Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Who are these people?"

Singaporean air power is a force to be reckoned with in the air, but its shortcomings in defence diplomacy have become glaringly apparent at the ongoing LIMA 2009 show in Malaysia.

Instead of winning new friends, signals from LIMA 2009 indicate that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is alienating itself from aircraft enthusiasts, the media and its Malaysian host by making a fuss about people who photograph its warplanes. Follow the discussion on LIMA 2009 here.

The pair of F-16C fighters and two Apache attack helicopters sent up north represent the first RSAF contingent sent to the long-running Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA).

You can’t blame the RSAF for its lack of tact or public relations savvy.

One might ponder what role, if any, the Public Affairs (PAFF) directorate at Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) played in indoctrinating the RSAF contingent in the finer points of defence diplomacy before they left the Lion City.

Looking at PAFF’s track record in handling military enthusiasts in Singapore, one would hope the RSAF received better service from PAFF.

Alas, perhaps PAFF was busy managing the attendance list for its recent Dinner & Dance so the event would play to a full house.

It is fitting to recall that discussants from a internet discussion group on military matters, aptly titled, attended several excursions with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) since 2008. These were all organized and staged without PAFF’s inputs, support or courtesy.

In fact, when I broached the idea that PAFF should take the lead in engaging netizens from, a senior officer I spoke to asked pointedly: “Who are these people?”

The excursion to the RSAF Emergency Runway exercise in November 2008 was organized by the RSAF Air Power Generation Command (APGC). As preparations for APGC’s biggest war readiness exercise ramped up, their officers took the time and trouble to clear the names of 19 Singaporeans so they could watch and photograph the exercise. The 19 militarynuts showed up on a Saturday morning at 0700hrs in what was to be our largest-ever gathering.

All who signed up turned up on time and had a blast watching RSAF warplanes launch and recover from an improvised runway. The highlight of the exercise rehearsal was our meeting with the RSAF Chief of Air Force, Major-General Ng Chee Khern.

Meeting CAF was a treat for the Operationally-Ready National Servicemen who formed the bulk of the contingent invited to watch Exercise Torrent VI. All Services of the SAF were represented that morning and the NSmen came from all eras from the 1st Gen SAF onwards. You must appreciate that NSmen seldom get to speak to anyone with more than three crabs (full Colonel, the three Singapore crests on the COL epaulettes resemble a plan view of the crustaceans) even in their NS units and many were thrilled when the two-star general walked over for the informal chat.

It says a lot about the readiness and confidence of the RSAF when its Air Power Generation Command and Air Combat Command willingly accommodated "outsiders" during the exercise rehearsal. Prior to last November's air exercise, the last time RSAF war planes thundered off a road was six years ago, so you may well appreciate that the manoeuvres could have seemed less than perfect. But the end result was fabulous and the RSAF was rewarded with net chatter to this effect.

While we're on Exercise Torrent VI, I should mention that I did try to go through proper channels. I wasted several days negotiating with PAFF and was finally told that - are you sitting down for this? - there "wasn't enough space" for the milnuts. The Emergency Runway site is at least 2,500 metres long. Go figure. : )

When I casually mentioned this to my friends in the RSAF, they promptly advised me to send them the name list and they would do the rest. Their word was good. The relevant security department cleared everyone. Milnuts will remember we had our own bus and hogged front row seats at the exercise.

Credit for the outings organised during the International Maritime Defence Exhibition, or IMDEX 2009, naval show goes to the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). Militarynuts who visited HMS Ocean will recall that our escort, Jagdish, ushered us into Changi Naval Base on Vesak Day – a Public Holiday in Singapore. We thank the RSN Naval Operations Department for the courtesy.

More recently, militarynuts were invited to watch and comment on the first Combined Rehearsal for Singapore’s 44th National Day Parade. The courtesy was extended by the NDP Executive Committee and our hosts went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

RSAF officers escorted the group as we watched Singapore Army armoured vehicles such as Leopard 2A4 Main Battle Tanks and Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicles unload from low loaders. It was truly a “combined arms operation” as we got sneak peeks of the first NDP'09 rehearsal by air, naval and air elements.

Coming back to LIMA, one would hope MINDEF/SAF leadership polish the RSAF’s defence diplomacy skills before LIMA opens its doors to the Malaysian Rakyat this weekend.

SAF personnel can make warm and inviting hosts when the occasion demands, as militarynuts have learned.

Who are these people?

They are largely Operationally-Ready National Servicemen who will respond at a moment’s notice when their nation calls.

I really wish I could say the same for PAFF.


FIVE-TWO said...

Who are these people?

They are not only Operationally Ready NSman, they are also fathers to the next generation of SAF soldiers, and trusted friends and advisers to the next generation of Singapore citizens who are being asked to serve the country where they live but are not yet a citizen.

The SAF exists not just by an act of Parliament, but in truth, by the spirit of the society.

Ben Choong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
|-|05| said...

mmm you saying about Operationally Ready NSman keeps reminding me of the fact that i stay nxt to my camp lol.
But wow it does seem that middle management is kinda crap in PR.

goat89 said...

Ah! Didnt know militarynuts guys had 'excursions' like this! ><
PS: LOL good pic with the Leo. ><

xtemujin said...

"Where are you from" and "Why are you taking those photos", most popular questions.

Ben Choong said...

Here we are, doing this out of pride for our nation, knowing what SAF can do and will do when things get hot. This pride is what we share with others who sometimes forget why they sleep easy each night.

We are proud of what SAF and Singapore does. This pride is what makes up the Psychological Defense aspect of Total Defense that we teach our citizens every 15th of February. Funny how this pride is now being questioned by the people who taught us to be proud in the first place.

Izwan Abu Shama said...

having held service-related jobs and duties, one would be encouraged to make their presence welcomed and open to suggestions, compliments and feedbacks.

Our scope is to be enlighten with the lastest developments in the military scene and serve as a bridge between the community and the military. If some don't appreciate our efforts to reach out, then I'm not certain as to what to say about it.