Thursday, January 29, 2015

No Singapore Armed Forces SAF Open House in SG50 year: Six things to know about SAF50@Vivo

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has no plans to stage an Open House during this milestone year which marks the SAF's 50th anniversary.

Compared to celebrations in 1990 which marked the SAF's 25th anniversary, this year's celebrations may seem muted.

But an Open House is just one way for our armed Services to engage you. And the means to do so have grown substantially since SAF 25.

Here are six things to know about SAF50@Vivo:

1. When the SAF turned 25, the SAF At 25 Exhibition was held over 10 days from 15 to 24 June 1990. This centrepiece of this event was an Open House at Paya Lebar Airport which featured a massive showcase of SAF war machines from the Army, Navy and Air Force. Some of you may remember that mega Open House.

2. The SAF50@Vivo show will stretch over just four days, from 12 to 15 February 2015 at the Vivocity shopping mall. This is akin to the Navy@Vivo show on steroids.

3. Compared to 1990, the SAF's operational tempo has increased substantially. This year's operational taskings include evergreens such as the National Day Parade at the Padang (there was also a big parade and Mobile Column during NDP 1990) as well as new taskings absent in 1990. These include the SEA Games, Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore Grand Prix F1 race and the IMDEX Asia naval show just to name a few of the banner events. The SAF also has a number of overseas deployments scheduled for 2015 that will also demand bandwidth.

4. Compared to 1990, our threat environment has likewise changed beyond recognition. Today, non-state actors have made the threat from terrorism far more organised, globalised and lethal than what the SAF faced in 1990. This means that more than ever, our SAF Operationally-Ready National Servicemen, full-time National Servicemen and Regulars have to be at the top of their game 24/365.

5. In 2015, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF can leverage on more channels to reach out and engage you. There was no Facebook in 1990, no websites or homepages to visit. Youtube was not invented till this century. The SAF, Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Navy and Republic of Singapore Air Force have all ventured into the social media scene. This means engagement can continue year-round, instead of being anchored to a fixed geographical venue in the case of an Open House.

6. But even as we realise the benefits of social media as a communications tool, one hopes that Open Houses will continue to be on the calendar of SAF events after the surge of SG50 activities taper off. Open Houses have proven to be crowd magnets and people flock there for good reason. So MINDEF/SAF should bring back Open Houses when opportunities arise.

For more about SAF50, please visit

Monday, January 26, 2015

Update on ST Electronics Venus Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs)

These harbour craft may look like ordinary, 9-metre long powerboats. But take a close look at the weather-proof covers draped over the "cabins" of each vessel and the antennae sprouting from the mast and you'll realise these vessels are somewhat special.

The Venus unmanned surface vessels, SR3008B and SR3096A, were photographed at a local marina stored alongside civilian powerboats and sailboats.

Unveiled in 2010 by Singapore Technologies Electronics (ST Elec), the Venus USV has been described in company literature as being adaptable for a range of missions. These include anti-submarine warfare, mine sweeping and harbour security duties armed with a remotely operated weapons mount.

When stored in the marina, both USVs were unarmed. However, the deck configuration for each USV was different as SR3008B was fitted with a frame aft of the sensor mast.

Background note: Categories of Singapore harbour craft licences

Harbour craft licences are issued by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to vessels used for commercial purposes within the port.
The following categories of licence are issued:
"SA" if the vessel is used as a "bumboat" (i.e. dealing in the sale and purchase of new or second hand goods)
"SB" if the vessel is used for the carriage in bulk of petroleum, liquefied gases, liquid chemicals or vegetable/animal oils
"SC" if  the vessel is used for the carriage of dry or packaged goods
"SP" if the vessel is used for the carriage of passengers
"ST" if the vessel is used as a tug. A vessel whose engine shaft power is less than 150 kilowatt (200 BHP)  will not be accepted for licensing as a tug.
"SR" if  the vessel is used for any other purpose. ST Elec's Venus USVs are classed under the "SR" license category.
Unmanned naval assets came under the media spotlight recently when the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) deployed Hydroid Inc's REMUS 100 autonomous underwater vehicles in the Java Sea during the search for the AirAsia Flight QZ8501. REMUS is an acronym for Remote Environmental Measuring Units.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Indonesia-Singapore defence relations: A special, longstanding friendship that has lasted more than 40 years

Among the many badges that adorn the uniform of the chief of Indonesia's search and rescue (SAR) agency is the Pilot Wing from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

Those who wonder how it got there should look at the distinguished career trajectory for Marsekal Madya Henry Bambang Soelistyo, head of BASARNAS (Badan SAR Nasional, the Indonesian SAR agency).

Go back in time to 2010 when Soelistyo then had one-star on his TNI air force general's uniform. As co-chair of the Joint Air Force Training Working Group (JAFTWG) between the Indonesian air force and the RSAF, which alternated their meetings between Indonesia and Singapore, Soelistyo gained firsthand experience planning, discussing, refining and implementing a host of programmes between the TNI-AU and RSAF.

The JAFTWG talks led to joint air force war games, courses, exchanges of personnel and visits that forged closer and more meaningful defence relations between our respective air forces.

Special friendship
These paved the way for the continued advancement of TNI-AU-RSAF air warfare manoeuvres codenamed Elang Indopura, maritime surveillance exercises in the CAMAR Indopura series and the SAR exercise codenamed MANYAR Indopura. Our air exercises have grown in size, scale and complexity, thanks to the efforts of planners from both sides keen on constantly expanding the envelope and building on past successes.

In addition, Singapore hosted simulator training for Indonesian air force pilots in Singapore (Super Puma, F-5 Tiger II, G-FET and EC-120 Colibri) while Indonesia conducted simulator training for RSAF C-130 Hercules aircrew.

It is safe to guess that a good number of pilots from both countries now involved in the multi-national search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501 honed their flying skills from these exercises.

But it was not all work.

The task of directing and coordinating large fighter aircraft formations from both nations, flying at high speed, at low level and on many occasions with live ordnance, demands a high level of trust and confidence from all ranks involved in such war games. Along the way, friendships are forged as our people spend face time with one another, talk things through and weigh various options for tackling complex war game scenarios.

Rising star: The future chief of BASARNAS, then a one-star TNI air force general (seated, centre) with TNI and RSAF colleagues who formed the Joint Air Force Training Group in 2010. 

Such interactions contribute valuable yet intangible credits to Indonesia-Singapore defence ties. Indeed, the personal ties have done much to foster a special friendship between the TNI and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

And so, when TNI-SAF come together for joint operations, many personnel draw upon that special friendship which serves as a catalyst for the ability of our two armed forces to group together quickly and execute missions safely.

Benefits flow two ways.

In December 1997, it was the TNI-led search effort and TNI-AL divers who recovered the flight data recorder and voice recorder of Singapore's SilkAir Flight MI185 from the Musi river in Palembang.

The period from 2004 to 2006 recorded three SAF HADR operations in Indonesia. These were:

December 2004: The SAF deployed three Republic of Singapore Navy Endurance-class tank landing ships, six RSAF C-130 Hercules aircraft, six Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, two Super Pumas and more than 1,200 SAF personnel to Aceh as part of the tsunami relief mission. This was codenamed Operation Flying Eagle. The main deployment stretched almost four weeks.

March 2005: Nias earthquake assistance. The RSAF deployed three Chinook heavy-lift helicopters. These airlifted 70 stretcher cases to Medan and ferried some 870 rescue workers to affected areas over two weeks. The SAF medical team treated about 800 patients in one week in the Gunung Sitoli area.

May 2006: Central Java earthquake relief mission. The SAF sent a 35-person medical team to join a TNI field hospital. Emergency supplies and a surgical team were also attached to Indonesia's Bantul District Hospital. The SAF medical teams treated over 1,400 people and performed 32 emergency surgeries over eight days.

In January 2007, we once again worked alongside the TNI in the search for Adam Air Flight 574 which crashed in Sulawesi. One RSAF Fokker 50 aircraft conducted 20 air search sorties between 3 and 17 January 2007. The RSN deployed four sets of underwater locator beacon detectors and six personnel as BASARNAS scoured the sea for the aircraft's flight data recorder, which might unlock clues as to how the plane crashed.

There is another joint TNI-SAF mission involving an RSAF drone, which was deployed to scan dense, ancient jungle on a hostage rescue mission in the 1990s. This was executed at a faraway place called Timika. It was hush-hush during its time. But if you happen to see UAV Command's colours, look at the streamer carried by the Colours party (see below) and ask yourself how it got there. Yes, Team 525, you did well and those who know are proud of your achievement.

The TNI and SAF have achieved much together over the past four decades, ever since our first joint naval exercise codenamed Eagle.

Such friendships do not happen by chance.

Credit for this special friendship - a bond between ASEAN's largest and smallest member - goes to armed forces personnel from both sides have worked hard to build and sustain such ties.

And despite occasional hiccups in our bilateral relations, it is heartwarming to see senior officers continue to cherish our longstanding camaraderie at a personal level - whether spoken out loud or demonstrated by the simple, low key gesture of having a badge on one's honours row.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Singapore Armed Forces SAF training deaths in 2014

In 2014, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) reported two deaths in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), up from a single fatality reported for 2013..

As we usher in 2015, the rise in this tally is a timely reminder for all in the defence eco-system to take workplace and training safely seriously. At the same time, we must learn to be aware of and in control of our personal issues well. Should we feel down and need a listening ear - and we all go through such patches at some point in our lives - we must know whom we can approach to get things back on track.

Since 2009, when 10 SAF deaths were logged, the MINDEF/SAF have put in immense efforts at improving training safety.

This saw a dramatic reduction in fatalities in 2010. The SAF closed the year with zero fatalities.

However, that clean sheet has proven elusive.

In 2011,  the SAF reported three fatalities.

In 2012, the number doubled to six deaths.

The following year saw one fatality. However, one should remember that 2013 clocked at least five instances of near misses. These include servicemen who were hospitalised due to cardiac arrest, some 300 suspected Norovirus cases at BMTC on Pulau Tekong and an incident involving a Republic of Singapore Air Force pilot who was involved in a hard landing in a Unired States Navy T-45C Goshawk trainer in Florida.

From one death in 2013, we now have two for 2014. Every fatality is one too many.

However, this must be seen in perspective. Both took place in the first half of 2013, which suggests no slide in training safety awareness and protocols as the year wore on.

The SAF had a busy operations tempo in 2014. Last year, the SAF staged overseas deployments to the Gulf of Aden and contributed search teams to look for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370  as well as the ongoing search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea.

Looking ahead, the SAF has a busy calendar in 2015 as Singapore gears up for its Jubilee Year celebrations under SG50.

The ops tempo for Regulars, full-time National Servicemen and Operationally-Ready NSmen is likely to remain high in 2015. This will involve local deployments and a training calendar packed with training arrangements and exercises around the globe.

As a new year unfolds, the commitment to safety and better management of personal issues should be a top priority for all ranks.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

10th anniversary of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) Operation Flying Eagle Boxing Day tsunami relief mission

Ten years ago today, I sent sail from the Republic of Singapore Navy's Tuas Naval Base aboard RSS Endurance with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) tsunami relief mission to the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

At the time, our destination was unknown as was the duration of the then-unnamed operation. In time to come, Singaporeans came to know about the assignment as Operation Flying Eagle (OFE).

Am sharing some OFE pictures here for the first time. What's remarkable about the pictures is the fact that they were taken at all. I had stepped aboard Endurance without a camera because the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said so and I had no intention of flouting their security protocols. I complied (with 20:20 hindsight, this was stupid) and was assured by MINDEF and my newsroom that a photographer would soon join me en route.

As things turned out, the assignments editor couldn't tell the difference between Aceh (the Indonesian province) and Banda Aceh (the capital city of the aforementioned province) and happily despatched a photographer to BA where we would link up.

Alas, Endurance steamed past BA en route to Meulaboh as the Indonesians had said her help was more sorely needed at that part of the Sumatra coastline.

And so, off I went embedded with the SAF for the largest humanitarian without any camera to capture life on the sidelines. 

As luck would have it, several kind-hearted servicemen soon got wind of my predicament. A camera magically appeared on my bunk with instructions that I was not to tell the OFE management where it came from as the device was contraband. So that secret has stayed safe with me for the past 10 years.

Even so, opsec rules were strictly observed. Not a single picture was taken in the ship's Ops Room or Radio Room, or in the then hush-hush bunks located below the tank deck even after I was more or less allowed to roam Endurance without a press escort. 

OFE was the fourth and last SAF operation I was assigned to cover as a journalist. The 26 days outfield also marked the longest stint with an SAF operation.

This small photo essay is a tribute to the TNI and SAF operation which helped stabilise Meulaboh during those dark days. I treasure my time with the OFE team, the opportunity to work with the TNI up close and remember those who did not live to see 2005's sunrise. Ten years on, we honour their memory.

Aboard RSS Endurance with the chock and chain crew. Am fourth from left in this picture. Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Singapore Army personnel volunteered to assist loading and unloading RSAF helicopters as the tempo of air operations, which saw frequent arrivals from thirsty cargo-laden helos, made such work energy sapping. During one of my first embeds with the Navy, an RSN officer taught me that the greatest threat aboard ship is fire. He narrated what synthetic fibres would do to a wound during a flash over and the precautions one should take. Since then, I have resolved that I would not be the weak link in the host ship during an operation and my shipboard gear includes the whole anti-flash ensemble comprising hood and elbow-length gloves, flame-resistant coveralls, safety boots and other stuff. 

The seaside scene at Meulaboh coastline, close to our landing beach. A surau was the only structure that remained standing on the narrow sliver of land that jutted out to sea from Meulaboh town. This area took the full force of the advancing tsunami. Within days of the tsunami, the area was infested with houseflies which even reached the tank landing ships (LSTs) anchored offshore.

En route to Meulaboh, the crew aboard Endurance moved cargo and vehicles to clear a helo landing spot. This allowed the tank landing ship to serve as a lily pad for thirsty Super Pumas flying in from Medan. At this point in time, landing spots had yet to be cleared on the Indonesian mainland. During this phase of the operation, the tank landing ships were referred to as Helicopter Landing Ships. It was a baffling acronym for purists who consider such vessels landing platform docks (LPDs).

Maids of all work, RSN fast landing craft shuttled to and fro between shore and mothership from dawn to dusk. Some operations often stretched into the night. The Fast Craft Utility and smaller Fast Craft Equipment Personnel were vital for the logistics over the shore effort as the gradient of the beach at Meulaboh made direct beaching impractical. The TNI's Frosch-class LSTs, designed for landing in the Baltic, had to rely on RSN FCUs and FCEPs to land their cargo and personnel. Cooperation and coordination between TNI and SAF forces in Meulaboh was exemplary.

A Combat Engineer Tractor from the Singapore Army goes to work ashore. Such vehicles swam ashore from the LSTs. They were complemented by LARC V amphibious lighters. Sadly, I was unable to photograph a LARC V while in Meulaboh. :-(

A Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinook moments before touching down on an improvised landing zone built by the TNI and SAF. Aboard the heavy-lift helicopter, aircrew specialists were kept busy constantly scanned blind spots for obstructions, people or animals (like water buffaloes) who might get in the way. Unloading cargo-laden helos at such sites was labour intensive (see below) as this was conducted without the benefit of fork lifts. Soon after this picture was taken, your's truly joined the unloading team.

An RSAF Super Puma gingerly approaches an improvised landing pad made of earthworks compacted by shovel, boots and an overworked bulldozer from the Singapore Combat Engineers. The comparison with helicopter operations from Vietnam to Borneo springs readily to mind. Super Pumas were thirsty birds after making the overland flight from Medan across the mountain range to Meulahoh. Before such strips were carved out of the debris-strewn landscape, these helos conducted hot refuelling aboard the LSTs. This explains the urgency in clearing at least one landing spot for a Super Puma. To my eternal regret, I failed to cash in a standing offer from the HASG info ops team to see the devastation from the air. *sigh*

RSS Endurance is framed from the forward ramp of a fast landing craft. This was my home for 26 days from 31 December 2004 to 25 January 2005. In December 2003, I reported on the first SAF deployment to the Persian Gulf - codenamed Operation Blue Orchid - from the same ship. Familiarity with the ship's routine helped immensely during the adjustment process as one got used to the naval discipline aboard the 141-metre ship.

As with most ship Commanding Officers, the one for Endurance had his quirks. Her CO, Colonel Li Lit Siew, hated dust and made every effort to keep Endurance spick and span. Bunk inspections, led by her indefatigable Coxswain and an unsmiling Guards RSM, were a sight to behold. Yes, things flew in the bunks to the accompaniement of parade square drill instructions and notes scribbled on the confounded clipboard. The initial shakeup was unleashed on the houseguests aboard the LST as the Navy sought to bring the Singapore Army soldiers in line with RSN regimentation and discipline. They succeeded, eminently.

A TNI soldier stands guard at the beachhead with two Republic of Singapore Navy LSTs offshore. The rapport and friendship established between Indonesian and Singaporean military forces during OFE enabled the two forces to quickly bring a semblance of normalcy to the coastal town. Meulaboh had been hit by a double whammy of a powerful earthquake and devastating tsunami.

Senior officers on the starboard bridge wing of RSS Endurance pay homage to the Indonesian victims of the Boxing Day tragedy, and salute their counterparts from the TNI as the warship left Meulaboh for her voyage home. Pictured below are the wreaths jointly laid by the TNI and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in Meulaboh during a remembrance ceremony.

Throughout OFE, we drank from Cactus brand bottled water whose tagline was "Life Goes On". It was indeed a poignant reminder for all those in Meulaboh on how they should deal with the post-tsunami catastrophe.

No distance too far: The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) search operation for AirAsia Flight QZ8501

As Singaporeans settled down to enjoy the last Sunday of 2014, Lieutenant Teenesh Chandra, 26, rushed to Lebar Air Base from his family home. Duty called. There was a urgent mission to fly. Air Asia Flight QZ8501, en route from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore with 162 souls on board, was reported missing early that morning.

Singapore's offer to assist Indonesia in its search for the missing airline turned a quiet Sunday into buzz of activity for the dozens of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) personnel who were mobilised for the search operation.

Maps and weather charts for the Java Sea were consulted. Aircraft were fuelled and made ready for flight. RSAF aircrew and groundcrew stood at instant readiness to fly. 

After that burst of activity, then came the wait.

The order to launch came some four hours later after Indonesian authorities accepted Singapore's Sunday morning offer to join search parties.

Destination: Java Sea 
Mobilised in the morning to standby to fly, C-130B 724, an upgraded Hercules tactical airlifter from the RSAF's 122 Squadron, was wheels up by around 5pm from Paya Lebar Air Base. The Hercules took off from Runway 02, banked left towards Pandan Reservoir, then turned southbound over the Singapore Strait. Dark clouds, heavy with rain, screened 724's departure from Singapore as she dashed for the Java Sea on her mercy mission.

Mercy mission: This graphic, published by The Straits Times on Tuesday 30 December 2014, shows search boxes assigned to Singapore on Day 1 of the search. Indonesian authorities have since redrawn the search areas into some 13 boxes. The distance the RSAF has to fly to reach the assigned search area is clear. 

Since Day 1 of the search for AirAsia QZ8501, Singapore has been assigned the southernmost search boxes, some 700km away from Singapore, by Indonesian authorities. The search area is about 50 times the size of Singapore. To search effectively means scouring the sea at low level. This meant that each aircraft can cover only about 15% of the search box during the nine hours of flying because the search has to be meticulous.

To put it another way, the search box for the RSAF is closer to Surabaya than it is to Singapore.

As a contributor to what would evolve as a multi-nation Search and Locate operation, our Air Force carried out its mission with quiet determination. RSAF personnel were united by a common resolve to find the missing AirAsia airliner, her passengers and crew, and to do so as quickly and expeditiously as possible.

Military Expert 1 (ME1) Vernon Goh, an RSAF Engineer from 817 Squadron, was among those who stepped forward to volunteer for the search mission. He was one of the 12 "scanners" who flew onboard an RSAF C-130 Hercules during the Search and Locate operation. In an RSAF Facebook post, ME1 Vernon said:"We took turns at the windows for about one hour each time, because the windows were high and we had to stand to look through it. We did this for about six hours, hoping that we could find something to help the families of those on board AirAsia QZ8501. It was tough as we were just looking at the endless waters, but we endured because it was important to us."

No distance too far
Assigning the RSAF search boxes farthest from Singapore meant that our C130 had to fly a longer distance to reach the area of operations. As more fuel is used, this means ithe search aircraft's time on station is shorter - even with long-range fuel tanks under each wing. 

Althought a Hercules can stay aloft for more than half a day, something has got to give when the aircraft has to fly farther to reach its area of operations. In this case, it was time spent performing the actual search. 

But Indonesian authorities must have had good reason how foreign search assets such as ships and planes are assigned. This is because when lives are at stake during a mercy mission, politiking and bureaucratic roadblocks must give way to good sense, expediency and a sense of urgency. Indonesian assets could also have been at work in search boxes closer to Singapore and changing gears midway during the operation may be more complicated than it appears.

Missions such as this are done under intense public and media scrutiny. As a consequence, once the dust has settled, people are likely to scrutinise what was done and assess how things could have been done better.

As search boxes are combed by air and sea assets, the reports sent by such assets aid authorities in compiling a picture of the area they are searching. Even reports of zero sightings are valuable. Such nil returns help authorities verify the areas where nothing was found. Without such nil returns, authorities would have to keep guessing which grid squares may hold clues to the location of the missing airliner.

So every contribution counts. 

And when lives are at stake, every additional moment that an aircraft can use to scan its patch of sea contributes to the overall mission success.

And when help is needed, it is indeed heartwarming to know the professionals in our Air Force are dependable, capable and willing to get on with their assigned mission, even when the distance seems far and mission challenges complex.

Our hearts go out to the next of kin of the people onboard AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Singapore Defence Budget 2015: Investing in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as our defensive shield for peace

Stung by two destructive world wars last century, Western nations now keep a wary eye on any war machines that can reach out to wreck their capital cities.

Strategic weapons such as cruise missiles and long-range nuclear bombers are monitored and curtailed by international treaty, though no defence planner has any illusions their world will ever be rid of such threats.

Tactical weapons, strategic effect
For a tiny city state like Singapore, just about 40km long and 20km wide at its widest point, the deployment of tactical weapons can exert the same frightful strategic effect once our tiny island comes within the range ring of such war machines.

Examples of tactical weapons that can unleash destructive firepower to pulverise Singapore city include long-range heavy artillery (52km when firing extended range full-bore base bleed rounds), rocket artillery, tactical fighters loaded wall-to-wall bombs (these go a long way with aerial refuelling) or a man-of-war primed for shore bombardment.

Arms treaties alone offer no security. Tactical weapons are treaty-compliant as their modest range, when measured against the standards of European battlefields or trans-continent warfare envisaged by the United States, make them immune to non-proliferation talks scribed for western nations.

For us, our insurance against such destructive firepower comes from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

The SAF's firepower alone counts for nothing if not for drawer plans that prescribe the swift and decisive application of force. We must know the strategic centres of gravity that can destabilise, degrade or de-fang the enemy's war fighting potential. We must have a menu of options for our smart munitions; a list of objectives and enemy units for manoeuvre forces to gun for, encircle and destroy.

Above all, we must be able to tell false starts from the real thing, and have the collective will to do the necessary if and when the balloon goes up.

Beyond national hubris and jingoistic statements, strategic thinkers abroad must have no doubt as to the SAF's capacity to execute its mission resolutely, if our national survival is ever at stake.

Strategic conundrum
Herein lies the strategic conundrum facing the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF defence planners: How to build a credible military deterrent without alarming the neighbours. This is especially so during halcyon times (like now) when diplomats are all smiles and courtesy.

For MINDEF/SAF, the approach to long-term defence planning should continue to be grounded on a capability-based and not a threat-based approach. This approach isn't mere word play.

A capability-based approach focuses our strategic narrative on the wherewithal that the SAF should acquire so that it can deal with a host of situations, present-day and emerging, within the means provided by a Defence Budget capped at six per cent of our Gross Domestic Product.

Spread across a growing MINDEF/SAF wish-list that is multi-spectrum, the sum allocated to our Services will never be enough to cover all our bases.

So we have to prioritise and allocate resources on a best-effort basis, reduce wastage through better productivity and find smarter ways of doing things.

Even so, as regional economies thrive, we can expect them to increase their defence spending. Concomitant with the rise in defence dollars is the enlargement of their respective arsenals. And the bigger stable of war machines means more things MINDEF/SAF needs to ponder over.

Money can solve most woes as there are counter measures and counter-counter measures you can buy to deal with conventional arms.

Negating the threat(s)
With foresight, one could conceivably introduce a network of capabilities that negate the destructiveness of hostile firepower.

With the right technology, you could look above and beyond your border for a better sense of over-the-horizon threats. A more frequent update rate from indigenous overhead assets would be a game changer for defence planners. In time to come, they can scrutinise overhead imagery within hours, rather than wait for two days for another satellite pass. This means we can decide and act more decisively and prudently, filtering signals from the noise, discerning false alarms from emerging danger.

This can be complemented with active defence systems which can knock down artillery projectiles, thereby providing a measure of active defences to protect the island during the vulnerable phase when the full force potential of the SAF is mobilised for action.

This active defence shield, a sort of iron dome if you will *wink*, can be integrated with the sharp end of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Singapore Army's counter-battery radars to find, fix and finish off any tube or rocket artillery fired towards the island. Installed at strategic approaches to Singapore, the active defence can provide 160 360 coverage against all comers.

Present-day active defences are never 100 per cent full-proof. This is why continuing efforts at hardening our island nation through the home shelter programme adds more resilience to our ability to soak up attacks, then strike back decisively.

As surveillance technology matures, the addition of gap-filler radars, aerostats and better algorithms that guide active defence batteries should further negate the ability of enemy commanders to simply target the little red dot and get away with it.

Defence diplomacy
The Lion City's firepower must be matched by defence diplomacy that helps regional players understand our strategy of deterrence better.

We also need to spend more time pondering the impact on deterrence should neighbouring countries attempt to densensitise us with regular yet benign deployments of their new toys.

In doing so, regional planners tasked with drafting their own drawer plans must realise how far we will allow military posturing to unfold before decisive action is taken.

At the same time, the authors of the doomsday scenarios need to understand one another better for a better sense of what qualifies as theatrics and a clear, no-BS understanding of what constitutes a threat. These points of view are two sides of the same coin.

In the coming year, as new capabilities are unveiled, we should hopefully see more brisk activity in this continuing education process at understanding the SAF's value as our defensive shield for peace.

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