Saturday, April 25, 2015

A look at Singapore Army sniper rifles




In the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the lower end of the precision strike spectrum encompasses scoped infantry small arms acquired by the domain experts in 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry.

Seen here are a range of sniper rifles fielded by the Singapore Army. These are (from left) the Knight's Armament M110 7.62mm semi-automatic rifle (United States), Sako TRG22 7.62mm bolt action rifle (Finland) and the Accuracy International AX50 12.7mm bolt action anti-material rifle (United Kingdom).

The weapons were displayed yesterday at the "A Day in the Army" event at Headquarters Armour, which is the host for the Singapore Army's annual Family Day.

The Singapore Army's sniper rifles allow the infantry to reach out and touch someone with a precisely-aimed projectile out to distances of 800m or more. Powerful optics allow even bespectacled soldiers to place their rounds where they should land, so long as they have a steady pair of hands and follow the fundamentals of good marksmanship (controlled breathing, eye relief, trigger pull, awareness of the wider tactical situation, effective camouflage, assistance from a spotter, egress plan etc).

Snipers typically provided overwatch to manoeuvre forces as they move towards their objective. This range ring means that snipers can take down hostile targets such as key appointment holders, crew-served weapons like MGs and anti-tank weapons, vehicle commanders, special forces - the list goes on - outside the effective range of return fire from infantry small arms.

In Singapore Army infantry battalions, Company Marksmen armed with sniper rifles are tasked to provide covering fire in focused, single-shot engagements guided by the sniper's mantra of  one shot, one kill. Such precisely calibrated, single-shot outgoing fire complements the concentrated firepower that support weapons such as the fully automatic belt-fed 7.62mm general purpose machine gun and 120mm mortars can deliver from the battalion's fire bases.

The larger sniper rifles in the Singapore Army's arsenal, such as the ones that fire 12.7mm rounds, allow marksmen to hunt and kill enemy snipers who may be trying to do the same.

Such weapons are also useful when investigating suspicious objects, thought to be IEDs, along the line of advance during combat situations when non-destructive testing isn't a key priority for SAF commanders.

When all else fails, call in an air strike.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force will know how to deal with the situation.

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Army Medical Services unveils new Combat Ambulance




The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has a new cross country Combat Ambulance based on the American-built Ford 550 chassis. The vehicle was put on public display for the first time yesterday at the Singapore Army's "A Day in the Army" event hosted by Headquarters Armour at Sungei Gedong Camp.

The Combat Ambulance brings improved rough terrain mobility for the Army Medical Services as its robust chassis, powerful drive train and suspension are built to carry stretcher cases out of harm's way safely, comfortably and speedily.

At the heart of the Combat Ambulance is its Advanced Life Support suite which is carried inside the air-conditioned rear cabin. This includes the following medical equipment:
* Patient monitoring device
* Automatic external defibrillator
* Hand-operated resuscitator
* Portable suction unit
* Transport ventilator
* Spinal board, head immobiliser and cervical collar
* Oxygen concentrator

The vanilla Ford 550 chassis was specially tailored for SAF service. Refinements include safety features such as a stretcher loading winch at the rear, dual rear cameras to help the driver check blind arcs while reversing, overturn escape doors as well as anti-slip flooring in the rear cabin.

Fully furnished as a Combat Ambulance, the vehicle measures 2,700 mm tall, 6,363mm long and is 2,385mm wide. It can travel 550km on a full tank, can climb a 60% gradient slope and is rated for a max slide tile slope of 30%. Unladen weight is at 3,607 kg. Gross vehicle weight is almost nine tonnes.

The finished product's peacetime configuration can be upgraded during a period of tension with add-on armour to protect SAF personnel from small arms fire and fragments from IEDs or artillery fire. Senang Diri understands trials for Level 2 STANAG 4569 ballistic armour panels were conducted in Australia and in Germany. 

The ballistic trials were complemented by nearly 10,000 km of cross country and durability trials done in three continents. This includes a slalom test at Old Lim Chu Kang Road, a 1,000 km cross country endurance trial at Sungei Gedong (poor driver), a 1,000 km endurance trial at the Mungo National Park in Australia (lucky driver, almost like on safari) and a 8,047 km "durability test" at the Chelsea Proving Grounds in the United States.

As the Ford 550 did not fall apart after being driven almost to destruction, the chassis was deemed a suitable candidate to be modified for the SAF's specific operational requirements.

Senang Diri understands outfitting of the bare chassis took place in Singapore from 1Q 2014. The new vehicle allows Army Medical Services to seek, save and serve outfield casualties using a more robust vehicle than the ambulances now in its stable.

We extend a warm welcome the Ford 550 Combat Ambulance to the family of MID numberplates.


Note: Interior photographs of SAF vehicles were not allowed at the event. :-/


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First look at new SAF Ford 550 ambulance. Click here

Friday, April 24, 2015

End of the road for Singapore Army 3-tonners and 7-tonners




Singapore Army 3-tonner trucks that formed part of the National Service experience for our citizen soldiers will soon reach the end of the road.

Taking the place of the once ubiquitous army transports is a fleet of brand new 500 German-made MAN Light Transporters, the first of which made its public debut today at Headquarters Armour at Sungei Gedong Camp during the "A Day in the Army" event.

Project ETHAN
Purchased under Project Ethan, the MAN Light Transporters are poised to replace not one but two types of wheeled transports in the Singapore Army. These are the 3-tonners and the 7-tonners. Senang Diri believes Project Ethan is the largest truck contract signed by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) since 5-tonners were acquired, also from the MAN stable.

The new workhorses for the Singapore Army's Combat Service Support Command (CSSCOM) are military derivatives of the civilian MAN TGM 18.280 twin-axle, 4x4 cargo truck. In Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) service, the MAN Light Transporter is not exactly "light" as it has an unladen weight of 9,160 kgs and tips the scale at 16,000 kgs fully laden. The MAN Light Transporter measures 3,557mm tall, 8,476mm long and is 2,935mm wide.

A key difference from the MAN 5-tonners purchased earlier is the noticeably longer wheelbase. This allows the MAN Light Transporters - known as Ethans by army personnel - to carry a 20 foot container with ISO twist-locks on its cargo bed. This gives CSSCOM more flexibility in configuring Ethans for specialised roles by the simple expedient of bolting a mission-oriented 20 foot container and warload onto the truck.

"Improved safety features of the Light Transporters include a Rear Reverse Camera, Reverse Proximity Sensor and spring-assisted tailboard," said CSSCOM literature.

When outfield, Ethans can be driven in water up to 750mm deep.

CSSCOM added that a powerful engine and a reliable brake system allow the vehicle to "easily take on the 60% slope" and provided a photo to prove the Ethan's ability at climbing steep gradients.

Senang Diri welcomes Ethan to our logbook of MID number plates. Wasalaam. :-)



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Guide to SAF MID vehicle number plates. Click here

Monday, April 20, 2015

Army Careers: A Day With the Singapore Army



Sungei Gedong Camp, 23 to 25 April 2015.

P.S. Fix the typo in the online ad ASAP.

Cavalry is soldiers on horseback.
Calvary is the hill on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Fix the typo ASAP.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

US or UN as the world's policeman? Don't count on it.

Flashback 40 years: A United States Marine on high alert as civilians queue to board a CH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter at Landing Zone (LZ) Hotel in Kampuchea's capital, Phnom Penh, on 12 April 1975. The LZ was established in soccer field less than a kilometre from the American Embassy and was chosen because the field was screened from the line of sight of Khmer Rouge artillery spotters by nearby buildings.


This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh. It is a pivotal moment in one of our ASEAN neighbour's history that many Singaporeans do not know nor care much about. 

It is a great pity because answers to burning questions that some Singaporeans have over the need for, and value of, our national defence and whether the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can be substituted by foreign military intervention can be found in Cambodia's bloody past.

Some two to three million people were killed in the blood bath that followed the Fall of Phnom Penh 40 years ago. It is an astonishing death toll beyond comprehension. The pogrom followed the collapse of the then-Kampuchean social system as the communist Khmer Rouge reset the country to Year Zero. Instability in Indo-China unsettled Southeast Asia in the mid-1970s as American strategists mulled over the future of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore if the Domino Theory held true.

Veteran war correspondent Denis Gray was among those airlifted from Phnom Penh by United States Marines during Operation Eagle Pull on 12 April 1975. Five days after the Americans flew off, Phnom Penh fell to communist forces. 

In an interview with Senang Diri, Mr Gray recounts what it was like in Phnom Penh as the dying city, besieged and under artillery fire from the Khmer Rouge forces, awaited its uncertain fate.

"Never truly trust a superpower to be your sole protector and never get into a position when you do need one for protection. Easily said, difficult to do but well worth remembering," said Mr Gray. 

To mark the 40th year since US forces pulled out from Phnom Penh, Mr Gray relooked that fateful day in a story titled "US handed Cambodia over to 'butcher' 40 years ago". Please click here for his story.

Phnom Penh's tragic past reveals a hard truth in global politics that has been replayed in battlegrounds the world over. It is worth reflecting upon Mr Gray's wartime experience because his account adds value to our understanding of just what underpins the Lion City's security, survival and continued success. 

1. What was the mood like among residents in Phnom Penh in early April 1975? 
The situation was desperate for the average resident -- food running out, rockets and howitzer rounds coming in and killing people, horrible hospital conditions and the Khmer Rouge around them on all sides. Some hoped that in the end the Americans might somehow save them. And despite all this, I never witnessed any panic. There was a heroic stoicism among so many Cambodians I met.  And also a kind of denial of the reality around them.

2. What was the worst-case situation the city's residents expected for Phnom Penh?
I suspect there may have been a few who vaguely  foresaw some of  what was going to happen. But they were definitely in the minority. Nobody I met predicted what actually happened. And that goes for not just the Cambodians although some diplomats and journalists feared there would be a bloodbath of some kind because of the reports that were coming in of how the Khmer Rouge treated their enemies or perceived enemies. Many educated Cambodians were convinced that although there would be some problems in the end the Khmer Rouge and those in Phnom Penh could work things about because as they kept saying ''we are all Khmer.'

3. Why did FANK (Forces armées nationales khmères, Khmer National Armed Forces) melt away even with the support of US weapons and firepower?
FANK didn't melt away. Some of the units fought very bravely until there was virtually no hope. This was amazing given the corrupt nature of many of their officers.  The war was not lost for lack of bravery and tenacity on the part of the average solider, but by the incredible greed, corruption and ineptness of the military leadership (with few outstanding exceptions). You can't win a war when some of your commanders are selling weapons to the enemy.As far as US fire power by early 1975 there was none and the supplies coming in were shrivelling away. 

4. What went through your mind on your final flight from Phnom Penh in April 1975? What personal belongings did you take with you?
Leaving Phnom Penh was one of the saddest moments of my life. Like many of those evacuated I felt a mix of shame, guilt of leaving behind Cambodian friends and colleagues, anger at Washington (although not men like Dean and his diplomats in the city) and great sadness. I left with the clothes on my back, shower shoes and a small suitcase mainly filled with my papers. 

5. What lessons, if any, does Fall of Phnom Penh have for teaching people about national resilience or self-sufficiency in defence?
The lessons are many and complex. I'd say one would be to never truly trust a superpower to be your sole protector and never get into a position when you do need one for protection. Easily said, difficult to do but well worth remembering. Given the sad state of the international order, self-sufficiency is to be highly commended. 

6. What would you say to someone who sees global powers/the UN as the world's policemen?
Ideally, I would love to see a totally neutral, strong, effective UN force as the world's peace keeper. Nationalism should be something thrown into history's dustbin. But that is likely a pipe dream. So we are stuck with superpowers running the global show. Sometimes the US and others have done the right thing in this arena, but the cardinal rule still seems to be: in the end you look out for No. 1 (i.e. your own national interest) first.

Postscript:   
"I returned to Phnom Penh in 1980 very shortly after the fall of the Khmer Rouge to the Vietnamese. It was still a ghost town and unlike the 'Killing Fields' museums you see today, there was still blood in the torture chambers and clothes on the executed. People were on the edge of starvation and many were traumatized from their trials under the Khmer Rouge. 

"Since Cambodia, I have covered a dozen conflicts, including Gulf War I, Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc. so I have seen places like Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Kosovo vacated by the Serbs, etc. but nothing quite like the experience of Phnom Penh."

War correspondent Denis Gray on assignment with United States forces in Afghanistan.

Acknowledgements:
Thank you Mr Denis Gray for sharing your insights into the Fall of Phnom Penh and your experience covering wars around the globe. Look forward to meeting you in the Lion City when you can make time to see us. :-)

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The SAF versus cynics and critics in the halcyon days of peace. Please click here.
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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Strong or weak TNI? How some people in Singapore view Indonesia's war machine

If you're the kind of person who frets over an on the ball Indonesian war machine that is resurgent, assertive and on an arms acquisition spree, think about how a weak Tentera Nasional Indonesia (TNI) would look in our neighbourhood.

In the 1990s, the prospect of a weak TNI that failed to hold the Republic of Indonesia together stoked worst-case scenarios amongst Singaporean analysts. In so doing, a  new buzzword - "Balkanisation" - was added to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) lexicon as policy makers mapped out how the region might look if Indonesia fell apart.

The term "balkanisation" echoed the political fallout that rattled Europe and killed thousands after former Yugoslavia fragmented. In the ensuing chaos, historical fault lines tore apart the Balkan nation as ethnic groups fought to secure new borders. 

In Singapore, there were concerns a similar narrative would play out in Indonesia. 

From Aceh to the Spice Islands all the way to Papua, ongoing strife due to an incendiary mix of historical, racial or religious flashpoints made the situation look tenuous. The situation in ASEAN's largest member was a cause for worry in Singapore, ASEAN's smallest member.

Lest anyone underrate the situation, the race riots that flared in Jakarta in May 1998 cast the spotlight on fault lines in a nation where unity in diversity was once a point of pride. Mobs that torched property in Jakarta's Chinatown were also said to have raped many Indonesian Chinese women. Hotel bookings in Singapore soared as Indonesian Chinese fled to the little red dot to escape the chaos.

Across the strait in Singapore, preparations were made should the worst happen.

By February 1999, metal fences topped by razor wire cordoned off a third of St John's Island. If the situation took a turn for the worst and Illegal Immigrant Boats (IIBs) headed our way, St. John's could securely house some 10,000 people with proper food, healthcare and sanitation away from mainland Singapore. Thankfully, that standby plan was not needed,

At a tactical level, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) fast landing craft practised how to intercept IIBs. This was a new and improvised role for the RSN's Fast Craft Squadron, which was trained, organised and equipped to support beach landing and coastal hook operations by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

If these drawer plans were put into action, the geostrategic landscape of Southeast Asia would have taken a more ominous pathway.

Back home, the Singapore dollar would probably have crashed as foreign investors reassessed the Lion City's economic miracle. 

Basic foodstuffs would have seen a price spiral as sources of fresh produce in Indonesia dried up and Singapore suppliers were forced to turn elsewhere.

Air traffic would have recorded a transient spike as foreigners from Indonesia used Singapore as a hub to fly home. Then things would go noticeably more quiet at Changi Airport.

It does not take an active mind to figure out the impact that disorder in Indonesia would have on Singapore's stability, growth and prosperity.

The turmoil would emphasize a hard truth Singaporeans have been told time and again - some would say to no avail. It would hammer home a longstanding strategic reality that our tiny city-state, which has no strategic hinterland for us to fall back on or natural resources to draw upon, is a price-taker in regional and world affairs.

Singapore's outsized role in global diplomacy, as evidenced by the tributes voiced by world leaders in memory of our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, can only do so much to assert Singapore's value to and relevance in global affairs.

When it comes to the crunch, it is a strong SAF that will have to step up as your insurance.

And just as some in Singapore view with keen interest the TNI's growing might, a weak Indonesian war machine will also cause analysts to sit up and take notice.

Ponder the imponderable.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Image and identity for new SAF units

There are military units such as the British Special Air Service (SAS) who have earned a battlefield reputation - some would say mystique - which makes the SAS primus inter pares.

And then we have the Volkssturm from the Second World War. This name evokes the image of a people's militia cobbled together from extreme ends of the male age spectrum, hastily trained and thrown into combat - the dying Nazi regime's last burst of defiance after being bled white of military-age defence manpower.

The Singapore Armed Force (SAF) has its fair share of units that have built up an image and identity that few rationale folks would want to challenge in a fair fight. The Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) is one example. Ditto the assorted Republic of Singapore Air Force numbered squadrons whom you would never see at the SAF Best Unit competition.

And unless image and identity are carefully cultivated, the SAF risks raising its own version of militia units that nobody takes seriously.

The People's Defence Force (PDF) once had the veneer of a dad's army - old, out of shape reservists in faded Number 4 uniforms and awkward fire movements who were our last line of defence.

But today's PDF projects a vastly improved corporate reputation. Post 9/11, PDF units have spearheaded island defence and counter attack force roles with a professionalism, dedication and aplomb that has recast the formation as an operationally-ready fighting force to be reckoned with.

Good public relations had nothing to do with it. Instead, it was the boots on the ground - full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) and regulars from specialised PDF security battalions whose actions and conduct while executing Ops Bascinet said all there was to be said. It is a heart-warming turnaround that underlines how commitment to defence contributes tangibly to the SAF's deterrence value.

As new units stand up, it is vital that image and identity are nurtured with care. This goes above and beyond the smoke and mirrors which a sceptical Singaporean public - comprised predominantly of citizen soldiers and their loved ones - can see through immediately.

It will involve building a unit's identity and ethos. It will demand that the unit decide what are the core values that will drive this segment of our citizen's army in achieving its mission and vision.

And while being "new" brings attendant challenges in establishing one's corporate identity, new units whose enterprise stems from a proud record of citizens who stepped forward, steadfast and vigilant, to fight for the Lion City have a firm foundation to build upon.

The tricky bit comes with integrating a new unit just out of mothballs with a Third Generation SAF. In so doing, the new entity must convince their fellow warfighters that its CONOPS is credible and the fighting men and women in its ranks are highly-motivated individuals who are determined not to be the weak links in our citizen's army.

Such awareness building isn't happenstance. It must be stamped through a sustained and proactive effort at building hearts and minds within the SAF and throughout our defence ecosystem.

Do it well and a posting to such new units becomes desired among career SAF officers, not a dreaded one that spells a dead-end to one's SAF career.

Do it creditably and new intakes become self-sustaining. Citizens will step forward willingly and regularly. Those who do will come from a cross section of Singaporean society whose diverse backgrounds and experience will serve the SAF eminently well. This is because whereas a professional army of career soldiers must make do with what it has, a citizen's army can draw upon the human capital from an entire nation. And if the new SAF unit can cherry pick the best and deploy such men and women as needed, this sustained talent infusion will put the SAF one up against a regular army whose defence manpower ages by the day.

In this regard, knowledge capture for a new unit is vital. Pictures, key dates and names should be diligently recorded in a "war diary", so to speak, to strengthen the institutional memory as the unit builds itself up. A properly curated record will retain contributions from the pioneer batch and subsequent batches of volunteers, as well as those from regulars before the inevitable posting order brings them to another part of the SAF.

Awareness building with stakeholders is crucial too. This encompasses convincing colleagues in the SAF of the new unit's relevance and value to the defence ecosystem, as well as informing and educating a wider population of the unit's raison d'etre. Establishing a credible image and identity on homeground will telegraph to friends and frenemies why the new unit was set up and how it contributes to the SAF's deterrence value.

It is a tall order with no finish line.