In the United States on Tuesday, in a rugged patch of bush two-thirds the size of Singapore, the SAF conducted a "mother of all war games" which involved four F-16 fighter jets, six Apache attack helicopters, two Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and un-manned aerial vehicles from the Republic of Singapore Air Force detachments in Texas and Arizona, as well as commando ground forces, among other air and ground assets (all in all, more than 540 soldiers and airmen took part in Exercise Forging Sabre).
The 30km by 10km expanse of the "battlefield" in Fort Sill, a United States Army installation in Oklahoma, was gazetted for the exercise. This was the first time that the air force's F-16 fighter pilots dropped live 900kg laser-guided bombs in air-to-ground manoeuvres.
Men and machines have been out in the bush over the last three weeks or so, honing their search-and-strike skills in the run-up to the live firing.
Picture above shows RSAF ground crew carrying out final preparations on an Apache attack helicopter, including arming the 30mm chain gun that spews 625 rounds a minute.
Picture below shows the Apache helicopters flying off after loading up on ammunition.
This was part of the SAF's new 3G or third-generation integrated strike force, with the ability to coordinate information and firepower to take out enemies within minutes of detection. Sensors like the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and STrike ObseRvers Mission (STORM) teams fan out to locate the enemy and relay information back to the Air-Land Tactical Control Centre (ALTaCC) and Division Strike Centre (DSC) respectively. ALTaCC collates the bird's eye information and relays it to the DSC which then directs units across the battlefield to engage the enemy. These include F-16 fighter planes and Apache helicopters, field artillery tanks and Singapore's latest acquisition, the Himars.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) can fire at targets 70km away and always hit within 5m of the target. It can prepare and fire all its six rockets in different directions within five minutes and reload all rocket tubes within 10 minutes. Each rocket has 644 armor-piercing bomblets packed into its warhead, each smaller than a soft-drink can. Each of these bomblets can punch through armor up to 10cm thick. A salvo of all six rockets would rain about 3,800 bomblets on the target 70km away.
The SAF has purchased 18 Himars trucks with added armor protection for the three-man crew. Besides the US Army, only Singapore and the United Arab Emirates use this weapon system.
Besides all the equipment and machines, the most important factor has to be the men behind the machines and those on the ground. None are finer than Singapore's commandos who were on the ground to guide the F-16 pilots towards their target on the ground. Exercise Forging Sabre saw the combination of commando lasing teams, aircraft and artillery units working together. The live-firing exercise was witnessed by Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean, several American generals and senior SAF officers, including the Chief of Army, Major-General Neo Kian Hong, and the exercise director, Brigadier-General Tan Chuan-Jin.
Picture above shows the Commandos putting on camouflage paint before their mission. On the ground, SAF commandos trekked more than 20km a day in temperatures that could drop to below freezing at night. They had to get within 1km or so of "enemy forces", locating their targets and training a laser on them for the air force fighters to take them out with their laser-guided bombs during their bombing runs.
Every time we talk about laser-guided bombs being on target, we forget that somebody on the ground has to get really close to the target and point the laser at the target for the bomb to hit it.
The "sense and strike" mission earned kudos from a US Army general. Major-General David Halverson, commander of Fort Sill, said the SAF troops displayed "world-class effort" in planning, organizing and executing the war games. DPM Teo met some of the SAF commandos at the end of the successful live firing.
The US Army Chief of Field Artillery, Brigadier-General Ross Ridge, told reporters that the SAF did a good job combining its warplanes into the army-led operations in the exercise.
"Not too many militaries in the world can pull off such sophisticated and complex operations... Singapore is certainly on the world's top 10 militaries."
So to the men out there, we say "Good Job, Well Done!"