SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) newest urban training facility will feature targets that can return fire and retreat, and scorecards to grade soldiers on their performance.
Expected to be the size of about 100 football fields, SAFTI City is slated to progressively open from 2023. It will also have buildings and roads that are configurable to training needs, giving soldiers a different mission setting each time.
While the smart enemies and changing “maps” make SAFTI City the perfect real-life version of the popular first-person shooter game Counter-Strike, it serves a far more crucial purpose.
The S$400 million facility will improve training effectiveness and provide a realistic environment for soldiers to “effectively” tackle new threats, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Friday (Jun 28) in an interview ahead of SAF Day.
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Speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of construction on the facility, Dr Ng noted that the SAF’s chances of fighting in jungle operations have “diminished considerably”.
“The SAF today is expected to conduct a wider range of operations amidst a complex and uncertain security environment,” he added. “These include homeland security, counter-terrorism, urban operations and disaster relief operations.”
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Dr Ng first announced plans for SAFTI City in 2017, stressing the need for world-class training facilities on home soil while warning against over-dependence on overseas training grounds.
“When completed, SAFTI City promises to be among the most advanced purpose-built military training facilities for urban ops in the world,” Dr Ng said on Friday.
“I believe that this investment into SAFTI City will pay many times over, in preparing our soldiers to be effective in protecting Singapore and themselves in these missions.”
SAFTI City will also feature conventional settings like fields and water bodies, allowing troop movement across different terrain.
But perhaps what stands out is the “enemy” that occupies that terrain.
These “smart” targets can detect incoming soldiers using proximity sensors before revealing themselves, a Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) video on SAFTI City played at the ceremony showed.
Soldiers will still fire at targets using blanks with lasers, and those who get hit will have red lights blink on their vests.
When engaged, targets can shoot back using the same laser technology or retreat. They can also move on what look like Segways and fall flat once killed.
SAFTI City a 'significant investment' to maximise resources: Ng Eng Hen
Both soldiers and targets will be equipped with sensors for monitoring and capturing data, while battlefield instruments and video cameras track soldiers’ actions in real time.
This will allow training performance to be compiled and processed using data analytics, providing prompt and accurate feedback on individual soldier and team performances.
“How they perform, whether individually or in units, will allow them to learn quickly from their mistakes,” Dr Ng said, noting that sensors can accurately tell whether soldiers have been shot or taken out of battle. “These advanced techniques can save lives during real missions.”
According to the MINDEF video, soldiers will get a scorecard grading their performance on things like distance covered, shot accuracy and average kills.
“With gamification integrated into the training and detailed individual feedback, individual soldiers and teams can benchmark their scores against each other, motivating them to improve further,” MINDEF said in a media release on Sunday.
To give a sense of how much of a technological leap this will be, targets at the existing Murai Urban Training Facility are represented by stationary human standees offering no feedback whatsoever.
CONFIGURABLE ROADS AND BUILDINGS
Besides the smarter enemies, soldiers will also have to deal with changing terrain amid a mishmash of urban facilities.
To replicate Singapore’s highly urbanised streetscape, SAFTI City will comprise dense and interconnected building clusters, different road networks and an MRT station with multiple surface exits.
MINDEF said the buildings and roads will be configurable to training needs, providing soldiers with “varied, challenging and realistic” training scenarios. This is achieved using built-in swing panels that can block off entire roads, change traffic flow and alter building layouts.
“This will allow soldiers to encounter a different layout of buildings and street landscape each time they train in SAFTI City,” MINDEF added.
All this as surveillance drones fly overhead and tanks rumble through the streets, while battlefield effects like smoke and blast simulators mimic anti-tank strikes, vehicle hits as well as artillery and sniper attacks.
The construction of SAFTI City is divided into two phases, with phase 1 slated to open progressively from 2023.
Phase 1, at 17 hectares or the size of 20 football fields, will comprise commercial-residential areas and a complex urban centre. It will eventually have more than 70 concrete buildings, including three 12-storey blocks, simulated underground facilities and urban training structures like schools and malls.
Phase 2 will comprise warehouses and petrochemical factories for island defence training spread over 15 hectares. No timeline has been set for this phase as it is still being planned.
When completed, SAFTI City will contain more than 200 buildings and span 88 hectares including maneuver space, meaning it can accommodate training at the brigade level, or a total of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers in a single mission.
It is a far cry from the early days of SAFTI, built in 1966 months after Singapore’s independence with a “top priority” of improving national defence.
“With what we could afford, facilities to train soldiers and commanders were basic,” Dr Ng said.
“We cleared forests, built wooden sheds, surrounding schools were requisitioned and repurposed go to train commanders first and then soldiers.