SAF hits the mark in high-tech live-fire drill in US

From 15,000 feet above ground, the vehicle towing a missile looked like an innocuous trailer lumbering along the dusty plains of the Arizonian desert.

Images captured by Singapore's latest eye in the sky - Heron 1 - flickered on the large screens in front of the 80-strong command post, which flagged the vehicle as the "red force", or enemy target.

F-15 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters were dispatched and, within seconds, white puffs of smoke were seen on-screen, as Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and the Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions smart bombs hit home.

There was no sound or fury of a Hollywood-style battleground, but this was one of the deadly endgames in the climax of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) most complex unilateral war games yesterday.Codenamed Forging Sabre, the live-fire exercise played out over Arizona's Barry M. Goldwater training area, which is 20 times the size of Singapore.

The outcome was the culmination of months of fine-tuning by about 600 soldiers and airmen, armed with the most advanced weapons systems and high-tech war-fighting tactics to deliver a precise strike.

Among them was the Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which made its debut in the exercise, the fifth in the Forging Sabre series since 2005.

The UAVs, which were inaugurated in 2012, were deployed to hunt down enemy targets during reconnaissance missions, pinpointing them with laser beams for the warplanes to destroy them.

In this operation, troops relayed real-time data to and from the battle planners who orchestrated the SAF's suite of sensors and shooters through a high-tech battle network to kill six moving targets all at once. Yesterday's integrated strike operation was a demonstration of the firepower of the Third Generation SAF, which started its modernisation drive in 2004.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who observed themission from the command post, said: "The ability to detect real-time targets, track them, and destroy them when they are moving is something very difficult to do militarily."

He added that being able to execute such complex missions successfully speaks of the professionalism of the SAF.

"We have come a long way and it gives us a lot of confidence in the abilities of the SAF," he said.

Dr Ng was accompanied by the Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou, and the exercise director, Colonel Tommy Tan.

F-15 pilot Sivaraj Arumugam said being able to tap the Heron 1s had allowed him to take out targets faster.

"They had already figured it out - what needs to be hit, at what time, even before the fighter jets got airborne.

"We were able to get to the right place at the right time, hit more mobile targets all in the same pass without wasting bombs... it's efficient," he said.

While all targets were hit, the air director, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Liew Boon Ping, said small tactical failures would have happened .

"They might have destroyed the targets, but some processes may not have been followed, causing them to hit the targets slower (than expected)... they will be debriefed and corrected," he said.

The Defence Minister will trade his civilian clothes for a flight suit when he flies in the F-15SG fighter during a live-firing exercise today.

This article was first published on Dec 12, 2015.
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