PHOENIX: It might not be a storm in the conventional sense, but nonetheless the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) Strike Observer Mission (STORM) team still has the ability to conjure up huge power.
At Exercise Forging Sabre, which the SAF is conducting in Arizona this week, the three-man reconnaissance team from the artillery unit was operating deep in 'enemy' territory, locating targets and directing air and land assets like fighter jets and rockets to destroy them.
The team was also testing out new equipment – this is the first time it is using a system to laser guide a live bomb drop during an exercise.
The system comprises a target acquisition tool, which uses a laser and in-built Global Positioning System (GPS) to calculate enemy coordinates, and a laser designator, which emits a powerful beam that can steer a laser-guided bomb.
This means that fighter jets can rely on information from the equipment to effectively hit a target – in another example of the air-land integration the SAF is pushing towards.
For the STORM team, the new system has multiple benefits.
The target acquisition tool is an upgrade from its predecessor, which does not have in-built GPS. This means the team had to manually calculate enemy coordinates, wasting precious seconds on the battlefield. The new tool also displays sharper night images.
The laser designator has a longer range and battery life than previous equipment. It can find a target up to 10km away, a two-fold increase, and can last 20 per cent longer.
In addition, the system has a combined weight of about 11kg, a 40 per cent drop from previous iterations. This reduces fatigue and helps the team, which usually has three days to complete a mission, survive longer in the field.
STORM commander Lieutenant (LTA) Jason Joshua, whose role in the team is coordinating land and air strikes, said training at Forging Sabre offers a higher level of realism.
Back home, the STORM team uses simulators because of a lack of space for live air strikes and the harmful nature of the laser from the laser designator. In the vast Arizona desert, personnel can put on safety goggles, identify a target and see a fighter jet actually take it out.
“Coming for this exercise is a great opportunity for me and my team to call and witness actual bombs dropping live,” LTA Joshua, 23, said. “So, we have this confidence in ourselves that we can actually guide an aircraft to a target.”
BIRDS AND THE BOMBS
Meanwhile, aircraft were armed with a gamut of deadly weapons during the exercise.
An F-15SG fighter jet was loaded with a 500-pound bomb that is guided by GPS coordinates, like the ones supplied by the STORM team. This bomb is used when accurate coordinates are available, F-15SG pilot LTA David Ong said.
“One of the advantages of the STORM team is that they are really boots on the ground,” the 24-year-old noted. “So, they are able to be in there for an extended period of time and give us updates on the situation.”
“As airborne players we go in for a quick amount of time,” he added. “Ideally, we drop the munitions that we have to and we get out so that we are able to preserve our fuel and weapons for other missions.”
The F-15SG, which can be used in defence and attack, employs bombs of different weights and guidance systems. LTA Ong said the hours of training have prepared him well for the range of weapons at his disposal.
“If we get airborne for certain air-to-ground missions, there are certain checks we need to accomplish on a bomb when we first walk up to the jet,” he said. “When we get airborne, there are certain tasks we need to accomplish in order to load coordinates on the bomb.”
Elsewhere, an Apache AH-64D attack helicopter was loaded with Hydra-70 rockets that are effective against enemy personnel and assets.
Apache pilot LTA Joshua Lim, 24, said he enjoys working with other platforms like the fighter jets and STORM teams. “Seeing how the work I do actually fits into this big puzzle really motivates me.”
And how does it feel like dropping all these live bombs?
“There’s a sense of satisfaction,” he added. “Really, our job is to put rounds on the target and destroy it. When you see it happen, you know that your training has paid off.”