Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Crisp and clear: Overhead imagery to boost defence awareness

When you can look around the neighbourhood once every 90 minutes instead of once every two days, such awareness represents a game-changer in the way the defence eco-system does its stuff.

Defence planners would be wise to up their game before the assets are shot in orbit over the Equatorial belt because forewarned does not instantly translate to being forearmed.

Lines of reporting and scenario templates must be refreshed in order to maximise the early warning afforded by overhead imagery.

Early awareness counts for nothing if sentinels are asleep at the switch or signs of danger are misread, mistimed or misunderstood.

The radar station guarding Pearl Harbor did its job as advertised. But the radar operators misread the blips that appeared on their screen that fateful Sunday on 7 December 1941 as approaching B-17 bombers on a ferry flight from CONUS. They turned out to be the first strike from Japanese naval aviation.

The Royal Navy warships that sailed into action from Singapore on 8 December 1941 knew full well they were under scrutiny by the picket line of search aircraft that tracked Force Z as it sailed north in the South China Sea. But those at the helm pressed on regardless. They were perhaps emboldened by the fact that no RN capital ships had been sunk by the combined might of two European air  forces in the past two years of war in the Mediterranean theatre where warships were hounded and pounded on the passage to and from Malta and Egypt. So what harm could a supposedly inferior Asian air force inflict in the warships, particularly in an area of operations with friendly shores on British Malaya and Borneo?

The 90-minute refresh rate for overhead imagery is a window of opportunity which shrewd opponent(s) could exploit ruthlessly. Camouflage could conceal. Decoys could deceive. Deception ops could befuddle or desensitise. Every effort would be invested to rob one of such prescience. Overhead assets are virtually untouchable. Base station receivers are not (ditto radars) and could be molested in ways limited only by the creativity of the human mind.

At the heart of the matter are questions that hang over what one should do should danger be detected and you move quickly from Five to One. 

Launch on warning? Do so and one risks reshaping the geo-political landscape with conflict resolution elusive and long standing enmity all but guaranteed in the event of a false positive.  

Launch on impact?  Better cross one's fingers that active and passive defences can withstand the initial onslaught. 

And if a go-order is approved, will this be a full scale all-out effort or some half-hearted light and sound show that does nothing more than rankle the neighbourhood? 

Awareness of potential pitfalls are a first step in scaling up scenario templates and theoretical models to factor in that 90-minute window of opportunity.

That first step has already begun.

You may also like:
Time to evaluate need for RSAF Space Command. Click here

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mercy flight

There was a casevac flight this afternoon around 1400 Hotel involving a Super Puma.

Good to know that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has elements on standby for such contigencies 24/7 and men and women with the professionalism, dedication, training and support to do the needful.

Visited the camp in question yesterday for a firsthand look at their set up and safety protocols. Am satisfied that decisive action backs up what was shared during the briefing and camp walkabout.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Guide to Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) anti-vehicle barriers on the South Korea side of the DMZ

Gate guards: Like silent sentinels, a daunting array of anti-vehicle barriers guard a bridge near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on South Korea's side of the border. Vehicles moving along the bridge have to negotiate portable barriers in a slalom-like course while under constant observation from sentries at either end of the bridge. When on high-alert, gates on either side of the bridge are pulled to seal off the bridge completely.

For a country that makes most of the war machines in its arsenal, South Korea has opted for simple yet apparently effective measures to safeguard key avenues of approach in one of the world's most heavily-fortified borders.

Unlike Singapore's border checkpoints and entrances to key installations here which have mechanical cat claws installed as anti-vehicle barriers, roads and bridges near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on South Korea's side of the border are protected by portable barriers designed to stop, slow down or obstruct speeding vehicles. The image above shows the range of barricades typically seen at checkpoints around the DMZ.

These include road blocks festooned with metal spikes, miniaturised versions of the Czech hedgehog (usually fielded as anti-tank barriers) and barricades on wheels that allows Republic of Korea (ROK) troops to quickly reposition such barriers. These passive defences are complemented by fortified positions whose arcs of fire cover the barricaded areas as well as avenues of approach leading to the checkpoints.

No frills anti-vehicle devices
Simple, low maintenance and effective against soft-skin vehicles, the South Korean security barricades do away with the possibility that mechanical barriers may fail when they are needed most - which was the case in March 2014 when a Mercedes-Benz speed past a cat claw barrier that failed to deploy properly at Singapore's Woodlands Checkpoint.

Few speeding vehicles are likely to get past their spike road blocks and nasty looking rollers with spikes with their tyres intact. It's a disarmingly low-tech approach to anti-intrusion devices in an age where defence contractors will try to hawk all manner of fancy (read: expensive and maintenance intensive) mechanical barriers for your front gate.

But the devices fielded by the ROK forces work.

Do not confuse the no frills approach to anti-vehicle barriers with lack of know-how in defence engineering on the part of the South Koreans. Their defence industrial base is years ahead of what we have in Singapore.

If you know what to look for, you may notice that ample examples of top notch defence engineering abound in the DMZ from fortified construction to long-range observation devices and assorted electronic devices that provide earning warning of signs of attack.

Where it matters, the South Koreans seem to spare no effort at keeping their borders safe.

ROK sentries stop and check all vehicles moving towards the fortified border area with North Korea.

Close view of the miniaturised Czech hedgehogs (left), spike road block, sentry post and the retractable gate that moves on rails set into the road. The barricades are light enough to be repositioned rapidly during a high alert.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Brisk RSAF air activity noted over Singapore

Am in Seoul, South Korea, this week.

Have been following developments from Singapore with keen interest, particularly reports of brisk air activity around Tengah Air Base this evening (3 Nov'14) and reports that an "RSAF" Gulfstream IV had been intercepted by Indonesian warplanes en route from SIN to DRW - the RSAF standing for Royal Saudi Air Force. :-)

Last Thursday, people around the Central Business District may have seen or heard RSAF F-15SGs flying race track patterns over the city skyline - an unusual sight to say the least. Look south, think about what's roosting there and you will have ample food for thought for what's happening in our immediate neighbourhood.

Spent several hours the other day getting up to speed with the history of the Korean War and the situation today on the Korean peninsula. When all is said and done, the central message is best summarised by an inscription (above) at a memorial to the fallen. The South Koreans are determined not to take their defence and security for granted. A succinct message that many of us should take heed of.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When the balloon goes up: Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aerostat to perform sentry duty

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) radar-equipped aerostat by numbers 

Sometime next year, the Republic of Singapore Air Force will begin deploying a radar-equipped aerostat for aerial and maritime surveillance. Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, announced this today at the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) PRIDE Day 2014 awards presentation ceremony held at Nanyang Polytechnic.

PRIDE, which means PRoductivity and Innovation in Daily Efforts, is a productivity initiative that also encourages Singapore's defence eco-system to think out of the box and be bold and creative in solving everyday challenges.

Out of the box solutions seldom come bigger than the 55-metre long American-made TCOM aerostats, which are estimated to result in savings of some $29.2 million a year providing long-range radar surveillance compared to conventional airborne radar coverage once fully operational.

An exhibit that explains the aerostat's role in Singapore's national defence can be found at the MINDEF PRIDE Day 2014 Exhibition, held at the Nanyang Polytechnic from 28 October till 30 October from 10am to 4pm. 

8: Ground crew are required to operate the sensor

24/7: Duty hours and days on watch for the aerostat

29.2: The cost savings, in Singapore dollars, per year from operating the aerostat versus AEW

55: Length in metres of this tethered balloon made by TCOM 

200: Range, in kilometres, that the aerostat's radar can detect objects

2015: Initial operational capability for the aerostats

2,000: The operating ceiling, in feet, that the aerostat can reach 

The phrase "when the balloon goes up" takes on a whole new meaning when radar-equipped balloons belonging to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) are installed at a certain place to detect, identify and track air and maritime contacts.

The tethered balloons or aerostats will help with sense-making of the air situation picture by extending the radar horizon some 2,000 feet above ground and up to 200 km away, which is about double the range of terrestrial radar emitters. This task is already a complex one in peacetime owing to the large number of flying objects around this place.

The aerostats will complement the suite of ground and building-based sensors fielded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). These include ground-based radars and truck-mounted gap-filler radars such as the Giraffe AMB, airborne radar watch provided by Gulfstream G550 CAEW aircraft, Fokker 50 Utility aircraft modified for surface search and ACSR radars mounted on HDB flats and buildings thought to be linked to the Republic of Singapore Navy's coastal surveillance network. 

The overlapping coverage of these emitters, when collated and analysed at the SAF's Armed Forces Command Post together with intelligence gathered by overhead imagery and other assets, present SAF defence planners with info-fusion and sense-making capabilities that were unheard of just a decade ago.

Once the aerostats go into service, they will add a new and unmistakeable feature to the landscape when hauled to ground level for maintenance. At 55 m in length - slightly longer than an Olymic-size pool - and 8,554 cubic metres in volume, the aerostat's sheer size makes it difficult to hide from nosey people outside the fenceline, which means that sooner or later, someone will notice. :-)

At their operational ceiling thousands of feet above ground level, the aerostat will be hardly visible to ground observers. However, that vantage point gives the aerostat's sensors better visibility. Being higher allows the emitter to see far and see more.

The job of keeping the aerostat flying is complex too.

Among the issues that have to be sorted out before the aerostat goes aloft is that of deconflicting airspace. A cylinder of airspace several kilometres in diameter around the aerostat probably needs to be sanitised to keep a safe distance between aircraft, the aerostat itself and, more importantly, the cable that anchors the aerostat to the ground on the mainland. The last item will be near invisible to pilots flying about in high performance aircraft.

Lightning protection will be another point to consider. With millions of dollars worth of sensitive electronics in the air of one of the most lightning prone areas of the globe, defence engineers have to ensure the investment does not fry the moment a lightning bolt zaps the machine.

If it works as planned, the aerostat will herald exciting times for airspace watchers in that place.

You may also like:
When the balloon goes up: Radar-equipped aerostats to perform sentry duty. Click here

Guide to radars and defence equipment installed on HDB blocks and commercial buildings in Singapore. Click here 

Evaluate need for RSAF Space Command. Click here

When the RSAF gives ground. Another RSAF base may make way for urban renewal. Click here

Sunday, October 26, 2014

When the Republic of Singapore Air Force gives ground: Impact on SG's land bank from the closure of PLAB

In the 1978 movie, Superman, Lex Luthor intends to detonate a nuclear device along the San Andreas Fault so that California would slide into the Pacific Ocean, making him immensely richer because hundreds of miles of worthless desert land he had bought would be the new (read: valuable) seafront property.

The cunning plan by Superman's nemesis was engineered to profit from an instant change in geography. Alas, the hero saves the day and the land grab never achieves its intended effect.

In Singapore, the announcement that the Republic of Singapore Air Force would bid goodbye to Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) after 2030 has stoked the interest of real estate speculators who sense a good buy. They reason that property limited by height restrictions around PLAB would shoot up in value (if you excuse the pun) once height restrictions are removed and the plot ratio of real estate around what is now the RSAF's largest airbase can be maximised.

There's money to be made from the change in landscape, some property players reason, though on a time scale far longer than the instant success that Lex Luthor has plotted.

While theoretically plausible, property speculators may want to ensure their homework is thorough and money-making instincts are sound before taking the plunge.

The 16-year window (or more) from now till the day PLAB closes shop is likely to be signposted with economic peaks and troughs, looking at how economic cycles have contracted in the past decade or so.

When the RSAF gives ground
In addition, one must pencil in the impact on property prices from the release of prime land after container terminals around the city fringe move to Tuas. And how about the possibility that even more RSAF assets will be released after 2030?

Looking at projections for Singapore's resident population and future demands for living space, it is the opinion of this blog that another RSAF base will eventually make way for urban renewal. When that day comes, the announcement would likely throw a spanner in the works of property players who had banked their hopes on profiting from PLAB's eventual departure. The sudden realisation that tiny Singapore has a bigger land bank for urban redevelopment than estimated by property analysts/experts is likely to dash many hopes and may sink many speculative ventures.

That said, some will profit - and handsomely so.

If one does a scenario play, one can quite clearly see that the release of a substantial tract of land would invigorate the property scene. The dots are already there for you to join in order to hazard a guess how the landscape is likely to change.

Investors with deep, deep pockets and a long-term investment horizon that stretches decades from today are likely to be the ones who can ride out any speculative fever and be left standing solidly to bank in their profits.

Caveat emptor.

You may also like:
When the balloon goes up. Radar-equipped aerostats to perform sentry duty. Click here

RSAF takes creative approach in studying airpower. Click here

The Best Units 2014. Click here 

Safe haven, safe house. Click here

Friday, October 24, 2014

Goody two shoes: Lessons in volunteer management for the SAF Volunteer Corps pioneer team

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) fast landing craft approached the Indonesian shore, fully loaded with passengers all keyed up and eager for action. Ramp down. Boots on Indonesian soil and the first "shots" recorded were a mix of selfies and images of the battered landscape.

Those who watched the antics by disaster tourists embedded among genuine volunteers frowned at the spectacle. This scene was played out during the closing chapter of Singapore's contribution to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief work, codenamed Operation Flying Eagle, in earthquake and tsunami hit Meulaboh.

The motley crew of civilian volunteers had been shipped to Meulaboh aboard an RSN tank landing ship, their two-day journey there drawing upon that mental quality that lived up to the name ship of that class of LST.

The RSN's experience shows that despite the best of intentions from civilian volunteers and their military host, mixing people plucked from civvie street into a military environment is fraught with perils in expectation management. The is also the human dynamic, principally the interplay of group dynamics among volunteers and between the host as opinions are shaped and in group/out group cliques forged in a hierarchical military environment.

Not all civilians adapt well to military life. This lifestyle change doesn't come more stark than life aboard a Singapore navy man-of-war, haze gray and underway, far from the comfort zone of landlubbers unused to shipboard life.

Speak to the RSN's OFE alumni and you may hear about the challenges in hosting volunteers as not all responded well to authority or to their peers or were polite in voicing their grouses. And these were civilians who had stepped forward on their own free will to do good.

Lessons gleaned from OFE 10 years ago point to the path the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) can avoid relearning with astute management of volunteer applicants at all touch points leading to their first taste of military life.

But even with the best effort at mapping touch points so that proactive action can be taken in assessing, selecting and inducting the best candidates, some people may, alas, chose to drop out.

Again, our Navy holds lessons to how candidates can be galvanised to press on. Visit the Naval Diving Unit and one may hear how tadpoles can voluntarily drop out by simply ringing a bell. It is as simple as that. A few clangs of that blooming bell and you can drop out of Hell Week.

Despite this easy way out, tadpoles rarely do so. Why?

Perhaps the Navy's commitment to the quality of a candidate over sheer recruitment numbers presents the NDU training cadre with candidates imbued with the right motivation and personal resolve to adapt and get on with the job.

Numbers aside, it is good to know the SAFVC is likewise committed to handpicking quality candidates over filling vacancies. Their's is no numbers game.

Turning concept into reality is never easy, particularly for the pioneer batch tasked with shaping the SAFVC from a paper plan into a credible source of human capital to augment the SAF.

Yet, those at the helm must believe innately that the cause is worthwhile, the objectives attainable and remain steadfast and vigilant as they focus on the tasks at hand, even as naysayers nip at their heels.

Results will show.

If you think you have what it takes to join the SAF Volunteer Corps, click here