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Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are reporting significant boosts in unit performance

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  The ACMS is currently undergoing its operational test and evaluation © AJB
  The ACMS is currently undergoing its operational
test and evaluation © AJB

Singapore has now inked its contract with Singapore Electronics for the Advanced Combat Man System (ACMS), with delivery of the first complete unit equipment set fielded with the 5th Singapore Infantry Battalion completed, enabling an extended operational test and evaluation with further production underway but focussed on equipping mechanised forces.

Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Toh Yong Leng, directly responsible for the development of future infantry capabilities in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Programme Manager for ACMS, explained that the programme today is to a large part a major effort to address urban operations, to better understand what that means for the Singaporean infantryman. This work has determined that the key challenges in this environment were survivability, situational awareness (SA) and the avoidance of civilian casualties and collateral damage. Establishing a path to reach that objective, the SAF conducted extensive experiment and live trials before fielding.

Lt. Col. Toh, outlining the development process, explained that discussions involving an entirely military community are not always ideal, “It is not always the most useful discussion. We need industry. We need all to come together and tell us about the latest technologies.”

The process has also obliged the SAF to consider operational experience from a variety of sources. Lt. Col. Toh said, “Within a small army with not much operational experience, we have to learn from experienced armies, specifically, the Australia, UK and the US.”

These efforts have prompted a number of changes. Lt. Col. Toh cited a lesson from the US Army which has prompted the introduction of a sniper into each company. Other innovations were more broadly based, Lt. Col. Toh said of the lessons learned from the process, “We need an information hub in the battalion and the companies, we also need more motorisation for our infantry forces. Leadership development is also key, especially in a conscript army such as ours.

“As the model for the third generation warrior, we defined every soldier as a sensor and every sensor is networked to larger systems giving them a beyond visual range capability and local superiority. We moved away from the paradigm of loading the soldier with everything we wanted. We think that it is no longer possible, especially for Asians who are a lot smaller. The median weight in Singapore is 60Kg so I can only carry 20Kg for a mission. What can I carry with 20Kg? Not much.”

The ACMS started as early as 1998 with the first ACMS system, weighing 25kg. Lt. Col. Toh said, “None of us were able to move more than 1km with it.” In 2002, the SAF developed a second equipment set, aimed to equip every soldier in a seven man section which weighed 12.5Kg per set. Based on this, it was decided to acquire 60 sets which were used to put the system through a series of trials looking at equipping the soldier, section commander, platoon commander and company commander.

Lt. Col. Toh outlined the empirical results from the trials on ACMS, undertaken throughout 2009, “We found that we have a 50 percent reduction in the time taken to disseminate information from higher headquarters. When a battalion commander finishes his plan, all he needs to do is send out the whole plan, which will go down to the company commander and down to his platoon commander over the network.”

In a force on force scenario as part of ACMS’ operational test and evaluation, with one side equipped with ACMS and the other with current equipment. The former achieved a 100 percent kill of enemy forces with a 35 reduction in casualties among those wearing ACMS. There was also a five fold reduction in the time taken to find and treat these casualties. Lt. Col. Toh said, “When a soldier becomes a casualty he clicks his button and straight away, medics know where he is and can be quickly treated.” In terms of SA, the SAF found there was a four fold reduction in the time taken to react and disengage when in contact.

There are four different configurations of ACMS for different echelons of people, Lt. Col. Toh said, “We defined that the minimum level of equipping should be at the team commander level. That doesn’t mean that every commander should be equipped with the same piece of kit. At the soldier level we give each soldier a wearable computer but at the command echelon level, we give them a Toughbook to do planning and SA and battlefield monitoring.”

Singapore is seeking five outcomes or new or enhanced capabilities with ACMS. First is improved SA. When a soldier from Bravo company with ACMS steps into Alpha company’s sector in urban terrain, a blue dot will pop up straight away on the Alpha company commander’s screen. This is important and critical because this reduces fratricide. The second part of red force input, allowing those in the vicinity to view where the known enemy are. The third part is the mothership concept, based on the Terrex vehicle. Lt. Col. Toh said, “It is not just to provide protection, firepower and mobility, it also fuses information and as a connectivity gateway to higher headquarters. He doesn’t need to bring everything to the battlefield as long as you are able to call back into the network, call a friend and save the day.” The last part in the third generation part is the virtual presence, rather than risking soldiers’ lives going to every room and every corner, especially in urban terrain. With a thrown ‘sensor ball’ or ‘remote control car’ and every soldier with ACMS will pick up the images of the room.

Beyond the immediate requirement of dismounted close combat, ACMS has also impacted battalion level operations, replacing hierarchical structures, with orders passed down primarily by voice. Lt. Col. Toh said, “We see with ACMS that it creates a mesh concept of bubble whereby everyone lives within a mesh concept and real time situational awareness of not only himself but also the enemy in his vicinity, in other words, we see the network connectivity of the battalion leveraging on the data capability, more than voice.”

There is, Lt. Col. Toh argues, no point giving new kit to a soldier and not changing the way they fight. He commented, “With ACMS, we don’t see the whole battalion walking together as big group, they can be distributed.” This trend also extends to contact situations, “If I can see the enemy but my weapon range is outside my personal weapons I can also use1-800-Dial-A-Bomb and engage with a sniper or a missile. However, new tactics and procedures take time to appreciate.”


Lt. Col. Toh said that despite ACMS’ success, certain issues still need to be addressed, notably conflicting power and weight requirements, “the current system has an operational duration of ten hours which we are not happy with.” He also cited the need for more ruggedised rather than COTS equipment, which is not lasting well in soldiers’ hands.

In addition to the delivery track the ACMS programme is continuing to invest in future with experimental equipment. “As far as the experimental track is concerned, we have some big challenges”, explained Lt. Col. Toh said outlining some of the issues being faced.

ACMS’ capabilities are broken up into six subcomponents; the integrated helmet subsystem, the weapon subsystem, communications subsystem, power systems, soldier computer as well as the load carrying systems.
There are two helmet subsystems; a helmet mounted system for the vast majority of systems but for higher level commanders and special forces, a head mounted systems is available. In regards to night vision, Lt. Col. Toh cited a number of issues with legacy equipment, “If I give everyone a helmet mount, every officer or warrant officer will bring a different generation of helmet. How do I adapt the mount for each helmet. We also have many different types of night vision sights that we need to fit onto the weapons system so there is a lot of work to be done.”

The weapon systems is a shorter barrelled, modified version the locally assembled SAR 21, designated the Modular Mounting Systems as part of the ACMS.

One key element of ACMS is a ruggedised soldier computer that hangs behind the soldier and weighs about 1.5Kg and is equipped with a standard alpha numeric keyboards that the soldier is comfortable with. At higher levels, a larger computer is used by the command team to do planning as well as SA.

In terms of power, Lt. Col. Toh said, “We are still looking for the next breakthrough. The single reason why we use a single battery today is because it is the most optimised way to run all six subsystems that the soldier is carrying.”

A number of devices are integrated in the communications and navigation subsystem. In communications this comprises a wireless mesh network card connecting everyone in the immediate vicinity as well as a longer range Selex radio. The navigation uses both DRM and GPS as the latter has poor performance within buildings. Lt. Col. Toh said, “At this moment we only want up to 95 percent accuracy. I think we should push the envelope higher an active noise reduction solution is also being sought.”

Bandwidth is also an issue. Lt. Col. Toh explained that the programme wants to move away from the busy, commercial 2.4Ghz band and improve encryption and security.

The original plan for ACMS was to integrate load carriage and ballistic protection systems but because of the high humidity experienced by SAF personnel, this was found to be impractical. Instead, the two were separated and redesigned with a weight reduction of one kilo being found, enabling modular protection options according to the threat and according to the mission.

Lt. Col. Toh concluded, “With ACMS we have shifted from a soldier centric to a network force. There are still a lot of technical challenges constantly looking for solutions and we are happy to listen to any partners if they have good solutions to my complex system.”

Lt. Col. Toh was speaking at WBR’s Soldier Technology US

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