Straits Times: Large training area holds benefits for SAF

ROCKHAMPTON (Queensland) • As part of his training, First Sergeant Joel Wong has fired hundreds of anti-tank missiles using a simulator. But it was only during Exercise Wallaby that he got to fire a real missile.

"We go through many simulators in our line of work, and to finally see the real thing - a live Spike anti-tank guided missile - go off, it is quite fulfilling," said 1SG Wong, 24.

With an area four times the size of Singapore, the expansive Shoalwater Bay Training Area allows the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to conduct complex joint exercises and fire long-range munitions, such as missiles and tank rounds.

For instance, an integrated live-firing yesterday saw Apache attack helicopters and Light Strike Vehicles (LSV) jointly engage distant cardboard targets with rockets, cannon and grenades.

Also trying his hand at firing the Spike missile from an LSV was Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung, who successfully destroyed a target board 1.1km away.

Exercise Wallaby is the largest overseas deployment for the SAF. Singapore and Australia had signed an agreement last year to expand the capacity of Australian training areas from 6,600 to 14,000 troops by 2021.

Talks to expand and develop the training areas, which include the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in eastern Queensland, are still in the planning stage, said Mr Ong, who also drove the Light Strike Vehicle MK II and rode on the Bionix II Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the Apache helicopter yesterday.

"Because of the wide span of space you see here, which is four times the size of Singapore, we get to conduct training at a scale, scope and complexity that we can't do at home or elsewhere. We very much look forward to continuing and increasing our presence here," he said.

This year's exercise also saw several heliborne missions involving a large force of helicopters taking to the air simultaneously, and underslung operations - in which several twin-rotor Chinook helicopters transported heavy loads, such as vehicles, by hooking them to their underbellies.

Said exercise air director Sherman Ong: "We have been very blessed with the vastness of the training area that we have. With more space, we can do more varied kinds of training and possibly see different kinds of terrain too."

The long stretches of Australian land, dust clouds and undulating terrain take a toll on the various vehicular platforms. This allows units to "stress test" their equipment and understand their capabilities better.

Said a vehicle technician, Military Expert 1 Sangaran Subramaniam, 31: "With all this space, there is a very large utilisation of the vehicle, so along the line we will see some vehicles start to sag in performance, overheat or experience wear and tear."

Added 1SG Wong, who rides in an LSV as a platoon sergeant in HQ Guards: "The terrain allows us to push our vehicles to the limit. We get to put everything into play and see the fruits of our labour here."

Ng Jun Sen