Smarter, more integrated fighting force

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23 Sep 2021 | OPS & TRAINING

Smarter, more integrated fighting force

It's the SAF's first integrated exercise since the COVID-19 pandemic, and land and air forces came together seamlessly to put their interoperability to the test.

//Story by Benita Teo

//Photos by Chua Soon Lye & Chai Sian Liang

English 华文
Flying the Singapore banner high: An F-16C/D taking off on a mission at XFS21.

Sense more, fight smarter, strike as one.

This is the objective of Exercise Forging Sabre 2021 (XFS21), the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) pinnacle sense-and-strike exercise.

The biennial exercise, which started in 2005, is into its eighth instalment. Conducted from 14 to 25 Sep at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, United States, this year's exercise sees the participation of about 600 personnel from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and 200 personnel from the Singapore Army. It also sees a suite of land and air assets coming together in a test of seamless integration and interoperability.

A HIMARS firing off a rocket at a hostile target. This is the first time the HIMARS are exercising at MHAFB.

"We have to push boundaries to make sure we are continuing to develop the whole sense-and-strike ecosystem of the SAF well, in order to meet the future, more complex, more uncertain warfighting environment," said XFS21 Exercise Director (Air) Brigadier-General (BG) Chan Ching Hao, 40.

The SAF must continue to develop and push its sense-and-strike ecosystem to meet the more complex and uncertain warfighting environment, says Exercise Director (Air) BG Chan.

Sense, fight smart, strike as one

The SAF will be able to sense more using a suite of aerial and ground sensors, such as the RSAF's Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and the Army's TPQ-53 Weapon Locating Radar (WLR) respectively, to scan the battlefield and collect timely and accurate intelligence. This time around, the Heron 1 UAV will be deployed with a smaller drone to scan the area of operation at different altitudes. The larger Heron 1 UAV is able to see more and further, while the smaller drone will zero in to conduct more close-up, in-depth surveillance.

At XFS21, the Heron 1 UAV will be paired with a smaller drone to scan the area of operations at different altitudes, providing commanders with greater situational awareness.

The use of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics will also make this exercise a "smarter" one. The deployment of the Command and Control Information System (CCIS) (see below) at the Command Post (CP) will provide commanders with an overview of all the battlefield assets and recommend weapons to take out specific targets.

With the support of the CCIS, XFS21 will see the deployment of a full range of assets and weapons from both the air and land. These include F-15SG and F-16C/D fighter jets working with commando lasing teams and STrike ObserveRs Mission or STORM teams to take down multiple targets, and AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems engaging in joint live-firing exercises. The endurance of the fighters in the air is also extended with air-to-air refuelling carried out by the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport.

The A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport helps aircraft to fly further and longer with air-to-air refuelling.

Inaugural participation of Army's HQ SS

This year's exercise marked many firsts, one of which is the inaugural participation of the Army's Headquarters Sense and Strike (HQ SS) which was inaugurated last November. It came about following the reorganisation of Headquarters Army Intelligence and Headquarters Singapore Artillery under 6 Division (6 Div), integrating the Army's tactical intelligence and fires capabilities.

Tapping on the whole-of-SAF sensing capabilities, HQ SS is able to obtain 24/7 pervasive knowledge of targets.

This is the first time HQ SS and the TPQ-53 WLR (pictured) are taking part in XFS. HQ SS' participation marks an important milestone in validating the next-generation Army tactical intelligence and fires capabilities, says COL Teng.

Colonel (COL) Adrian Teng, 43, Commander 6 Div and HQ SS, explained the significance of HQ SS's participation at XFS21: "This is an important milestone for HQ SS because the vast training space allows us to conduct realistic integrated live-firing training with our air force.

"Through the exercise, we have validated the next-generation Army's tactical intelligence and fires capability and at the same time harnessed the operational synergies with the RSAF. This allows the next-generation army to see better and shoot faster, so that we can address emerging challenges in the new operating environment that is going to be more complex and dynamic."

Tapping on AI and data analytics to fight

Another first at the exercise is the deployment of the CCIS at the CP. The CCIS was developed by the SAF with the support of the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA).

The CCIS is enabled by a Decision Support System to enhance the SAF's sense and strike capabilities by shortening the sensor-to-shooter cycle.

Personnel from both the RSAF and the Army at the CCIS-enabled CP tracking the development of a mission. The CCIS uses technology like AI and data analytics to enhance the SAF's sense and strike capabilities.

In the past, commanders would have to study information from different entities in order to decide on the course of action. With the CCIS Mission Portal, they will have a real-time overview of the SAF’s sense and strike assets at their fingertips, which enables them to make decisions more effectively and deploy the most optimal assets to neutralise the threats.

The CCIS also makes use of AI, data analytics and weapon-to-target matching algorithms to recommend optimal warfighting solutions.

This is paired with mission parameters based on user inputs and weapon-to-target matching algorithms, such as timeliness, survivability, mission success rate, impact on other missions, and resource optimisation, to give commanders an assessment of the effectiveness of the different solutions.

An example of the mission portal interface at the integrated CP. The pop-up on the right shows the different strike options (top) and their respective mission parameters (bottom). Based on the CCIS's recommendations, commanders can choose the most optimal solution for the specific targets.

"AI has the potential to help create the capacity for commanders to focus on high-order tasks such as next wave of potential threats while lower-order, routine tasks are automated. This is quite a game-changer for our sense-and-strike operations," said BG Chan. He added that the CCIS is not meant to replace the decision-making process of commanders, but rather, to free up their cognitive workload to concentrate on orchestrating the whole fight.

To test the effectiveness of the CCIS, DSTA created a digital twin of the XFS21 CP at the Imagine Future Centre using modelling and simulation technologies.

To test the system, DSTA created a scaled-down digital twin of the CP at the Imagine Future Centre to work through different scenarios with the SAF, so as to make it more relevant to the SAF's requirements at XFS21.

Mr Sim was part of the team that worked with the SAF to develop the CCIS.

"The CCIS is a force multiplier for the SAF. It leverages technology such as AI, modelling and simulation," said Mr Sim Jian Ping. The 39-year-old is Head of Capability Development (Military Information) at the Information Programme Centre in DSTA.

"AI enables a lot of the automation and enhances the decision-making, while modelling and simulation allow a lot of testing to be scaled before being validated at the exercise. These can automate certain processes and enhance the decision-making process, to enhance the overall mission effectiveness."

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