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[FEATURED NEWS] To Sink or Swim: Enhancing Police Coast Guard Training with the UETS

Moonlight glints on the coastal waters of Singapore, waves stretching out as far as the eye can see. All at once, the silence is broken by two Police Coast Guard (PCG) boats, speeding after a suspicious unregistered vessel which has entered Singapore’s waters in the dead of night. With choppy waves and barely any light, the chase is dangerous – and the stakes are high.

Sounds like a hair-raising scenario? Such a scene is part and parcel of the various situations that the PCG’s Special Task Squadron (STS), an elite unit that deals with high-risk maritime public security operations, needs to be prepared for. STS officers are trained to suppress high speed seaborne threats and carry out tactical boarding of non-compliant vessels. They also need to be prepared for unexpected turns of events, such as the vessel they are on capsizing. These considerations were the motivation behind the new Underwater Egress Training Simulator (UETS). Delivered by HTX in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) for PCG, it is the latest training facility in PCG.

The Underwater Egress Training Simulator in the PCG Dive Pool (Photo Credit: DSTA)

The UETS consists of an automated rig with a boat capsule designed to replicate the features of the PK-class high-speed interceptor boat used by STS officers. The simulator allows for the boat capsule to be turned upside down, replicating the physical and environmental conditions that may arise from a boat capsize situation, where officers will experience disorientation within a confined space while underwater. Officers then need to put into practice the drills they have learnt, by removing their gear and swimming out from the capsized structure safely. In addition, the training pool where the UETS is located is fitted with a wave generator which can create waves and various sea states. This allows the system to easily simulate different sea conditions, as close to reality as possible, for training purposes.

With the UETS, STS officers can train in a controlled and safe environment, acquiring a high standard of competency before embarking on live operations out at sea. This improves the safety of training as well as enhances its efficacy. Moreover, the realistic environment that the UETS helps create is instrumental in increasing PCG preparedness to respond to emergency situations. In the words of HTX’s Director of Marine Systems Centre of Expertise (CoE), Chung Kam Sam: “By replicating the physical and environmental conditions arising from boat capsize, the UETS serves as an important tool in training officers in egressing from capsized ships, empowering them to be operationally ready.”

(Video Credit: DSTA)

Bringing the UETS to fruition was hardly smooth sailing. HTX’s Marine Systems CoE needed to oversee the entire project delivery and ensure that the capabilities of the system met the needs of STS officers. They had to make sure that every detail met the required specifications, and that the final system outcome was effective in training the STS officers. The system also needed to be integrated to the PCG dive pool and customised for optimal performance. COVID-19 was another force threatening to take the wind out of the team’s sails.

Uthayajeevan Krishnanmurthi, project manager from DSTA, explained how the team dealt with this obstacle: “COVID-19 was a major unexpected challenge for the delivery of this project. The restrictions meant that the overseas vendors were unable to come down in person to conduct tests and training. However, despite the difficulty caused by the travel restrictions, the project team pushed through and created a workaround. They arranged for local expertise to be on-site and engaged the overseas vendors remotely via video-conferencing to provide supervision for the tests and training.”

Now in use at PCG’s dive pool at Brani base, the UETS has received positive feedback from STS officers.

Station Inspector (SI) Mohamed Joppri Bin Harpawi from PCG remarked: “The UETS has enabled our officers to carry out drills in a realistic setting, greatly enhancing our training methodology as our officers get to perfect their drills in responding to probable exigencies.”

SI Alen Ho from PCG echoed his colleague’s comments, saying: “The UETS equips officers with emergency response knowledge and skills required in the event of a boat capsize situation. It provides a realistic training platform to prepare officers on the egress drill as well as to develop officers’ confidence.”

For Kam Sam, these comments about the UETS are what makes the hard work dedicated to the project so worthwhile. He remarked: “Knowing that the UETS helps to significantly enhance the training of STS officers, and helps them maintain safety during operations, only adds to my conviction that the work we do is meaningful. By harnessing technology to shape PCG’s training environment, we help empower them to be operationally ready, and thus force multiply the Home Team.”

Considering that UETS has just been commissioned in August and is already making waves, there is much to look forward to, in the use of technology in Home Team facilities to augment training for our officers.