At a time when Singaporean families are enjoying the year end festive spell, several military families from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units based in the island Republic and the continental United States (CONUS) have their sights on Exercise Forging Sabre - the largest and most complex air-ground war games involving CONUS-based warplanes and helicopters.
Said to unfold in Arizona in the coming week, Exercise Forging Sabre (or Saber if you prefer American spelling) will unleash Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes, attack and heavy-lift helicopters over a simulated battlespace more than eight times the size of Singapore.
Exercise Forging Sabre (XFS) is also expected to feature the largest number of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs dropped during an SAF integrated warfare exercise to prove that the air force can create a big bang wherever within the RSAF's strike radius and whenever SAF mission planners dictate within.
Unfettered by tight airspace restrictions over and around Singapore (which will be lifted in times of hostilities), RSAF air warfare planners and their Singapore Army counterparts have scripted war games that will pit XFS participants against simulated enemy targets in the air and on the ground.
The exercise hardware represents the tip of the spear for the RSAF's Air Combat Command (ACC), which is the air force organisation responsible for keeping Singapore's airpower poised and deadly for air operations round-the-clock in all weather.
War machines include the F-15SG Strike Eagle (the RSAF's most advanced all-weather strike aircraft), the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon, as well as AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and CH-47SD Chinooks.
This blog understands that the Singapore Army is expected to have boots on the ground too. The small size of Army ground surveillance teams is out of proportion to the damage these soldiers could inflict when they call in loitering RSAF warplanes.
It is understood that their insertion into simulated hostile territory will be aided by RSAF Chinooks. These choppers will fly as assault transports, screened by gun and rocket-armed Apaches and guarded by top cover from fighter planes as the Chinooks push deep into contested battlespace to insert Commando long range reconnaissance patrols.
Working far from the JDAM impact points are ACC weapon specialists and aircraft engineers. They will be responsible for keeping flying machines mission ready as well as bombing up F-15SGs, F-16s and arming Apaches with a range of munitions.
It goes without saying that thirsty fighters need to be fuelled and onboard stores such as chaff/flare decoys replenished before the next
During XFS, RSAF air warfare planners are expected to be challenged as they practice planning, assembling, despatching and recovering strike packages that could contain warplanes and attack helicopters with different flying characteristics and weapon loadouts.
The complexity of this task is best understood when one remembers that there about 500 different ways to hang things onto an F-16's wing tips, wings and belly.
RSAF air warfare planners are expected to be assessed under time pressure as they pick the right mix of weapon stores, sensor/target designation payloads and fuel tanks of various capacities for every aircraft/helo in the strike package. At the same time, they have to right-size strike packages to fight and survive in contested airspace and plan their ingress/egress routes.
It is arguable that against an enemy out to kill you, there is no such thing as too much firepower. But as friendly forces fend off the simulated enemy onslaught in XFS round-the-clock, RSAF war planners must pace the tempo of their missions judiciously. This will ensure that they can dish it out to the enemy even when a flood of orders arrive.
With combat-proven American warfighters curious to see how all this is orchestrated by the SAF and with HQ RSAF eager for updates several time zones away, this will add to the pressure of an already complex exercise involving several tons of live ordnance, thousands of gallons of highly flammable jet fuel and multiple sorties by high performance (read: expensive) warplanes and helicopters.
Above all, every XFS participant needs to be kept safe till the show is over.
The addition of JDAMs will add a fresh dimension to XFS. In the previous exercise in November 2009, laser-guided Paveway bombs were used to change the landscape as the air force and Army HIMARS rocket launchers blunted enemy movements with coordinated air-land counterstrikes.
This year, satellite-guided JDAMs allow RSAF aircrew to hit more precisely and with greater autonomy than the Paveways, which need a ground or airborne laser to help the sensor in the bomb's nose home in on the laser beam (which is why it is called a LGB).
A single F-15SG orbiting hostile territory could, theoretically, take out multiple targets in one pass while its pilot, weapon systems officer and all the odds lumps and bumps on the Strike Eagle keep an eye out for enemy combat aircraft out to molest the warplane.
Speaking of lumps and bumps, another critical component of XFS are the black boxes so crucial for tightening the SAF's sensor-to-shooter loop.
XFS is expected to stress test datalinks that allow SAF air and ground units to build a clearer air situation picture. But we'll save that for another post as XFS gets underway.