Inside the eye of a Leopard

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nov18_fs3
01 Nov 2018 | OPS & TRAINING

Inside the eye of a Leopard

// STORY Benita Teo

// PHOTOS Kenneth Lin

English Melayu
Journalist Benita Teo experiences the rough and tumble of driving a Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank.

Journalist Benita Teo experiences the rough and tumble of driving a Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank.

Is there a more glorious vehicle to drive than a Leopard tank? At the Armour Simulator Centre, I got a realistic experience learning to drive one without driving myself or anyone else to extinction.

Room for one

Armoured vehicles certainly look imposing. But you'd never guess how small the interior is.

The driver's cabin of the Leopard tank's Armour Driving Simulator (ADS), for instance, is only big enough for a single tankee. Getting into the driver's "suspended seat" was practically half the mission. The seat is a suspended harness, anchored near the foot pedals.

This is to protect the driver, who sits at the lowest level of the vehicle, from the impact of exploding landmines.

I had to crawl feet-first in and onto the harness. Then, using my last two strands of core muscles, I hoisted my torso up so that I could clip the harness to a suspension cable.

Even with the help of my instructor, Lieutenant (LTA) Teng Jian Ling, it was really difficult.

Snug like a baby in a sarong cradle, I was ready to start driving.

Rock and roll

Speaking to me through the comms set in my helmet, LTA Teng taught me some basic tank-driving skills. As the tank rumbled along gently, I could see other "vehicles" and "trees" I was passing through the tank's three periscopes.

LTA Teng then guided me through an obstacle course that included stations such as a gully (a series of mounds). As I drove up the mound, the tank tilted upwards and I felt myself falling into my harness. After I reached the crest, the tank rolled back down and I rocked forward in the harness.

LTA Teng, an Armour Simulation Wing Tank Instructor, directing me from the Instructor Operator Station.
The gunner's chamber is just as tight as the driver's cabin — I had to remove the backrest to crawl into the seat.
This is what the real thing looks like: the Leopard 2SG tanks at Exercise Panzer Strike in Germany last year.

Before I had recovered from the jolt, LTA Teng had more instructions for me.

"You've overshot the turn; reverse and drive right," he commanded. "Then go forward."

"Into the trees?" 

"Yes." 

I floored the accelerator and steamrolled down the slope, running down trees in my path. I felt pretty formidable with the trees disappearing underneath me.

Drunk from my tree-crushing power, I dove right into a body of water that had appeared, believing I could conquer it. 

Instead... The tank shook violently, throwing me around. I could see a mess of water and sky out of the periscope. After a few seconds, everything came to a halt. 

"I think I buang-ed (crashed)," I spoke into the comms set sheepishly. 

Silence.

"Hello?"

Hanging awkwardly, with my face smooshed against the periscope, I was met with an unsettling quiet. Finally, a familiar voice came back on. "Can you hear me?" "Yes, I can hear you!" I said in relief.

Turns out, simulating a loss of comms after a crash was part of the training too. It also signaled the end of my drive.

The "pods" of the ADS can be mounted with driving cabins to simulate different armoured and infantry fighting vehicles.

Bring out the big guns

We moved over to the Armour Gunnery and Manoeuvre Simulator, where I could learn to fire the gun of the tank.

The gunner's control handle resembled a gaming console handset, and gave me flashbacks of never surviving more than eight seconds of Super Mario Bros. Thankfully, it was simple enough to use.

The handle could be moved left and right or tilted up and down to move the gun. 

It had only four buttons or toggles: to track, lase and fire, and palm switches on both sides that acted like safety switches to prevent any accidental movements. These had to be depressed simultaneously with the buttons or steering.

LTA Teng identified and directed me to the target — which could be an enemy vehicle or ground troops.

I looked through the sighting system and moved the gun. Once the crosshair was on the target, I toggled the lasing switch to find the distance of the target. 

"One-one-hundred," I reported, meaning that the target was 1.1km away. At his command, I fired the round. 

Boom! And the target was up in flames.

Firing at something stationary was straightforward enough. But it was a different ballgame trying to follow, track and lase a target that's on the move — it took a few missed shots before I finally scored a hit. 

"Your coordination is not too bad, for a first-timer," LTA Teng said encouragingly.

Hah! Take that, Goomba (a Super Mario character)!

To get my Class 2SG tankee licence, I guess I really need to be as agile and nimble as a real leopard!

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