Imagine you're just going about your day – waiting for the train during rush hour to get to the office; or perhaps you're enjoying your recess break with your classmates in school.
Suddenly, groups of armed terrorists force their way into the crowd, shooting innocent bystanders and taking hostages. The panic button is sounded across the country as they target the different spots with large crowds. Some gunmen turn young children into human shields to avoid getting apprehended, others threaten to detonate their suicide belts to cause greater damage to lives and property.
Can our security forces take on multiple attacks in crowded places? How will they work together to swiftly take down these terrorists and rescue the hostages?
These were the scenarios put to the test during an island-wide counter-terrorism (CT) exercise conducted by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) from 19 to 20 Feb.
The exercise was part of continuous efforts by the SAF and Home Team to test Singapore's multi-agency response in a terror attack.
These joint training and exercises strengthen the interoperability between the two security forces in handling terror threats under the Homefront Crisis Management Framework.
More than 900 personnel participated in the exercise, which took place across multiple locations. This comprised troops from the SAF's Island Defence Task Force, Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) and 38th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (38 SCE), as well as the SPF's Woodlands Division, Tanglin Division, Jurong Division, Special Operations Command and Gurkha Contingent.
Co-Exercise Director Brigadier-General (BG) Ng Ying Thong, Assistant Chief of General Staff (Operations), noted that the exercise was valuable in testing the SAF and SPF's cooperative efforts in dealing with terrorism: "This is an important exercise to enhance our operational readiness and strengthen our interoperability between the SAF and SPF, to deal with terrorism threats swiftly and effectively, to make sure Singapore is safe and secure."
Swift rescue of hostages
At Tuas Link MRT, SAF and SPF personnel responded to terror attack scenarios such as bomb threats and gunmen who were taking innocent bystanders hostage.
The SPF provided the first line of response to intercept the gunmen, through its Ground Response Force and Emergency Response Teams, before deploying its Armed Strike Teams from the Special Operations Command and Gurkha Contingent. When the gunmen began to take bystanders hostage and hold them in the train cabins, the SPF's Special Tactics & Rescue Unit moved in to contain the siege.
Finally, the SAF's SOTF was deployed to respond to complex hostage-taking situations, along with the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Explosives units to neutralise IED threats and the Medical Response Force to deal with medical emergencies.
Stopping a school shooting
At St Joseph's Institution (SJI) International, students were in the middle of their recess break when a mysterious man slipped past the gates into the school. He pulled out a gun and opened fire, causing bloodshed as he made his way to the crowded canteen.
An on-site Joint Patrol Team, comprising an SPF officer and two SAF troopers, swiftly responded to the situation.
They found the terrorist in the canteen, where he had taken some students hostage. The team tried to negotiate with him for the students' release, but he would not give in. Having run out of bullets, he forced the students to become his human shield and made his way to the assembly hall.
The team followed him closely, their weapons drawn and ready. They continued to talk him down while watching his every move closely. At the same time, the SPF officer reported back to headquarters and requested for reinforcements. Soon, the SPF's Ground Response Force arrived. With a single gunshot, the terrorist was taken down.
This was an eye-opening experience for 2nd Sergeant (2SG) Jesmond Ong and 3rd Sergeant (3SG) S Arjun Kumar, the SAF troopers who were part of the Joint Patrol Team. This was the first time the two from 38 SCE were taking part in a CT exercise.
"The exercise was very challenging… We had to react according to what was presented by the situation. We also had to make sure we were doing the right things," said Regular soldier 2SG Ong, 24.
Full-time National Serviceman 3SG Arjun agreed: "Even though this was a training, it wasn't like any simulation that we had done... On the ground, it's much more different."
The 20-year-old added: "But this being my first experience, I'm quite happy with how it turned out. We managed to take down the enemy."