Friday, April 10, 2020

Circuit breaker Day 4 pix: Singapore Army M-113 Ultra with special urban ops cupola

"Fitted for but not with" is a description applicable to many Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines.

This M-113A2 Ultra is fitted with something seldom seen. The armoured personnel carrier has additional armour protection for its CIS 40/50 cupola which mounts a CIS 40mm automatic grenade launcher and a CIS 50 12.7mm heavy machine gun. I saw an Ultra in this configuration only once. This was back in July 2006 when the Singapore Army showcased its urban warfare capabilities to the media at Exercise Urban Dominance. They told the media that if the need arose, M-113 Ultras could be retrofitted quickly with such armour kits.

The add-on armour is made up of armoured glass panels that encircle the cupola. A small gunshield, much smaller than the Vietnam-era Armoured Cavalry Assault Vehicle gunshield kit, improves frontal protection. The cupola is no longer exposed to sun and sky as an armour plate provides top protection.

The armour kit protects the gunner, who was previously exposed from shoulder-level up, from small arms fire and shell fragments. Armoured glass enhances situational awareness in closed terrain during military ops in urban terrain.

The experiment was a precusor to SAF "closed hatch" CONOPS, as demonstrated by the new Hunter AFVs.

Here's what an Ultra 40/50 cupola looks like without the add-on armour kit.

P.S. No Navy pictures? Yes, have. Just hang on a bit please. :-)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Circuit breaker Day 3 pix: Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF Super Skyhawks in Cazaux

A sight never to be seen again: Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) TA-4SU Super Skyhawks and A-4SU Super Skyhawks in Cazaux, France, where they served 150 Squadron as Advanced Jet Trainers.

The RSAF shipped 18 Skyhawks to France in 1998 by sea with 10 twin-seat variants outnumbering the single-seat A-4s. Fun fact: 150 Squadron continued to fly its Super Skyhawks years after RSAF Skyhawks made their "last flight" in Singapore on 31 March 2005.

I visited Cazaux years ago when Skyhawks were still active to see the AJTs in action. RSAF 150 SQN now flies the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer which was inaugurated by Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen in September 2014. In July 2018, the RSAF and the French Air Force marked the 20th anniversary of 150 Squadron at Cazaux Air Base.

Cazaux detachment: We have not forgotten you in this COVID-19 pandemic. That I can assure you. Am glad the MRTTs are back in SG and that SQ has a sizeable number of A380s and 777s on hot standby.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Circuit breaker Day 2 pix: Singapore Army Armour Formation AMX-13 SM1 Tank Crew

Social distancing? What's that?

One of the last batches of Singapore Army AMX-13 SM1 trainees gather in front of their French-built light tanks at Sungei Gedong Camp in early November 2006. This was the day then Minister for Defence, Teo Chee Hean, announced that the army had purchased Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks. The German-made Leopards were acquired second-hand from the Bundeswehr (German armed forces).

At the time, the APFSDS-T round (Project Spider) was still classified. I was allowed to write about it 10 years later (!) for one of the books that marked the 50th anniversary of Singapore's Defence Technology Community. I wrote two chapters (development of armoured fighting vehicles and development of small arms) for the book on Land Systems.

The young SM1 tank crews, then serving their full-time National Service, would have completed their NS obligations by now. I wonder what they're up to now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF Hawker Hunters

Special Hunter: This Hawker Hunter was one of the specially modified birds flown by the Republic of Singapore Air Force 141 Squadron. Note the blanked off 30mm Aden gun ports and the unusual attachment protruding from the gun bay. The attachment is believed to be a recce sensor. This RSAF Hunter also has what appears to be a ventral chaff/flare pack just before the air brake.

From now till the end of Singapore's "circuit breaker" interlude (7 April to 4 May 2020) that attempts to break local transmission of the COVID-19 virus, Senang Diri will post a selection of pictures from our collection. Hope the pictures will help you fight boredom.

We start off with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Hawker Hunter as Singapore marks Fighter 50 this year - 50 years of fighter aircraft operations (1970-2020).

Take care. Stay strong. Stay at home.

Hunters roll past the crowd line at Paya Lebar Air Base in the early 1980s during an RSAF Open House. This was the first time I photographed the Hunter. The camera was a simple Yashica point-and-shoot autofocus film camera.

The Hunters carried the heaviest gun armament among all the RSAF fighters, with four 30mm cannon. In the 1970s and 80s, the RSAF Hunter force represented a formidable ground attack strike force, backed by A-4 Skyhawk fighter-bombers and F-5 Tigers IIs providing top cover. The Rolls-Royce Avon engine that powered the Hunter emitted a rather distinctive howling sound, especially when the fighter dashed past at high speed and at low level. If you've heard it before you're unlikely to forget it. Aviation enthusiasts call it the "Blue Note".

Monday, April 6, 2020

Foreign workers should not be weak link in Singapore's efforts to fight COVID-19

Hearts and minds: More than 10 years ago, Resorts World Sentosa and dormitory operator, 5 Star Dormitory Management, worked in concert to maintain workforce health at the little-known dormitory on Pulau Brani. Every foreign national who stayed at the quarters had his country's flag display (see below for the reasons). I had also suggested that we printed pictures of the integrated resort for workers so they could show their families what they were building. The posters were very well-received.  

Foreign worker dormitories must not be the weak link in the chain as Singapore fights the coronavirus pandemic.

With 20,000 foreign workers now quarantined at two dormitories, it should be clear that a COVID-19 outbreak that gets out of hand in these quarters will have serious consequences. Singapore's healthcare system will need to ramp up quickly to accommodate and treat these patients if many workers fall seriously ill. Law and order situations may flare too, if remaining residents beset by fear and anxiety want to leave the premises without permission.

Singapore's whole of government approach must cascade its messages to our foreign worker communities quickly and effectively. This is harder said than done. Foreign worker communities present disparate challenges, chief amongst which are the different languages, attention span and levels of literacy within these communities.

More than 10 years ago, my employer assigned me the task of managing foreign worker issues. I partnered a team of former Singapore Police Force officers led by Mr Oh Kar Chye (who once headed the SPF Security Command) to roll-out our hearts and minds plan. To be frank, the foreign worker dormitory built on Pulau Brani was terra incognita for the former cops and myself (a former journalist) but we managed as best we could.

Our brief was simple: Keep the workers happy and healthy so that the tight construction timelines for the massive Resorts World Sentosa integrated resort worksite would not be compromised by health issues, dormitory squabbles or work-to-rule situations (i.e. strikes).

We sought to build up emotional capital with the workers by demonstrating that they were an integral part of the IR project. They were not cogs in the wheel but were human beings from many nations - places like Bangladesh, China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar and several more - who came to Singapore to make a living.

We worked with the dormitory operator, 5 Star Dormitory Management, to chart out a calendar of events where we could mark special occasions (eg Singapore's National Day), country-specific dates or festivals that were meaningful to the workers.

Suggestion boxes and helplines were placed prominently at the dormitory entrance, complemented by our weekly walkabouts to gather feedback. This gave workers and 5 Star the chance to defuse any simmering issues before they exploded.

Believe me, the foreign workers were a creative lot. A samsu distillery that used glass bottles, plastic buckets and tubes was discovered and dismantled. There was at least one cigarette smuggling ring that was busted. There was the occasional fight between various nationalities and theft in dwelling.

But by and large, workforce health was vibrant. From what the foreign workers told us, they felt the care and concern from 5 Star and the client (RWS) was genuine. It indeed was, and those of us assigned this task did our best to make the workers feel at home.

Building goodwill: Am pleased to report that my suggestion for printing posters of the RWS integrated resort for foreign workers proved a hit with the dormitory residents. Workers took pictures and asked for additional posters as souvenirs. Many workers told us they were proud to show their family members they were working on a prestigious project to build the integrated resort.

Among my suggestions accepted by the work group was the hanging of flags (see above) representing every nationality housed on Pulau Brani. No matter how small the national contingent, every foreigner housed at the dorm saw their national flag at the entrance. It was aesthetically pleasing but there was a deeper reason behind the addition of national flags. Now that many years have passed and RWS has been built successfully, I can perhaps share the rationale for doing so. I reasoned if a riot broke out in the dormitory, disgruntled workers were less likely to burn down dormitory infrastructure when their own national flag hung (out of easy reach) in the facility itself. And so, the suggestion was implemented, the flags went up as required and were quite well received by residents.  :-)

Loud and clear: Here's something we couldn't show back then. It's a long-range acoustic device. It was part of standby drawer plans sketched out by a group of former police officers and I for handling disruptive situations. Thankfully, the situation in the Pulau Brani dormitory was harmonious. Never had to trigger the standby plans. 

The RWS CSR team worked hard to keep the workers well fed. Buffet lines were set up on special occasions, like National Day and religious festivals, with special meals for the dormitory residents. It was a treat they all enjoyed - free and sumptious meals served by the dormitory operator or RWS staff who volunteered for the occasions. Bangladeshi and Indians enjoyed the special meals during Chinese New Year, and likewise the substantial PRC community liked the treats during festivals celebrated by their fellow workers.

During one Chinese New Year shutdown, we brought all the workers for an outing at the Singapore Zoo in batches. The reasoning was that an idle mind is the devil's workshop and so we sought to keep them occupied with the excursion. An early suggestion was to bring them to Sentosa to spend a day at the beach. But bearing in mind many couldn't swim, that idea was discarded for safety issues.

Having messages displayed in Singapore's four official languages was irrelevant at the Brani Dormitory. We learned that we had to display important messages on fire safety and personal hygiene using simple infographics or had them translated into other languages that the workers understood.

The social capital was built up steadily and the RWS work site did not suffer any stoppages due to workers downing tools or health matters. The closest call we had was when shuttle buses bringing the workers from the worksite to the dormitory were late for some reason. Voices were raised and the situation quickly dissolved into an angry shouting match between a bus attendant whom the workers said was rude and the tired workers. SOC was activated. From what I recall, the SOC troop drove along the causeway into Sentosa, made a loop and drove back to the mainland in full view of the workers. The message was loud and clear. Not a single SOC trooper had to disembark from the Ang Chias and the workers reformed the queue to wait for the resumptionn of the shuttle buses.[The bus attendant was counselled and we never had a repeat of that incident.]

Thankfully we never had a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19. Having been through SARS, the former SPF officers and I both resolved to keep the Brani quarters a liveable and pleasant place to stay.

To dormitory operators and officials tasked with the quarantine of those 20,000 workers, take care of them well with proper allocation of space. Maintain onsite infrastructure like toilets and shower areas properly. Get ground feedback to prevent issues from festering unnoticed. Go the extra mile to make the place liveable.

I wish the dormitory operators fighting the COVID-19 situation all the very best. Remember to raise and sustain emotional goodwill as much as possible. Your sincerity will not go unrecognised and they will repay your goodwill.


(Above) Text used by RWS in 2009/2010 for a printed collateral to thank its construction workers.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue: Asia Security Summit will not convene in 2020

The 2020 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) would be untenable as no one can say how long countries will close their borders in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. Even if delegates can get to Singapore when airline flights have dried up - some military delegations have flown to Singapore using their own aircraft in the past - defence ministers and armed forces chiefs are likely to be heavily engaged in their home nation's efforts to fight the virus. Defence chiefs many not be able to spare a weekend in Singapore, bearing in mind the travel time and the expected quarantine period upon returning home. 

One should also remember that the defence relations aspect of SLD would be jeopardised during this period of social distancing. Event highlights such as the lunch for defence ministers traditionally hosted by Singapore, numerous courtesy calls between ministers and armed forces chiefs, and the close mingling between delegates cannot take place as before. As the absence of such activities would dilute the value of the security talks, it is understandable and prudent for the event to be postponed. 

The Home Team and SAF deploy a lot of manpower and assets to protect the event round the clock. Postponing the event would allow the Home Team and SAF to give their fullest attention and support to Singapore's pandemic response efforts.

Tensions in hotspots like the South China Sea, sea piracy and the threat of terrorism have not gone away even as COVID-19 ravages countries worldwide. 

As governments worldwide focus their attention on the pandemic, it is essential that defence diplomacy engagements continue to allow differing points of view to be aired. It is important for Track Two efforts such as the SLD to stay active, perhaps by video conference or online workshops on topical security issues, to keep potential flashpoints in check.

You may also like:
19th Shangri-La Dialogue,  scheduled for June, called off due to coronavirus outbreak, Straits Times, 28 March 2020. Click here

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19 situation: Please share with Singapore students in the United Kingdom

Please share if you have any fellow Singaporeans (citizens and Permanent Residents only) students in UK looking to return home:

Dear Singsoc leaders,

We understand that many Singaporean students are trying to secure flights back to Singapore. We have struck an exclusive ticket arrangement with Singapore Airlines for you to travel back to Singapore from 19-31 March 2020, subject to availability. We are offering this facilitation to students first as the rest of the Singaporean community based here are more rooted and have other support.

Singaporean students (citizens and PRs) may register your interest at and refer to the detailed instructions within. Singapore Airlines will get in touch directly with you. Singapore Airlines will do all possible to contact you at least 24 hours before your allocated flight, and will reach out with more lead time wherever possible. Once ticketed, Singapore Airlines reserves the right to rebook your travel on an alternative flight due to operational contingencies. This special arrangement with Singapore Airlines is exclusively for Singapore citizens and PRs. Entries/expressions of interest by non-Singaporeans will be treated as void.

Your safety is of utmost importance and rest assured that the Singapore High Commission in London is looking into getting additional flights if there is high unmet demand, including for further arrangements in April.

Singapore Airlines has advised that if students wish to return urgently, they may proceed to Heathrow Airport T2 to standby for a flight on the day itself. However, Singapore Airlines cannot guarantee that they will be accepted but there is a chance that Singapore Airlines will have some seats available. In such a scenario, you should preferably not have already put in a request through this system as we would like to avoid duplication and clogging up the system. We seek your understanding and cooperation to ensure the smooth operation of this system we have put in place, which we would fine-tune as necessary.

Please stay in close touch with us, monitor your health, and continue to stay united as one Singapore community! #SGUnited