The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be sending about 50 to 60 personnel to take part in the multinational coalition efforts to combat the terrorist threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said as he officially opened the new training facility for the republic's airborne troopers at Pasir Ris camp on Monday (Dec 1).
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said planning and liaison officers have already made their way to the United States Central Command to get "a sense what the mission's requirements are". He said coalition partners have welcomed Singapore's involvement and are looking forward to Singapore's professional input.
Dr Ng said the SAF will now "synchronise" where its help is most needed.
"I would say that the reaction to our involvement is a positive one. They know that as we did in Afghanistan, we contributed very positively, by our KC-135 refuelling tankers as well as our imagery analysts," said Dr Ng. "So coalition partners have welcomed our involvement because they expressed the opinion that we have helped previously and they look forward to our professional input."
Dr Ng, who had a go at one of the stations at the new training facility, said the facility is a worthwhile investment as it will ensure soldiers are trained well, such as in the event of a terrorist threat.
"We take our special forces training with extra care and there are a few reasons for it," said Dr Ng. "As you know since 911, the threat of terrorism is real and present and with the recent terrorist threat from ISIS in Iraq and Syria, this threat is uppermost in our minds, when we plan and prepare. As you know our neighbours, both Malaysia and Indonesia, have expressed concern that those who have returned from Iraq and Syria can cause harm to the residents in their countries and I would include Singapore in the same threat scenario."
Earlier this month in Parliament, Dr Ng had said that Singapore's efforts will include deploying a KC-135R tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling and an Imagery Analysis Team. He said there will be no combat troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
The SAF soldiers will operate from surrounding countries together with other coalition forces.
NEW AIRBORNE TROOPER TRAIING FACILITY LAUNCHED
The SAF's new airborne-trooper training facility (ATF) at Pasir Ris Camp was launched on Monday. The new training complex allows for all-weather, day-and-night training at its Parachute Training Facility (PTF) and Rappelling Training Facility (RTF), and aims to train about 640 trainees every year.
Where specific skills once required travelling and training at separate facilities across the island, the ATF offers a one-stop consolidation of various elements of training at a single location. These are taken care of at the RTF's basic, intermediate and advanced training clusters, as well as the PTF's landing, rotational and airborne trainer systems.
Most of the training is also no longer at the mercy of bad weather, with the RTF having several indoor elements, and the PTF entirely indoors. The SAF says these features make the ATF the first-of-its-kind in the world, with other military establishments still limited to specific skills training at different facilities, mostly located outdoors.
Colonel Simon Lim, Chief Commando Officer, Commander, Special Operations Task Force, said: "Having visited some of these foreign airborne schools, understanding our limited land space that we have, we wanted a one-stop integrated training facility. I think it is the whole idea of how we develop a design that is something that caters to our needs and our soldiers of this generation."
COL Lim declined to comment about the cost to develop and build the facility.
The PTF also incorporates several automated elements, reducing the manpower requirements of training while improving on its effectiveness. For example, trainees using the new Rotational Trainer System no longer require another trainee's assistance to simulate the complications and conditions of landing. The new system also helps to eliminate areas of human error - a trainee performing an incorrect procedure will encounter the same problems he would face in the air, where under the old system, his assistant might incorrectly judge the procedure to be correct and act accordingly.
AIRBORNE TRAINER SYSTEM SIMULATES LIVE DESCENT
Going a step further, the PTF's Airborne Trainer System is said to offer a complete experience closely simulating all elements of a live descent - from jumping off an aircraft to landing safely. This takes place along a monorail system designed in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Agency, and draws inspiration from vehicle manufacturing plants.
Such a system also allows trainers control over simulated elements encountered in an actual jump, such as the speed of descent, wind direction and drag. Cameras installed at the facility also record each trainee's jump on video, allowing for visual review and feedback.
The SAF said the ATF's facilities allow soldiers to progressively build up confidence and competencies in their airborne-trooper skills, with the first batch of 80 Basic Airborne Course (BAC) trainees using the ATF since Nov 17. While the SAF said it has seen an improvement in the speed and effectiveness of training, it says it has no intention to reduce the current BAC duration nor change the batch size and instructor to student ratios. Instead, the time saved will be used to give trainees more opportunities for practice before they take their first leap in the air.
"When there's a need for manpower, some of us tend to lose out on this kind of training," said 2LT Muhammad Faris Asnin, Operational Trooper, 1st Commando Battalion. "So when there's the automated system in place, more trainees are able to do the training. When they go through more training, they get a boost to their confidence for the real flight itself."
The SAF added that it is open to allowing foreign forces to visit and examine the ATF, as well as inter-ministry use of its facilities.