Singapore’s Apaches celebrate 15 years
Fifteen years after their rollout in 2002, the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) AH-64D Apache Longbows are still innovating and picking up new capabilities to shape the land battle, many of these skills stemming from the Peace Vanguard detachment in Arizona.
Lt Col Eric Ng, 120 Squadron’s commanding officer, and the squadron’s instructor and test pilot Maj Spencer Ler, said a key capability was picked up from American joint tactical air controllers (JTAC) working with Peace Vanguard.
‘One practical example we took back is how American Apache operators do their urban fights [with the JTAC], as learned from recent operations in the Middle East. They use gridded references and graphics to conduct strikes, and the way they developed the graphics was something we thought good to bring back, which we did,’ Ng said.
‘Most JTACs are aviators, and the way they talk us through and lead us to the target is very insightful. And we can appreciate what we see versus what the ground guys see, and it is correlated into a 3D image in our minds. We can then share this with our local ground controllers and develop new tactics, which would be useful in a local context where there is dense vegetation,’ Ler said.
This year is also the tenth anniversary of the Participation Command, which was set up with the sole purpose of developing and integrating RSAF helicopter assets with land and sea forces.
Ng added that, since establishment of this command and the various integration branches, he has seen greater synergy between air and land forces, especially in live-firing serials in exercises like the annual Wallaby.
Additionally, the squadron organises cross-exchanges with various armour regiments. ‘Our operation is to hunt and destroy armoured vehicles. So if they understand our tactics, they will be able to develop tactics on their own to be more effective. It is also knowing and building the rapport with the person on the other side,’ Ng explained.
120 Sqn has also supported infantry, guards, commandos and artillery in various forms in numerous drills.
He shared that, in a local exercise, a UAV was to hunt and track a ground target but was unable to do so due to a low cloud base. An Apache in the end managed to do so and engaged the simulated target by operating below the weather. He noted that the Apache proved to be an effective platform in inclement weather and the army was appreciative of its capabilities.
A key success of 120 Sqn was its additional role in the Air Defence Task Force, which complements fighters and ground-based air defence missiles. The unit pushed the capabilities of the platform and adapted tactics from the fighters to fulfil this unique mission, and the RSAF remains the only Apache user to utilise the helicopter for such a role.
More recently, at Exercise Forging Sabre in 2015, the Apache integrated with the Heron 1 UAV, successfully hitting a target with an AGM-114K Hellfire cooperatively lased by the Heron 1, with the helicopter remaining hidden below the treeline.
Looking ahead, the squadron has begun an Apache upgrade programme, starting with a retrofitted airframe severely damaged in a 2011 crash. Visual modifications include installation of a SATCOM dome on the outer wing stubs and an enhanced self-protection suite.
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