Tough as steel: 40 SAR gears up for first Battalion Mission ExerciseWhat does victory smell like? Hot metal burning in the sun, sweat, rain, wet mud. This is 40th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment's (40 SAR's) Battalion Mission Exercise.
// Story Benita Teo
// Photos PIONEER photographers
For four days from 7 to 10 Dec 2020, man and machine battled it out in the field as the Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) and armoured infantry soldiers of 40 SAR underwent their Battalion Mission Exercise (BME).
This is the first time they operated alongside the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tanks and Bronco All-Terrain Tracked Carriers as part of battalion integration training. The BME prepares the battalion for their upcoming Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) evaluation later this year.
Join the battalion at its first-ever BME!
BME participants – including soldiers of 40 SAR, trainers and conducting staff – undergoing a COVID-19 swab test, ahead of the BME. Held on 2 Dec 2020, these tests allow the unit to train on a larger scale safely, and is one of the additional measures the Singapore Armed Forces has put in place to ensure the health of all participants in the new normal amid the pandemic.
2nd Sergeant (2SG) Kaelynn Hong (left), a Bionix Vehicle Commander, checking the vehicle's oil level with operator Corporal First Class (CFC) Sebastian Tock as part of the mandatory Before Operation Servicing (BOS) drill. She uses the Mission Essential Equipment Checklist to ensure that the vehicle is verified safe for deployment.
During the BOS drill, 2SG Hong and CFC Tock discover a worn-out sprocket in the Bionix's track. They call for technician 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Rayner Callistus Ramraj (far left) from 1st Army Maintenance Base, who guides them through the steps of replacing the sprocket safely.
During maintenance, the most senior technician on the ground will take the lead, regardless of rank or appointment. 3SG Rayner, 21, explained: "This is because we are the subject matter experts. Even if someone of a higher rank or appointment is with us, if we see that his or her recommendation is unsuitable, we are authorised to point it out."
Conducting officers and trainers – led by Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Ho Pek Zhong (standing, fourth from left), Commanding Officer of the Active Unit Training Centre (AUTC) – are up in the wee hours of 8 Dec 2020 for a final safety table-top exercise (TTX) while the troops rest.
They go through the battalion's mission plan to familiarise themselves with the movements of every troop and vehicle involved in the exercise; identify the no-go criteria (safety issues that will require the exercise or participants to come to a complete stop) and safety hazards; and discuss procedures and measures to prevent potential safety incidents during training.
They also zero in on the specific roles and responsibilities of each key appointment holder in guiding the participants and ensuring the safe conduct of each mission. With them is Commander 8th Singapore Armoured Brigade Colonel Cai Dexian (standing, third from left), the supervising officer for the conduct of 40 SAR's BME.
It is 7am on 8 Dec 2020. The sun has barely risen, but the troops are already up and about, confirming their mission plans and ensuring that men and machine are ready for battle.
Safety first: Before setting off, the Bionix crew will perform a final round of "COE", or Comms check, Overturning and E-stop drills, as part of safety Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Here, they are going through the overturning drill, which helps them to revise and remember the steps to take during emergencies and to remain safe, especially when fatigue sets in.
"This is my first BME, and it's interesting because we'll be working with the Leopard tanks for the first time in a battalion mission. Before this, we did simulator training and TTXs to establish SOPs with them so that we know what to do during the mission," said 2SG Hong, 23.
Leading the pack, a Leopard tank takes out the enemy at a "minefield" – an obstacle set up by the Opposing Force (OPFOR) to slow the advance of the attacking forces.
Only after the obstacle has been cleared and the hiding enemies neutralised is the way paved for the Bionix IFVs to pass through safely.
A section of Bionix IFVs driving through a "mine cluster" that had been cleared earlier by a Bronco with a Land Assault Minefield Breaching Equipment. The Broncos also joined the Bionix IFVs and Leopard tanks in the battalion-level exercise.
Machine Gun Gunner and rear guide CFC Mohamed Fadhil Bin Mohamed Sahid guiding the operator to reverse the Bionix safely.
"There was a lot of movement from the troopers. I have to make sure that when the vehicle moves or manoeuvres, no one is standing in any dangerous position. There are also a lot of vehicles around, so I have to ensure that we maintain a safety distance (of 30m) between vehicles," said the 21-year-old.
During the reverse drill, the Rear Guide is responsible for directing the operator, and provides an extra pair of eyes to spot potential hazards. The Bionix is also equipped with a rear-view camera (pictured, bottom left), which enhances the operator's overall situational awareness when reversing.
Captain Tan Yi Ming, 30, an AUTC Company Trainer, keeping track of the company's progress during the BME by maintaining close contact with trainers on the ground.
"I take note of the critical safety points where accidents could occur, and remind my trainers to pay attention to things like hazards on the ground, how well the troops perform their day-to-night transition, and other safety concerns."
40 SAR may be attacking aggressively, but their "enemy" is not making things easy. The OPFOR soldiers (pictured above and next photo) keep their eyes and weapons keenly trained on oncoming vehicles to maintain a strong defence.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience!" said CFC Tock, 21, of his first BME. On operating with many different vehicles during the exercise, he noted that "we will stagger our vehicle positions so as to avoid each other and maintain a safety distance".
The action doesn't end even as the sun sets – enemy forces have been spotted. Swiftly, the armoured infantry troopers dismount from the Bionix to launch an attack on their adversary.
A medic applying an intravenous drip on a simulated casualty at the site of the Battalion Casualty Station. "Injured" soldiers who arrive at the medical post are assessed and quickly treated for their injuries.
"I'm very proud of the soldiers. They responded well to the harsh outfield conditions and displayed a lot of fighting spirit and determination. Despite the complexity of a battalion mission exercise, every soldier played his or her role and ensured that training was conducted safely," said LTC Alvin Chan, CO of 40 SAR, of the battalion's very first BME.
Extensive preparation, which included progressive training and detailed mission planning, was also key to the successful integrated mission, added the 33-year-old.
"The battalion is progressing towards ATEC evaluation, and this exercise gave us confidence that we're on the right track."