Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Rockets away! Bravo Battery 23rd Battalion Singapore Artillery fires first GMLRS during Exercise Forging Sabre
With Bravo Battery 23 SA somewhere in the Barry M. Goldwater Range, Arizona: Taking aim at a target in the Arizona desert that he couldn't see with his own eyes, full-time National Service artillery gunner Third Sergeant (3SG) Tien Wei Xuan needed all the help he could get to place his rockets dead on target.
Hard enough to achieve in daylight in terra incognito, the Singapore Artillery gunners faced a bigger challenge with a fire mission issued after sundown in an exercise area where sky and land merged pitch black. This was done to test the capability and readiness of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units in sustaining the fight round-the-clock to break the tempo of the opposing force during the Exercise Forging Sabre war games.
3SG Tien got what he needed and more from SAF battle managers who helped the gunners make every shot count as they reached out to touch simulated enemy installations far away (HIMARS rockets can reach out to 70km). They did so using battle management computers tailored specifically for the SAF's C4ISTAR requirements by Singaporean defence science managed by the Defence Science & Technology Agency.
He got the eyes on target, which is so vital for precision strikes, and demolished it with the press of a button from the armoured cabin of a Singapore Army HIMARS rocket artillery vehicle. Ground intelligence was courtesy of Singapore Army Commandos who lurked some distance away who had the enemy target under close observation.
Another source of target data came from a ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The UAV orbited noiselessly, persistently and inquisitively over the battlefield to provide SAF battle managers with a rich source of real-time data.
3SG Tien need not have travelled halfway around the globe to the Barry M. Goldwater Range just outside Phoenix, Arizona, to practice rocket firing. He could have done anytime any day at any lift in Singapore, so similar are the muscle movements.
Bravo Battery and elements from the 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery (24 SA, a battalion known as the firefinders. They help gunners find their targets.) flew here to gain firsthand experience working the sensor-to-shooter cycle at a combined live-fire exercise or CALFEX. The experience conducting a fire mission which resulted in the discharge of live munitions was the invaluable part of XFS that cannot be replicated in Singapore.
Unfamiliar ground, winter weather that saw night time temperatures in the desert plunge from the high teens in Celsius to just above freezing was just one of the challenges at the SAF's largest exercise. SAF units at Forging Sabre were also stalking by fellow soldiers and RSAF warplanes playing the part of the "red" forces who were determined to make it a tough fight.
Fire commands that lead to a live rocket launch from a HIMARS - its name stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System - were practised during about a dozen field exercise in Singapore by 3SG Tien and his fellow NSF gunners from Bravo Battery, 23rd Battalion Singapore Artillery (23 SA) executed the firing sequence with "live" ammunition for the first time.
The 23 SA gunners did so as they had been trained, confident in the knowledge that they knew precisely what to do, even in terra incognito, in harsh winter weather conditions and under pressure from "higher command" closely monitoring the battery's every move.
With the target singled out for destruction by SAF battle managers, now came the moment for Bravo Battery 23 SA to reach out and touch it.
He did so, a calm military professional who belied his age and showed he had grown up in his year plus NS experience into a full-fledged gunner about to fire the SAF's first satellite-guided rocket round. Tonight, he was Launcher 3.
As higher command in the CP approved the rocket strike, the order was relayed to Bravo Battery's CP for their information and necessary action. The order to fire is then issued.
"Command to Launcher 3, Arm, over."
"Launcher 3 to Command. Launcher armed. Out."
"Command to Launcher 3, Cancel. At my command: Fire."
Within his armoured cabin bathed in orange light and with blast shields protecting the glass windows, 3SG Tien's rocket team initiated several actions prior to opening fire. The NBC overpressure protection system was started so that exhaust gases from the rocket plume would not enter the cabin. He then depressed the fire button.
A split second delay and the rockets roared off into the inky darkness.
What 3SG Tien and his crew did not see was the response in the Command Post miles away. As the SAF's first GMLRS soared into space, all eyes in the CP were locked on the screen showing its flight path and another screen that showed what the target area looked like. Both real time images were captured by SAF UAVs.
The rocket scored a direct hit that saw an enormous fireball erupt at target centre, triggering applause in the CP, making history as this was the first GMLRS munition ever launched by the Singapore Army and pushing morale in Bravo Battery sky high.
"Launcher 3 to Command, Rocket 1, all last shot. Over."
"Command to Launcher 3, Rocket 1. All last shot. Out."
The writer extends his thanks to the Singapore Artillery for that splendid afternoon and night shoot, for the free hot water :-) and the company of citizen soldiers figuring things out in a strange, chilly yet friendly land far from home.
Posted by David Boey at 11:09 AM