in an infantry company, for instance, will be able to mount an attack on buildings and learn how to discern between friendly and hostile targets before taking them down.

Previous urban firing ranges could only involve up to a seven-man team in a shoot-out.

The size of about two to three football fields, Mulfac will also feature a "grenade house".

Due to be completed by the end of this year, the facility - the first of its kind in the region - will give soldiers more opportunities to lob live grenades to get a keener sense of the force of the blast.

For instance, a soldier in an infantry unit will now get to do this up to five times during his full-time national service and reservist stints.

Previously, servicemen would get to throw live grenades only once or twice.

Soldiers will get to know what they did right or wrong during their battle manoeuvres in a post-mortem, playing back video footage captured by 30 cameras in the buildings.

The army has been running tests on the urban live-firing area since it was completed in October, putting soldiers through numerous drills.

As part of their training, soldiers learn how to avoid being caught in a crossfire, said BG Chiang, who is also commander of the 9th Division.

"Friendly fire" situations have been a growing concern among militaries, with five United States soldiers reportedly killed by coalition forces in June, making it one of the deadliest friendly-fire incidents in the nearly 13-year US-led war in Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who witnessed a mock live-fire battle in the training area yesterday, said soldiers must be "instinctively trained" to have the confidence to survive in the heat of an urban battle.

He said: "This kind of facility gives them the kind of repetitive training, so that it is not a new environment (to soldiers)."

Guardsman Dinesh Rajendran, 24, who has trained in the older urban-operations ranges, said he experienced more realistic combat training in the new one. "It was more action packed," he said. "The blast was louder and the effects felt more real."


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