Thursday, August 9, 2018

Singapore's National Day Parade 2018

Amazing isn't it?

Singapore island, aka the Little Red Dot, seen from the perspective of the Singapore Army's crack Red Lions Commando parachute display team. This photo mozaic was stitched together from a video that shows the commandos rehearsing for this evening's 53rd National Day celebrations in Singapore.

On the far right (east) of the landmass is Changi. To the left (west) is Jurong and Tuas, with Pandan Reservoir visible as the glistening patch near the top left. The green patch of the central catchment area with the freshwater reservoirs can also be seen.

From east to west, about 50km. North to south, a mere 22km.

You are looking at the most densely defended country in Southeast Asia. Within the field of view of the Red Lions, the city-state has the:
Most number of armoured fighting vehicles in Southeast Asia.

Heaviest concentration of tube and rocket artillery.

Biggest number of combat engineer bridging rafts.

Deepest underground ammunition depot.

Largest fleet of fast landing craft.

Extensive naval sealift.

More combat warplanes, hunter-killer submarines and MBT types than the neighbours.

Region's highest density of SAMs.

Neighbourhood's only counter rocket artillery and mortar (C-RAM) system.

Unrivalled military training arrangements globally.

And yet, critically vulnerable. See for yourself:
No strategic depth.

A currency backed by no natural resources.

Open border with the home shore minutes away from the world's busiest sea lane.

Exposed to artillery, special forces and rapid deployment parachute forces.

Lack of economic hinterland.

High density of ageing population.

Virtually no room to manoeuvre on home ground.

Heavy reliance on open access to sea and air trade routes.

Your back towards the sea any way you face.

Sleep well at night?

Many of us do, blissfully unaware of Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team units serving as the city-state's sentinels whose sensors watch above and beyond the border, and can see beyond the obvious.

We thank them all. :-)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Overlooked at the RSAF 50th anniversary flypast at the National Day Parade 2018 Preview 1

In plain sight: Can you spot the "Timika 1996" streamer awarded to RSAF UAV Command?

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) marks its 50th anniversary with a flypast at this year’s National Day Parade (NDP).

Many of you staying around the holding areas for the RSAF aircraft and helicopters may have noticed the upsized air segment or heard the flypast roar into action during the rehearsals.

At last Saturday’s NDP preview, the commentator said the flypast was made up of every manned aircraft used by the RSAF. While technically correct for Singapore-based RSAF aircraft, it would have been nice to also recognise aircraft based outside Singapore that carry the RSAF insignia proudly. These are the Pilatus PC-21 flown by 130 Squadron as trainer aircraft at the Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce in Perth, Australia, and the Aermacchi M-346 which is operated as an advanced jet trainer by 150 Squadron in Cazaux, France.

A 130 Squadron Pilatus PC-21.(Photo: Ministry of Defence Singapore)

A trio of 150 Squadron Aermacchi M-346 advanced jet trainers.(Photo: Ministry of Defence Singapore)

The commentator could have said:“In addition, the Air Force also flies PC-21 trainer with 130 Squadron in Australia and the M-346 advanced jet trainer with 150 Squadron in France”.

Afterall, without these overlooked squadrons/aircraft, the flypast would not be possible. It would also be a subtle way to remind the public that RSAF training takes place round the clock and round the world, with detachments sustained in Asia, CONUS and Europe  - a feat many Singaporeans take for granted.

Speaking of being overlooked, the parade commentary should have highlighted the streamers carried by the colours for Headquarters Commando and the RSAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Command. These streamers were awarded to recognise the contributions and achievements of the Commandos and UAV Command who saw action in separate Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) operations more than 20 years ago.

The Commandos earned their operations streamer for the SQ117 hostage rescue in 1991 while the RSAF UAV command was awarded its “Timika 1996” streamer for its deployment of a Scout UAV detachment to support a TNI-led hostage rescue mission in Indonesia’s Irian Jaya province. 

People sometimes criticise the SAF for being an untested force. These streamers tell a different story.

It’s been more than 20 years since Timika and what used to be hush-hush shouldn’t be anymore, particularly in an important anniversary year for the Air Force and with a streamer held high by the UAV Command ensign in plain sight, visible to one and all.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

DSTA organises first Technology Summit for key players in world's defence technology arena

Source: DSTA

Secret weapon know-how and international conferences make strange bedfellows. But that has not deterred Singapore from bringing the two together at the world’s first defence technology summit.

Close on the heels of the Trump- Kim Summit, Singapore will host another high-level, first-of-its-kind meeting next week (28-29 June 2018). It's called the Singapore Defence Technology Summit and will pull in top defence officials who plan and implement weapons programmes.

Organised by Singapore's Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), the Tech Summit emphasizes the republic's ambition to be a key player in the defence technology arena.

Hard won track record 
In order to do so, Singapore must demonstrate that it has attained a respectable level of competence, experience and exposure to plan, execute and sustain complex engineering projects. Having shown we have arrived is just part of the story.

Singapore must also convince its peers that the city-state's value in collaborative efforts cannot be inferred from its size alone. And while we proudly proclaimed 50 years of defence technology experience in 2016, our legacy is eclipsed by nations who have amassed experience in the art and science of war since the time of edged weapons.

When one remembers that defence professionals are not the easiest audience to impress - particularly those exposed to leading edge defence technology and those who have wartime experience - our defence managers, scientists and engineers should use the summit as a platform for show-and-tell. That much is clear from the summit’s programme. It includes site visits for delegates to learn about military technology and non-defence innovations such as the management of shipping in Singapore port (one of the world’s busiest with a vessel entering or leaving every minute), the Woodlands checkpoint (the world’s busiest land border crossing) along with presentations on the airbase of the future (this will replace Paya Lebar Air Base after 2030) and the Singapore navy’s latest warship, the Littoral Mission Vessel.

According to DSTA, more than 400 delegates from 17 countries, including the heads of defence procurement agencies in Asian and European nations, are due to attend the summit from next Thursday at the Shangri-La Hotel. An international slate of delegates from about 10 countries are scheduled to speak at the event.

Getting delegates here is due in no small measure to Singapore’s reputation as a reference customer for defence purchases. Our rigorous no-nonsense approach to managing weapon purchases from concept to retirement, a discipline known as Life Cycle Management, and capabilities for customising weapons to suit the Singapore Armed Forces specific operational requirements are well-regarded. Many delegates will probably come to network with Singapore’s defence professionals, convinced that their time here will reap dividends from lessons learned and current best practices.

Success factors
The Tech Summit’s success, however, goes beyond securing a respectable turnout and hosting the event efficiently. Being the first of its kind, DSTA has no reference points to calibrate success. Complicating matters further is the lack of any expectations that the event will result in a declaration of any sort.

Beyond polite chit chat and the exchange of name cards, it is worth it? After all, secret weapons and open sharing make strange bedfellows. This is particularly the case when delegates from countries such as the United States, China, the Middle East and Europe sit in the same room to talk about defence and security matters.

If the Tech Summit can strengthen Singapore’s standing as a credible player in defence technology development and management, the event would contribute meaningfully to the republic’s strategic goal of being a thought-leader in this arena.

Remember that reputations are transient and can disappear if one is not careful. Singapore's "reference customer" accolade was earned the hard way and we have had our fair share of blind alleys and challenges. External factors such as the boom at the turn of the century resulted in a number of defence engineers moving to chase their dream in the private sector. The lessons on talent management and staff retention drummed home the message that People are our most vital resource.

It is therefore vital that Singapore continue to punch above its weight and learn from the best, and the summit has immense value for host and visitors alike to engage in meaningful exchanges.

In his speech during the defence budget debate, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen first broached the idea of the summit. Dr Ng said: "I believe that Singapore can lead in defence technology even though we are small. So to achieve that aspiration, DSTA together with our national universities, A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research), government agencies like GovTech (Government Technology Agency of Singapore), Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, National Research Foundation, the Singapore Economic Development Board, will host an inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit in 2018.

"I asked staff whether there were any global defence summits in the world. They said that there weren't any, and I replied, "That is good, let us try". This Summit will provide a global platform to invite luminaries, leading figures, to come share their views. It will give us a window into the future. Not only that, it allows opportunities to network and increase our access to new ideas and innovation. Because you and I know that for defence, for us, it is existential - we need to deploy technology because other factors are working against us."

The post-Cold War consolidation of the world’s defence industry has been rapid and vicious. Scores of small players were forced to exit the scene, edged out by the double whammy of dwindling defence spending and their inability to keep pace with disruptive technologies and industry flux. In the United States, for example, fewer than 20 of the top 100 defence firms that existed in 1991 are still around today. European defence firms have endured a similar crunch. Those that survive represent the best of the best. They are likely to only want to do business with strong partners who can value-add to a relationship. This is why it is vital that Singapore make its voice heard.

Balancing the Need-to-share/Need-to-know
In this regard, Singapore’s defence professionals maintain a tricky balance between need-to-share and the restrictive need-to-know domain.

In past years, Singapore has worked around this conundrum by publicising some projects after they have been surpassed by newer, more capable systems. The rationale is that defence cognoscenti can work out their “guesstimate” of Singapore’s capabilities by joining the dots from open source data points. We did this in 2004 at the TechX exhibition when a locally-developed TV-guided glide bomb went on show for the first time. This was some 20 years after the bomb had been proven during weapons trials using a Republic of Singapore Air Force A-4 Skyhawk fighter-bomber.

More recently, a 2016 book commemorating the Defence Technology Community’s 50th anniversary profiled a 1999 project to develop autonomous vehicle concepts. This nugget of information was aimed at prompting defence observers into thinking about Singapore’s current autonomous vehicle capabilities as the 1999 project has been wrapped up and consigned to history. The book also revealed how defence engineers developed an anti-armour munition for now-retired SM1 light tanks. At the time, the sabot round codenamed Project Spider* was the most powerful anti-armour round fired by the tank's 75mm gun.

Stories abound on how Singapore has benefitted from the 5,000-strong community of defence scientists and engineers that the republic has nurtured for over 50 years. During the 2004 Sars crisis, military night vision technology was adapted to develop fever scanners. In 2016, data analysts from GovTech and DSTA used their know-how in operations research to identify a rogue Circle Line MRT train whose faulty signaling equipment led to a series of disruptions on other trains.

Alas, the full suite of capabilities will never be revealed. As Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said at the DTC’s 50th anniversary exhibition: “The ones that are the most impressive, are the ones that we don’t show.”

On the sidelines of the summit, our defence experts should do their utmost to share unclassified stories of the work among foreign delegates because such sharing engenders confidence among our friends and partners.

Such stories also contribute immeasurably to deterrence as potential adversaries are left wondering else Singapore’s defence technology community has been busy tinkering with.

Yours truly was the author of the story in the Defence Technology Community’s 50th anniversary book that unveiled the armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot APFSDS anti-tank munition developed under Project Spider. The effort to upgrade AMX-13 light tanks to SM1 standard under Project Archer was also declassified for the book.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Future of Malaysia's defence scene, LIMA and Defence Services Asia as Malaysia ushers in a new government

Incoming: Mohamad Bin Sabu ("Mat Sabu"), Malaysia's new Minister of Defence, is congratulated by the Malaysian Army. Photo: Malaysian Army News

Outgoing: Dato' Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, caretaker Minister of Defence during the Defence Services Asia 2018 show, announces the April 2020 dates for the next instalment of the arms show on 18 April 2018. A new Malaysian defence minister will have the honour of declaring DSA 2020 open. 

Wait till after the elections.

That was the line that many defence professionals at last month's Defence Services Asia (DSA) arms show in Kuala Lumpur heard or were told, whenever conversations touched on acquisitions by Malaysia's defence ministry.

Well, the Malaysian General Elections have come and gone. The caretaker Minister of Defence who so cheerfully hosted many official delegations at DSA 2018, Dato' Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, has lost his job. Henceforth, all major acquisitions will be reassessed by a new government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

So what's next for Malaysia's defence scene?

In the short-term, this quite possibly means that big-ticket purchases coveted by the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) will be put on hold. Notable examples include the Multi-Role Support Ship for the Royal Malaysian Navy, as well as plans to buy M-109 155mm self-propelled guns and even more Pakistan-made Baktar Shikan anti-tank missiles for the Malaysian Army. A question mark also hovers over the plan to acquire light strike vehicles for Malaysian Army special forces. For now, it appears that European ambitions to fill the Royal Malaysian Air Force requirement for a Multi-Role Combat Aircraft will remain a pipe dream.

Do not, however, mistake the change in administration as a precursor to a softening in Malaysia's defence posture.

While media reports laud Dr M with the honour of being the father of modern Malaysia, let's not forget that the back-from-retirement-PM also presided over the transformation of the MAF from a counter-insurgency force to one trained, organised, equipped and supported for a full spectrum of conventional warfare operations.

Under Malaysia's long-running PERISTA programme to modernise the MAF, Malaysia's war machine made significant leaps in capability, lethality and defence readiness under Dr M's watch. It was no mean feat, with the MAF fighting to fulfill its wish-list with budgets constantly under pressure and with a defence procurement process whose choices were sometimes perplexing from the standpoint of whether the MAF was getting maximum bang for buck.

In retrospect, there were some missed opportunities that could have seen the Federation surpass capabilities fielded by its neighbours. But the original specifications underscore the ambitions of Malaysia's defence planners to field weapons, such as the Tornado IDS and ECS variants proposed under a 1988 MOU with Britain, that could shake the centre of gravity of possible adversaries. Plans to introduce up to 27 patrol craft also never saw the full complement enter service. Only six were eventually ordered. These are the Kedah-class MEKO 100 offshore patrol vessels.

Seen with a broader time horizon, however, Dr M's tenure as PM resulted in big gains for Malaysia's military.

In 1994, the Rapid Deployment Force centred on 10 Briged (Para) was established to give the MAF the capability to insert and support brigade-level airborne operations. Dr M himself did the honours as 10 Bgd was declared operational.

At the turn of the century, Malaysia moved towards introducing its first main battle tank when the Polish-made PT-91 was brought to Malaysia for field trials. This resulted in the purchase of the PT-91M Pendekar MBT and variants such as bridge-layers and recovery vehicles.

Around the same period, the Brazilian-made ASTROS II rocket artillery system was acquired, marking a substantial jump in hitting power for the Malaysian Army as the ASTROS II was fielded as the Keris. Nominally a tactical weapon system, the 90km range of the Keris Sistem Roket Lancar Berganda (SRLB, multiple launch rocket system) enables the weapon system to exert a strategic influence when ranged against  geographical entities, such as the city-state of Singapore, whose size is dwarfed by the Keris SRLB range ring.

So what do these historical snippets say about the future of Malaysia's defence scene?

As far as defence shows such as the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace show (LIMA) and DSA are concerned, it is likely that future editions of such exhibitions will continue to stay relevant to the world's defence industry.

LIMA is held at Langkawi island every odd-numbered year. Dr M is Langkawi's Member of Parliament. Do you think the new PM would pull the plug on the show? Not likely. If anything, the next LIMA in March next year will emerge new and improved, and will be used to showcase Dr M's promise to island folk to bring prosperity to Langkawi through tourism receipts etc.

As for DSA, held every even-numbered year, the next show in April 2020 will allow defence companies to court Malaysia's defence establishment on a more level playing field.

Remember that for every weapon platform or system that clinched Malaysian contracts previously, or were under consideration under the Najib-led government, there would be competitors who claim that they too could have fit the bill.

The review of government purchases gives the also-rans a golden opportunity to make their sales pitch yet again. And if the new government's administration of defence contracts plugs the leaks, figuratively speaking, this would lead to a more effective Malaysian war machine as the best and most cost effective military solutions are fielded.

There's another spin to Malaysian defence shows that resides outside the defence sector. This is the filip to the local economy that comes from staging such shows. Spinoffs run into millions of Ringgit, from hotel room nights booked by exhibitors and visitors, to spending on F&B receipts, transportation and communications and huge bills racked up for the logistics of setting up and displaying their products at the exhibitions. Just look at the DSA 2018 visitor tally. The four-day show attracted 50,000 trade visitors from 64 countries, and recorded 350 VIP delegations from 44 countries - figures that attest to DSA's claim as one of the world's top five defence shows. Even if you strip away local attendees, it is big business. These are compelling numbers not easily swept aside.

Furthermore, Dr M's government's desire to review all big-ticket purchases does not magically erase threat assessments by the MAF. Current and emerging threats will need to be addressed, eventually. Malaysia's military will still need to be given the tools to do the job, eventually.

Dr M had done so in the past.

And once Dr M sorts out short-term domestic issues, he can be expected to help drive the MAF to the next level of readiness and capability.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Guide to Malaysian Armed Forces number plates and Malaysian Army vehicle markings

Top of the list: The Malaysian military's number plate, Z1, is the counterpart to 10 MID used in Singapore. Z1 is used by the Malaysian Chief of Defence Force. The 1 MID number plate is reserved for high-ranking MINDEF guests.

Tracked and wheeled transport used by the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) are readily identifiable by their Z prefix.

The naming convention for ATM vehicle number plates is a further aid to observers. This is because the number plates are assigned according to the branch of the ATM that the vehicle serves. This is quite unlike the nomenclature adopted for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) vehicles, which share a common MID identifier that is unique to SAF military vehicles.

Malay terms will be used for the ATM Services (i.e. army, navy, air force) as this will help you better understand how Malaysia assigns number plates to its military vehicles.

The Z prefix can stand alone or it can be followed by another letter. No more than two letters have been seen preceding the numerals, which can be up to four digits long. We have yet to observe Z-plate ATM vehicles with five digit numerals.

Among the Z-plate vehicles, Z1 stands is at the top of the table of seniority. It is a number plate assigned for Panglima ATM (Chief of Defence Force). Staff officers subordinate to PATM typically receive staff cars with a single Z letter, with the level of seniority denoted by the number that follows the Z prefix – the smaller the number, the more senior the officer.

Allied to the single letter Z-plate is the ZZ-series. This double letter prefix is typically seen on vehicles assigned to Kementarian Pertahanan (KEMENTAH, Malaysian Ministry of Defence), almost all of which are civilian models from a bewildering array of suppliers.

Vehicles assigned to the Tentera Darat (Malaysian Army), Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy) and Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM, Royal Malaysian Air Force) are assigned double letter prefixes as follows:
ZA, ZB, ZC and ZD: Tentera Darat, with ZC apparently the latest series for army vehicles.
ZL: For TLDM vehicles, with the letter “L” indicating Laut (Sea).
ZU: For TUDM vehicles. The letter “U” in this instance indicates Udara (Air)

Vehicles fielded by Malaysian Services chiefs take the numeral “1” (obviously), with ZL 1 and ZU 1 denoting Panglima TLDM and Panglima TUDM respectively. Note that Panglima Tentera Darat is assigned ZD 1 and not ZA 1, with the letter D denoting Darat (Land) to identify the Chief of Army’s personal staff car.

Number plates are issued with white characters on a black background. There appears to be no standardised fonts and two types of fonts have been observed on a single vehicle. The vast majority of ATM number plates do not come with borders, but there are exceptions and Condors have been observed with a non-standard design which features a white border around the edge of the number plate.

Interestingly, ATM MT Lines appear to take a liberal approach to housekeeping: We have observed Malaysian military vehicles with hand-painted number plates, though such instances are rare.

Two of a kind: Note the different font types found on the Condor armoured personnel carrier (left) and AV8 Gempita armoured fighting vehicle. Malaysian Army vehicles have been seen with different fonts on the same vehicle. An example being the PT-91M Pendekar main battle tank, ZC 415, which exhibits a number plate on the front and a stick-on marking on its rear in distinct fonts.

Non-standard: Here are examples of non-standard ATM number plates. The Ferret scout car (above), ZD1-2447, follows an unusual naming convention as the letters in the prefix usually stand alone and are not alpha-numeric. Another non-standard marking is the hand-painted number plate for ZC 2008, a Handalan truck.

Malaysian Army insignia and tactical signs
Apart from looking at the Z-series number plates to find out which ATM branch the vehicle comes from, the insignia and unit markings are another aid to the vehicle ownership.

ATM vehicles typically carry two markings on their front. The marking on the left of the vehicle is for the parent unit, while the marking on the right-hand side is for the tactical sign of the subordinate formation/unit. Markings on the doors of the vehicles may carry the unit insignia, which complements the tactical sign on the vehicle.

The images below will help you identify Malaysian Army vehicles that you might see on the road. At the top of the table of precedence/protocol is the ATM insignia, followed by the Tentera Darat insignia.
The markings below denote the 12 brigeds (brigades) in the Malaysian Army.

The formation sign for the senior unit is found on the left hand side of the vehicle front, and the tactical sign (red and yellow denoting Kor Armor Diraja). Overlaid with the number 2, this tells us the Condor serves 2 KAD under 3 Divisyen. The white border on the number plate is not commonly seen on Malaysian military vehicles. Note that on the Condor below, the tactical marking is found on the side of the vehicle rear, with the unit insignia (green square) on the door of the vehicle.
Photo credit: Berita Tentera Darat

This rear view of a Handalan truck shows the placement of the insignia and tactical sign, which denotes the 7 Transport Company (the number 7 on the yellow/blue tactical sign for Kor Perkhidmatan Diraja or Royal Service Corps) and the 7 Briged's black scorpion insignia.

Political appointees to Malaysia's defence ministry are given the honour of carrying their title above their civilian number plate. This example shows the vehicle for a deputy minister of KEMENTAH. Bodyguard vehicles that accompany key appointment holders carry civilian license plates, but for opsec reasons, we will not discuss these numbers.

Trailers carry the prefix T/Z, followed by the numerals.

While such colourful markings are displayed during parades or static displays, some assets appear to shy away for overt announcements of their identity and have been seen with markings covered up. Black plastic which is cut from trash bags or black tape is commonly used as a temporary measure to hide the insignia and tactical markings of ATM vehicles that would rather remain anonymous.

Blacked out: There are instances when units would rather move about anonymously. The ambulance above has its unit insignia and tactical sign blanked off. It is believed to belong to the 3 Medical Battalion under 3 Divisyen. Another way of covering the markings is to use mud (below), though this is a temporary measure that would wash of during a river crossing or after the next rain shower.

You may also like:
Guide to Singapore Armed Forces MID number plates. Click here
Guide to Malaysian Army Formation patches. Click here

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Special Operations Vehicle SOV makers set their sights on Malaysian Army GGK special forces order for "less than 20" light strike vehicles

This NIMR Ajban Special Operations Vehicle (SOV), seen here at last week's Defence Services Asia show in Kuala Lumpur, has stayed behind in Malaysia for field and road trials that could see the vehicle clock some 3,000km.

The in-country trials are part of the Malaysian Army's search for a new SOV for its crack Grup Gerak Khas special forces regiment. Senang Diri understands that GGK is looking to add a small batch of "less than 20" specialised light 4x4, heavily-armed for light strike missions, to its MT line.

The GGK requirement explains the presence of at least four competing designs at DSA 2018. These are the NIMR Ajban, which comes from the United Arab Emirates, and three designs from Malaysian companies. Two of the Malaysian contenders, the Kembara Suci SOV and the Cendana Auto SOV are in their prototype stage. The third Malaysian platform is the Weststar GK-M1 SOV.

Cendana Auto SOV prototype. Despite its 4950mm overall length, the SOV is said to have a turning radius of 8m - about the same as a Malaysian-made Perodua Kancil car.

Kembara Suci SOV prototype

Weststar GK-M1 SOV seen undergoing preparations for DSA 2018 before weapons were added. The windscreen was hinged down for the show and covered by a camouflage net. Its Kuala Lumpur numberplate was also removed for the show. 

GGK is said to be looking for a heli-portable vehicle that can sustain itself for around two weeks outfield. The concept of operations for GGK's SOV might see such 4x4s airlifted into the area of operations by helicopter or pre-deployed by road during a period of tension. The SOV would be inserted into areas astride likely routes of advance or main supply & evacuation routes used by aggressor forces. The SOVs would use their high speed to redeploy in the AO. Such vehicles would be tasked to observe and report aggressor movements to higher headquarters.

Being heavily-armed, the SOVs might also be tasked to interdict soft targets such as the logistics vehicles that sustain aggressor forces, or other targets of opportunity.

Senang Diri understands that while the NIMR Ajban will be the first of the SOVs displayed at DSA to undergo field trials, the Malaysian stable of SOVs should be put through the same evaluation after the Malaysian General Election (9 May'18) and the end of the Muslim fasting month in mid-June.

This time interval would give the Malaysian companies the time needed to fine tune their prototypes before GGK has a go at the vehicles.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Malaysian Army's Network Centric Operations NCO capability demonstration at Defence Services Asia 2018 a hit with its audience

Malaysian Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, has a firsthand look at the Malaysia Army's Network Centric Operations capability demonstration at DSA 2018. Photo credit: Berita Tentera Darat

From Monday till Thursday (16 to 19 Apr'18) this week, a hill in Melaka became the most heavily-shelled place in Malaysia. The summit of this hill was ground zero for Markas Tentera Darat’s (Malaysian Army HQ's) Network Centric Operations (NCO) capability demonstration at the Defence Services Asia (DSA) arms show.

As the world’s defence industry descended on Kuala Lumpur (KL) to talk shop at DSA with top guns from Asia-Pacific armed forces and elsewhere, gunners from 4 Rejimen Artileri Diraja (4 RAD) stood by with a full regiment of 18 105mm Pack Howitzers. Several times a day, fire control orders relayed via satellite from the “command post” (CP) set up at the Malaysian Army pavilion at DSA would see 4 RAD spring into action. The VVIP would go through scripted voice commands under the tutorship of 3 Divisyen staff officers, whose formation staged the NCO demo. These commands established contact with 4 RAD gunners some 190km away, designated the target and ended the sequence with the command: “Fire for effect. Fire, over!”.

Almost always, the response from an unknown gunner from 4 RAD would be a rousing “TEMBAAAAK!” (Fire!), screamed into the microphone from the Asahan range in Melaka with bone-chilling ferocity.

In KL, all eyes would be on the video wall in CP, which was dimly-lit to enhance the video footage and electronic maps displayed to explain what NCO entailed. One screen showed the 105mm guns firing a salvo with near simultaneous appearance of gun smoke while the main home theatre-style screen in the centre zoomed in on the target. Seconds later, a series of 18 shell bursts would erupt on the summit of the lonely hilltop in ulu Melaka as point detonating 105mm shells from a full artillery regiment rearranged the landscape. A drone would then orbit the target, with the narrator explaining that this was for battle damage assessment. A ripple of applause from the audience for 4 RAD’s ribut api (fire storm) and the 20-minute show would be over.

Wayang (theatre)? Yes. But the theatrics worked its magic.

Malaysia’s official news agency, Bernama, dubbed the Malaysian Army’s NCO prowess as “digital muscle”.

The Malay-language newspaper, Berita Harian, highlighted the Malaysian Army’s ability to direct artillery fire from a distance of 190km away.

Malaysian media also brought the story to its domestic audience. Senior commanders such as the Grup Artileri Pertahanan Udara (army air defence) commander (above) explained NCO in simple terms during his Malay-language television interview with Radio Televisyen Malaysia

From what Senang Diri observed, the audience loved the NCO demonstration that showcased the Malaysian Army’s determination to push into the digital age.

Were there cock-ups? Sure.

Take the instance when a Malaysian Army general walked unannounced into the CP, asked for call signs and a set of headphones, and then proceeded to take command ala Call of Duty. This was totally off-script. The general apparently caught some soldiers networked with the CP off guard. Not surprisingly, the unscripted orders relayed from KL did not always result in the intended effect and the general terminated one exchange with an exasperated “I think we are on the wrong frequency, over”.

Then there were VVIPs who issued commands into the table top microphone ever so delicately, as if the Yang Berbahagia was speaking to his secretary on the office intercom. As a result, it was possible that the message was not heard on the other end of the line outfield in ulu Melaka where ear drums might still be ringing from the last salvo. As an awkward silence prevailed, the Yang Berbahagia would be prompted to repeat the command, sometimes again and again. In the case of one elderly Tun - who has a distinguished voice that spoke in Queen’s English – the lack of action on the 4 RAD gun line resulted in a flurry of activity as the communications cell sought to ensure the gunners could hear his lordship loud and clear. 

Markas 3 Divisyen (HQ 3 Div) took things in their stride. Staff officers adjusted their script calmly and professionally without missing a beat. In short, such moments were never show-stoppers.

Back story to the NCO demo
Considering that the Malaysian Army decided about a month before DSA to showcase its digitised NCO capabilities, Markas Tentera Darat accomplished its intent masterfully. The easier choice for Markas Tentera Darat when setting up shop at DSA’s new venue was to follow the template for previous shows. This invariably comprised a pameran statik dan aset Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (static display of Malaysian Armed Forces assets) and the obligatory mock attack. At DSA 2016, it was Malaysian special forces who put on a rousing display with blanks, flash bangs and mock explosions during a hostage rescue mission.

While DSA 2018 had no mock attack, the Malaysian Army nonetheless put on a far bigger and more significant capability demonstration. Think about it: The Malaysia Army's display area stretched the length of Peninsular Malaysia from Melaka to the Malaysia-Thai border with three areas of operations networked to the CP in the heart of Malaysia's capital city. This made the NCO demonstration the biggest ever staged by the Malaysian Army at a DSA show.

Three AOs were used for the following scenarios. At Asahan in Melaka state, 4 Briged (Mekanize) and 4 RAD joined forces to demonstrate armoured manoeuvre and firepower, with live ammunition employed. At Pusat Latihan Darat (PULADA), the Army Training Centre, troops staged an operation in a built-up area. The third AO at Rantau Panjang, along the river in Kelantan that marks the Malaysia-Thai border, brought video footage from an Operasi Wawasan infantry patrol, deployed for border security duty, right to the NCO show centre.

Senang Diri understands that the planning stage considered two other AOs. These would have involved the Malaysian Battalion (Malbatt) in Lebanon and the crack 10th Briged (Para) Pasukan Atugerak Cepat (Rapid Deployment Force) in Melaka. These two AOs were dropped after careful consideration as planning staff reckoned that DSA visitors might be pressed for time. Good call.

It was thus deemed that three AOs would suffice for visitors to gain a deeper appreciation of the Malaysian Army’s capabilities in networked C2. A professional audience viewing the demo could be expected to join the dots themselves and draw further inferences into what the Malaysian Army could potentially achieve in C2. (Note: Had Lebanon been included, it would have underlined the strategic nature of Markas Tentera Darat’s command network, with its ability to reach out over several time zones. Perhaps a professional audience would already come to that conclusion as adding Lebanon might come across as being less subtle and somewhat of an overkill.)

What would you have done if you were in charge? Short of time and short of money, and tasked to operate in a brand new venue which almost all of your officers had never been to, would the option of gunning for the usual template have appealed to you?

The back story to the Malaysian Army's NCO capability demo helps us better understand what the Malaysians sought to achieve. By staffing the NCO display with officers, men and women who appeared well-briefed on the complexities of realtime C4ISTAR, the confidence and technical competency of NCO hosts ensured most visitors walked away with a positive impression of the ATM in general and of 3 Div, in particular. The division, which is the Malaysian Army's first combined arms division, is currently spearheading the army's NCO drive.

Photo credit: Senang Diri reader

Whether by accident or design, all visitors to the South Entrance of the DSA venue at MITEC – the Malaysian International Trade & Exhibition Centre – walked or drove past the satellite dishes (above) so essential to the success of long-range comms for the NCO demonstration. At parking bays just outside the South Entrance, three vehicles from Rejimen Semboyan Diraja (RSD) deployed with their satellite dishes in full flower. These vehicles underscored the point made by the narrators at the NCO demo – that the battle scenes were “live” and not pre-recorded.

Interestingly, the narration for the NCO storyline was done in English even when some audience groups comprised principally of ATM personnel or Malaysian nationals. As DSA draws delegates from across the globe, it was perhaps fitting that the Malaysian Army make its presentation in English. Even so, the fluency and confidence of officers who spoke of the common situation picture and sensor-to-shooter loops was commendable.

Another interesting factoid: The NCO show was brought to you wholly by the Malaysian Army. With budgets tight, the job of building the Malaysian Army pavilion was left in the good hands of Kor Jurutera Letrik Dan Jentera Diraja (KJLJD), the Army’s Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineer Corps. This is why the structure of the Malaysian Army booth looked different from those of  neighbouring DSA exhibitors. That said, KJLJD's efforts looked no less showworthy.

Thanks to the foresight and daring of Markas TD, the NCO capability demo brought the Malaysian Army’s presence at DSA to a whole new level.

We can’t wait to see what they have planned for DSA 2020. Gagah Setia!

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