On November 28, the United States and Singapore began carrying out the sixth iteration of a key integrated, live-firing exercise. The drills, which will last until December 13, were an illustration of the longstanding defense ties between the two sides and the importance of these interactions for the strengthening of the city-state’s defense capabilities given its own space constraints at home.
As I have written before, the United States and Singapore have long viewed each other as vital strategic partners, and that extends to the security realm as wells (“Strengthening the U.S.-Singapore Strategic Partnership”). The United States is a key supplier of defense technology and facilities for military training for Singapore, while the city-state is a valuable regional partner that across a range of issues from counterterrorism to maritime security while also hosting a U.S. Navy logistics command unit that coordinates regional operations.
Both sides also continue to interact regularly through a string of exchanges, visits, training, and exercises, whether it be existing ones like Exercise Commando Sling, which is their longest-running air force exercise, or new ones like Exercise Pacific Griffin, the first bilateral naval exercise between the two sides taking place outside of Singapore which saw its inaugural iteration held in September. Defense ties were also part of the conversation during Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s summit meeting with US. President Donald Trump back in October (See: “US-Singapore Defense Ties in the Spotlight Amid Trump-Lee Summit”), and Trump is expected to make his first visit to the city-state next year in his current capacity as Singapore takes over the annually rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
One of these ongoing defense interactions is Exercise Forging Saber (XFS), an integrated live-firing training exercise that involves both the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Singapore Army. XFS has been held biennially since 2005 at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona, and is an example of the kind of complex set of drills where the city-state gains significantly from the space to train abroad that it lacks at home. The last iteration of the exercise, held in 2015, saw a visit from Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen as part of his wider trip to the United States which also saw him ink a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Enhanced DCA) with then-U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a significant development in bilateral defense ties between the two sides.
On November 28, the sixth iteration of the exercise kicked off. XFS 17, which will last until December 13, is the largest in scale so far, with the biggest participation in terms of assets and personnel as well as more integration between them, according to Brigadier-General Tommy Tan, the co-director for the exercise. XFS 17 saw about 750 personnel involved from the RSAF and the Singapore Army, as well as the deployment of assets such as the F-15SG and F-16C/D multi-role fighter aircraft, AH-64D Apache and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). It also features a bigger target area within the Barry Goldwater Training Zone of 780 square kilometers instead of just 300 square kilometers as had been the case previously.
Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF) said that XFS 17 revolved around the ability of the SAF to repel hostile air and land attacks through an integrated and networked response using a three-phased approach: 1) “Out-Sense” – using sensors including UAVs, Strike ObserveRs Mission (STORM) teams, and Commando detachments, which support target acquisition for laser-guided precision munitions and multi-role fighter aircraft; 2) “Out-Smart”: using the information from SAF sensors on enemy targets that are transmitted back to the Command Post to maintain awareness of the battlefield and make quick and informed decisions; 3) “Out-Shoot”: employing a full range of assets and weapons to destroy enemy forces, such as tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, and missiles and bombs from fighter jets and helicopters.
The exercise scenarios of XFS 17 also saw several significant developments. This included the deployment of a indigenously developed command and control system (C2) that acted as the nerve center of the Command Post; the employing of HIMARS, which following a recent upgrade, can engage multiple targets and includes a new Battery Command Post; and the introduction of other assets and weapons such as live GBU-31s, a 2000-pound Laser Joint Direct Attach Munition (JDAM).