When a Leopard 2SG tank needs some TLC, it goes to see the technicians of 48th Forward Maintenance Platoon (48 FMP). Check them out in this first of a three-part series on
lesser-known National Service vocations.
When your main squeeze is a 10m-long war machine that spews shells which can tear through the toughest military armour, you best have some muscles of your own.
On a Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank, almost everything is sized a few notches up from the usual.
The entire tank stands at almost three metres tall, and even climbing to the top requires steps that dot the tank's exterior. Components are usually heavy and the tank is filled with sophisticated electronics.
Servicing the Leopard 2SG requires physical and mental dexterity, and work at 48 FMP is no jaunt in
the park. These technicians from the Maintenance vocation support the 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment, which operates the Leopard 2SG.
"The tempo here is high; the unit does a lot of training and because of that, we have to keep the tanks running well," said Military Expert (ME) 2 Shamraj Nedumaran, 33. He is a Master Tech Trainer in charge of an 11-man team.
Apart from troubleshooting faults, the team handles routine servicing to keep the tanks in fighting form. This includes topping up fluids, checking the cables and the health of the systems, and repairing or replacing broken parts.
If the Leopard 2SG tanks are athletes, the men and women at 48 FMP of the 1st Army Maintenance Base (1 AMB) are the physiotherapists, doctors and surgeons.
A qualified technician who works on the Leopard 2SG would have first gone through a three-month Basic Technician Training (BTT) course at the Ordnance Engineering Technical Institute (OETI), followed by a Leopard Maintenance Course conducted by 1 AMB.
Some courses conducted by the OETI are of National Trade Certificate standards, meaning its graduands are recognised as qualified technicians at the national level.
"The BTT course teaches us the basics like how to safely remove and replace components, and read circuit diagrams," explained 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Low Jia Rong, 22, a Section Commander in 48 FMP. He works on the chassis of the Leopard 2SG.
Added fellow chassis technician 3SG Bryan Lim: "The Leopard course then teaches us about the systems on the tank, which is a little more complicated than the other armoured platforms."
The six-week Leopard Maintenance Course is a hands-on one, where trainees are given faults to diagnose and rectify on a daily basis. "Training this way is better because we can practise as we learn, and we become proficient quickly," said 3SG Low.
Past the air-conditioned operator compartments, the interior of a Leopard 2SG is a confusing labyrinth of hoses and cables to the unfamiliar. To the trained technicians of 48 FMP, it is a map waiting to be read.
"One of the most tedious things to do is replacing cables in the tank's turret," said turret technician Lance Corporal (LCP) Sim Jia Xing, 23.
"The cables go all around the turret and they are not exactly lightweight. They are tough to move around... You can imagine the headache when we have to extract just one cable from a whole jumble!"
"We are as important as anyone out there in the field; without us, the tanks can't move and the tank crews can't fight." - 3SG Lim
For the technicians who work on the tank's chassis (where the engine and most of the mechanical components are housed), replacing hydraulic hoses probably counts as the most labour-intensive task.
Like the turret cables, the hydraulic hoses are built tough. "They are also cut to the exact length and fastened down tightly, so there's not much wiggle room when we are working on them," said 3SG Ryan Sng, 21.
Perspiring is part of the job, especially when working out in the field as they follow the tank crews out on training exercises. "It gets really hot and humid in the tanks; 10 minutes and our shirts are soaked in sweat!" said 3SG Lim.
When asked what keeps them motivated, LCP Sim replied: "We have this in-depth knowledge of how the tanks work, which even the crew (who operate these tanks) don't."
Added 3SG Lim: "We are as important as anyone out there in the field; without us, the tanks can't move and the tank crews can't fight."