Fighting smarter, harder at Exercise Forging SabreIt's an attack from all sides.
// Story by Benita Teo / Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of RSAF & Singapore Army
Coordinated multi-pronged attacks from land and air. A smart Command and Control Information System (CCIS) that enables commanders to make decisions quicker and more accurately.
These were the new features at Exercise Forging Sabre (XFS) 2023, the ninth edition of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) sense-and-strike exercise that brings together all the Services in a test of integration and coordination.
Held at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho in the United States, this year's exercise sees the biggest participation with about 1,100 personnel and a suite of sense and strike assets from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Army.
This year also saw the inaugural participation of the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), the SAF's newest Service that safeguards the digital domain.
Fire! A HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) launching its missile. With the integration of the Army CCIS with the SAF CCIS at this year's exercise, Army shooters can be more quickly called on to support the RSAF's Apache helicopters in strike missions.
An AH-64D Apache firing off on a target during a live-firing mission. The vast airspace at Mountain Home Air Force Base – more than 20 times the size of Singapore – allows the SAF to conduct realistic training at a much larger scale.
AH-64D pilot Major (MAJ) Joshua Yap was part of the Command Post in XFS 2021. Returning as an aircrew this year, he witnessed how the upgraded CCIS has evolved to enable the shooters to be more agile and flexible by quickly redeploying them to focus on more critical targets during a mission.
The 39-year-old, who is part of the Peace Vanguard Detachment in Tucson, Arizona, is looking forward to learning more and integrating better with the other shooters.
"We had an exercise where both the HIMARS and fighter jets were employing live munitions (on a target) in addition to the Apache. With a better understanding of how they operate and tight integration, we were able to achieve munition-on-target within a short span of time."
STrike ObserveRs Mission (STORM) operator 2nd Lieutenant Aloysius Chua carrying out lasing for an F-15SG fighter jet. As a STORM Commander, the 20-year-old Full-Time National Serviceman (NSF) is responsible for coordinating air-land missions to support strikes.
Corporal Aide Alfian Bin Abdul Rahman is a HIMARS operator who drives and maintains the asset. And it has been an eye-opening experience carrying out operations that would not be possible in Singapore.
Getting ready to operate in an unfamiliar environment was no easy task, said the 20-year-old NSF, and progressive training began early on.
"Before coming here, I spent many months preparing with my battery mates by going through the procedures. We began by talking through what we're supposed to do," he explained.
"We then moved on to practical sessions where we rehearsed our drills over and over again – this was to make sure we had our fundamentals in place. Once we achieved this, we became more confident of operating in a new environment and terrain."
An F-16 fighter jet taking off for a night mission.
While you were sleeping: Ground crew work through the night to load an inert GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition on to an F-15SG fighter jet, in preparation for the next day's mission.
XFS is a good opportunity for the F-15SG to exercise with the various assets, said pilot Lieutenant Colonel Lim Jian Yang (in front seat).
For example, the fighter jet works with the Heron 1 in cooperative lasing, where the UAVs use lasers to guide the jet's bombs onto targets, and the Multi-Role Tanker Transport to increase the jet's endurance. He can also carry out coordinated attacks with strikers such as the HIMARS, Apaches and F-16C/D+ aircraft.
This year, the Peace Carvin V Detachment Commander is looking forward to working alongside the upgraded F-16s: "This year, our focus is on coordinated joint firing and working with the upgraded CCIS. We want to deliver firepower with the closest coordination and in the shortest time."
"The upgraded F-16s, with their additional sensors, will help us to locate our target earlier. We will also try to impact bombs closely together with the HIMARS."
The RSAF's F-16C/D fighter jets preparing to take off for a day mission. This suite of F-16C/D jets, which recently received a mid-life upgrade, have an enhanced radar that will enable them to track and engage targets at a longer distance.
This is MAJ Ooi Liwen's third time at XFS, but her first with the Heron 1 detachment. Sharing the runway at Mountain Home Air Force Base with many other aircraft means that the team must coordinate carefully to ensure that operations are carried out safely, said the 29-year old Heron 1 pilot.
This time, she will be working with the RSAF's new imagery intelligence dissemination system, which allows video footage from the Heron 1 to be piped to ground troops such as STORM operators, giving them better situational awareness of the battlefield.
MAJ Ooi (right) is also looking forward to flying the Heron 1 in a new multiple-tier UAV concept, where the Heron 1 will perform wide-area sensing at the highest tier.
Smaller UAVs in the middle tier can be cued to provide persistent tracking on the targets. Finally, micro-mini drone swarms at the lowest tier search for targets at a close range.
As an Air Imagery Intelligence Expert, Military Expert (ME) 2 Samraj (left) acts as the bridge between the UAV pilot and Command Post to relay the commanders' requirements to the operators and guide them towards their targets.
Working with the upgraded CCIS has made the sense-strike process more seamless, said the 28-year-old. "The CCIS enables us to detect targets faster, and the Intelligence Analysis System allows us to send sensor cues from the Command Post to (the UAV operators at) the ground control station."
"With the full-motion video from the Heron 1 incorporated with the CCIS, we can detect targets automatically. This shortens the sense-strike process."
Battle staff in the Command Post working hard to sense-make the data coming in from the different sensors, so that commanders (standing, top left) can make informed and accurate decisions in the deployment of firepower.
The CCIS, the "brain" of the Command Post, is making its second appearance at the exercise – this time with many upgraded features that tighten communication, enhance coordination and expedite the decision-making process for all Command Post personnel.
This is the first time that the DIS is participating in the exercise. This year, the DIS co-developed the Computer Vision (CV) algorithm, together with the Defence Technology Community.
A new upgrade to the CCIS, CV allows the CCIS' Intelligence Analysis System to automatically detect and classify objects from Heron 1 video feed.
Captain Dion Michael Chan is the Section Head of CV Development Ops. With the intensity of the missions carried out at the exercise, he has been able to make use of the large volume of data to rapidly improve the CV models, which aid in detecting and classifying objects of interest.
"We constantly monitor the performance of the CV models, and every day we take the new information and use it to refine the model to make it better for the next day," said the 32-year-old.