Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Exercise Wallaby 2012: Terrex steals the show by projecting infantry to the close-in fight faster than before

If distances fought over during Exercise Wallaby by Singaporean soldiers were paced on foot, VIP visitors like Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his retinue watching the light and sound show during the war games on Wednesday would need lots more time to see the live-fire action unfold.

Thanks to the eight-wheeled Terrex infantry fighting vehicles, a battleground that took a day or more to cover on foot can be swept over in an hour - or less depending on how aggressively Terrex commanders want their drivers to floor it.

It's high summer in the Australian outback in Queensland where the heat at high noon can send the temperature soaring to around 40 degrees Celsius. Water is what you yomp on your person. Meals are what you pack as combat rations - if you get the chance or appetite to eat it after an exhaustive yomp.

The "enemy" is not the motley group of troopers playing the role of Enemy combatants. Closer to heart, it's the blazing heat and the omnipresent threat of sunstroke or heat exhaustion. With the dry bush crackling underfoot with every step, seasoned Wallaby veterans know another danger comes from bush fires sparked off from misfired rounds. And as the threat from scorpions looms larger than simulated minefields, every soldier takes extra care to watch their step.

This isn't walking weather. But the challenging environment is just the thing for forging knights out of full-time National Servicemen - some of whom had never been on an airliner prior to their flight to Queensland, Australia. Even for officers and men from the 5th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (5 SIR) who have taken part in fun runs and half marathons and trudged the hills of Pasir Laba, movement to objective on foot with weapon in their arms and war material slung on their back would see them crank out 4km/h on a sustained pace on a good day.

At Exercise Wallaby 2012, movement to objective is measured in double-digit kilometres distances. The map squares between FUP and exercise objective may have multiplied, but the time given for the battalion to achieve its mission has shrunk correspondingly (some would say, wickedly).

This quicker pace underlines the faster tempo at which 5 SIR - one of the Singapore Army's Motorised Infantry battalions - can roam across the battleground at a faster clip than previously. Their Singapore-made Terrex ICVs fuse information gathered from the Singapore Army's ground sensors like movement detectors, tactical UAVs like Skyblade and Skylark to give its passengers a clearer sense of what lurks beyond the next hill or urban street. Such precision information complements orders for precision manoeuvre - which essentially means getting our soldiers to where it matters without making wrong turns on unfamiliar ground or showing up when the show is over.

In the wide expanse of the Aussie outback which can easily swallow several Singapores with room to spare, Terrex drivers clock more driving time per day than they ever did back home. Without familiar landmarks to guide one across the simulated battleground, poor land navigation could send soldiers charging into the wrong place at the wrong time, bringing the vehicle commander's career to a proverbial dead end.

If poor vehicle navigation is a potential career-killer, the VC's insurance is a rugged computer mounted in each Terrex called the Battlefield Management System or BMS. It shows a bird's eye view of what around the fighting vehicle in various scales, colour or infrared. Need something to watch your backside? Soldiers use ARSS (pronounced as "arse", no kidding!), the 11-camera All-Round Surveillance System that projects images of the immediate surroundings to the passengers.

But to get the insurance payout, VCs and drivers must be smart enough to use the system under simulated battle conditions. At Wallaby 2012, with live ammunition onboard and enemy simulators determined to put the unwary out of action, it's as real as it gets.

With onboard sensors showing where all friendly vehicles (Blue Force Tracking) are located, the battalion can project its infantry speedily, all this while giving each vehicle a clear idea where its counterparts are. This allows multiple approaches to the objective using sensors to give the infantry battalion forward sensing unheard of in the pre-Terrex Singapore Army. Varying the approach axis creates the element of surprise and allows the battalion to upset defended areas by having forces show up where they are least expected.

Once the objective falls within the range rings of onboard armament, so does the Terrex as it faces opposing forces. Here's where concentrated firepower from Army artillery batteries and/or air force Apache attack helicopters is expected to tilt the balance in a coordinated light and sound show that underlines what precision firepower means.

That's the theory behind Motorised Infantry.

Reality, as we all know, may be rather different and one should watch the results played out during Wallaby to see how readily, aggressively and competently infantry commanders adapt to the faster pace of battle.

Please stay tuned for Part 2 which will be the Wallaby AAR. Many thanks to Australian plane spotters keeping an eye out for action and their ears open for gossip. Catch their reports on the Central Queensland Plane Spotting site here. G'day all.

Comment: The 90 cents newspaper's use of the term "foot soldiers" in its article on Exercise Wallaby is quaint but somewhat misplaced. It brings to mind images of a medieval army where you have foot soldiers as well as assorted types riding into battle on horses, chariots or elephants. Why not just call them "infantry"? We didn't have 45 years of National Service without most Singaporean households knowing what infantry are all about and Singaporeans who don't know would probably not even be bothered to read the article.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article, sir.

Anonymous said...

The theory sounds good.
Usually theory goes out the window when the bullets start to fly.

Anonymous said...

i just wonder..having the BMS is fine and all..part of the whole system

its fine and dandy if the vehicle was part of the node and in our hands..if its captured by enemy hands, it means the enemy would have a piece of the node.

how long before would our guys know that? what are the implications to the greater system then?.

i am sure on paper there are checks in place to prevent this from happening...

but like someone said..on theory its sound...
but when i was serving in one of the SAR units.. one of the M113 drove right into the enemy camp cos the VC hor-lan-ed..

if it wasnt broadcasted over the comms( with a bit of snigger and laugher at the poor vc) we wouldnt have known..

David Boey said...

Hi Anonymous 6:44 PM,
Posed the same question to BMS operators in my previous job.

The stock reply is that there is a master key which can delete all data - either that or the senior officer can take a particular vehicle offline.

This point is worth examining in a longer post, which will be pushed out as part of the Wallaby AAR package.

Best regards,


IamARobot said...

Double edge sword? BMS?

Hate to think of the system taking forever to delete the data with some sort of "please wait...system deleting data" message on the screen.

That would really be banging two gonads together.

Anonymous said...

thanks david!
i mean end of the day, as proud as i am as an ex armour m113 operator, that our bionixes and terrexs are so high tech and wired..

i just feel that sometimes they miss the fact that these are all machines of war.

vehicles that get stuck in mud, electrical systems that can get short circuited by heavy rain,

am sure they ruggetised the electronics..but whenever i meet old army budies at the army open houses and such..and we see the electronics housed in the vehicles..

the funny thing is that the first thing that comes up is..can it take the wear and tear?
(all of us has fond memories of batteries failing, meaning even if the engine couldnt start, let alone the cupola..)

what happens if vehicle gets captured?..
( u mentioned theres like a masterkey but u know..we used to remove the battery or inverese the battery on the vehicle miles system and straightaway, the vehicle was off the grid)

anyways, my 2cents only.