Getting their sea legs on land: Police Coast Guard taps simulation for training

SINGAPORE – A split-second decision during a high-speed chase at sea is all that separates a successful mission from a failed one for the Police Coast Guard (PCG).

And the consequences of failure are grave: Intruders are let loose unimpeded in Singapore waters or, much worse, the PCG’s own craft ends up capsizing too.

To help them practice for such high risk scenarios, the PCG have been using a new simulation system since March to train their officers.

The Tactical Boat Handling and Firing Simulator system comprises four customised simulators. Two duplicate the movements of the PCG’s patrol interdiction boat and two that duplicate those of the PCG’s high speed interceptor boats.

The system is designed in collaboration with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency. The simulators emulate the bumpy ride in a vessel travelling at speeds exceeding 50 knots – the equivalent of some 92kmh on land.

The trainees don eye-tracking goggles in the simulators and practice their boat handling and firing skills, while trainers keep an eye on their progress from their own operating station.

The trainers also control the different scenarios, “sea conditions” and overall simulation environment. They are equipped with their own steering console so they can control the target boat in the simulation.

Superintendent (Supt) Ahamed Basha,41, who is overall-in-charge of PCG’s training school, said the system helps trainees overcome a “steep learning curve”.

Live training poses additional safety risks because of the high speed and the close quarter situation with the target boats, said Supt Basha to the media during a demonstration of the simulation system last week.

“When we are doing practical training out there, there is very little room for error,” he said.

He added that officers can train on the simulator to build confidence.

Trainees don eye-tracking goggles in the simulators that allow instructors to see where they are looking during the training. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The simulation also helps them overcome resource constraints in their training, saves them the time it would take to head out to sea for training and reduces the amount of manpower needed, said Supt Basha.

Trainees also benefit from practicing firing on moving targets in the simulation, instead of firing at stationary targets in open waters – which was a limitation during at-sea training, he said.

The interior of one of the simulators, where trainees practice their boat handling and firing skills, while trainers keep an eye on their progress from their own operating station. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Inspector (Insp) James (not his real name), a member of the PCG’s elite Special Task Squadron, said the simulation’s screen graphics recreate what they actually see in Singapore’s waters, and that the platform is “very dynamic” and close to what they experience at sea.

The inspector’s real name cannot be revealed due to operational sensitivities.

The squadron is tasked to intercept high-speed threats and intruders.

The dangers usually associated with such situations include heavy sea traffic, potential collateral damage from collisions, and adverse weather conditions, he said.

With this simulation, his team can efficiently try out different tactics in a safe space, he added.

But the goal here is to augment live training at sea rather than replace it.

“Once we get the best outcome in the simulation, then we’ll try it out in real sea conditions,” said Insp James.

Coast Guard officers are also able to use the simulators to try out different tactics in a safe space. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Supt Basha said that when they see that trainees have acquired all the correct concepts and grasped the fundamentals during the simulation training, the trainers will know that they are now ready to do their practical training at sea.

“That makes it safe for us to conduct the training and it will be safer for everybody.”

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