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SAF tests new mini-drone, weapon-locating radar in live-firing exercise in the US

SINGAPORE – The vast training airspace at Mountain Home in Idaho, United States, allows First Sergeant (1SG) Zames Koo to push the Veloce 15 mini-UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to its limit.

At Exercise Forging Sabre, a biennial Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) live-firing drill in the US, the 23-year-old oversees pre-flight checks done by the operator of the Veloce 15 (V15), and ensures the UAV is operated within safety parameters. The exercise involves about 600 airmen from the Republic of Singapore Air Force and 200 from the Singapore Army.

1SG Koo, who is from the army, said: “We’re able to push the V15 to its limit. We’re able to test the maximum line-of-sight datalink of 15km, which we’re unable to do in Singapore.” This means the ability to control the UAV from up to 15km away can be tested during the exercise.

Radar specialist Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Jimmy Lee, has similarly seized the opportunity at the drill to test the capabilities of the TPQ-53 weapon-locating radar.

The radar, commissioned in June, identifies targets such as hostile rocket, artillery and mortar threats more accurately compared with its predecessors.

The UAV and radar are new platforms that are being tested at the exercise from Sept 14 to 25. They are among the sensors used to scan the battlefield for timely and accurate intelligence of potential threats.

The air force’s Heron 1 UAV and a smaller drone, operating at a lower altitude to provide more in-depth surveillance of specific areas, are also being deployed.

Colonel Anand Sathi Kumar, 42, Chief Army Intelligence Officer, said the V15 is more of a tactical sensor that supports land forces, while the Heron 1 provides a bird’s-eye view of the area of operations.

The V15 allows specific targets in an urban setting to be identified, he said. With the intelligence provided, the responsiveness of the army and strike assets is improved, he added.

Such real-time information is fed to a command post at Mountain Home Air Force Base, where instructions are given to “strikers” such as fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) to take out adversaries.

2WO Lee, 38, said that the TPQ-53’s capabilities are being validated by using it to track reduced-range practice rockets used by Himars for live firing. The tracking results so far have been “promising”, he said.

Tracking of live rounds cannot be done in Singapore due to space constraints.

On the purpose of the radar, 2WO Lee said: “If we’re able to validate that the system is tracking well, we can move on to warn friendly forces and let them know of any incoming threats so that they can evacuate.”


2WO Jimmy Lee, a radar specialist, with the new TPQ-53 weapon-locating radar at Exercise Forging Sabre 2021. PHOTO: MINDEF

The exercise participants spoke to reporters via teleconference from the US earlier this week.

Coordination among strike assets is also being oiled. Among the highlights is a joint live-firing operation between the AH-64D Apache helicopters and Himars.

Apache helicopter pilot, Captain Koh Yu Wei, 27, said the two strike platforms work together – with Himars taking out air defence threats first, and the Apaches moving in to eliminate any remaining moving targets.


A Himars unit carrying out a live-firing during Exercise Forging Sabre 2021. PHOTO: MINDEF

It was the first time that Corporal Adon Yap, 20, has carried out live firing with Himars, which is possible only in the US as there is limited space in Singapore.

The full-time national serviceman, who enlisted in April last year, said: “It’s not every day that you get to go for something like this, and the climate and terrain are completely different from that of Singapore.

“This is also the only chance we get to witness Himars in action, so it’s really breathtaking.”

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