Thursday, December 12, 2013

Life imitates art? SAF demonstrates Dynamic Targeting during Exercise Forging Sabre 2013

Hammmertime: Airbase facilities are deconstructed by 2,000 pound Mark 84 laser guided bombs dropped by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-15SG warplanes during Exercise Forging Sabre. The main strike, which was phase 3 of  the firepower display, followed attacks on mobile rocket launchers and SAM installations. It is understood that during operations, air attacks could unfold simultaneously, and not necessarily sequentially.

Incoming: A stationary target in a simulated small town, complete with roads and shophouses, comes under close attention from Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) AH-64D Apache attack helicopters. The attack on the vehicle column harbouring in the town was the fourth item during the  Exercise Forging Sabre firepower display. War games involving combined live-fire exercises of this scale cannot be done in Singapore.

As the country with the largest and most powerful air force in Southeast Asia, Singapore's defence planners would certainly know a thing or two about the dangers of air power unleashed.

The firepower demonstration staged yesterday (Tuesday Arizona time) as part of the Forging Sabre war games provide telling signs to how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) might swing into action during a conventional war.

To those who looked beyond the obvious, the air and land strikes emphasized the value of Dynamic Targeting, directed by battle managers from a hub for fire control orders that allocated and prioritised targets according to their potential danger to SAF forces.

On Tuesday afternoon, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen saw first hand how the Singapore Army and Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) work in concert to knock out an enemy's air power.

The narrative for the 12-minute firepower demo - the largest and most complex  staged by the SAF since Exercise Forging Sabre 2011 - appeared like the game plan for a hot war scenario. It also  appeared to explain why the RSAF has invested heavily in advanced multirole strike warplanes like the F-15SG and F-16C/D as well as precision guided munitions that can hit targets at long range, with deadly accuracy, day/night, not forgetting an advanced command and control battlefield management network to pull its combat forces together.

Vanguard: Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen prepares for a familiarisation flight in an Apache Longbow attack helicopter from the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Peace Vanguard detachment. The flight gave DM a firsthand look at the target complexes in the US military's Barry M. Goldwater Range before they were turned into impact zones for precision guided munitions. Below, the Longbow lands on the austere helipad on NATO Hill.

Dr Ng arrived at NATO Hilll, a hill top observation point in the United States military's Barry M. Goldwater Range, in an RSAF AH-64D Longbow Apache which gave the minister a guided tour of part of the expansive range, some 19 times bigger than Singapore. This vast desert openness in Arizona is the arena for Exercise Forging Sabre, a two-sided combined live-fire exercise that will involve some 700 full-time national servicemen, operationally-ready National Servicemen and SAF regulars from 2 to 17 December.

I can see too: Our view of the expansive CALFEX arena from NATO Hill. Visible in the background are the simulated enemy airbase complex, SAM sites, small town and road network used by remote-controlled vehicles playing the part of mobile rocket launchers marked for a date with a Laser JDAM. The narrative for the battle was interesting, to say the least.

Arrayed before NATO Hill were targets the SAF was tasked to demolish within minutes. Whether by intention or uncanny coincidence, the narrative for Forging Sabre's light and sound show reflects the logical sequence for taking out conventional threats.

From here, we have a ringside seat as the SAF's meanest and deadliest war machines move into action. It was executed according to the sequence below.

Cripple the rocket launchers
First to go was a remote-controlled vehicle that ran for its life along a sinuous desert dirt track, raising a banner of dust in its wake. This simulated a moving target, in this case a rocket launcher. The moving vehicle was tracked by SAF sensors that guided a laser JDAM bomb dropped from a high flying F-15SG warplane, orbiting at  some 16,000 feet, dead on target. After the strike, the narrative indicated that the F-15SG returned to its holding area to await orders to take out another target. As each F-15SG can carry up to 15 JDAMs, the war load of the RSAF's most advanced warplane is noteworthy, considering Singapore has bought 24 of these combat proven warplanes.

Blind the anti-aircraft radars
Next on the target list were radars for  the enemy's anti-aircraft weapons. Two  F-16 warplanes entered the arena to deliver a pair of laser guided bombs on a "radar site". As the bombs blew the target apart, the F-16s left the scene at high speed, releasing a trail of blazing flares that could have deceived heat-seeking missiles launched against them. The evasive manoeuvres were not just for show: during the air strike mock SAMs were launched against the jets to simulate an enemy air defences abuzz with retaliatory moves.

Offline: Smoke plumes mark the death of enemy SAM radars, which are hit during the opening phase of the CALFEX. RSAF F-16C/Ds claimed this kill during XFS 2013. The RSAF flies the largest fleet  of F-16s in Southeast Asia.

Clip the wings
After this strike came the main strike team, made up of just two F-15SGs. Each carried four Mark 84 2,000-pound bombs - the largest bombs in the RSAF's arsenal - to demolish aircraft fuel and ammunition storage at a hostile air base. As the bombs blasted the simulated air base, they created a tall column of  smoke that marked the death of an air force. The narrator noted that a real air base target may involve eight or more F-15SGs, and that single strike by a fraction of what would be fielded in a shooting war gave observers some idea of the damage such a main strike could inflict.

It is interesting to note that the opening phases of  the Forging Sabre firepower demo placed air bases and surface to air missile sites high on the target list, as such a game plan was indeed pursued by air power planners who fought in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. SAF defence planners understand that warplanes are weapons only when they are in the air, sustained with weapons, fuel and pilots. A warplane on the ground is a high value target just waiting to have its wings clipped.

Shred the tank columns
In came the Apache attack helicopters that drizzled a simulated town with rockets fired at a column of enemy vehicles parked in civilian areas. Red buildings indicated civilian targets that could not be hit as these could result in civilian casualties. The cloud of rockets that smashed the tank column would have shredded enemy armour and stopped a real one in its tracks.

Strike the command centre
The finale came from the Singapore Army's HIMARS - its name means High Mobility Artillery Rocket System - which were tasked to destroy static, high value targets such as command posts. The observers on NATO Hill scrutinised the live firing area to  pick out the HIMARS launchers.

Outgoing: HIMARS rocket launchers join the fight by giving an enemy command post a close look at the SAF's long-range precision rockets. Rocket barrages were fired day and night using the Singapore Artillery's hide-shoot-scoot concept. These rockets were fired mostly by young full-time National Servicemen from the 23rd Battalion, Singapore  Artillery.

Those who failed to spot them could not fail to notice the tendrils of  smoke which rose from the desert floor, pointing towards the direction of the simulated enemy.

From start to finish, the successive blasts of  flame and steel at various desert targets appeared to be random, uncoordinated shows of strength, each war machine creating a bang on its own.

Nerves that move the muscle
Behind the scenes, the hive of activity at the Forging Sabre Command Post tells a different story. Each warplane and attack helicopter did not fight its own private duel, but delivered its punch as part of  a larger effort at wielding the SAF's ground and air combat forces to deliver an integrated strike.

Seeing such battle managers work in concert with the sharp end of the SAF like Commando teams, rocket  artillery, warplanes and attack helicopters at Forging Sabre show how far the Third Generation SAF had advanced to sharpen its deterrent edge.

By day and by night, enemy battlefield  targets came under the closest scrutiny by the SAF and received violent treatment as precision weapons and relentless strikes tore apart the enemy's war fighting potential. At Forging Sabre, precision strikes spoke the language of deterrence.

Words into action, action into results that indicated the score card should the SAF ever swing into action would aim to clip the enemy's wings and blunt hostile rocket launchers should deterrence ever fail.

You may also like:
SAF versus cynics and critics. Click  here

Decisive Victors: A 3G SAF primer. Click here

Forging Sabre 2011.  Click here

Forging Sabre, Forging Knights. Click here


bob villa said...

David, your ' saturday is longer than your sunday', typo AH-47D . :)

David Boey said...

Dear bob villa,
Fixed. :)

Best regards,


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I feel that this is meant for other contingencies as well. Bolehland does not have any threatening SAM missile to note. I would not deem Rapiers as being remotely viable.

Anonymous said...

Do the rsaf f-16s have ecm pods?could use them to neutralise the SAM.

Anonymous said...

Naturally. This is not a living kurap air force. But more importantly, they are built into many of the planes. Seen the F15SGs and F16s physical differences. They outclass any in the region.

Anonymous said...

Bolehland might not have major SAM systems but the Astros rockets and G-5 155mm artillery will always be a threat and must be taken out. And of course the SU-30MKMs, MiG-29s and FA-18s must be destroyed on the ground if they can.

Anonymous said...

Wars do not simply happen. That is what intelligence and observations are for. Preparations are made and very visible. With neighbours, it is very very hard to hide war preparations. Even Israel could not hide war/conflict preparations. Neither could Singapore. The issue is who is more prepared or who is still sleeping.

We should simply strike first and dominate and dominate and dominate. And if hit, regroup and strike asap.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha. I like it how SAF showcases only part of its capabilities. If a bomb can fly 120km, SAF will declare it is only 60km. It is like military information and disinformation all in one.

Anonymous said...

As if soldiers take such claims at face value. You make a fool of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Whoa hey..their politicians believe them. Who control the purse strings? Cheaper than buying these goons wholesale. Hahaha

Anonymous said...

^ Syok sendiri.

Anonymous said...

Where I shiok ( Singaporean -> shiok, Malaysian -> syok ;) ) ? The ones who shiok are the My politicians with overseas bank know..,like your former attorney general..the guy who presided over malaysias pedra branca/pulau batu putih case.

Anonymous said...

Shiok-> Chinese spelling. Syok-> Malay spelling. I wrote a Malay phrase, doesn't mean I am MalaySIAN (unless you are that racist and simplistic).

Malaysian politicians also not as syok as our PM's family who can make all their money legally and the PAP who can change the demographics of Singapore at their whims. No matter how many phantom voters Malaysia brings in, they can't beat the percentage of our new citizen voters.

Anonymous said...

You must have trouble reading. How does sematic differences relate to racism is beyond me. Must be a Malaysian.

Orang Melayu Singapura pun gunakan shiok lah. Senang nak teka siaper orang Singapura atau Malaysia.

Urmm, last I check the demographics of Singapore has been more or less the same. On new immigrants, there will be frictions anywhere. Let us not forget that what makes US so inventive and strong are immigrants.

Anonymous said...

I implied you were racist because you think that one using Malay spelling must necessarily be Malaysian.

"Urmm, last I check the demographics of Singapore has been more or less the same. On new immigrants, there will be frictions anywhere. Let us not forget that what makes US so inventive and strong are immigrants. "

True that. If only more Singaporeans were as welcoming as you! I wonder why when I asked my Singaporean friends to vote for the PAP in 2011, so that more foreigners can come to Singapore, some Singaporeans give me that resentful look. But I am thankful that the majority still echoes your generosity and magnanimity.

Anonymous said...

What rubbish is this ? None of the political parties which took part in the last election stood on a platform for more foreigners or made such implied suggestions. Must be a Malaysian. Nampak sangat. Like I said, immigrants will face problems all over the world. Nothing new. Move along.

Anonymous said...

Malaysian or not, I respect Singaporeans' choice, and I thank them for returning the PAP to power so that more immigrants can come and contribute to Singapore's success.

You are right. "Immigrants will face problems all over the world. Nothing new. Move along."

Anonymous said...

It is actually being curtailed by the PAP govt -the number of immigrants.

Anonymous said...

Curtailed, meaning the following:

In the run up to GE 2011, PM Lee in his web chat said: "We are not planning to make a 6+ million population. Not trying to get there. Dont worry."

In Jan 2013, the population white paper with the 6.9m figure was released.