Five years ago, the newspaper I wrote for published a scoop that some readers thought was an April Fools' joke.
The last flight of Singapore’s Super Skyhawk warplanes earned my story a slot in the 1 April 2005 Prime Pages of the 90 cents paper and a tee shirt from a low-profile Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) unit.
That episode showed me that the information flow across Service boundaries in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has ample room for improvement.
On the morning the story appeared, a reader called to say that the half-page story on the last flight by TA-4SU Super Skyhawks in Singapore was an April Fools' joke. The reader was a Singapore Army Colonel.
He reasoned that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) would not retire the Super Skyhawk when its replacement, the Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagle, had not even been built.
As he was so convinced of the strength of his argument, I made a bet with him. The prize was a tee shirt from his low-profile unit.
I won the bet after the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) ran a story on the Skyhawk stand down.
If an SAF officer can misread succession plans for SAF war machines, foreign defence analysts watching Singapore from afar can make the same mistake too. In their case, only too easily.
This is how strategic miscalculations take place, especially when misconceptions or wrong viewpoints are compounded over time.
MINDEF’s tendency to play down big ticket purchases in its media releases doesn’t help the Lion City’s deterrent posture.
Defence buffs with long memories may recall that when MINDEF announced it had purchased Sjoormen-class diesel-electric submarines from Sweden for the Republic of Singapore Navy, it slanted the purchases as trial submarines – to see if Singapore needed submarines. Riiiiight.
The RSAF’s Chinook heavy-lift helicopters were purportedly bought for – ahem – “search and rescue” obligations in Singapore’s Flight Information Region as well as support of Army training. The RSAF has flown CH-47D Chinooks for numerous air assault training missions in support of heli-mobile SAF Guards battalions, but I cannot recall a single Chinook painted in SAR colours.
More recently, the Singapore Army’s Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks are said to be replacements for the SM1 light tanks (upgraded AMX-13 light tanks). Hrmmm… Those who know will probably be grinning ear to ear. One wonders what the press release will say when the SM1’s real replacement is finally unveiled. And what about the H... oh never mind. :-)
I thank the Army Colonel for so generously honoring our private wager and mailing me the tee shirt. I wear it with pride.
It was an honest mistake afterall. Few Army officers are privy to what goes on during RSAF Cascade briefings. The Army’s Workplan Seminars are also open to only a select few air force warfighters. This means few in the SAF, apart from those who work for the Joint Staff, are privy to the big picture.
With the Third Generation SAF gaining traction, it will be a challenge informing and educating one and all of fresh developments within SAF teeth arms and combat service support units.
If MINDEF's education effort falters, then defence buffs like myself cannot help but be entertained by the occasional April Fools.
Inform, educate and entertain. That’s the tagline of the newspaper I worked for. Isn’t it apt?