ARMed for OUR 5e0pleAs the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) Armour formation turns 50 and adds a new fighting vehicle to its fold, PIONEER takes a look at how far it has come.
// STORY Teo Jing Ting
// PHOTOS PIONEER photographers
As the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) Armour formation turns 50 and adds a new fighting vehicle to its fold, PIONEER takes a look at how far it has come.
On 9 Aug 1969, thousands of Singaporeans were enthralled as 18 AMX-13 tanks rumbled down the streets of City Hall in a display of military strength at the first National Day Parade mobile column.
Since then, the Armour formation has "gone from strength to strength, emulating the steely resolve of (its) pioneers" said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at its golden jubilee parade on 11 Jun.
The extent of its might was showcased as the formation rolled out its suite of assets during the parade. Held at Sungei Gedong Camp, it was a bracing moment as past and present Armour personnel gathered to reminisce and witness how far the formation had come.
The Armour formation, as always, will be the SAF's sharp end of the spear to achieve a 'Swift and Decisive' victory.
Rolling with the times
Today, the Armour formation has become a key component in the SAF for combined arms operation and urban warfare, providing precise firepower support for the Army to punch through an enemy's defence.
"We bring firepower, protection, mobility and shock effect to the battlefield. Our advantage lies in rapid manoeuvre warfare to out-manoeuvre the enemy and secure the ground swiftly," said Chief Armour Officer Brigadier-General (BG) Yew Chee Leung, 43.
Beyond the battlefield, Armour prides itself to be at the forefront of the Army's technological advancements.
To keep up with the ever-changing battle landscape, the Armour formation is pulling out all stops with its latest asset — the Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV).
Smarter, more lethal weapon
Commissioned by Dr Ng at the anniversary parade, the Hunter not only offers greater firepower and mobility, but also better protection for its soldiers — a significant step-up from the Ultra M113 it is replacing.
He said: "The Hunter is the Army's first fully digitalised platform with C4 (command, control, communications and computer) systems, which enables it to fight alongside other platforms in the SAF.
"These network synergies allow the Hunter to sense more accurately and quickly, to strike first and with deadly precision across all terrains."
Apart from the ability to link up with other SAF assets in the battlefield, the Hunter is armed with a 30mm cannon and anti-tank guided missiles to provide enhanced lethality.
It is also the first of the AFVs to have an integrated combat cockpit, which allows the vehicle commander and gunner to operate a common set of controls for faster communication and battle planning.
In addition to an automatic target detection and tracking system, the Hunter is equipped with an independent commander's sight so that the vehicle commander can search for other targets while the gunner engages the enemy.
Designed with the modern soldier in mind, the Hunter also boasts touchscreen interfaces and a drive-by-wire capability that allows the vehicle commander to take over the driving functions when necessary.
Greater protection for soldiers
The exterior of the vehicle is equipped with 13 cameras for 360-degree surveillance, allowing the crew to operate in a fully close-hatched environment.
The all-round protection gives confidence to soldiers, said 2nd Warrant Officer (2WO) Choo Yong Meng. The 38-year-old is a tank Company Sergeant Major (CSM) trainer from the Armour Training Institute.
"The challenge for Armour is fighting in urban operations. With 360-degree camera surveillance (which allows crew to operate protected) inside the Hunter, (we can) fight with more confidence. It's a game changer."
Designed and made locally by the Defence Science and Technology Agency, the Army and ST Engineering, the Hunter is equipped with several safety features to enable early detection of potential hazards.
These include alerts to prompt the crew of vehicle anomalies and hazards during movement and when stationary, as well as emergency horn, brake and stop buttons.
While a core group of Armour Regulars have already begun training on the Hunter, the first batch of Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) will start training next year. The new AFV is set to gradually replace the Ultra M113 over the next few years.
Once Armour, Always Armour
Even as the formation operates newer and more advanced platforms, BG Yew noted that it was the people who have made the formation what it is today.
And it is up to seasoned soldiers like 2WO Choo, who trains and prepares Operationally Ready National Servicemen when they return for their In-Camp Training (ICT), to instil the same sense of commitment in the next generation of Armour personnel.
"A lot of our capabilities are exponentially magnified because of the tight integration between crew and vehicle. So I need to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and to instil the values of crew integrity — which is to train and move out together as one family," explained 2WO Choo, who has been with Armour for 16 years.
The phrase — a tank is only as good as its crew — certainly rings true. "It's not about having the best tanks in the world. It's about the quality of our people and how well-trained they are," said BG Yew.
"Fierce determination and a strong family spirit — that's what it means to be in Armour and that is what makes us a capable force."
Since acquiring its first batch of AMX-13 tanks in 1969, the Armour formation has gone through several rounds of platform enhancements.
- In 1987, the AMX-13 tanks were upgraded to the SM1 tanks which boasted better track and suspension systems.
- Acquired in the early 1970s, the Ultra M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers were eventually equipped with better weapon systems and upgraded with a more powerful engine to increase their maximum speed and cruising range.
- In 1999, the locally designed and produced Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle joined the family of armoured vehicles. Five years later, the Bronco All-Terrain Tracked Carrier was introduced to enhance the combat support and combat service support functions in Armour.
- The German-made Leopard 2A4 Main Battle Tank was acquired in 2007 and subsequently upgraded to the Leopard 2SG two years later. These tanks replaced the older SM1 tanks.
- In 2019, the locally-designed and built Hunter AFV joined the Armour Formation. They are the Singapore Army's first digitalised platform with a suite of Command, Control, Communications and Computers systems which will boost the Singapore Armed Forces' networked warfighting capabilities.
We are Armour!
Apart from the Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle, the Armour formation has three other assets — the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank, the Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the Bronco All-Terrain Tracked Carrier. PIONEER speaks to the crew who operate them.
LEOPARD 2SG MAIN BATTLE TANK
What are the capabilities of the Leopard 2SG?
CPL Mar These tanks are the first line of defence 'cos we are at the front trying to break though the enemy forces.
It is able to destroy both hard and soft targets, and has the capability to manoeuvre on different terrains — that makes it very mobile and easy for us to engage enemy targets.
Any memorable exercises?
CFC Lian During Exercise Panzer Strike (a bilateral Armour exercise held in Germany) in March, we were able to fire at multiple targets on the move. The terrain was bumpy and we had to fire at the same time, so it took a lot of coordination between the crew. The training was very realistic.
CPL Mar As a loader, the toughest job was to load the rounds on the move, especially when the platform is moving at high speed. During the exercise, we had to load the rounds as soon as the tank finished firing and this required a great deal of balance and crew coordination.
BIONIX INFANTRY FIGHTING VEHICLE
What are the capabilities of the Bionix?
1SG Lin The Bionix is an armoured fighting vehicle that can carry up to a section of seven men. In a mounted assault, we usually do a long-range attack before bringing the vehicle near the objective. We then dismount our troops to secure the objective and move on to the next mission.
LCP Ng With the Bionix, securing an objective can be done very quickly. The main gun is a 25mm calibre cannon with the capability of destroying both armour and infantry targets. The newly upgraded sighting system also enables us to engage targets further away with greater accuracy.
Any memorable exercises?
1SG Lin During my Specialist Cadet days, I went on an exercise where we had to spend several days in the field and were switching roles within the vehicle. It was tiring but satisfying to see how everyone knew their parts well and worked seamlessly together.
LCP Ng During a company mission exercise, my job was to cover the road and position the turret so that I can get a jump on the enemy's approach. When our troopers dismounted, we used the sighting systems to guard the area and provide protection for them. It was quite exciting.
BRONCO ALL-TERRAIN TRACKED CARRIER
What are the capabilities of the Bronco?
1SG Wang The Bronco is a multi-purpose tracked vehicle that transports personnel or equipment across different types of terrain, including water bodies.
As a two-cabin tracked driven platform, it can ferry up to 10 personnel in the back cabin. It's also flexible — you can change the rear cabin to a platform that suits the battalion's needs.
Any memorable exercises?
1SG Wang The Bronco is very useful and versatile. During my Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) evaluation in Exercise Wallaby 2016, the Bronco would send the "casualties" to the battalion casualty station.
This allowed us to concentrate on the mission because if the Bronco wasn't there, we would have had to use one of our fighting fleet vehicles to transport them and that would have slowed down our operations.
LCP Ganesh Last year, the unit was activated to return to camp at short notice. It was a public holiday but all of us reported back to camp quickly and got ready for operations.
It turned out to be a training drill but it felt good to know that we are truly ready for any potential threats.