BOISE, Idaho: This year’s Singapore Armed Forces Exercise Forging Sabre held in Idaho will see fighter jets fly longer missions, as the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) makes an appearance in its first overseas exercise.
The MRTT, which was unveiled only last year and carries 20 per cent more refuelling capacity than the older KC-135R tanker aircraft, will enable the fighter jets to “stay airborne longer and go further than before”, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said in a news release on Monday (Oct 7).
Staying airborne longer is key to defending the skies more effectively. While an F-15SG fighter jet can stay airborne on its own fuel for about two hours, air-to-air refuelling allows it to stay up almost indefinitely. This means the jet doesn't have to land and refuel before taking out more targets in a different location.
“This allows us more operational flexibility in being able to prosecute targets at different ranges and times of our choosing,” exercise director Brigadier-General (BG) Ho Kum Luen, 40, told reporters at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.
For instance, commanders can choose from more combinations of assets when hitting targets, while fighter jets can be configured to carry less fuel to make way for more weapons. In previous editions of the biennial exercise, longer-duration missions had to be simulated.
In another first, the exercise will take place at the Mountain Home Range Complex, a sprawling facility where some 600 personnel and 28 aircraft – including 10 F-15SGs, nine F-16C/Ds and five Apache attack helicopters – participating in the exercise can train more realistically.
This training airspace is more than 20 times the size of Singapore and three times bigger than the training airspace in Singapore. It is also slightly larger than the training area in Arizona where the previous edition of the exercise was held.
“The Mountain Home Range Complex offers us a very vast overland airspace as well as urban structures and the ability to have moving targets on the ground, which offers very challenging as well as realistic scenarios for our warfighters,” BG Ho said.
The scenarios in the exercise, which runs from Sep 30 to Oct 10, have been increasing in complexity. Commanders have steadily combined more assets, introduced more targets and shortened the time needed to hit them.
“What this means is that from the time our sensors in the air pick out targets on the ground, to the time the strikers actually deliver the weapons on the target, we want to keep this loop as short as possible,” BG Ho added.
An integral part of this process is a smarter command post which uses the “latest technologies” to allow sense and strike assets to communicate a large amount of information effectively, MINDEF said, adding that it enables commanders to make faster, better informed and more effective decisions.
“Through the command post, the locations of multiple hostile threats are transmitted to the strike assets, guiding them to strike their targets with deadly precision,” MINDEF stated.
In one battle scenario, six remote-controlled enemy vehicles are moving at the same time. The Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) detects and tracks them before sending the information back to the command post. Commanders there confirm the vehicles as enemies and order a strike.
Then, two UAVs and four F-15SGs use onboard lasers to target the moving vehicles. The fighter jets unleash six laser-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs, destroying the targets simultaneously before they can scatter and escape.
Separately, the UAVs can guide a team of Commandos – also participating in this year’s exercise – on the ground to use lasers to allow fighter jets to strike with greater accuracy, reducing collateral damage in urban settings. The Apaches comb the battlefield to destroy enemy vehicles and tanks.
“Exercise Forging Sabre allows us to have this end-to-end execution of this integrated sense and strike operations – being able to start from the planning all the way to the weapons dropping on the targets, which is something that we can never do anywhere else,” BG Ho said.