Friday, March 21, 2014

Not business as usual for Indonesia-Singapore defence relations

Pawn stars: Like good soldiers, these TNI re-enactors playing the role of convicted terrorists Usman and Harun at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue take their orders from influential cukongs in Jakarta who will never bother befriending these troops. The recently unearthed Usman-Harun issue has undone decades of work by far-sighted defence officials from Indonesia and Singapore who recognised the value and merit in the two neighbours forging ahead together.

Maybe it was a cheap shot directed at unsettling Singapore.
Maybe it was another example of Indonesian behaviour that should be seen at face value with no ill intent, no ill will and no malice intended.

Or it may have been staged because Indonesia’s Korps Marinir (Marine Corps) has absolutely no other national heroes in its long history.
Whatever the case, Indonesia’s decision to have two of its marines walk side by side, dressed up in 1960s-era uniforms this past week emblazoned with the names “Usman” and “Harun” indicates that the Usman-Harun warship naming episode is, quite literally in this instance, far from dead.

The act of bringing the duo back to life caught the attention of the Indonesian press, who photographed the re-enactors at the Indonesian Navy booth at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue. This event, held this past week at the Jakarta Convention Centre, attracted a global audience, many of whom saw a model of the warship named KRI Usman Harun alongside the marines dressed up as convicted terrorists.

Coming so close on the heels of the atmospherics over Jakarta’s decision to name a new warship after two Indonesian marines convicted and hung in Singapore for murdering civilians during the 10 March 1965 MacDonald House bombing, the picture is understandably newsworthy.

More than anything, that single image published by Tempo says succinctly - in far less than a thousand words – that the twin ghosts of insensitivity and disrespect that haunt Indonesia-Singapore defence relations have yet to be exorcised.
The lack of sensitivity that plunged defence dealings between Asean’s largest and smallest members into deep freeze are an unfortunate and recent phenomenon.

If you visit the National Museum in downtown Jakarta, you will find an exhibit on the MacDonald House bombing therein that tells Indonesia’s perspective to a dark episode in Indonesia-Singapore relations that claimed three civilian lives and injured many other civilians. Blood was shed - pointlessly and without warning - after the marines bombed the office building during Konfrontasi, the undeclared war with Malaysia, of which Singapore was then part of.
Usman and Harun were convicted and hung for murder in 1968, but were feted as heroes when their bodies were flown back to Jakarta. Bilateral ties went into limbo until 1973,  when then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesian President Suharto agreed that it was time to move on. Accepting the advice from then Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Lee Khoon Choy, former PM Lee sprinkled flower petals on the graves of the two marines as a gesture that ties should move forward.

The MacDonald House bombing has, nonetheless, been recognised by generations of Indonesian leaders in the political and defence spheres as a sensitive episode best left in the past. Why? It remains tender ground because heralding one’s perspective to this issue would inevitably affect the feelings and sensitivities of the other neighbour. The individuals hailed by Indonesia as heroes for following orders are viewed by Singapore as murderous terrorists. If Korps Marinir re-enactors want to be historically accurate, their caricatures of Usman and Harun should have worn civilian attire as this was how the two dressed in their cowardly attack on a non-military target during an undeclared war. In the eyes of civilised nations, this is an undeniable act of terrorism. It is a big deal when a neighbour openly celebrates such blood lust as there is nothing to suggest history would not repeat itself.
For decades, defence and political officials from both sides pledged to move on as the issue had been closed in 1973. Singapore sought to see the Tentera Nasional Indonesian (TNI, Indonesian armed forces) in a different light, despite international condemnation throughout the decades that echoed TNI abuses from one end of the archipelago (Aceh) to the other (Irian Jaya). For years, the TNI was an international pariah, arms sales to Jakarta were banned by some countries and TNI officers were shunned by others.

But the SAF was prepared to engage with the TNI, as the armed forces the SAF had first hand experience working with showed us a different side from the butchered image painted by human rights groups.
An official from Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) recalls how a MINDEF entourage was whisked quickly past the Usman-Harun exhibit during an official visit, with semi-apologetic exhortations of “This way Pak” as their Indonesian hosts hurried them to other parts of the museum. This gesture was noted as an effort on the part of the Indonesians not to unnecessarily agitate the Singaporeans, even unintentionally.

In decades past, our two countries have benefitted immensely from close and meaningful relations, which include interactions that take place aware from the media’s limelight such as specialised training for TNI warships and close collaboration with successive generations of high-ranking Komandan Gugus or Dangus (Force Commanders) from the Indonesian Navy’s various commands.

The Usman Harun episode has, alas, made many in Singapore see the side of the TNI that we hoped we would not be forced to see. Recent theatrics engineered by some players in Indonesia are textbook examples of statecraft that is insensitive, petty and bullying. Such behaviour is perhaps fuelled by a massive inferiority complex arising from Singapore’s success story. We should expect more mischievous stunts as some elements in Jakarta turn a blind eye to the hard work of many TNI officers, men and women at nurturing defence ties by exploiting the Usman Harun episode for their own agenda.

Indeed, none other than Indonesian defence minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro was quoted by the Indonesian media for commenting that there was “no problem” with the presence of the two marines at the event.  

The relationship between the TNI and SAF is in limbo. Ties that took decades of joint effort to establish and mature have now been set back many years.

It is not business as usual.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Search for Malaysia Airlines MH370: A look at RSAF C-130 flights callsigns Rescue 65 and Rescue 66

Mission ready: A C-130H from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) 122 Squadron is prepared for her long, 10-hour overwater flight at Apron Charlie, Paya Lebar Air Base, on 9 March 2014. Straits Times picture by Desmond Lim.

The following post is unique to Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) search and locate missions flown using C-130 Hercules aircraft with the callsigns Rescue 65 and Rescue 66. What is not unique are the challenges flying such long duration flights overwater, far from land, in all weather conditions. Men and women from 13 countries face much the same challenges in the unprecedented, multinational search for the 239 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. The dedication and commitment to a common purpose of the SAR teams from all nations is praiseworthy.  

There are no signs that point to IGARI, the aeronautical waypoint that Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 is said to have passed before she vanished mysteriously last Saturday (8 Mar 2014).

Getting to the search areas near IGARI that Malaysia has assigned to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) involves flying some 700km from Paya Lebar Air Base in a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft configured for search and locate duty with observer stations, lift rafts and smoke markers. Once there, the Hercules would begin a meticulous aerial sweep of the sea at low level, orbiting the search boxes for hours on end.

Air Force men and women aboard two C-130s, callsigns Rescue 65 and Rescue 66, have been flying such missions this past week.

Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 start their work day
It's a tough way to earn one's pay. Even so, there's been no let up in the mission tempo. Every call to duty has been answered. All assigned flights have taken off as scheduled and returned to base safely.

From engine start to engine shutdown, each mission could easily stretch 10 hours - or more. Flying is just one part of the deal. The RSAF engineers and groundcrew from 122 "Condor" Squadron responsible for getting the two airlifters mission ready start their work day well before sun-up and will stand down hours after sunset.

It is arduous work. And we can be grateful for the Air Force's men and women who answered the call to action promptly and have been sustaining the effort every day since Saturday.

Working in concert with colleagues from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Team RSAF has been planning, supporting and flying search and locate flights last Saturday, when 122 SQN was activated for the search. The squadron sent one C-130 aloft from around noon that day to help Malaysia.

Acknowledging a Malaysian request for more assets, Singapore raised the number of C-130s assigned for the aerial search to two aircraft. This afternoon, the RSAF despatched an additional SAL aircraft to the Malaysian-led search. A Fokker 50 Mark 2S Enforcer from 121 "Brahminy Kite" Squadron will be forward deployed at Butterworth for search duty in the Malacca Strait and Andaman Sea.

Eyes in the sky: Observers aboard an RSAF C-130 search and locate flight scan the surface of the South China Sea as part of a multinational search led by Malaysia for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Straits Times picture by Desmond Lim.

C-130 Project Hxxx upgrade shows its worth
Looking out of the front office of Rescue 65 as the C-130 overflies the South China Sea after dawn, one sees shimmering waters heaving under a gentle swell. The vista is stunningly beautiful with a deep sea blue from horizon to horizon. It is a featureless seascape; unmarked but not uncharted.

What one sees as featureless sea, the flight management system of Rescue 65 charts as airways and waypoints. Names alien to laypersons but familiar to aviators - names like AKOMA, BITOD, ENREP and IGARI - chart invisible waypoints over an otherwise featureless sea that guide aviators along airways in the sky.

The upgraded cockpit is a result of the RSAF's C-130 upgrade, now underway as Project Hxxx, that helps reduce the flight crew's workload with better cockpit displays, upgraded autopilot and weather radar displays, among other refinements.

On upgraded C-130s, the job of navigating the aircraft is aided by a flight management system that speeds up calculations and presents the flight path clearly. This gives the pilots extra bandwidth to concentrate on achieving their mission without getting overly bogged down flying the plane to its objective.

Not everything has been changed in the name of upgrading. The circuit breaker board on the right side of the cockpit retains its 1970s charm with a bewildering mass (to outsiders) of switches and dials. The cockpit display panel also has a fair number of old-style dials, affectionately called steam gauges, that have been retained because they do the job well even as flat screen displays lend a modern touch to the cockpit of the RSAF's upgraded C-130s.

The upgrade hasn't put C-130 navigators out of a job. Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 each have one onboard and the navigators are kept busy supporting the mission even as the aircraft are guided en route by GPS.

Once in their respective search boxes, the pilot-in-command runs the show as he or she sees fit. A ladder search is usually done. This search pattern is named after the flight path of the search aircraft because the track it traces as it flies several nautical miles left and right during its advance on a certain compass bearing results in a flight path looking like the rungs of a ladder.

Flying out of sight of the nearest landfall, the glaring sun bakes Rescue 65 as the minutes tick by... slowly. This is going to be a l-o-n-g 10 hours. But the crew is thankful for the clear weather and calm sea as they much prefer it to darting about in low clouds and rain over an agitated sea.

As the full-time National Servicemen who volunteered to join Rescue 65 soon discover, staring out at the expansive ocean is hard on one's eyes. On commercial airliners, passengers can choose to pull down the window shades as the glare can be harsh and blinding. On Rescue 65, the observers have no such luxury. And so they scour the surface of the sea, looking out for signs of the MAS airliner in shifts that last around 20 minutes each. The observers do so amid the unrelenting din from the four Rolls Royce turboprops whose whistle-like buzz will produce the constant droning, the deafening, irritating background noise and energy-sapping vibrations throughout their journey that no ear defenders or ear plugs have ever shut out successfully.

Capable of airlifting some 42,000 pounds of cargo, Rescue 65 is considered relatively light with the flight crew of five and less than 10 observers/scanners in the main cabin. The C-130 proves surprisingly agile when her pilots coax the aircraft into a sharp bank like a fighter plane while orbiting a contact of interest - a floating piece of debris that the observers photograph with determined persistence.

People who need a quiet environment to work need not apply. Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 are certainly not the place for desk-bound office types.

Call to action
Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 leave PLAB before dawn to maximise their time in the search box during daylight.

As dawn breaks over Singapore, the C-130s are already well on their way towards the South China Sea. Over the  past week, Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 were hard at work in their search boxes throughout daylight hours in Singapore, toiling out of sight of Singaporeans alongside multinational search teams. Enjoyed your lunch break? Lunch for SAL crews is simple finger food or whatever you can balance gingerly on your knees, wolfed down as the engines drone on. Toilet breaks are done in the main cabin behind a modesty screen.

By the time Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 see Singapore again, the evening rush hour is just tapering off and most of Singapore is winding down another day.

For 122 Squadron, having the aircraft on ground presents RSAF engineers and groundcrew the opportunity to turnaround the C-130s.

Under the glare of floodlights at Apron Charlie, they will carry out maintenance checks and refuel the thirsty aircraft. The work will continue overnight before the launch cycle starts in the wee hours of a fresh work day when 122 SQN will report to HQ RSAF: Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 ready for duty.

And then it begins.... all over again (",)7  *salutes*

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Statement by TUDM Chief on Berita Harian report on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

Panglima Tentera Udara (Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force), General Tan Sri Dato'Sri Rodzali Daud, issued the following statement late last night (11 March 2014). The statement corrects a report in Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper that ascribed remarks on the air turn back of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 towards the Malacca Strait to PTU.

We reproduce PTU's statement in full.



1. I refer to the Berita Harian news article dated 11th March 2014 on Search and Rescue Operations in the Straits of Malacca which (in Bahasa Malaysia) referred to me as making the following statements: 

The RMAF Chief confirmed that  RMAF Butterworth airbase detected the location signal of the airliner as indicating that it turned back from its original heading to the direction of Kota Bahru, Kelantan, and was believed to have pass through the airspace of the East Coast of and Northern Peninsular Malaysia.
The last time the plane was detected by the air control tower was in the vicinity of Pulau Perak in the Straits of Malacca at 2.40 in the morning before the signal disappeared without any trace, he said.

2. I wish to state that I did not make any such statements as above, what occurred was that the Berita Harian journalist asked me if such an incident occurred as detailed in their story, however I did not give any answer to the question, instead what I said to the journalist was “Please refer to the statement which I have already made on 9 March 2014, during the press conference with the Chief of Defence Force at the Sama-Sama Hotel, Kuala Lumpur International Airport”.
3. What I stated during that press conference was,
The RMAF has not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back on a reciprocal heading before the aircraft vanished from the radar and this resulted in the Search and Rescue Operations being widen to the vicinity of the waters of Pulau Pinang.

4. I request this misreporting be amended and corrected to prevent further misinterpretations of what is clearly an inaccurate and incorrect report.

5. Currently the RMAF is examining and analyzing all possibilities as regards to the airliner’s flight paths subsequent to its disappearance. However for the time being, it would not be appropriate for the RMAF to issue any official conclusions as to the aircraft’s flight path until a high amount of certainty and verification is achieved. However all ongoing search operations are at the moment being conducted to cover all possible areas where the aircraft could have gone down in order to ensure no possibility is overlooked.

6. In addition, I would like to state to the media that all information and developments will be released via official statements and press conferences as soon as possible and when appropriate. Our current efforts are focused upon on finding the aircraft as soon as possible.

Thank You


Chief of Royal Malaysian Air Force

Released On:

11 March 14
Kuala Lumpur

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reuters story claims Malaysia Airlines MH370 was last seen in Strait of Malacca

Have noted the Reuters story below. If verified, this would mean the main body of air/sea assets searching the South China Sea is looking in the wrong place.

A switch from the east to west coast of  Peninsular Malaysia will see the multinational search team swing past Singapore en route to resuming their search in the Malacca Strait and Andaman Sea.

The passage of these vessels past Singapore might see foreign nations request access to the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Changi Naval Base as part of force sustainment efforts. Ships are typically self-sustaining as far as fresh water is concerned. Tinned, dried and frozen provisions can last for some time, but fresh vegetables degrade after about five days even with refrigeration. The ships would also need to top up on fuel.

TLDM welcome to call at CNB
In the event that the missing plane is found in the South China Sea (SCS) and search activity is concentrated off the east coast of Malaysia, Singapore should consider favourably any requests by Malaysia to use CNB as a pivot point to sustain her search in the SCS. Having Malaysian ships stage out of CNB would save about 18 hours' sailing time from KD Lumut, the Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia's (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy) naval base in Perak, to the eastern approaches in the Singapore Strait.

TLDM warships (KD Lekiu, KD Kasturi and KD Terengganu) called at CNB during the Eksesais Malapura naval war games in late February 2014. We should welcome TLDM's presence in CNB again - especially during this difficult time.

Missing Malaysian plane last seen at Strait of Malacca-source

By Niluksi Koswanage
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The Malaysian military believes an airliner missing for almost four days with 239 people on board flew for more than an hour after vanishing from air traffic control screens, changing course and travelling west over the Strait of Malacca, a senior military source said.

Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for the Chinese capital Beijing.

At the time it was roughly midway between Malaysia's east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 35,000 ft (10,670 metres).

"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.

The Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia's west coast.

Earlier on Tuesday, Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper quoted air force chief Rodzali Daud as saying the Malaysia Airlines plane was last detected by military radar at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday, near the island of Pulau Perak at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca. It was flying at a height of about 9,000 metres (29,500 ft), he was quoted as saying.

"The last time the flight was detected close to Pulau Perak, in the Melaka Straits, at 2.40 a.m. by the control tower before the signal was lost," the paper quoted Rodzali as saying.

A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was being checked.

"This report is being investigated by the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) and the search and rescue team," the source said. "There are a lot of such reports."

The time given by Rodzali was an hour and 10 minutes after the plane vanished from air traffic control screens over Igari waypoint, midway between Malaysia and Vietnam.

There was no word on what happened to the plane thereafter.

If the reports from the military are verified, it would mean the plane was able to maintain a cruising altitude and flew for about 500 km (350 miles) with its transponder and other tracking systems apparently switched off.

Malaysia has extended the massive search operation for the plane to the Malacca Strait after initially focusing on the South China Sea.

(Additional reporting by Anuradha Raghu and Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Updated list of SAR assets

This latest census excludes search and rescue assets staging from Vietnam. The census counts embarked helicopters as part of the SAR team.

Please email me if you have details of Vietnam's contribution or named ships from the countries mentioned below.

Aircraft: 32 aircraft fixed and rotary-wing

11 x TUDM
1 x TLDM
5 x APMM (Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency)
1 x PDRM (Polis DiRaja Malaysia, Royal Malaysian Police)

2 x Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion

1 x Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion

2 x Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 Hercules
1 x RSAF S-70B Seahawk (aboard RSS Steadfast)

1 x Royal Thai Navy MPA
1 x Royal Thai Navy Super Lynx

1 x Tentera Nasional Indonesia MPA

1 x United States Navy (USN) P-3C Orion
4 x USN Seahawks (aboard USS Pickney, USS Kidd)

Ships: 48 ships in-theatre or en route
16 x TLDM
13 x APMM

19 foreign vessels comprising:
8 x People's Republic of China, 1 Coast Guard, 3 SAR vessels, Jingganshan, Mianyang, Haikou (expected in Gulf of Thailand Tues morning), Kunlunshan (en route with 2 x helos),

3 x Republic of Singapore Navy - RSS Steadfast, RSS Vigour, MV Swift Rescue

1 x Royal Thai Navy

5 x Tentera Nasional Indonesia; 2 x BARSANAS SAR ships to deploy
2 x United States Navy - USS Pickney, USS Kidd (as of 10 Mar'14)

Investigation into MAS Flight MH370 should mobilise media and netizens to launch worldwide appeal for info

After the Little India Riot in Singapore last December, Singapore authorities could have done more to tap crowd-sourced intelligence to help piece together what happened that fateful night, just like how the Boston police mobilised all Bostonians as crime fighters after last April's Boston Marathon Bombing.

That faith in the public furnished United States investigators with invaluable leads - and we all know how that story ended.

We learnt an important lesson in information management from these incidents and would like to share this perspective with our friends in Malaysia as they reconstruct the last moments of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370.

Whatever the intentions of the two (or more?) individuals who boarded MH370 with improper immigration documents, it would not be a breach of operational security (opsec) if images of the individuals concerned are shared with the public via the media.

* If the individuals had accomplices, their co-conspirators would doubtless be forewarned that Malaysian authorities have uncovered their modus operandi for boarding the MAS airliner (note: this does not mean we know how the airliner went missing). This means that publicising their faces would not compromise opsec in any way as any co-authors to the deed already know who the two individuals are.

* If there is nothing more sinister than an immigration offence, then widespread publicity would not hurt anyone - not least because the two individuals along with 237 other people on MH370 are still missing.

Photo bomb
What do people do at airports when sending off their loved ones?  Many take pictures. Some shoot video. Inevitably, other people are captured in the background. Look at what happened during the Boston Marathon.

Malaysian authorities should seriously consider telling the public which check-in counters at KLIA were used for MH370 and the counters for neighbouring flights flanking the MH370 counters. Don't just give counter numbers. These are meaningless to people who visit airports only occasionally. Sketch it out on a floor plan which the media or netizens can circulate. An immediate, nation-wide appeal for information should then be broadcast. This would urge people who were at KLIA on Friday evening to scour their picture libraries and submit their images/video footage to PDRM.

It is true that travellers who took the flights that originated from KLIA late Friday night or early Saturday morning would have been scattered all over the planet. These travellers are out of reach of Bernama. But they are well within reach of the Internet and the appeal for help can go worldwide, round-the-clock, instantaneously. When word gets out, your search turns into a global face hunt.

What could result from all this? Possibly masses of meaningless selfies, family pictures, inane videos of happy travellers who enjoyed their stay in Malaysia.

Quite possibly, you may get nothing.

But if there is even a smidgen of chance that the two immigration offence suspects could have photo bombed someone's pictures unintentionally, then that image would be worth something to investigators.

Along the way, the publicity may trigger memories from teksi drivers, hoteliers, retail staff, bus drivers.... you get the picture. These collective memories - meaningless as standalone snapshots of what certain individuals did at some point in time - could help investigators retrace how they got to KLIA and what they did in Malaysia.

A respected force
As a police force, PDRM has an awesome reputation that is resoundingly endorsed by its record of  successful cases solved. Its best investigators doubtless know what needs to be done to find out what happened to MAS Flight MH370.

But as Singapore has learnt, help from the Rakyat and the media can provide telltale signs of what happened. These are small pieces to the puzzle that help you join the dots.

One other key lesson we learnt is that crowd-sourced intel has a shelf life because people's memories turn fuzzy over time. There is also a real risk that people may delete images that are not nice enough because other people are in the frame or because it wasn't composed well enough.  Such shots could prove invaluable, indeed priceless.

This is why any appeal for help from the Rakyat or media should be initiated as soon as possible after investigators are sure they have nailed down the faces of the individuals who spirited themselves onboard using improper immigration documents.

Low cost, potentially high returns. Isn't this worth a try?