Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen commissions Singapore Army's Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV)

First of the hundreds many: Singapore's Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, commissions the Hunter AFV into service by ceremoniously placing the number plate on a combat variant. Looking on are Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Melvyn Ong (in khaki beret), Chief Armour Officer Brigadier General Yew Chee Leung and Chief of Army Major General Goh Si Hou (nearest camera). At more than 6 feet tall, Dr Ng towers over most Singaporeans so note the size of the Hunter.

Formed up: Dr Ng inspecting troops from the Singapore Army's armoured regiments at Armour's 50th anniversary parade yesterday at Sungei Gedong Camp, Home of the Armour.

Infographic source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

Glass cockpit: Commander's station at the Integrated Combat Cockpit of the Hunter AFV.

At the parade marking the Golden Jubilee of Singapore's armoured forces this afternoon, defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen commissioned the Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) as the Singapore Army's M-113 replacement, capping a 13-year project as technology finally caught up with the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) vision for a fully digitised AFV that can wield information as a weapon.

The Hunter marks a milestone for the Singapore Army. The AFV's ability to see first and see more will give the army more options for dealing with enemy combatants from beyond the line of sight once the Hunter's capabilities are fully optimised.

The five Hunter variants - Combat, Command, Bridgelayer, Recovery and Armoured Engineer - bring several first to the army's armoured regiments and have features that make this new class of AFV unique among Asian armies.

Sensors on the platform give the crew of the fully tracked, drive-by-wire AFV a 360-degree view around the vehicle. At the heart of the fully digitalised combat platform is the latest iteration of the battlefield management system. It's called ARTEMIS and was developed by the city-state's defence scientists and engineers to improve the Hunter's situational awareness day and night, in all weather and for non-line of sight (NLOS) applications.

At first glance, the AFV appears to follow a conventional layout for contemporary armoured infantry fighting vehicles with the floor plan divided into three functional areas, viz driver, fighting and troop compartments.


The driver's compartment is up front at the left alongside the engine. A well sloped glacis reinforced by spaced armour maximises protection over the forward arc. The driver is provided with a flat screen display showing the camera feeds from 13 cameras that form the all-round surveillance system. The compartment is capped by a single rearward opening hinged hatch with two attached periscopes, with a third side facing periscope mounted on the hull.

The fighting compartment is in the centre while the troop compartment for eight fully equipped infantry is at the rear.


On the 30mm cannon-armed Combat variant shown to the media, the fighting compartment was fitted with a two-person Integrated Combat Cockpit with the vehicle commander (VC) seated on the right  and the gunner on the left. The VC's station is fitted with a top hatch and a single front facing periscope while the gunner has two periscopes.


The periscopes serve as back ups as the primary sensors are inside the fighting compartment, reflecting HQ Armour's revised CONOPS for closed hatch operations. The VC and gunner face three touch screen flat panel displays with drop down menus that can show sensor, weapon status, navigation and vehicle data. The following abbreviated functions were noted by Senang Diri on two different Hunters (the interpretation of the short forms is ours): SUR (surveillance), SIGHT (hunter-killer sight), WPN (weapon), BMS (battlefield management system), DEF (defensive aids, smoke grenades), NAV (vehicle navigation system), DRV (driving data), TRG (online training manuals), HUMS (vehicle health & usage management system).

DSTA engineers programmed the touchscreen functions to be intuitive and user friendly. It is said that users can access any required function with three clicks or less. During pre-commissioning trials, one group of soldiers figured out how the system worked without prior training.


Switches to arm/safe the cannon, coaxial MG and 76mm smoke grenades launchers are found on the panel below the centre screen. Beneath this lies the panel for the Spike anti-tank guided missiles, two of which are carried on a pop-up mount (see above) on the left of the remote controlled weapon station (RCWS).

The VC and gunner each have a two-handed multi-function control handle to control the weapon station or vehicle itself, with the VC said to be able to take over steering of the Hunter if need be.

Mention was made of a laser warning system (LWS) of unspecified origin. The LWS is designed to tell the crew when the vehicle has been illuminated by a laser beam so that they can take appropriate action. During operations, the lasing of a vehicle usually presages the arrival of an incoming laser guided munition.

A new acronym, ARTEMIS, was introduced during the media preview. ARTEMIS is short for Army Tactical Engagement and Information System and is also a clever reference to the goddess of the hunt. (Incidentally, the name Hunter acknowledges another aspect of SAF operations but we won't go there.). ARTEMIS is the latest version of Singapore's homegrown battlefield management system that is the catchall term for the operating system that fuses sensor data from the platform and SAF assets in the vicinity to give the Hunter crew a clear appreciation of the battle situation around their vehicle.

We like the touchscreen function that shows the field of view from any position on the battlefield, with red shading indicating areas visible from the selected geographical position. The ability to automatically plot a route to avoid enemy positions or exposed terrain, and share the route to other AFVs on ARTEMIS should enhance dynamic mission planning among armoured units on the move. We believe that GIS mapping was used to compile these digital maps, which should prove useful for navigation in unfamiliar terrain.

The Combat variant's main armament, a Rafael Samson 30 RCWS, is fitted directly above the fighting compartment. As the gun mount has no deck penetration and is automated, this frees space beneath it as there is no need for a turret basket for the crew.


As with contemporary vehicles that ferry troops into battle, Hunter has a single rear  ramp that is lowered for troops to enter or debus from the vehicle. The ramp also has a single hinged door. Four seats are placed on each side of the troop compartment with troops seated facing one another. The seats fold down when needed and have four-point restraints. Two roof hatches, hinged to open forward, are provided for the troopers seated next to the rear ramp.

Despite the Hunter's larger dimensions compared to the M113 it replaces, space inside the vehicle is tight. No reloads are carried for the 30mm cannon as the estimated 230-round war load is deemed sufficient for the anticipated contact rate before the need arises for a resupply stop.

The Hunter is air-conditioned and has LED "cove lights" placed beneath the air ducts throughout the cabin. But no periscopes are provided for the troop compartment and embarked armoured infantry must rely on the single flat panel screen for the section commander (first seat on the right hand side nearest the fighting compartment) for some idea of where the vehicle is headed.

Hunter has no auxiliary power unit and the engine must be left on to power up the AFV's sensors and combat cockpit.

Brigadier General Yew Chee Leung, Chief Armour Officer and Commander 25th Division, said: "The Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle is the centrepiece of the army's next generation transformation. It is the first fully digitalised vehicle in our army and it incorporates smart and digital technologies catered to our modern-day soldiers who are increasingly tech savvy.

"The Hunter AFV has many enhanced capabilities. It has greater firepower, survivability and mobility and it features for the first time an integrated combat cockpit within the vehicle that enhances our networked warfare capabilities.

"The Hunter AFV is locally developed by our army together with DSTA together with our defence partners. It is designed for our local soldiers to enhance their training and to make training intuitive and the vehicle simple to operate."

Fact File: Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV)
The Hunter is a next generation drive-by-wire tracked AFV that will replace Singapore Army M-113 armoured personnel carriers. The Hunter was designed and made in Singapore by the Singapore Army weapons staff, Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Engineering Land Systems. The project began in 2006 with the aim of delivering a digitised AFV with enhanced capabilities for the next generation army. Several prototypes were developed before the final design freeze. Hunter was commissioned into service on 11 June 2019 by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, at the 50th anniversary parade of the Singapore Army Armour formation. As of 11 June 2019, five variants were announced. These variants are Combat, Command, Bridgelayer, Recovery and Armoured Engineer. Hunter will make its public debut at Singapore's National Day Parade on 9 August 2019.

First Hunter unit: 42nd Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment in 2020. Core group training starts in 2019 for first batch of Hunter instructors and officer cadets.

Hunter Combat variant
Crew: 1 vehicle commander, 1 driver, 1 gunner, up to eight dismounted troops with full equipment

Dimensions
Length: 6.9m (22.6 feet)
Width: 3.4m (11.2 feet)
Height: 3.4m
Weight: 29.5 tonnes
Power-to-weight ratio: 24 hp/ton

Performance
Max speed: 70km/h (43.5 mph)
Range: 500km (311 miles)
Vertical obstacle: 0.6m (2 feet)
Trench: 2.1m (7 feet)
Maximum front slope: 60%
[Addendum 12 June 2019 23:00H: Hunter cannot swim.]

Armament
Rafael Samson 30 Remote Controlled Weapon Station with Orbital ATK 30mm cannon (230 rounds), ST Engineering Land Systems 7.62mm coaxial general purpose machine gun (500 rounds) and up to two Spike ATGMs. No 30mm and ATGM reloads are carried.

Fire control
DSTA integrated combat cockpit with three touchscreen digital controls tied to the Army Tactical Engagement and Information System (ARTEMIS) and a commander open architecture panoramic sight.

Defensive aids
8 x 76mm smoke grenade launchers.



You may also like:
Eight things to note about the Singapore Army's new AFV (posted in July 2016). Click here

First pix of ARV variant of the new AFV (posted in May 2016). Click here

Tidbits on the Singapore Armed Forces (posted in February 2016). Click here

The old and the new #tank (posted in January 2016). Click here

Guide to SAF MID number plates. Click here

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Book back cover featuring the Malaysian navy submarine Tunku Abdul Rahman & Tun Sharifah Rodziah




This is the cropped final artwork for the back cover of the fictional story. It shows a Royal Malaysian Navy Scorpene-class submarine, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman, with the Malaysian navy sea base, Tun Sharifah Rodziah, lurking in the background.

Front cover will show the Royal Malaysian Air Force as the story has a tri-Service element involving all arms of the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM).

Here's an extract from the fictional story that makes first mention of Tun Sharifah Rodziah. The characters and dialogue have been omitted. PL-TSR teams up with KD Tunku Abdul Rahman in a later chapter as the action builds. 

Follow the book updates on Twitter @senangdiri


The South China Sea
As Regiment 52 raced south with its Astros rocket launchers, a Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy) asset in the South China Sea also headed for its deployment area off Johor but at a more sedate pace. 

Under a clear tropical night sky studded with stars, the TLDM asset travelled by dry tow, carried piggyback aboard a commercial transport ship that steamed towards Johor at 14 knots.

It had taken the heavy lift transport about a week to sail from Semporna off the eastern coast of Sabah to the South China Sea. Such was the urgency of the deployment that the ship sailed non-stop. By dawn, she would have arrived at journey's end.

The TLDM asset was something of a floating paradox. It was used by the Malaysian navy but it was not a warship. The asset had no pennant number unlike most naval platforms but came under the TLDM order of battle. Even with her haze paint scheme that was the same shade as Malaysian warships, the floating structure might have passed as just another oil rig.

Her full name in Malay was Pangkalan Laut Tun Sharifah Rodziah (PL-TSR) - Sea Base Tun Sharifah Rodziah – and she was named to honour the wife of a former Malaysian prime minister. The floating sentinel moved steadily towards her assigned action station off Johor’s eastern seaboard codenamed Daerah Maritim 7 or Delta Mike Seven. 

Her assigned mission: To keep an eye on one of the world's busiest sea lanes that led from Singapore harbour to the South China Sea, observe and report all surface activity and signal Markas TLDM (Royal Malaysian Navy HQ) with regular updates.

Her anchor point in Delta Mike 7 was a strategic location as all shipping lanes that linked the Singapore Strait with the South China Sea fell well within her radar horizon. Once the mat at the base of the platform's tubular legs was ballasted fully and anchored to the sea floor, PL-TSR commenced sentry duty by tracking and reporting every vessel movement within her area of operations.

Tun Sharifah Rodziah served as gate keeper to the enemy’s attempts to break out from Singapore straits into the South China Sea. It was a heroine’s job because the sea base was right in the path of the naval task groups on the warpath. 

Although the Malaysian navy sailors knew that they were sailing into a political storm, they were blissfully unaware that their voyage took them right past a fledgling storm of the meteorological sort. The fair winds and following seas so cherished by sailors was due to winds that blew in from Siberia into Southeast Asia for several months every year. This was a seasonal phenomenon that the Malaysian sailors experienced during the Northeast monsoon.

During the voyage in the South China Sea, the TLDM sea base and her transport vessel came within a hundred nautical miles of a mass of unstable air off Sabah. Known by weathermen as a Borneo Vortex, the area of turbulence raged beyond the horizon as a spectacular lightning storm. The vortex swirled undetected out of reach from the transport vessel’s weather radar.

Within days, a strong and persistent cold surge from Siberia would swirl round the Borneo Vortex to form a far more sinister weather pattern that challenged weather theory and severely disrupted military operations.

End of extract


Related topic:
Malaysian Army tank transporters go into action. Click here

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Malaysian Army Kompeni Angkut tank transporters go into action


[Note: The following is a fictional account of how the Malaysian Army might send its MBT tank squadrons south on the Malay peninsula. I thank the various parties who helped educate me on the tactics, techniques, procedures and terminology. I used my imagination for the rest. I hope the story describes the process with reasonable accuracy. This is an extract from a much longer writing project on Markas ATM. It was a joy researching and writing about the ATM. Thank you for the trust and friendship. To all celebrating: Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf Zahir dan Batin.]



There are several Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) units that people have never heard of. This is not because the units are secret but because their role is so ordinary and the media hardly writes about them as their work appears unexciting.

Kompeni Angkut is one example. Its name, which is Malay for Transport Company, sums up in a simple and direct manner the role it serves under the Malaysian Army’s Kor Perkhidmatan Diraja (KPA, Royal Logistics Corps).

If you’ve never heard of Kompeni Angkut, you’re in good company because neither have many Malaysians.

Despite its low profile, this transport company performs a vital role. The unit transports Malaysian Army equipment like main battle tanks using huge 15-tonne tank transporters, delivers soldiers by the thousands and moves tonnes of ammunition, water and stores across Malaysia with its fleet of specialised trucks. 

Put simply, Kompeni Angkut is staffed by transport planners, drivers and mechanics who job of moving things from A to B comes under the grand sounding title of military logistics. 

Kompeni Angkut supported the Malaysian Army’s deployment effort south with an interesting pairing of war machines. In doing so, the men and women from these companies debunked the notion that logistics units operated in rear areas safe from firefights at the front. 

The Malaysian Army’s longest and heaviest soft-skinned vehicle (and the one with the most wheels, with 20 in total), the Iveco Eurotrakker tank transporter, was sent south of the Malay peninsula carrying the army’s heaviest and best protected armoured vehicle, the upgraded PT-91M Pendekar MBT.

Just past midnight, Markas ATM (Malaysian Armed Forces headquarters) issued the notice to move to the tank transporter units. 

Logisticians from 11 Kompeni Angkut  (Askar Wataniah), which was a Territorial Army unit, rushed south from the middle of the peninsula where scores of upgraded Pendekar MBTs from the Federation’s first tank unit, Rejimen Kesebelas Kor Armor Diraja (11 KAD) lay waiting for the call to action. The tank squadrons were dispersed under cover in hideouts which the tank crew called “hides”. 

Each tank transporter made its own way to its assigned hide, with the drivers guided by GPS coordinates. Once they left the safety of paved roads and entered jungle paths or plantations, the pitch black environment and rough terrain tested the driving skills of the weekend soldiers as their mammoth 20-wheelers bashed through thick underground and the wheels churned up unpaved paths turned to mud by the unrelenting thunderstorm.

Looking up from their tank hatch, the Pendekar tankees could not see the sky as each hide was sited under the protection of thick canopies within tropical jungle, palm oil or rubber plantations. For good measure, a camouflage net was propped over each tank using bamboo poles. Enemy sensors scouring the area would find it hard to spot the tanks as they were obscured by layers of foliage. Thermal sensors were of little use either as the MBTs were cloaked with special heat absorbing padding that minimised their infrared signature.

When fully fuelled, the Polish-made tanks could have easily driven themselves to the forward edge of battle area. But the Iveco tank transporters did the job faster without wearing out men and machines or draining their fuel tanks. The aim was to deliver the 11 KAD tank squadrons fit to fight close to the FEBA, fully fueled and loaded with ammo.

More importantly, tank crews travelling with the Ivecos arrived fresh for battle. A ride in the air-conditioned tank transporters was a much better way to travel to the war zone as long road marches cramped in a hot, noisy and uncomfortable tank as it clattered along the road inevitably resulted in crew fatigue.

As no one could be sure when the atrocious weather would clear, there was no time to waste. 

Every minute saved could bring the MBTs one kilometre closer to the front. The compact battleground at the Johor front, which was small compared to terrain in Europe and the Middle East,  made a 150km convoy movement a strategic manoeuvre that could tilt the military balance decisively. The deployment of tanks from 11 KAD south, paired with the southward push by wheeled Gempita 8x8 and Astros rocket artillery batteries that self-deployed, could turn the tide of the battle in Johor if the MBTs could suddenly appear at the weak spot identified on the frontline and rupture the enemy’s forward line. 

And so, 11 Kompeni Angkut (AW) made best use of  every second.  

Tank transporter drivers braved the freak storm that created an unexpected window of opportunity for Malaysian army convoys to move on open roads without interference from enemy aircraft.

Extreme weather brought a welcome respite for Malaysian Army transport planners who struggled to find a way to move 11 KAD south undetected when the enemy controlled the air. 

The freak storm was a game changer. Thick banks of rain clouds drifted across the peninsula, drenching the land with torrents of rain driven by howling winds that cleared the skies over Johor of enemy fighters, helicopters and UAVs. With the enemy air force suddenly grounded by the ferocious weather, the tank transporters raced south while they could.

It was an opportunity Markas ATM welcomed gladly.

One after another, Iveco Eurotrakkers in northern states untouched by the war emerged from the tank hides for a night transport mission. 


Breaking cover in the darkness beneath a blanket of intense rain, the Ivecos swayed from side to side on deeply rutted dirt tracks, each loaded with a 48-tonne tank, their long trailers creaking and groaning in protest as the tank transporters moved out from their hiding places in the Malaysian belukar (bush).

Drivers from 11 Kompeni Angkut had to work quickly as enemy air strikes were not the biggest threat to the operation. The drivers aimed to reach the road network before the downpour flooded the nameless tracks and turned the unpaved dirt tracks into muddy rivers that could leave the heavily laden Ivecos stranded once the axles were stuck in soft mud.

Safe on firmer ground, tank transporters drivers revved their mighty machines into gear and moved south at best possible speed. With diesel engines roaring and exhaust pipes trailing streamers of smoke, the Iveco tank transporters set off independently after collecting the tanks from widely dispersed hideouts. The tank transporters drove towards convoy assembly areas along the North-South Highway as sheets of rain lashed the roads, the raging thunderstorm creating near whiteout conditions that challenged the skill of every driver.

The men and women from 11 Kompeni Angut were undeterred.

Road movements were speeded up by grouping the massive tank transporters into convoys escorted by Kor Polis Tentera Diraja (KPTD, Royal Military Police Corps) motorcycle outriders who swept expressways and trunk roads to move aside - sometimes forcibly - civilian traffic that might block the swift passage of the tank convoys.

With headlights switched on, hazard lights flashing and the two revolving amber lights at the top of the driver’s cabin blinking their warning repeatedly, the Ivecos hurried south as civilian traffic gave way respectfully by moving to the side of the road. 

Malaysian Army tank transporters punched through curtains of rain, the steel chains securing the tanks to the semi-trailers rattling briskly, the window wipers sloshing off sheets of rainwater that cascaded down flat windshields of the Ivecos as watery veils stirred up by the long vehicles chased the convoy through the pre-dawn murk.

With every Malaysian Army tank transporter used to move MBTs, civil resources were mobilised to support the transfer of lighter tracked AFVs like the Adnan APCs, self-propelled mortars and ATGM carriers.

If marshalling and deploying army vehicles from all over the peninsula was a challenge, so was the task of finding enough drivers and vehicles to move the heavy weapons. Army drivers pulled from other army divisions found themselves at the wheel of a mixed bag of civilian tractor-trailer combos, pulling flatbeds and lowboys in all colours and configurations.

Malaysia’s HANRUH total defence plan cranked into action, moving the Federation from a peacetime posture to its highest state of war readiness.

The Malaysian Army driver of a requisitioned prime mover was about to start the engine of the civilian truck when he saw a note placed next to the gear shift where the driver would not miss seeing it. The civilian driver who handed over the truck to the army had a message for the new driver.

The hand-written message from the civilian driver was scrawled in Bahasa Malaysia on the back of a torn sheet of calendar paper. It said briefly: “Pantang berundur” (Never retreat).

Friday, May 31, 2019

Book review: Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore


If you want to know more about scholars in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and how the system recruits, retains, retrains and retires candidates (supposedly) on the career fast track, look no further than the book Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore.

Its author Dr Samuel Ling Wei Chan has set the bar high with his 495-page book released last month by NUS Press Singapore. This soft cover publication represents a rich, one-stop resource on the 170 people who earned a general's star in SAF service and analysis in detail how the system works. It purports to list every known brigadier-general and above, and from what we can tell, is complete and accurate at the time of print.

The book is divided into nine chapters led by a preface:
Chapter 1: Generally Speaking (This provides an overview of the book and how the data was compiled)
Chapter 2: The Profession of Arms and Society
Chapter 3: Motivations for Military Service
Chapter 4: Commitment to Military Service
Chapter 5: The Ascension Process
Chapter 6: The Ascension Structure
Chapter 7: Scholars and Stars by Numbers and Cases
Chapter 8: Character Determines Destiny
Chapter 9: The Aristocracy of Armed Talent

The 14 appendices will delight number crunchers as it examines data on recipients of the coveted SAF Overseas Scholarship (SAFOS) in many forms.

The tables list every known general and Military Expert 8 (a rank unique to the SAF which denotes a BG-equivalent under the Military Domain Expert Scheme which is tailored for engineering vocations) since Singapore's independence in 1965. It should be clear to the reader browsing through the list that it took a labour of love to raise and sustain the spreadsheets that led to the appendices. As a source of data for future study, the book's appendices (and 12-page glossary of SAF terms) is unrivalled. Indeed, the book is worth getting for the appendices alone as there is nothing like it out there and it has pulled together reams of open source data to produce the information in easy-to-understand tables.

Here's the full list:
Appendix A: Year of authorization to wear BG/RADM1/ME8 and post-SAF career (1965-2018)

Appendix B: The military elite by service and vocation

Appendix C: One-star and above appointments in MINDEF (the Singapore Ministry of Defence) and the SAF (circa 2018)

Appendix D: Distribution of SAFOS officers within the military elite (1965-2018)

Appendix E: Command appointments of generals in the Singapore Army (1965-2018)

Appendix F: Command appointments of admirals in the RSN (1988-2018)

Appendix G: Command appointments of generals in the RSAF (1987-2018)

Appendix H: Estimated active service rank attainment of SAFOS batches (1971-98) by 2018

Appendix I: Former regular SAF officers in the Cabinet (1984-2018)

Appendix J: Defence Chief roll of honour (1966-2018), Director General Staff/Chief of the General Staff//Chief of Defence Force

Appendix K: Army Chief roll of honour (1988-2018), Deputy Chief of the General Staff (Army)/Chief of Army

Appendix L: Navy Chief roll of honour (1966-2018), Commander Singapore Naval Volunteer Force/Commander Maritime Command/Commander Republic of Singapore Navy/Chief of Navy

Appendix M: Air Force Chief roll of honour (1970-2018), Commander Singapore Air Defence Command/Director Air Staff RSAF/Deputy Commander RSAF/Commander RSAF/Chief of Air Force

Appendix N: Legislative Assembly (1959-65) and Parliamentary Elections (1965-2016) in Singapore

A book of this nature crammed to the gills with data risks coming across as dry and turgid; the kind of book you only touch when you need to submit an academic exercise or gloss up an essay's bibliography.

But Samuel engages the reader with his lively writing, judicious use of puns and factoids, which is complemented by first person accounts from SAF scholars who shared their thoughts on their military careers.

To get these stories, Samuel interviewed 28 generals. Many of these names will be familiar to Singapore's citizen soldiers. The candid and generous airing of views by these generals, drawn from various cohorts, strengthens Samuel's attempt at describing how MINDEF/SAF scholarship machinery works by showing us how it affected the individuals at the heart of the scheme.

The time and effort the author invested in persuading these high fliers to talk AND go on record can only be imagined because anyone who has attempted to publish on MINDEF/SAF matters would realise information is tightly controlled.

The generals who made the time to share their experiences with Samuel have made a meaningful contribution to the (limited) storehouse of knowledge on the SAF scholarship system and will hopefully inspire future aspirants to think about their career options in the Singaporean military.

It is this first person, almost gossipy examination of SAFOS that makes the book a standout. It tells how so-and-so rose  through the ranks, who dropped out of the system due to moves to the private sector and so on. It is the story of the HDB heartland brothers who rose to the highest positions of leadership, thanks to the SAF scholarship system. It is the tale of the successful property CEO who left the system at the age of 32 after thinking about his future in the SAF.

Those who pick up this book must know the ambit of this book which builds on Samuel's thesis on the SAF scholarship system. Samuel's DPhil thesis, Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Motivations, Commitment and Ascension of Military Elites in Singapore (1965-2014), was submitted to the Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales, in June 2014. The thesis laid the groundwork for further scholarship on this topic with tables updated for the years 2014 till 2018.

So while it shows where SAFOS holders ended up after they left military service, the book is not intended to be a treatise on Singapore's political office holders who came from the SAF. The juxtapositioning is tempting as the book contains the raw data that shows the number and background of the generals who went into politics, but this research trajectory is outside the firing lane of this book and there is plenty enough to get the reader up to speed on the ins and outs of the SAF scholarship within its covers.

If there is a weakness, it is the fact that the book will be outdated with the SAF promotion ceremony next month (June 2019) ahead of SAF Day on 1 July when a new cohort of generals will don their epaulettes. That said, the first edition will form a solid foundation for Samuel's future revisions and analysis of the subject.
   

Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore
Author: Samuel Ling Wei Chan
Publisher: NUS Press Singapore 
528 pages, 299mm x 152mm
31 tables, 5 figures
Paperback, first edition April 2019
Samuel is an adjunct lecturer with the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia

You may also like:
Q&A with Dr Samuel Ling, author of Aristocracy of Armed Talent. Click here

Friday, April 26, 2019

Aristocracy of Armed Talent, Military Elite in Singapore Q&A with author Samuel Ling Wei Chan


Dr Samuel Ling Wei Chan, author of the book "Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore" tells us more about the book. 

Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore
Published: 2019
528 pages, 299mm x 152mm
31 tables, 5 figures
Paperback
Samuel is an adjunct lecturer with the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia.

How long did it take you to write the book?
The book is a revised and updated edition of my PhD thesis. I started my studies in March 2011 but by February 2012 it was apparent that my initial topic (on military education in Australia and the US) was not tenable. 


My supervisor and I decided that a change in topic was the best (and only) option going forward. 

I submitted my thesis in June 2014 and received word in October that the external examiners were satisfied. 

I embarked on further research in mid-2015 and a revised my thesis in an effort to write a book along the lines of Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait, albeit one focused on Singapore’s military establishment. I submitted the revised manuscript to NUS Press in early-mid 2018. Hence it took almost seven years from the change in PhD topics to the book hitting the shelves in April 2019.

What made you press on with research on the SAF despite initial hurdles?
It was a challenge to complete a puzzle and I was focused on the task at hand. The topic is interesting to me, both in academic and general terms. 

I knew more about America’s top brass than our own leaders after reading Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier, and The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army by Greg Jaffe and David Cloud. 

I am sure that I am not the only one interested in the topic. 

Hence I set about capturing a small piece of Singapore’s military history. If I did not do it then I am certain someone else would, whether indigenous or foreign.

What was the most challenging aspect of the research for this book?
The most challenging aspects were access to information in terms of open source material and interviews for the specific questions that I had in mind. 

The difficulties in accessing open sources included: whether the materials still exist (e.g. copies of Pioneer, Pointer, service newsletters) and if I could access them. 

Official channels did not prove helpful so it became quite simply “detective work for one”. It would have been nice albeit wishful thinking to access material at the Centre for Heritage Services. 

The interviews were also hard to come by with 28 of 46 officers approached agreeing to interviews that lasted between 30 minutes and 5.5 hours in duration. Some had a lot to say about their careers, and some did not say much. We were all cognizant of the Official Secrets Act so it was pretty much about personal stories.

How did you go about resolving the challenge(s)?
The 28 interviews were great and a blessing in terms of being able to get the work done. 

Open source required a lot of patience, which mean repeated iterations of combing through publications and photographs to triangulate the necessary information followed by a list of further information required and doing it all again. 

It was tiring yet refreshing to go through the publications as one can really appreciate how the SAF has grown over the years, and the effort put in by the state and population to ensure the defence of Singapore.

Which chapter did you enjoy researching/writing most?
I must say I enjoyed them all due to the variation, focus, and information in each of the chapters. 

Chapters 1 and 2 are pretty much ground work in terms of literature and history. This was enjoyable as I could convey what was “out there” in terms of books, how the topic is viewed, and the history of our early military leaders. 

Chapters 3 to 5 pretty much contains the personal stories of the generals and admirals that I interviewed. They grew up in a Singapore that is very much different from a teenager enlisting for NS today. Singapore was a different place back then. Nevertheless, I walked away from the 28 interviews with the confidence that our generals and admirals, at least those I interviewed, are professional military officers. 

Chapter 6 is pretty much understanding the force structure of the SAF, its evolution, and how it supports and justifies the configuration of the military elite. 

Chapter 7 is a mix of statistics, outliers, and perhaps inconvenient truths. 

Chapter 8 is on society and its impact on the SAF of today and tomorrow. Some issues can be addressed by technology, and as always some of the remedies for today could potentially pose problems tomorrow. Only time will tell. All in all, I enjoyed writing every chapter in the book. Each required a different skill to piece together and I learned much.

What are the takeaways you hope the reader will glean from the book?
To appreciate the SAF in its entirety, both the good, the quirky, and the not so good. 

To understand that it is led (at least in the past) by leaders who began their careers for a variety of reasons, both for altruistic and/or egotistic reasons. They converged towards serving for a greater good as they progressed up the hierarchy. 

Those who made general and admiral are mostly field commanders tasked with deterring aggression, and should this deterrence fail, to fight and win our nation’s wars. 

Military leadership takes time to nurture. Scholar officers are afforded chances to prove their worth but do not automatically get a “free pass” into the top brass. Disruptions to, or “rushed jobs” in, succession planning will have detrimental effects on the leadership of tomorrow. 

Most importantly, the SAF is only as strong – physically, mentally, and morally – as the society that is pledges to defend.


Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore is available from Books Kinokuniya and NUS Press here. You can also pre order from Amazon here

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Keep pay for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers competitive


Whenever I hear of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers who earn as much or more in civilian life as they did when they were in uniform, I am both happy and concerned.

Happy for the individuals whose years of service and experience in the military has been recognised and rewarded by the civilian sector.

At the same time, one wonders if the remuneration for SAF officers has kept up with the times. The situation described above is not as uncommon as one would expect.

SAF officers are said to command higher remuneration packages as compared to equivalent civilian jobs because of their shorter career spans. In simple terms, SAF officers are paid more because their career end point terminates around the age of 45.

If that is the case, one can see three immediate reasons for those who are worth the same salary after leaving the SAF.

First, the individuals are the outliers. They are exceptional talent valued by free enterprise.

Second, the market-plus pay scale for SAF officers has lost some of its market competitiveness.

Last, some civilian employers are over-paying their SAF alumni. In a free market economy, it is of course an employer's prerogative to pay a new hire as it wishes so long as the company can afford it and their shareholders don't quibble (especially for listed entities with a heavy presence of SAF alumni).

Of the three possible reasons listed above, the second is the most troubling because it may be a sign that market benchmarks for SAF pay need to be reviewed.

In general, SAF officers tend to think about a career transition around the age of 30. This is the time when their first contract is about to expire. A sense of personal ambition ("I can do better outside") or a sense of reality ("I'll never make it past +insert rank+ and should leave now") are common triggers for career transitions by younger officers. 

SAF officers who are promoted are obliged to stay with the organisation as part of their moral obligatory service (MOS) for accepting the promotion. The SAF's MOS tenure is said to be two years long. Some officers do not take up the MOS lock-in period, decline the promotion opportunity and leave.

The next trigger point is around the age of 40 when individuals choose to carve a new career in the private sector before they are too old to make the transition.

Specific to Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilots, the number of pilots who want to switch to civilian flying careers has apparently been strong and sustained enough to support a niche industry set up to assist military fliers who want to get their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification.

Demand is such that at least one ATP hot house has a dedicated programme for RSAF pilots on its website. No other ASEAN air force or Asia-Pacific air arm for that matter, has attracted their attention to the same extent as RSAF candidates - at least none known to this blog.

Considering the importance of the RSAF to Singapore's defence, we pray that military aviation careers in the air force are on a strong footing.

Our combat pilots are in demand by commercial airlines. Why?

Not because RSAF pilots speak English. So do the Australians, Indians, Malaysians, the New Zealanders and many others in the region. The RSAF-specific focus probably stems from awareness that RSAF fliers come with a strong pedigree and count as valuable additions to any airline's bench strength.

Alas, it is also sobering to think of the possibility that there is sufficient demand from RSAF pilots who want out to justify the niche service.

It is estimated that it will take about $5 million to get a pilot to the OCU stage prior to joining squadron service. Upon entering an operational squadron, a pilot's pay is said to account for a fraction of the cost per flying hour for a fast jet like the F-15 and F-16.

Similar arguments can be made for critical roles, say for example, submarine officers in the RSN and the army's C4ISTAR officers.

But you probably get the picture: We risk losing officers who can command and fight our latest and most capable war machines if these individuals are unnecessarily distracted by bread-and-butter issues.

In the case of RSAF pilots, one does not expect them to demand the sun and the moon. Informal calculations show that about $2,000 more per month will make the opportunity cost of leaving the air force high enough to make one think very carefully before punching out.

Yes, that's still a chunk of change in any language. But relative to the cost of the platform and how much it takes to keep it flying, it is a pittance.

It is Singapore's loss if we let market forces whittle away the SAF Officer Corps, especially under current conditions where a high ops tempo strains the organisation's leadership.

Every officer who resigns prematurely leaves behind a gap that is not easily filled. This is because the pipeline of candidates with the requisite professional expertise, leadership qualities or operational experience to step into the vacancy is limited. One must fill middle to senior appointments from within and cannot simply recruit from outside like private sector organisations.

One hears that it is not uncommon for regulars within a unit to double hat, with some holding concurrent appointments with open-ended tenures. The added workload, unceasing and demanding operational tempo, high expectations from the bosses and public creates a vicious cycle where unhappiness stirs among those called upon to make additional sacrifices. So there's a knock-on effect for every resignation.

Anecdotally speaking, one has heard of fathers and mothers in uniform who have missed birthdays; sons and daughters who have experienced the same. A good number have been away from their loved ones when needed because duty calls.

In many respects, one could say this is par for the course. It is what the men and women signed up for and they did so with their eyes wide open. That's absolutely true.

But a career as an SAF officer also comes with the social compact that the compensation and benefits from such a career pathway are compelling enough to overshadow such sacrifices.

Pay matters are never easily resolved.

When asked if you are underpaid in an organisational climate survey, one might guess the response most people would give. Tax payers would bristle at suggestions that armed forces personnel should be paid more. Everybody has an opinion how much is enough.

To be sure, the SAF's voluntary attrition directly linked to remuneration has not reached epidemic proportions. But remuneration for critical appointments and those with long lead-time vocations must be resilient enough to withstand market forces.

A salary review would help determine if that is the case today.

Comparisons with salaries of other armed forces often give no clarity especially when one has not factored in cost of living adjustments specific to the Lion City whose limited size has made the cost of homes one of the most expensive in Asia.

Warfighters, like all other salaried staff, have expectations for their family and lifestyle too and the pay scales for SAF officers must keep in step with the times.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Deterrence is Force multiplied by the Ability to use it


When you look at emergency vehicles in Singapore from the civil defence and police, you are likely to find studs around the windshields and windows of frontline vehicles. These studs serve as attachment points for wire mesh screens that protect the glassware of Home Team vehicles during operations.

Many of the emergency vehicles that responded to Singapore's Little India riot on 8 December 2013 had these studs but went into action without the protective mesh (which was stored back at base). Twenty-five vehicles had their windshields smashed and windows shattered. Some vehicles were overturned. Five were set ablaze. It was a shambles.

The Singapore Police Force has prepared and practised drawer plans for internal security situations, including riot-type scenarios of a far larger scale than the one that erupted at Little India. TTX, FTX, they've done it all. But the forces trained, organised and equipped with the tactics, techniques and procedures to quell civil disturbances were held in check by authorities.
[19 April 2019 09:50H Edit: Paragraph 169, page 55 of the COI report reads:"The SPF officers’ decision to await the arrival of the SOC before taking action was based on the assumption that the SOC would arrive imminently. The officers did not realise that, due to a delay in deployment and traffic congestion, the first SOC forces would take a total of about 50 minutes to arrive from the time the request for activation was made. Had the SOC arrived earlier, the rioters would not have had as much time to cause mayhem." Click here for full report.]




The chilling police announcement, Disperse Or We Fire, seen so often at internal security exercises, was not broadcast on that fateful night.

After the rioters spent their fury, they found themselves surrounded by police in the small enclave with nowhere to run. Some 40 trouble makers were eventually arrested and the perpetrators faced justice. No lives were lost.

So the Home Team had the equipment (wire mesh protection) but no chance to install such protection before actual ops.

The police had the drawer plans to smash riots swiftly and decisively but held its forces in check for various operational reasons.

Telescope this analogy to the armed forces (generic reference and not specific to the Singapore Armed Forces) and you will find many instances where soldiers, sailors and airmen were caught unprepared by sudden and unexpected crisis.

Tragic are the situations where fighting units have the equipment and training but lacked the tools to do the job when they are needed most because it was locked in the armoury or because the unit was caught in march order with its guns limbered.

British infantry at Isandlwana during the Zulu War outgunned the human waves of Zulu infantry. The red coats would have shot the Zulu attacks to pieces on open ground were it not for the lack of access to rifle ammunition that was locked in packing cases on supply wagons.

Several tactical engagements fought during the 70-day Malayan campaign during WW2 saw British and Imperial units destroyed by surprise attacks by Japanese forces who moved with unexpected speed to catch the units while their vehicles were nose to tail in tight convoys.

Equally tragic are cases where the fighting forces are ready and willing to carry out their duty but are held in check by political indecisiveness or non-military considerations.

The fighting forces may be good to go and excel at what they do.

But when the time comes to press the button, would the political masters have the guts to do so?

As a visiting Israeli general once said: Deterrence is Force multiplied by the Ability to use it.