Saturday, July 16, 2016

Unmanned systems in the future Singapore Armed Forces SAF

If defence technology allows a leaner Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to do more with less, think about the operational advantages that such technology would confer on a full-sized or an upsized military force.

As the SAF shrinks in the coming decades as a result of smaller intakes of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), do not expect regional armies to be similarly disadvantaged.

The benefits we bag will not be unique to the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) or the SAF.

We must therefore be cognizant that the strategic narrative that will describe how the future SAF will offset the manpower shortfall must consider how other military forces could hijack or adapt parts of our StratNav for their benefit.

The future SAF is likely to leverage on improvements in its People, operational Processes and cutting edge defence Technology to stay ready, relevant and decisive. As we do so, we must appreciate that a military force that retains its current headcount can, likewise, embrace advanced defence know-how to up its game.

Singapore's strategic narrative must therefore be calibrated such that we do not inadvertently reinforce the image, identity and operational prowess of foreign armed forces who may do likewise.

You may have heard sound bites that relate to MINDEF/SAF being a smart buyer of defence technology. This is a hard-earned and well-deserved accolade.

Thanks to rigorous weapons evaluations, the SAF is also viewed as a reference customer.

But there is absolutely nothing to stop regional militaries from mirroring the SAF's procurement patterns. In so doing, they fast track their weapons purchases by saving the time, effort and resources needed to assess the suitability of war machines for use in Southeast Asia.

For instance, German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks and American AH-64 Apache attack helicopters bought by the SAF after rigorous evaluations are also fielded by the TNI (Tentera Nasional Indonesia, Indonesian armed forces). While one does not doubt the capability of the TNI weapons staff, the TNI's processes for choosing defence platforms are not held in the same esteem as a stamp of approval from MINDEF/SAF.

A thinking audience would also realise that operational efficiency as a result of lean manning and operational effectiveness are not the one and the same thing.

A high level of automation may allow a warship to put out to sea with a smaller crew. But some essential functions aboard any man-of-war will continue to remain manpower intensive. One of these is fire-fighting and damage control. To be sure, inert gases and fire detection sensors can negate the threat of flashovers aboard a fighting ship. But the job of shoring up compartments with timber supports will continue to demand hands, legs and stout hearts who do not flinch from doing what's dangerous but necessary to save their ship. In such instances, leaning manning is an operational handicap.

The ability to assign unmanned systems to shoulder dull, dirty and dangerous duties should also be publicised carefully because a short-sighted StratNav could come back to haunt us.

The hunting and disposal of sea mines was cited as one area that the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) intends to assign to unmanned assets. This will build upon the RSN's experience in employing unmanned Swedish-made SAM (Self-propelled, Acoustic/Magnetic Minesweeper) robots for mine-sweeping support, together with Bedok-class mine countermeasure vessels (MCMVs).

One should, however, not go overboard in highlighting the virtues of the RSN's future mine-sweeping drones.

The Bedok-class MCMVs have demonstrated a laudable versatility and adaptability in carrying out missions for which they were not designed to undertake. One of these took place in December 1997 when RSN MCMVs were tasked to support the search for SilkAir Flight MI185, which had crashed in the Musi river in Sumatra. The ability of the MCMVs to support diving operations and in adapting their open-water mine hunting sensors for brown water operations was made possible by the warships' company.

What made the difference? The RSN's People.

Would a small, unmanned or optionally manned MCMV be able to do the same? One wonders.

The suggestion from Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, in his SAF Day interview that the future SAF would feature more unmanned/autonomous systems to counterbalance falling live births is not a theoretical musing.

Apart from replacements for the RSN's SAMs, manpower-intensive weapon platforms will be likely targets for MINDEF/SAF's drive to get more bang for buck.

We understand that some effort has been made to further improve manpower savings in Singapore Artillery battalions, where the big guns are loaded and fired in much the same way as black powder cannons hundreds of years ago.

Projectile is kept separate from the propellant. Both have to be inserted - one at a time by gunners - into the artillery piece. Muskets used to be hand-loaded in a similar fashion until better designed firearms "automated" the process for loading and discharging the projectile, followed by extracting spent shell casings. Some firearms made the firing cycle (load, fire, discharge shell casing, reload) so automatic that the weapons functioned much like industrial age machines. Hence the term: Machine Gun.

As the Singapore Artillery mulls over its future order of battle, one could expect defence scientists and engineers to bring the process for firing 155mm guns into the 21st century. The loading and firing of the guns could be automated to a high degree, with gunners providing value added by selecting targets of opportunity and in prescribing the volume and duration of fire needed to destroy the designated targets.

An artillery piece that is self-propelled and operated under armour by a small team of gunners protected from shell splinters and small arms fire would indeed allow SAF2030 to do more with less.

The firepower of future artillery battalions would not be compromised even as NSFs intakes decline.

But remember this: Unless there is a ban on the sale of such a weapon, any other army who fields such guns will, likewise, capture these bragging rights.

As we roll-out new war machines with a big bang, so can others.

What can they not mimic easily? It is the quality of the men and women in Singapore who serve the profession of arms, and the fact that the SAF fights as a tightly-integrated fighting force. Both virtues not easy to see, understand or appreciate - even for an informed audience.

You may also like:
Key enablers for the Singapore Navy's growth strategy. Click here
Towards a safer SAVER plan. Click here

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Eight things to note about the Singapore Armed Forces SAF New Armoured Fighting Vehicle

1. It was unveiled 10 years after the project began in 2006.

2. It is due to be commissioned by 2019.

3. It has more cameras than gun barrels.

4. New AFV optronics are designed for the hunter-killer role.

5. Imagine: Glass cockpit.

6. It is the first AFV designed and built in Singapore that shed the 3-metre limitation on vehicle width. The New AFV is noticeably larger than the M113 Ultra it will replace and the Bionix family.

Fast facts:
L: 6.9m, W: 3.28m, H: 3.2m
3 crew + 8 dismounted

M113 Ultra
L: 5.32m, W: 2.8m, H: 2.8m
2 crew + 9 dismounted

7. The relaxation of the width limitation recognises the New AFV's role as a consort to heavy armour such as the Leopard 2SG main battle tank and SAF Armour's future tank-killing vehicles.

8. You should see its stablemate.

You may also like:
The old and the new #tank. Click here.

Tidbits on the SAF. Click here

Project H. Click here

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

SAF 2030 faces key challenges in managing manpower shortfall

Without a shot fired, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will see its manpower down by a third from 2030 as a result of dwindling birth rates.

This quantum - permanent and significant - sits at the threshold at which defence professionals would consider tagging the "combat ineffective" label to military units that suffer a loss of such magnitude (typically, if estab strength falls below 69%).

To stay ready, respected and relevant, the SAF must shrug off this impression.

It is a tall order and time is of the essence.

Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF must not squander the coming years in making sure this shortfall does not compromise the SAF's bench strength. Fifteen years is not a long time. If you lived through the tumult of the 11 September 2001 aftermath, didn't those intervening years since 9/11 go by in a flash? That same time frame till present-day (15 years), projected forward would bring you to 2030.

New defence platforms and systems can take years to acquire and be phased through the progression charts that lead from Initial Operational Capability to Full Operational Capability (FOC). For example, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles achieved FOC on 30 March 2015, some eight years years after the UAVs were delivered in 2007.

For the Singapore Army, the new Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) mentioned by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at his SAF Day interview this year was conceptualised in 2006. But the new AFV is due to be rolled-out around 2019.

Defence capabilities take years to nurture. Such assets can be bought off the shelf at any time, but the backend processes needed to ensure MINDEF/SAF maximises the war-winning potential of new assets will take years to raise, train and sustain.

If nothing is done to adjust how the SAF conducts its business, that 30% manpower shortfall will exact a deleterious effect on the SAF's order of battle. Combat and combat support units will struggle to perform their mission with vacant positions. The orbat, if left unchanged from present-day, will have under-strength units that cannot deliver their full potential due to insufficient manpower.

The 2030 timeframe is significant for another reason.

It marks the juncture at which the RSAF is due to vacate Paya Lebar Air Base - the RSAF's largest airbase by land area - for a greenfield site on reclaimed land in Changi.

When that move takes place, it will mark the first time the RSAF will swap a dedicated air base for one co-located with a civilian airport. Not just any airport, mind you, but Changi Airport - one of the busiest air hubs in Southeast Asia.

Future MINDEF/SAF policy leaders and communications professionals will have to convince stakeholders in Singapore and abroad that this confluence of factors - a permanent and sizeable shortfall in defence manpower, loss of a dedicated airbase to a co-share arrangement with a civilian airport - does not translate to any erosion in defence readiness and deterrence value.

Since independence and with the introduction of National Service in 1967, the SAF has grown steadily year after year. A downsized SAF would put Singapore in uncharted territory as neighbouring countries would see their military strengths maintained at current levels or enlarged in 2030. It is an open question whether the smaller SAF would be seen as weakness, not just by regional players but also by foreign investors who will need assurance that their investments in Singapore will be safeguarded.

Against this backdrop, Singapore's main source of energy - the Natuna gas fields in Indonesia - are expected to run dry. This means Singapore's search for a viable and economic source of alternative energy will compete for the public's attention even as the SAF redraws its structure and organisation.

At the same time, present-day irritants in the South China Sea, threats from global extremism and regional power tussles could still hang over our heads in 2030.

Add to that the changing political landscape in Singapore three election cycles from now and one cannot assume support for defence policies and programmes will be evergreen.

Dr Ng's prognosis that the SAF of the future will have cutting edge assets that compensate for the fall in manpower hinges on continued support for the SAF in hearts and minds and from government coffers. Alas, none of these are guaranteed.

The manpower challenge is not easy to overcome. But MINDEF/SAF planners who examine live birth records have a 18-year headstart to do what's responsible and necessary. The more perplexing problem is whether Singaporeans will understand the changing strategic landscape and pull together as one to give MINDEF/SAF the groundswell of support it needs to sustain a citizen's armed forces.

Populists arguments to spend limited funds on other concerns may erode support for defence programmes at a time when the SAF is changing its shell.

There are many ways to offset the 30% drop in manpower.

First, by leveraging on defence technology as a force multiplier. This narrative is a tried-and-tested one. Ever since the Lardon gun allowed HQ Singapore Artillery to downsize its 155mm gun-howitzer crews as the FH-88's self-propelled, first round self-embedding capability and flick rammer feature reduced manpower demands, we have heard how the SAF has worked to optimise manpower using defence science and technology.

Second, introducing more women to defence roles. In this regard, the mindset change from MINDEF/SAF is welcome. SAF women pioneers, particularly pilots, would have experienced firsthand early prejudices and misgivings that placed a glass ceiling on the roles women could serve. Spurious arguments were made that placed bureaucratic roadblocks to having women sit in RSAF fast jet cockpits. We must thank our female SAF pioneers for persevering in their respective formations despite misogynistic remarks and mindsets that were hurtful and damaging to the career prospects of dozens of talented and capable women.

Thankfully, the situation has changed for the better. Those in positions of responsibility must ensure MINDEF/SAF never regresses to the dark days of the 70s and 80s.

Third, opening more roles to the SAF Volunteer Corps. The number of SAFVCs is modest today. But it is growing at a steady clip. More to the point, every volunteer who commits time and energy to serving the SAF releases one full-time National Serviceman (NSF) for other roles. Looking ahead, this effort must be sustained. In time to come, the handful of SAF volunteers will grow into hundreds. Within the next few years, we can expect to see the SAFVC headcount surpass the 1,000th volunteer. The pioneer SAFVC cohorts will serve as mentors to future batches of volunteers. Their feedback and experience will refine and reshape the training curricula adopted by all three Services who host volunteers, thereby contributing to an even more enriching and meaningful experience for future cohorts.

Fourth, the national service cycle could be lengthened or women could be enlisted for NS. You need not be politically-savvy to realise these will be hot potato issues. The climbdown from a full-time NS window of 2.5 years to two years, operationalised in late 2004, cannot be reversed without exacting political cost. And the ground may not be sweet for expanding NS to women.

These facts of life underpin Defence Minister Dr Ng's point this year about doing more with less.

We better take heed because the MINDEF/SAF community does not have the luxury of time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) submarine marks 21 days at sea

At sea and underwater! A great chievement. Im so proud!

Malaysian Chief of Navy, Admiral Dato' Seri Panglima Ahmad Kamarulzaman bin Haji Ahmad Badaruddin, lit up twittersphere today with Hari Raya greetings sent from a Royal Malaysian Navy diesel-electric submarine. 

His point of pride: 21 days at sea by a Malaysian Navy sub.

This milestone - which a Malaysian defence observer says isn't the first time an RMN sub has spent three weeks out at sea - points to the RMN's ability to sustain its presence at sea through its submarine force.

Ramadan Kareem.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) proposes code of conduct for underwater encounters

When submarines move beneath regional sea lanes - which are among the most congested in the world - the crew better know what they are doing.

A collision with a surface vessel or undersea object, a submarine that is less than shipshape or an ill-trained crew could have tragic consequences.

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) invests heavily in submarine training. Every submariner can, for example, find his way about the vessel and to essential equipment while blindfolded. The RSN has also introduced its own submarine rescue vessel, the Swift Rescue, which is on permanent standby to support 171 Squadron, the RSN's submarine unit.

You can get your house in order.

But the bigger unknown is whether other maritime users will know what to do to avoid colliding with a submarine.

With this in mind, the RSN has proposed a code of conduct that aims to promote safer underwater operations for naval forces with submarines and for ships at sea. This code would fill an essential void as there is presently no code of conduct for incidents at sea governing the underwater domain.

The RSN's Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea or CUES seeks to give submariners a set of rules of the road to avoid collisions with other undersea vessels (like other subs or unmanned underwater vehicles) or surface ships. It was floated at the Submarine Operational Safety Conference held in South Korea from 29 May to 2 June this year.

CUES is an apt acronym and more than a paper exercise in naval red tape.

It builds on 20 years of RSN submarine operations in regional waters as well as the Singapore Navy's experience operating submarines in the Baltic, which is used by the RSN's submarine training detachment in Sweden.

The RSN's 20th year of submarine operations, which was celebrated last Friday (23 June), has provided the Navy with the depth and breadth of expertise needed to propose a code of conduct that is relevant, timely and practical.

The onus, then, is for regional navies to embrace the code.

If the code is adopted by the more than 10 regional navies who operate over 200 submarines, submariners would benefit from a common code of conduct that provides useful cues on how to safely steer when submerged vessels encounter one another.

More importantly, the code would provide surface ships - especially merchant ships and civilian vessels - with important cues on what to do when they spot red smoke flares fired from a submarine about to conduct an emergency surfacing. Such a procedure would see several hundred tonnes of submarine shoot to the surface in seconds. This aspect will strengthen maritime safety as civilian vessels do not have sonar and are therefore are unaware of what lurks beneath them.

The sea may seem vast.

But the risk of collision is not theoretical.

In February 2001, the United States Navy (USN) nuclear-powered submarine, USS Greeneville, collided with a Japanese fisheries training ship, Ehime Maru. The emergency ballast blow executed by the Greenville brought her to the surface suddenly and the Ehime Maru was struck by the submarine as she emerged from the ocean depths. Nine Japanese aboard Ehime Maru were killed when their ship sank after the collision.

The underwater CUES recommends that surfacing submarines release a red pyrotechnic like a smoke flare that would float on the surface as a warning to ships in the vicinity. This would give surface ships time to clear away from that patch of sea as CUES would spell out that the sudden appearance of a flare is a sign that a submarine is about to conduct an emergency surfacing.

And in January 2005, the USN sub, USS San Francisco, collided with an underwater sea mount while travelling at full speed. The boat was nearly lost with all hands. This incident underscores another aspect of the RSN's outreach to regional sub operators: The sharing of information, best practices and agreement on common standards for how subs are made and operated safely.

While information on sub movements is sensitive, the RSN holds the view that navies can still collaborate by sharing non-sensitive information that affects the safety of submerged navigation. This includes seismic activity (that could interfere with sonar), fishing activity and real-time movements of deep-water oil rigs and deep draft vessels like very large and ultra large crude carriers whose hulls project tens of metres below the waves.

To promote info sharing, the RSN has developed a Submarine Safety Information Portal at the Information Fusion Centre at Changi Naval Base to facilitate the sharing of "live" updates of ships at sea. This big picture is useful as it can be used to coordinate submarine rescue assets, especially vessels of opportunity identified beforehand that have the equipment that can assist with the rescue of submarines involved in accidents at sea.

In January 2005, the US Navy sub, USS San Francisco, collided with an underwater sea mount while travelling at full speed. The boat was nearly lost with all hands but managed to limp to the surface. This incident underscores how the sharing of information on vessels of opportunity can lead to safer underwater operations for navies that embrace CUES.

The sea lanes in the Malacca Strait and South China Sea are not only congested. These highways for maritime trade also traverse relatively shallow water, with the southern reaches of the South China Sea typically around 60m to 70m in depth.

What challenges do submariners face in shallow water?

Think of Changi Airport's iconic control tower, which stands 78m tall. The height from the bottom of the hull to the waterline - a measurement known as the draft - of a full laden Very Large Crude Carrier is about 20m. So an underwater submarine in the South China Sea has a distance of about two thirds of the height of the Changi Airport control tower to avoid colliding with the hull of deep draft vessels like tankers, container ships, ocean liners and even oil rigs. It is not a lot of room to manoeuvre.

Even on the surface, when ships can see one another visually or on radar, collisions have taken place in broad daylight. These perils are exacerbated after dark.

In Singapore waters, the number of tanker arrivals has charted a steady climb over the past five to 10 years, from approximately 21,000 tankers of all classes (oil, chemical, liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas) to 22,000 tankers in 2015. Not only are more tankers calling at our ports, such vessels are bigger in size and tonnage. Fully laden oil tankers are a hazard to submerged submarines because their massive size and cargo makes them hard to spot on sonar.

Add to this number the rise in deep draft vessels such as ocean liners (which can embark thousands of passengers) and oil rigs (whose legs can reach the seabed), as well as expectations that the regional submarine fleet will jump by 100 hulls to around 300 diesel-electric subs by 2020 and one can appreciate the urgency of efforts to promote safer underwater navigation.

In years to come, one can expect unmanned underwater vessels to also ply beneath the waves, adding a new challenge to submarine operations.

Congested sea lanes and shallow seas have not deterred regional navies from adding even more submarines to regional waters. The underwater space will get even busier as more subs patrol regional sea lanes.

These challenges underline the importance of an underwater code of conduct to enhance maritime safety for all sea users.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) takes the wraps off anti-torpedo decoy system

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has used its Navy@Vivo display this past weekend to take the wraps off the anti-torpedo defence system installed aboard its Formidable-class stealth frigates.

The system is believed to be the Morpheus (as in the Matrix?) countermeasure supplied several years ago by Italian armaments company, Leonardo Finmeccanica.

The Navy@Vivo display ship, RSS Tenacious, went on show with the covers taken off the eight-barrelled launchers that form part of the WASS C310 countermeasure launching system. All six stealth frigates carry a pair of trainable launchers atop the hangar roof.

This blog gave readers a heads-up four years ago on the possibility that the stealth frigates had been upgraded with an anti-torpedo countermeasure system. Click here for the 2012 report and here for the 2013 update.

Morpheus is made up of three components. These are:
* The Black Snake towed sonar that is streamed aft to detect and classify incoming torpedoes.

* The software that builds upon alerts furnished by Black Snake to recommend an evasive course while directing the launchers to deploy anti-torpedo countermeasures in a pre-planned pattern in the path of the incoming torpedoes.

* The eight-barrelled acoustic countermeasure launching system. This ejects dummy mobile targets  and jammers that work in tandem to spoof torpedoes. The decoys will attempt to pull the torpedo away from the bearing of the real targets, with the game of bluff designed to carry on until the torpedo's propulsion is spent.

Senang Diri understands that the acquisition of the system, thought to be Morpheus, is complemented by new CONOPS for evasive manoeuvres executed at a recommended speed and course depending on the threat vector of underwater projectiles.

The unveiling of the anti-torpedo defence system marks a major capability jump for the stealth frigates, which are the RSN's premier anti-submarine warfare vessel. The warship's primary ASW asset is the embarked S-70B Seahawk, which can be deployed in the hunter-killer role with its dipping sonar and torpedoes to give the parent warship standoff distance while performing ASW sweeps.

A Leonardo Finmeccanica video describes how the system works. We join the attack/defence sequence from the point at which a hostile submarine zeroes in on friendly warships.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) strategy of trading space for time

The Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia) is respected by military forces worldwide for its expertise in jungle warfare.

The same cannot be said for its urban combat capabilities.

Aware of its shortcomings, the attention of ATM strategists since defeating the decades-old communist insurgency in 1989 has focused on the task of strengthening its ability to engage in and sustain conventional combat operations in battlespace such as urban terrain.

The strategic pivot from counter insurgency (COIN) to conventional warfare has transformed the ATM. This pivot has seen its defence staff scale up their ability to plan, mobilise and deploy for military operations on a larger scale and intensity than was practised during the Emergency era.

Space for time
The goal is to shape the battlespace for the ATM to prevail over an aggressor by trading space for time.

At section level, we have witnessed the introduction of two RPG-7 launchers and a six-shot 40mm multiple grenade launcher - weapons optimised to engage armour-heavy opponents. Indeed, the current ATM infantry section is the most heavily armed configuration we have seen and the utility of the Army's basic unit will be enhanced once units are more tightly integrated under the Future Soldier System project.

Moving up the food chain, the Keris (Astros II) rocket artillery batteries bring the RAD's firepower to a new plane. These are tactical rockets. But in the ATM's area of operations, the Keris can exert a strategic effect especially when their 110km range rings bring an entire nation within firing range. This advantage is not lost on Malaysian defence planners.

The objective is to gain time so that a short war can be dragged out into a slug fest, which would see the ATM put into play its ace cards - a brigade-strength special forces capability and the ability to interdict the long, vulnerable logistics tail that is needed to sustain forward deployed units belonging to the intruder.

In this regard, the expansion of urban areas - particularly in the southern part of peninsular Malaysia - has caught the attention of Markas ATM (MK ATM) as the Malaysian war machine's orbat is realigned and optimised for conventional operations on home ground.

The ATM's transformation involves more than revising doctrine and acquiring new war machines.

Basic questions have been asked on the extent to which MK ATM should defend and protect population centres like cities, towns and even kampungs. Bearing in mind the dictum "he who defends everything defends nothing", ATM strategists are keenly aware that territory may have to be ceded before the counter punch.

Alas, this is a touchy issue which has no model answer.

One only has to look at the reactions of Malaysians to the Lahad Datu standoff in 2013 to understand that Malaysians have high expectations for their defence and security forces (and rightly so). As a consequence, Malaysians would probably not take kindly to the perception that any Malaysian town or city has been "abandoned" by MK ATM and would make known their sentiments vociferously, perhaps at the expense of coherent and effective defence plans which the rakyat is ignorant of.

Case study: Johor Bahru
Johor Bahru (JB) makes an interesting case study. ATM table top and full-troop exercises conducted in past decades under the Eksesais Gonzales and Eks First Strike series have put to test several scenarios anchored on the defence of Johor, in general, and the state capital in JB, in particular.

There are probably few cities with a resident population of more than 1.5 million souls in ASEAN that the sit right on the border with a neighbouring country. Add to this number non-residents who live or work in the area framed by JB/Iskandar, Pontian, Kulai and Kota Tinggi and the number easily creeps up to around 1.8+ million.

ASEAN cities enjoy a territorial buffer that is contiguous with the national boundary. Not so for JB. Indeed, if a parallel can be found for JB city, it would probably be akin to how Gaza's location leaves it vulnerable to armoured penetrations from across the border. You get the picture.

There is no easy answer to the strategic question of how JB's population should be protected during a hot-war.

If the populated decides to displace on its own accord, highways and arterial roads leading out from JB to northern population centres will be jammed with civilian traffic. ATM strategists recognise that a disorganised evacuation could work in favour of the ATM's strategy of trading space for time to organise a response.

This cuts both ways as clogged roads could hamper the ATM's ability to deploy forces by land from Melaka or Mersing. This is akin to the situation in western Europe during the opening phases of the German invasion of the Low Countries when the British Expeditionary Force and French military units had their deployment timetables upset by civilians who blocked the roads.

The high water mark? Probably an axis from Muar to Mersing.

It is important to understand and appreciate that the militarily conducive conditions in the hypothetical scenario involving Johor do not arise because MK ATM chooses to deliberately leave Johoreans to their fate. The southernmost division in West Malaysia, the 3rd Division, does not have the manpower, assets and training to evacuate 1.5 million people ahead of hostilities.

So even if a best effort is made, the ability of Malaysian authorities (ATM and civilian units) to move residents out of the way of a potential firestorm is limited.

Neither can we expect most Johoreans to leave home willingly. During the height of the flood crisis in Johor and Pahang years back, many residents chose to stay in their homes despite repeated warnings by Malaysian authorities to leave in the face of impending flooding.

Malaysian strategists surmise that the same would occur ahead of a shooting war.

Congested road networks will be more of an issue for a mechanised army as the bulk of the ATM is still built upon infantry units who are trained, organised and equipped for long marches on foot.

During the early stages of an incursion, the ATM's limited armoured forces are likely to remain dispersed till there are opportune conditions for a counter punch. Such conditions could emerge as the intruding army ventures further up the Malay peninsula because the funnel shape of the southern peninsula means that the frontage will increase as the intruder ventures inland. This means vanguard units will find their FEBA gradually expand, unit boundaries will thin out correspondingly as these units advance up the funnel.

The responsibility for providing food and water to the population that remains in JB will rest on the occupying force. This task is neither straightforward, easy nor it is possible to test such capabilities in war games on a scale which will be encountered during a hot-war. Even for specialised battalions optimised for civil military relations work in occupied territory, the scale of the operation, language barrier and potentially hostile responses from residents are expected to prove thorny challenges.

A battalion's worth of CMR troops, thrown into an urban conurbation like JB, will disappear amid the urban sprawl and will find difficulty retaining critical mass to fulfill its mission objectives.

The potential loss of goodwill with the resident population could therefore prove problematic. On a wider front, the intruder will have to work hard to explain its case to a global audience. But even as both sides can be expected to sharpen their strategic messaging, the advantage lies with the native population whose way of life has been disrupted by military operations.

The Malaysian population left in place will serve defending forces well. Such residents would be expected to facilitate the infiltration of special forces assigned to sustain a guerilla warfare campaign against the invader. In this regard, one should remember that unpaved roads and plantations of Felda settlements form a continuous network that is linked all the way from Negeri Sembilan and Pahang.

This "Felda Trail" could be exploited as a combat route by ATM special forces as they launch hit-and-run raids to whittle down the strength of the invader. It is perhaps little coincidence that Malaysia's GGK selection trials employ part of this continuous network during the long 200km three-day endurance march for GGK candidates, so it would not be terra incognita for ATM special forces operatives.

ATM's game plan is to play the long 'game' in order to maximise the utility of advantages it has namely: manpower, terrain and space. In such a 'game', captive population becomes an asset and also a source of motivation to sustain morale.