Sunday, August 17, 2014

Success factors for SAF Volunteer Corps need better clarity

When the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) begins inducting around 100-150 people (including women, first generation Permanent Residents and new citizens) into the ranks of the SAF Volunteer Corps in March 2015, the success or lack thereof of the scheme may be used by observers as an indicator of society's Commitment to Defence (C2D).

For a country fixated with using numbers as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), we can expect the number of people who step forward as SAF volunteers to be closely watched.

If the scheme proves massively oversubscribed, then all's well on the C2D front. Or is it?

If wild horses can't drag people to volunteer, then people may see it as a flop. Or does it simply need time to gain support?

Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, has already indicated he is "not aiming for mass numbers". Be that as it may, that "100  to 150" figure is likely to float in people's consciousness. It is also likely to pop up in future as the media revisits the story, thus forming a rough baseline for gauging support for the March 2015 intake.

It is hard enough to generate and sustain support for National Service (NS). Indeed, sentiments earned by MINDEF/SAF seem to go against the grain of prevailing sentiments towards NS in other countries. What more a scheme to enlist support from segments of the population to put their lives on hold to serve the military?

More than just numbers, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF may find its defence information management framework confronting fresh challenges because handling news breaks on the SAF Volunteer Corps may prove more challenging than the current state of play involving full-time National Servicemen, Regulars and their loved ones.

To be sure, MINDEF/SAF has tapped volunteers for decades. But by and large, these individuals possess skill sets in specialised fields such as law and medicine and are inducted into military service in carefully prescribed numbers. Such cohorts join the SAF Volunteer Corps not just with the right skills, but the right motivation too and, in many cases, are probably cherry-picked by MINDEF/SAF.

Next year's plan to enlarge the SAF Volunteer Corps will bring in people from different age groups (which is fine) and motivation (which is dicey) who differ in their ability to not just fit in but contribute meaningfully to the SAF (which is a big unknown).

It would be unfortunate if the SAF Volunteer Corps morphs into a gap-filler for people who are at a loss what to do with their lives. Ditto if it turns out to be a kind of Outward Bound School adventure camp on steroids. There's also the possibility people will sign up, only for MINDEF/SAF to reflect wistfully that the pioneer batch of volunteers is more trouble than they are worth.

Apart from the sign-up numbers, the spotlight will also fall upon the number of individuals who go out of course or fall out from the SAF Volunteer Corps. This is, afterall, a volunteer programme.

Having decided to bite the bullet by opening up this avenue for Singaporeans/SPRs to contribute to national defence, it will be hard for MINDEF/SAF to unplug the effort without any red faces at Gombak Drive.

The risk that the volunteer programme will be forced-fed to cough out success factors, whatever the expense in time and effort, is a troubling one because Singaporean society is simply too small for such machinations to go unnoticed.

People will talk. Pioneer batch volunteers will be courted by the media for their first-person accounts. Impressions will be shaped along the way.

If the way forward for C2D is to boost the ranks of the SAF Volunteer Corps, then MINDEF/SAF may want to articulate its definition of success factors with greater clarity.

It may also need to consider setting up milestones that should be attained as the programme matures. Setting such milestones would give MINDEF/SAF the room to manoeuvre should public reception to the scheme swing either way, because we're now moving into uncharted territory as regards military volunteers and C2D and the last thing MINDEF/SAF needs is to find itself boxed in on a path of no return.

The "lemon law" mindset should apply scheme for SAF volunteers - we hope it will work as advertised. But if it falls short over time despite no lack of effort from officialdom, then the system should be given the leeway to rescind the scheme.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) wraps up Exercise Red Flag after fighting alongside frontline USAF war machines

Night fighters: RSAF F-15SG Strike Eagles, looking sinister after nightfall in their dark grey warpaint, are readied for operations during the USAF-led Exercise Red Flag Nellis, marking the F-15SG's debut at the war games. The high tempo of air operations, scripted under realistic hot-war scenarios that involved large formations of friendly and hostile warplanes, tested the mettle of RSAF pilots and Flight Line Crew alike as they fought to generate and sustain airpower. (Photo: RSAF)

In the air, high performance "enemy" war planes waited for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to enter the aerial arena during the Red Flag war games led by the United States Air Force.

And we obliged time and again, by day and by night, with RSAF F-15SG Strike Eagles making their presence felt for the first time alongside friendly airpower.

On the ground, "hostile" surface-to-air missile batteries scanned the skies, eager to claw down our fliers in contested airspace. And we taught them the meaning of DEAD - Destruction of Enemy Air Defences - with short, sharp concentrations of precisely-delivered aerial might.

Despite the ferocity of play, all who flew or supported the multitude of missions during Exercise Red Flag - Nellis lived to fight another day, wiser and more attuned to the demands and complexities of high intensity aerial combat fought round-the-clock at a punishing mission tempo.

By day and by night: RSAF F-15SG Strike Eagles sustain the pace of round-the-clock air strikes, with the same fighters turned around for combat flown by fresh RSAF air crews. RSAF Flight Line Crew assigned to our war machines were integral to the RSAF's ability to sustain the punishing pace of air combat missions launched from the USAF's Nellis Air Force Base. (Photo: RSAF)

Led by the United States Air Force (USAF), Exercise Red Flag was fought over a battlespace many times the size of Singapore island with 102 war machines from the USAF, French Air Force and the RSAF staging out of the USAF's Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert.

The substantial volume of airspace designated for Red Flag was fully utilised by the participants, who launched successive waves of warplanes in what is known in military jargon as "large force employment exercises". Put simply, this involved sending sizeable formations of warplanes to sweep the skies of hostile aircraft so that friendly airpower could be unleashed against a variety of ground targets.

The Americans and French contributed 83 aircraft while Singapore deployed 16 warplanes and three Chinook heavy-lift helicopters for combat search and rescue. All assets experienced realistic, high intensity air combat when pitted against aggressor units whose sole focus was to make it a bad day for friendly forces.

All frontline USAF warplanes took part, including the F-22 Raptor -  the world's most advanced warplane. The Raptors were joined by F-15 Eagles, F-16 Vipers, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes and E-3 airborne early warning aircraft, the last example serving as a flying radar station that directed the air battle.

The French were represented by a C-130 Hercules.

Special year: With tail art commemorating the 20th anniversary of Peace Carvin this year, this RSAF F-16D Fighting Falcon may look pretty but was sent to the USAF's Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) for serious business. The F-16D was one of eight sent by the  RSAF's Peace Carvin II detachment in Luke AFB for pilots and Flight Line Crew to gain firsthand experience participating in the USAF's premier air power readiness exercise, Exercise Red Flag.

Lifeline: An RSAF CH-47 Chinook skims the flight line at Nellis AFB. These heavy-lift choppers practised how they would execute combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions over contested territory, providing a home delivery service for friendly fliers looking for a ride home. In combat, CSAR missions would be supported by RSAF assets like UAVs and fighter aircraft, with the warplanes flying top cover and cleaning up the ingress and egress route of undesirable elements.

Singapore's contribution drew upon three RSAF CONUS detachments. The RSAF deployed:
* Eight F-15SG Strike Eagles from the Peace Carvin V detachment, flying as part of the USAF 428th Fighter Squadron from Mountain Home AFB in Idaho
* Eight F-16C/D Fighting Falcons from Peace Carvin II, flying under the banner of the USAF 425th FS from Luke AFB in Arizona
* Three CH-47 Chinooks from the Peace Prairie detachment, Grand Prairie, Texas.

The nominal roll of Singaporean warfighters was substantial - some 290 RSAF personnel took part in the exercise.

Singapore has taken part in Red Flag since 1982. Indeed, the RSAF is humbled to know that it is the only Southeast Asian air force invited to take part in the war readiness exercise year after year.

Generate & Sustain: A thirsty RSAF Chinook heavy-lift helicopter is topped up with aviation fuel during Exercise Red Flag. Flight Line Crew from the USAF, French AF and RSAF sustained the pace of air operations. This was no 9-to-5 job as Red Flag air warfare planners scripted the war games with missions which saw large formations of warplanes and helos launched round-the-clock, putting a premium on the fast turnaround of assets under close-to-war conditions.(Photo:  RSAF) 

Despite the RSAF's long association with Red Flag, many RSAF fliers and Flight Line Crew at this year's exercise were probably not even born when the RSAF had its first experience pitted against the famed Aggressor squadrons that Red Flag is known for.

With experienced pilots simulating hostile warplanes in the air and air defence units with their trigger on mock SAM launchers on the ground, friendly fliers had their hands full concentrating on executing their missions at substantial range, over unfamiliar terrain, in large formations flying alongside new friends, sometimes in the dark and all the while with someone out there hunting for you.

The score card, while not publicised, was not the main takeaway from Exercise Red Flag. Having flown and fought in a realistic, complex, high-threat environment, RSAF pilots and FLCs know what it takes to fly and fight at a tempo set by Red Flag air warfare planners -who scripted the exercise with the aim of making USAF and friendly forces ready for action.

Lieutenant Colonel Tham Yeow Min, RSAF Peace Carvin V Detachment Commander, said: "We value the opportunity to train alongside our USAF and FAF counterparts in this large-scale exercise as it allows us to hone our operational competencies. This high-end exercise provides the RSAF with an opportunity to benchmark itself against leading air forces.

"The RSAF has always done well at Exercise Red Flag  - Nellis, and RSAF F-15SGs will continue to uphold the high standards."

Monday, July 14, 2014

Info management for the Kits for Kids fundraiser

Wrapped up a 14-day campaign to promote awareness of and support for the Kits for Kids fundraiser held on Saturday (12 July 2014). See the Channel News Asia report on the event here.

Time spent in the lead-up to the event meant less time available for blog postings on our usual subject over the past two weeks.

The Kits for Kids project involved a hearts and minds effort of a different sort, which still called upon the application of key information management principles and the use of mainstream and social media to get the message across to the target audience (i.e. model kit collectors).

It was fun defining the success factors and key enablers, crafting assorted Facebook posts to seed awareness of the event and planning the information release strategy together with various stakeholders. Astute readers among you can probably tell the similarity in writing style for some Facebook posts. Check out the Kits for Kids Facebook page here

All smiles all-round when the buying frenzy cleared 1,150 kits out of 1,300 for sale within the first two hours - even without a single advertisement to promote the event and with the point of main effort pushed forward via social media - resulting in the happy problem of communicating that Day 2 of the two-day event was cancelled.

The 14-day window was deliberate. Those of you who have followed this blog's views on info management via social media would probably know why this time frame was selected.

It was nice to have met a number of you at the event. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is no Peace Corps

Singapore's intention to buy a large warship that can carry helicopters has been packaged under the catch-all, say-nothing moniker, Joint Multi-Mission Ship (JMMS).

Apart  from adding to the alphabet soup of Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) acronyms, the term JMMS conjures a vessel that is a Swiss Army knife of sorts: A vessel of indeterminate length able to shoulder missions aplenty, carry more and venture further than anything the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has afloat today.

While close to nothing has been said about the military role of the JMMS as a surface combatant, mainstream media in Singapore have happily cut and pasted the MINDEF/SAF narrative of the JMMS as a disaster relief ship in their reports.

Look at these headlines:
Channel NewsAsia:  S'pore may buy large ship  for use in disaster zones: Dr Ng
Today: SAF mulls buying larger ship to better aid  in diaster relief
The Straits Times: Singapore may buy large warship for use in disaster zones

No one has asked about the role a large ship that can carry helicopters can serve in enhancing the SAF's capability during operations (read: in peace, troubled peace and war).

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen told reporters in his interview with the Singapore media ahead of SAF Day, which is today:"A larger JMMS would be able to carry more helicopters or  have more helicopters operating. When we responded to Typhoon Haiyen... basically the typhoon was so devastating that comms and communication were knocked out. There was no centralised ability for command and control of the airspace. In that context, a ship like the JMMS would have been very useful."

And indeed it would.

The unease one feels with such a storyline comes from the impression that such sugar coating builds in the minds of Singaporeans as well as friends and frenemies abroad.

It could lead to the image of the SAF in general, and the Singapore Navy in particular, as a Peace Corps for the region. So if and when our multi-billion dollar defence budget eventually results in a JMMS pierside at an RSN naval base, Singapore may find itself inundated with calls to assist in the aftermath of nature's fury.

Can we ignore these plaintive pleas?

If we get the large ship that can carry helicopters, we may find it awkward to RSVP in the negative. If we go, how long should the more capable large ship that can carry helicopters stay in theatre? Would the author of the HADR storyline also have an exit story crafted for future policymakers so that Singapore can bow out of an extended deployment in a disaster zone with dignity and goodwill bridged with the foreign nation?

Whatever the narrative the mainstream media laps up, observers should know the SAF's key purpose of deterring aggression through strength and readiness lies at the core of our capability enhancement development projects.

Ditch the Peace Corps mental image and one sees a JMMS capable of supporting amphibious operations on the exposed flank of the area of operations. Singapore Army and Republic of Singapore Air Force assets embarked on the JMMS would allow the SAF to project combat and combat support forces on and from the sea. More impactful is the type and sustainability of air support coming from RSAF rotary-wing and quite possibly fixed-wing aviation operating from the JMMS. These could conceivably range from upgraded Apache attack helicopters (the crashed bird is being souped up to a new standard), troopships to combat naval aviation.

In addition, drones tailored for military missions other than surveillance could be unleashed by the JMMS, adding a new dimensions to the fight that present-day RSN Task Groups built around its LSTs cannot muster.

As the 141-metre long Endurance-class tank landing ships are already frontrunners in this role of projecting SAF muscle across the beach, the capability of the planned JMMS is likely to be on par or superior to that  found aboard the Endurance LSTs. Few amphibs used by foreign navies can rival the beach landing capabilities of each Endurance LST, which is designed to embark a sizeable number of fast waterjet-propelled landing craft. This suggests an uplift in the ability of the JMMS to not just move men and materiel on the water and in the air, but also use its flight deck to deliver RSAF combat power where it counts - let's leave it at that. Singapore Army, Navy and Air Force executing multiple missions jointly from the same hull - hence JMMS.

By the time the JMMS hits the water, our ageing fast landing craft introduced under Project M are expected to have been superceded by a new class of landing craft, some of which have a drive-thru design to carry heavy vehicles around 70 tonnes. These landing craft could appear sooner than you think.

Keep your eyes open.

Happy SAF Day.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Best Units 2014

The dry heat was enervating yet tolerable as it was hot back home too. The lack of  humidity they welcomed. It was the dust, omnipresent and pervasive, that the soldiers found a nuisance.

A bigger challenge were ground rules for their training stint at a location that could not be shared with family and friends, on war machines that could not be mentioned, all executed under a training arrangement that would probably never ever see the light of day.

Still, all took it in their stride. The soldiers proved to be eager and attentive students as they were taught how to handle their massive war chariots. Project H had turned from concept to reality.

Their experience is, alas, not unique. There are other episodes within the land, air and sea services of their country's armed forces that have allowed the careful infusion of combat capabilities calculated to result in a swift and decisive over-match should push come to shove.

Herein lies the irony: That commanders of some of  the most lethal capabilities in their armed forces end up as bench warmers as their country celebrates the achievements of the best military units.

The applause and cheers that erupt from spectator stands are well-deserved for the officers, men and women from battalions/squadrons that earned their accolades. The banners that some units inevitably bring along add more than a dash of colour and bravado to the event with their stirring unit slogans and rousing war chants. They are a tangible and heart-warming display of unit esprit and of the sense of comradeship fostered within and throughout their formation.

Amid the pomp and pageantry sit officers whose respective commands will never be lauded publicly. This comes not from want of achievement nor from lack of professional competence or dearth of opportunities for them to shine against their peers.

The standard of war craft in these units has, in many cases, evolved from good to great. The synchromesh of war-fighting capabilities, tested and refined during realistic war-fighting exercises, has proven time and again that their concept of operations is practical, the concentrated firepower at their disposal potentially devastating.

They may never share the limelight at the parade but they know they do not need it. Nor do they hanker for awards that are feted by the media.

They are special, in a class of their own, primus inter pares.

Those who know deeply appreciate the contributions of these men and women to their country's defence and security. They are, well and truly, their country's best units.

Kits for Kids fund raising drive

Now for something different. Please share this appeal in aid of Singapore's Students Care Service (SCS). TY.

By Tan Chuan-Jin, click here for TCJ's Facebook page

Like many, I found the hobby of piecing together a box of plastic parts to assemble a scale model of a plane, tank or soldier a fascinating one.
Do you remember your first model kit? My first was a 'Matchbox' 1/72 scale Royal Air Force Hawk with Red Arrows marking. I remember the two-colour plastic and the clear stand upon which you placed the finished aircraft so that it looks as if it is flying.

This hobby calls for patience and along the way, reading up about the model being built also provided many lessons about military history.

Over the years, my stash of unbuilt kits slowly increased. Collecting it was as much a hobby as building them! There was that thrill of opening the box, pouring through the instructions, examining the details and then putting it aside while imagining the various painting schemes, diorama settings etc. Often not quite getting back to actually building it!

My unbuilt model kits are crying out for new owners who can give them more attention and time. The Kits for Kids charity event will put on sale unbuilt kits from my personal collection along with kits donated by others. It has been heart-warming to see the modelling community step forward by offering their time and kits for this charity drive. We have already received dozens of model kits donated by well-wishers. More are welcome. We look forward to expanding the stash thanks to your contribution, which can be dropped off (logistics details to come).

While many of these kits have sentimental value of the kind that fellow collectors can possibly relate to, I am donating these kits for a good cause as the Students Care Service deserves our support. All monies raised will go to students who need some assistance, and to help them develop to their fullest potential.

Even before the start of the charity sale, corporate donors have already pledged more than $10,000 in support of Kits for Kids. It is a promising start!

Although money can be raised in many ways, this effort is about galvanising our community of modellers to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Along the way, we renew friendships and have a great time - adding an intangible element to the charity drive that goes beyond putting money in a tin.

Come join me on 12-13 July at Kampong Ubi CC in support of Kits for Kids. Catch up with old modeling friends, meet some of our world class modelers who will display their works, and find something that will give you and your children hours of joy.

See you! Do share this!

Check out as we load more info over time.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

CARAT-Wira Eagle: Malaysian and US forces execute amphibious landing demo in Johor

Skirmish line: Malaysian paratroopers and United States Marine secure the beachhead at Tanjung Resang in Malaysia's Johor state as LCACs disgorge troops and vehicles shipped ashore from the dock landing ship, USS Ashland (LSD-48). The amphibious landing capability demo was staged as part of the CARAT-Wira Eagle war games hosted by Malaysia.
All images courtesy of Dzirhan Mahadzir, who witnessed the action firsthand at CARAT-Wira Eagle.

Attacking from the sea, warfighters from Malaysia and the United States stormed a beach at Tanjung Resang, just north of Mersing, yesterday in a joint show of force.

The capability demonstration, staged as part of the CARAT-Wira Eagle war games (Wira is Malay for Hero), represent the second major MY-US military exercise held in the Federation this past week after United States Air Force F-22A  Raptors and Royal Malaysian Air Force war machines launched the air power manoeuvres, Eksesais Cope Taufan 2014, on Monday.

CARAT-Wira Eagle saw LCAC hovercraft, loaded with B-vehicles like ATM Vamtacs and USMC Hummers, despatched off Tg Resang from the dock landing ship, USS Ashland (LSD-48). The landing force was supported by AAV-7 tracked armoured carriers deployed from the Ashland.

Malaysia's contribution to the amphibious landing force comprised elements from 9 RAMD (Para) (Rejimen Askar Melayu DiRaja -  Royal Malay Regiment), which is part of the Malaysian Army's crack 10 Brigad Para (10th Parachute Brigade). The battalion's parent brigade is the Malaysian Army's Pasukan Aturgerak Cepat or Rapid Deployment Force.

Paratroops from 9 RAMD are adept at securing enemy objectives from the air. The battalion is also the designated amphibious landing specialist in the Malaysian Army.

At  CARAT-Wira Eagle yesterday, Malaysian troops provided air defence cover (above) for the landing beach by deploying MANPADS fire units upon landing with the intention of protecting subsequent waves of LCACs from attacks by low-flying enemy warplanes or attack helicopters.

The joint force defeated entrenched enemy infantry, who attempted to defend the beachhead, before securing the area for friendly forces.

Malaysia and the United States enjoy warm and friendly defence relations. The military might demonstrated at CARAT-Wira Eagle and Eks Cope Taufan 2014 - the latter saw the US deploy its latest warplanes to the region for the first time - is indicative of concrete and continuing efforts by both countries to uplift their bilateral defence relations during joint exercises, defence courses, visits and exchanges of military personnel.