Monday, May 31, 2010

Time out from trouble

Not too long ago, a champion golfer found himself in a media muddle.

The media discovered that he had been unfaithful to his wife and he admitted to the deed.

The feral press then learnt that there was a second mistress involved. And then another. And when more women came forward, the story dominated headlines round the world.

As sponsors yanked sponsorship money and the public outcry reached a crescendo, the golfer took a time out from the professional circuit. He ducked out of view of the public eye for several weeks - a kind of operational pause to reflect on his situation and review his next course of action.

For the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), operations have to continue, rain or shine, day and night, every day.

No time out in operations is possible because there is simply too much at stake.

SAF warfighters have to take good and bad publicity in their stride. They have to trust that the system will learn from PR fiascos and make better judgement calls next time.

The system will also have to accept that having nurtured thousands of "thinking soldiers", the SAF must up its game when it comes to defence information management.

Truth is the first casualty of war. One might argue, in peacetime too.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

DPM Teo on the shotgun shooting incident

As stated in the previous post, the sound bytes have begun.

I believe damage control has to kick in quickly before the start of the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD). This could explain the sudden spirit of glasnost that has facilitated stories on the incident in the Singaporean media - a somewhat dated story on the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces.

I reckon these will die down temporarily once SLD gets underway.

As you listen to or read MINDEF's responses, ask yourself two things:
1) Why wasn't a news release issued?
2) When confronted by the 90 cents newspaper, why didn't MINDEF wrest the initiative and say that a second SAF serviceman was injured?

I believe it is point 2 that has fanned the ire of Singaporeans. It will be tragic if we fail to learn from this episode.

Mindef to raise Thai citizens' awareness of SAF exercises
By : S Ramesh
30 May 2010 1750 hrs (SST)


SINGAPORE: Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) will work with Thailand to raise Thai citizens' awareness of SAF exercises conducted in their vicinity.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said this when asked about safety precautions, after two SAF personnel were injured by a Thai villager who was out hunting.

The incident occurred in a designated training area within Kanchanaburi province, some 130 kilometres west of Bangkok, during a routine military exercise on 13 March.

DPM Teo said Mindef's priority in any incident is to ensure it takes care of servicemen and keep the family informed. And if it is of public interest, Mindef will issue a media release.

Some members of the public, who had written to the media, felt Mindef could have informed the public of the incident earlier. However, Mr Teo felt that what is of public interest is a matter of judgement.

Friday, May 28, 2010

PAFF gaffes

No amount of standard operating procedures, systems or processes will save MINDEF/SAF's public image if its Public Affairs Directorate shows poor judgement. There is a price to pay for hurting public opinion, as this commentary discusses.

When a Thai farmer fired his shotgun on 13 March this year, he ended up wounding not just two Singaporean soldiers but also damaged the confidence many Singaporeans have with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

Flesh wounds inflicted on Commando regular, First Sergeant Woo Teng Hai, 25, and Singapore Army full-time National Serviceman, Private J. Pritheery Raj, 19, will eventually heal.

Damage to the public image of MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will take far longer to mend. Just look at comments from netizens and listen to the chit chat in heartland coffeeshops.

Indeed, MINDEF/SAF must be prepared for the harsh reality that some Singaporeans may turn their backs on the SAF forever all because of this one incident.

Fallout is likely to outlive the recent crop of MINDEF/SAF's million dollar advertising campaigns. People may forget their taglines but in years to come, there's a good chance Singaporeans will remember that MINDEF failed to tell them of the shooting incident in Thailand. This is similar to the situation in 2007 when people showed more interest in stories about Dave Teo, the NSF who fled his camp with a SAR-21 assault rifle and ammunition, than the interview with the Chief of Army at that time.

So where does MINDEF's embattled Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) go from here? Does this rank as an honest mistake? Should all of us just move on?

We can. But brace yourself for more PAFF gaffes because I hold the opinion that a certain someone there lacks the temperament, writing skills and PR savvy for the job.

MINDEF's letter, published in Singaporean newspapers sans apology or any hint of contrition, has only triggered speculation that the mighty Third Generation SAF cannot multi-task.

What sort of SAF have Singaporean tax payers funded? Two walking wounded and the PR apparatus goes into suspended animation, to be woken from its slumber 73 days later after the 90 cents newspaper delivers a rare defence-related scoop? What message are we sending to Singaporeans and foreign defence analysts? That two casualties and the system is swamped?

Think for a moment how many 20-year-old soldiers will come back in body bags if we ever fight a hot war scenario rehearsed during war games like Exercise Forging Saber, Golden Sands, High Noon, Orion and Wallaby? Can the system cope?

Even after PAFF was quizzed about 1SG Woo's injuries, PAFF did not say that a second soldier had collected shotgun pellets on his face and upper body. PAFF's defence: that the newspaper's questions were too precise, ignores the role that a good PR officer serves in protecting the credibility of its master.

This prompted PTE Raj's family to call the media - a move that further smeared MINDEF's name because it rekindled fears that the Defence Ministry was out to cover-up the incident.

These fears were long banished in Singaporeans' collective memory, thanks to the systems and processes developed and fine-tuned over the years that ensured training incidents were reported promptly.

Now that it has returned, are you surprised Singaporeans are enraged? It is MINDEF and the SAF who encouraged Singaporeans to take an active part in Total Defence and take NS seriously. Many of us have done so, only to be let down by incompetent defence information management and haunted by the image that training incidents are covered up when MINDEF deems it convenient.

In the case of the shooting incident in Thailand, it may well be that extraneous factors (such as the political situation in the kingdom) were responsible for MINDEF/SAF's foot-dragging. Group think probably exacerbated MINDEF/SAF's reluctance to issue a news release on the incident.

In such situations, an insightful Director Public Affairs/MINDEF Spokesman must wield his leadership and demonstrate his ability to see the big-picture. Level 5 depends on such advice as the DPA is the ministry's subject matter expert on PR matters. DPA's office was placed on Level 5 for a good reason and the appointment is high on the Table of Precedence because of the value MINDEF places on the hearts and minds outreach.

PAFF's gaffe signals potential aggressors that our city-state is casualty averse. Looking at how PAFF bungled the shooting incident's news management, foreign defence analysts will need some convincing that the Singapore Army is not composed of poorly-trained city boy softies.

It will also take some doing to erase the mental image that the SAF Commandos, resplendent in their red berets, can be bested by a farmer with a shotgun. This may be an unfair perception, but PAFF will have to find some way to fix the Commando Formation's image.

The confidence Singaporeans have in MINDEF/SAF is a key guarantee that Army will be there when Singapore needs it. The SAF is afterall a citizen's armed forces whose main strength lies with hundreds of thousands of Operationally Ready NSmen who are on extended leave for some 325 days a year. The mobilisation process assumes many imponderables, all of which are open to direct action or interference from hostile entities during the planning before hostilities phase.

In peacetime, NSmen respond to the call to arms simply because the cost of not doing so - a hefty fine or jail term, or both - exceeds the inconvenience of trudging to camp to sign a timesheet. The pragmatism of Singaporeans will apply during hostilities too. When things get hot, NSmen may reason that the cost of reporting for active duty (death or permanent disability) is less palatable than paying a fine or spending time in jail. This is a mindset that hostile entities are likely to exploit in order to blunt the SAF's combat edge.

Even Israel has its fair share of refuseniks - reservists who refuse to obey mobilisation orders. If push comes to shove, the Lion City must likewise brace itself for the prospect of well-to-do scions of society and sons of foreign talents fleeing by airliners to safer lands, leaving the fight to a peasant army.

During a period of tension, we must expect our opponent(s) to play mind games to disrupt, degrade or damage the mobilisation chain.

If Singapore ever moves from peace to war, citizen soldiers must willingly respond to the mobilisation order. If they do not do so, the Singapore Army becomes a paper force.

The Singaporean soldier must respond to mobilise, mobilise to arm, arm to deploy, deploy to fight, and fight to die, if need be. At any point in this chain of events, citizen soldiers who turn their backs on their duty imperil the combat capabilities of their unit and the people fighting with them.

If MINDEF/SAF fails to win the hearts and minds of citizen soldiers, how many do you think will be there on the firing line when the button is pressed?

This is why I have repeatedly made a call for transparency in defence reporting. This isn't a hippie-like infatuation with western ideals of free speech, human rights and democracy, but based on my reading that the SAF's drawer plans could go belly up if we give short shrift to heartware issues.

Now that Singaporeans know it took 73 days for news of the Thai shooting incident to filter to the media, would you blame some of them for harbouring negative thoughts about MINDEF's sincerity?

Would they worry that they will be thrown in an unmarked grave on foreign soil, with society at large kept clueless about their sacrifice - just like how MINDEF/SAF did not inform their countrymen about the two soldiers who were shot in Thailand?

How many SAF defence information campaigns do you think it will take to soothe and reassure Singaporeans - particularly the loved ones of NSFs and regulars? How will cynics - and there are many - react to such campaigns?

When parents entrust their sons to the SAF, it comes with the understanding, wrong, the expectation that Singapore's military will take good care of its sons. This convenant is as sacred and it is fragile. Once broken, you can put it together again but it will never be the same again - just like a broken vase.

In my former job, I had the grim task of interviewing many next-of-kin of SAF servicemen who died serving Singapore. I can tell you many of these parents will take their resentment towards MINDEF/SAF to their deathbeds. Some showed open hostility to the camp mates when they went to collect the belongings of their loved ones.

The own goal from the shotgun fiasco breeds suspicions among parents, especially fathers from the 1st and 2nd Gen SAF, that the system has basically not changed over the years. It's like learning that someone you trusted cheated on you....

And what sort of quotes from door-stop interviews with defence bigwigs - all carefully scripted and stage managed - will it take to reassure Singaporeans and bring things back on an even keel?

What sort of political cost will be exacted come General Election time? Can anyone say with confidence that people will not accuse the admiral of running a less-than-tight ship, even if this is an unfair assertion?

I have said earlier that I have lost faith in this DPA's ability to lead the directorate.

I take no joy in seeing how PAFF's gaffes validate this impression because MINDEF/SAF's image is the one that takes a hit from poor judgement calls.

Looking at PAFF's outstanding performance lately and how MINDEF/SAF has earned the ire of Singaporeans, this long post can be summarised by just four words: "I told you so".

Letter in the Today newspaper, 28 May 2010

Training incidents ought to be reported promptly

Letter from David Boey 05:55 AM May 28, 2010

THE report "Two, not one SAF personnel shot" (May 26) underlines why prompt reporting of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training incidents is needed to sustain public support for, and confidence in, National Service.

Two SAF personnel were shot by a Thai farmer on March 13 while on night-time war games in Thailand. But Singaporeans were informed only this week after the media reported the incident.

I would like to believe that the 73-day delay was more the result of journalists catching the news late, rather than any tardiness by the Ministry of Defence.

After reading about the shooting incident, it is neither unreasonable nor unexpected for Singaporeans to ask how many more incidents have gone unreported.

There are many positives that Mindef/SAF could have highlighted from this incident as the two servicemen survived what could have turned into a horrific tragedy.

Support from our Thai hosts could have been emphasised. The helping hand given to families of the injured soldiers could have been mentioned.

Ditto the speed and effectiveness of the medical evacuation process that brought soldiers with firearms injuries home from Thailand. The implicit message that injured soldiers will be cared for is priceless.

Mindef/SAF missed an opportunity to showcase this fact and reassure SAF personnel and their loved ones.

We must remember that many fathers of today's Third-Generation SAF soldiers served NS during the 1970s and 1980s, at a time when rumours of training deaths were rampant.

Tardy defence media management will only promote the longevity of urban myths of cover-ups.

We also have to address the concerns of new Singapore citizens, many of whom arrived here from countries where the military is viewed with disdain or suspicion.

MINDEF's letter on shooting incident in Thailand

Here's the reply from the Singaporean Ministry of Defence.

It says much about a certain someone's temperament when it's so hard to say "sorry" for a poor judgement call.

The Straits Times Forum Page
May 28, 2010

Shooting incident: Mindef admits it should have issued statement

WE REFER to Mr Matthias Chew's letter yesterday ('Shooting incident: Mindef should have told public').

The Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) immediate priority following any incident is to attend to the needs of the affected servicemen and to keep their families informed.

In the case of the training incident in Thailand, the servicemen were given immediate medical attention and arrangements were made for their safe return to Singapore on the same day for further medical treatment.

The families of the servicemen were immediately notified and provided regular updates. Whatever information that is available is thus provided to the servicemen and their families as soon as possible.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) informs the public whenever there is a serious incident, or where the incident is likely to be of public interest.

Given the nature of this incident, Mindef should have issued a media statement when it occurred.

Colonel Darius Lim,
Director, Public Affairs,
Ministry of Defence (Mindef)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ST Forum Page 27 May 2010

The Straits Times
May 27, 2010
Shooting incident: Mindef should have told public

YESTERDAY'S report ('Another SAF soldier shot by Thai farmer too') made me feel greatly disappointed with the Ministry of Defence's public affairs division.

Mindef's failure to admit that not one, but two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers were shot in Thailand, until a relative of the second injured soldier approached The Straits Times, has demonstrated the ministry's basic reluctance to tell the public the truth about military casualties.

The second case also was a matter of genuine public interest, especially since a full-time national serviceman was involved.

As citizen soldiers and taxpayers, we have a right to expect that Mindef will account for all military casualties - whether in training or actual operations -where there are no national security implications.

Matthias Chew

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shooting incident in Thailand

My impression of the Public Affairs Directorate is well-known, so I need not elaborate.

Two, not one SAF personnel shot

05:55 AM May 26, 2010

by Derrick Paulo

SINGAPORE - Not one, but two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel were injured in Thailand two months ago by a villager who was out hunting.

MediaCorp understands that a full-time National Serviceman was one of two who were accidentally hit by gun pellets during a proficiency test conducted by the Army Training Evaluation Centre. This is believed to be the first time SAF soldiers have been shot by a civilian.

The other victim was reported yesterday in the media to be First Sergeant Woo Teng Hai, 25, a regular from the 1st Commando Battalion. He was said to be still on medical leave.

MediaCorp understands that the second victim has completed his medical leave and should be returning to his duties soon.

The incident occurred in a designated training area within Kanchanaburi province, some 130km from Bangkok, during a routine training exercise on the night of March 13. Since then, the SAF has received full assistance from the Royal Thai Army for the investigations into the incident. Preliminary findings show that the shooting was an accident.

The two militaries are continuing to work closely to inform villagers about the training areas, which are also used by Thai armed forces.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SAF Training Incident

You have to wonder why this wasn't reported earlier as a training incident.

The delay only serves as ammunition for rumour mongers to perpetuate the impression of cover-ups in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and fuel concerns among parents and NSmen.

If managed improperly, this will only serve to erode and breakdown years of confidence-building the Ministry of Defence has sought to develop with the Singaporean public.

From Breaking News.

May 25, 2010
SAF commando shot

By Jermyn Chow & Lester Kok
A COMMANDO on a night training exercise in Thailand was accidentally shot by a local villager out hunting.

First-Sergeant Woo Teng Hai, a regular from the 1st Commando Battalion, suffered head injuries in the incident on March 13.

The 25-year-old serviceman was hit by pellets from a shotgun, the Defence Ministry told The Straits Times yesterday. He is now on medical leave.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Navy Open House 2010 Report Card

Sea sights: Warship  cruises were a popular attraction at the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Navy Open House 2010 as they provided land lubbers the rare chance to be on a moving deck. Seen here at speed in the Singapore Strait are the missile corvette Valour (89) and the patrol vessel Dauntless (99).(Photo: David Boey)

The Navy Open House 2010 has set the bar high for future Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) open days, which is why the event deserves an A-grade.

Don't take my word for it. Look at how some visitors voted after attending one of the attractions (a Sea Cruise aboard a Patrol Vessel) at last weekend's Navy Open House (22-23 May 2010, Changi Naval Base, Singapore).

Going by the poll cannisters around Changi Naval Base (CNB), an overwhelming number of visitors rated the two-day event a Fruitful Experience. It must have been satisfying for the sun-baked RSN personnel to see the votes gradually pile up in their favour as visitors swamped the base, even though they had to repeat the same guided tour, explanation, or answer the same questions repeatedly to new visitors.

The open appraisal system, where everyone can see how well or how badly a certain attraction performed, is praise-worthy. Only an organisation with a high level of confidence in its product or service levels will attempt this.

It says something about the Navy Family when the RSN, the smallest of the Singapore Armed Forces three Services, comes together with to host an open house for a projected visitorship that is some 20 times the RSN's active personnel strength.

The Army has tens of thousands of active, Operationally Ready and full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) to call upon. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is smaller, but its active strength is several times that of Singapore's Navy.

So it was all hands on deck for the Navy during the two Preview Days and two Public Days last weekend.

Here's a summary explaining why it earned the A and why I will also award it a "B".

The RSN coped well with the crowd surge and certainly assimilated learning points from previous open days, one of which was beset by serious transport woes that left visitors stranded for hours. The SAF is indeed a learning organisation and the Navy Open House 2010 organising committee, plus members of previous organising committees who chronicled hard-won lessons, have reason to be proud.

Crowd management was excellent throughout. It was good to see theming start in the queue line at the Singapore Expo Hall 1, where an RSN Fast Intercept Craft and a RHIB were displayed along with a A.244S Whitehead anti-submarine torpedo, Mistral surface-to-air missile, Barak SAM, and a variety of small and medium calibre gun ammunition. Though the queue moved at a fast clip, a number of visitors broke away from the bus queue just to see and photograph these exhibits. My bus ride from the S'pore Expo to CNB took 24 minutes.

Theming is used by theme parks to put visitors in the mood for their experience, be it taking a ride or watching a show (hence the name, theme park). It calls for the right mix, placement and number of exhibits, and most importantly, duty personnel with the right attitude to explain the exhibits and put visitors in the right frame of mind.

From a professional standpoint, it was good to see similarities in the Navy Open House queue system and the systems used at the theme park at the place I work for. Our systems are based on best-of-class practices developed by theme parks and were given much thought. The systems we have are of course more extensive, because the company has been in business for decades, but seeing elements of it in use shows that others see value in these too.

Future theming:
At one point, the plasma display told visitors to expect a 2 hour 30 minute wait for a ride on a LARC-V amphibious vehicle. Having a captive audience for this length of time is an advertiser's dream and the RSN may want to consider exploiting this attention window in future.

The Duck Tours crew worked their hearts out. This was clear to anyone who watched them despatch and recover each LARC-V. I spent some time watching them go through their paces, as did CNV, whom I had the pleasure of meeting as he watched the Duck Tours in action.

The Duck Tours attraction could be improved by theming the ride from the queue area. With some realignment of the queue area footprint, a LARC-V could be integrated within the queue so visitors can have a good look at one while waiting for the ride. My work place did this for Battlestar Galactica and visitors can have a look at a Viper or Cylon Raider spacecaft while in the queue.

The vehicle could be loaded with combat stores, for example pallets of ammunition, to demonstrate the role LARC-Vs serve in supporting logistics-over-the-shore missions. This would tell visitors that LARC-Vs are more than joyride vehicles. If the vehicle was labelled, people could also understand how it moves in water and how the hull form contributes to its amphibious capability.

I am not sure how many visitors understood, or even appreciated, the existence of the Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF). Future organising committees may like to think about using the theme park approach to weave a story into the ride.

Why not theme the Fast Craft Utility ride into a Non-Combatant Evacuation operation, with people in the queue line told that the FCU will sail through pirate-infested waters with MSTF Sea Marshals/Naval Diving Unit special forces personnel to protect them? That way, it becomes more than a sight-seeing trip. The journey is interactive and promotes the visitor recall rate whenever MSTF/NDU is mentioned. The FCUs should be armed (as these fast landing craft will be during operations) and MSTF personnel can protect the craft as it sails past a "pirate base" with guns blazing.

If the RSN can bring TRADOC into the picture, some of the small arms on the FCU could be fitted with TES, which then injects more excitement into the mission.

Variety of exhibits: A 
These were professionally done and worthy of a proper trade show people pay to attend. There was a good mix of historical, current and future concepts that explained the role of the Navy and what its people do. There was a good spread of new exhibits for those who took time to look around.

Quality of Information: B+
The Navy Open House brochure should have found space for the RSN crest. It should also indicate that the event was held in 2010. Many people keep such brochures as souvenirs and having the year mentioned would help people remember when they last met the Singapore Navy.

Some displays would have gained from better positioning. The Meredith Autonomous Underwater Vehicle's perch (see image above) some 2 metres atop a booth put it out of sight of most visitors and I missed it the first time. Placing the Meredith AUV closer to the ground would help duty personnel introduce it to visitors. If it is sensitive technology, then it has no place at the open house.

The Total Defence exhibit at the exit of the Navy Capabilities tent should have been repositioned. This exhibit coaxed visitors to finish a sentence on an A3 sheet of paper that started with "I will...". For their trouble, the writers could have their photograph taken with their pledge.

The A3 size sheets were pasted on the wall for visitors to reflect on what other people will do for Total Defence. On Sunday afternoon, three lines jostled with one another in the confines of the exit area. The first queue was for people lining up to have their picture taken. Second queue: people waiting to get out. Third line: People reading the display. In my opinion, this choke point represented a fire hazard. Future committees might want to consider avoiding bunching up the crowd flow especially around entrances or exits. 

Sunshade: Visitors braved the sunshine for a tour of Singapore's Formidable-class stealth frigates. Here, the queue line traces the outline of the warship as people wait their turn to board RSS Tenacious.

Overall, the info boards were nicely conceptualised and written such that Joe Ordinary would understand them. Pictures were used generously. But I have one bone to pick: pictures should come with captions to tell visitors what they are looking at. By and large, visitors were left guessing what photo montages were all about. 

Standard of showmanship: A
RSN personnel put up a spirited show during the Sea Display segment, though one of the divers was slow in getting his M-4 Carbine into action as the rifle strap got entangled during Saturday afternoon's show.

I did not like the swastika sign on one of the enemy jeeps. Though it said "kill" followed by the swastika, this sort of symbol is a potential cultural/social powder keg and its use should be avoided whenever possible.

The use of cutaway shipping containers to demonstrate hostage rescue techniques was interesting. But the novelty will wear off if it is repeated at the next Navy Open House. This is why I mentioned that they set the bar high.

Attitude of duty personnel: A
Though sunburnt, all the duty personnel I observed carried themselves professionally and had service levels that a proper theme park would be proud to showcase. The duty personnel were courteous, engaging and showed a commendable level of domain knowledge.

I hope the duty personnel do not feel like the time clocked at the Navy Open House was a waste. The security screen was crucial, as Singapore faces a real threat from terrorism. The ability to roster and chart the bus movements is a real test of logistics - just ask the organising committee from two open houses ago. If you can do this well with a civilian partner, you will probably have less problems integrating your operations with civil resources during an emergency.

Loading/offloading civilians safely for FCU rides mirrors what I saw during the tsunami relief mission. This isn't role playing as civilians came with different mindsets and expectations.

Show venue: B+
CNB is about as inaccessible as you can get, as far as SAF base go. It is on the southermost end of reclaimed land off Changi Airport. But the shuttle service was a breeze and placing the pick up/drop off points at the Singapore Expo put visitors within easy reach of the MRT rail network.

All things considered, this event earned itself an A.

As mentioned earlier, I have also awarded the Navy Open House 2010 a "B" and will pair it with a "Z" to spell BZ. Any sea salt will know what I'm driving at.

See you at the next Navy Open House.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Navy Open House 2010

Notebook jottings

With one day to go before the Navy Open House draws to a close, you might wonder if it's worth your while heading there on Sunday.

Here's a recap of the things that made it to my notebook today:

MV Swift Rescue - This submarine rescue vessel makes its public debut. With an orange hull and white superstructure, Swift Rescue is easy to spot among the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) haze grey fleet. The ship's civilian and RSN duty personnel have prepared an educational tour for visitors and you'll leave with a deeper appreciation of submarine rescue techniques and technology.
Tipsheet: Try counting the number of pintle-mounts on the vessel. Swift Rescue can be given "teeth" to defend herself if the need ever arises.

Missile Corvettes - Say goodbye to the MCVs as they will emerge in a new configuration at the next Navy Open House. The MCVs are being upgraded for littoral warfare and will see their armament, structure and sensor suite revamped.
Tipsheet: Photograph the stern, torpedo area and superstructure/mast. The MCVs will look different after their upgrade.

M134 Minigun - Seen publicly for the first time, two RSN Miniguns are waiting for you to caress and aim, in the white tent on Singapore's Naval Operations.
Tipsheet: Ask one of the Navy Open House Ambassadors to take a picture of you from the business end of the Minigun. It'll look awesome.

Duck Tours - The LARC-Vs pulled in a huge crowd of visitors who wanted to experience a free ride on these four-wheeled amphibious cargo vessels. The crowdline quickly surged past the sheltered area, so do be patient. I salute the "Duck Tours" crew who worked tirelessly and cheerfully under the rain and grubby weather to give every visitor an experience they will cherish.
Tipsheet: Spot the differences between LARC-Vs used by the RSN and Singapore Army.

Seahawk - A scale model of the RSN's Seahawk naval helicopter may look uninspiring, but take a closer look at what's suspended on the portside weapons hardpoint.
Tipsheet: Please read up on Penguin anti-ship missiles...

Naval Sea Display - Make time to watch the fight sequence.
Tipsheet: If Special Forces are your thing, stand to the left of the beige containers stacked three high. Heavily-armed divers from the Naval Diving Unit will enter the fight right in front of you.

Sunset Ceremony - If you want a unique place for your Sunday family dinner, the Navy Open House has ample food stalls which serve more than finger food. The stuff is cheap and though not restaurant quality, the selection of stalls would do a food court proud. I'm wondering if the drinks were subsidised.
Tipsheet: Last bus is at 16:30 hours. Have an early dinner and stay for the sunset ceremony. Worth watching if you've never seen it before.

Food: Now for something completely non-military. The $2.50 drumstick chicken rice was value-for-money and easily beats the mundane chicken rice sold in many food courts. The stall is in the food tent next to the parade square.
Tipsheet: Ask the bloke to remove the bone before serving it to you.
Two words: Ramli Burgers. Enough said.
At $1 per can drink, you can keep yourself hydrated without experiencing daylight robbery.

The Navy Open House will be open from 0830 to 1630 hrs Hotel time. Last day is tomorrow. Entry is via Singapore Expo Hall 1.
Tipsheet: Get your cameras ready before you line up for the bus. There are RSN vessels to see even in the queue line!

Navy Open House 2010 - Changi Naval Base, Singapore

Miniguns spell major improvement in RSN firepower

The M134 Miniguns unveiled at the Navy Open House today are just the thing Singapore's sailors need when sent in harm's way.

The Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) move to arm some of its warships with Miniguns shows that even as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) transformation gathers pace, brute force is sometimes the only way to settle shootouts at sea.

Miniguns need no introduction to weapons enthusiasts.

These guns have been around for decades and are prized for their ability to hose down their targets with 7.62mm bullets at a rate of 3,000 rounds per minute - that's 50 bullets every second - with a good degree of accuracy. See what a Minigun can do here.

Fans of the Terminator movies would recognise the Minigun as the six-barrel weapon which Arnie used to mow down the opposition while holding the 15-kg weapon in his one buffed hand.

The RSN sailors say it's movie magic. So they rely on strong weapon mounts to bring Miniguns into action during shootouts on the high seas. Though the RSN did not say it, the weapons rails mated to the Minigun indicate that unspecified weapon sights and night vision devices can be fitted to the weapon to improve its precision effect.

To warships that may have to deal with swarm attacks by small craft in congested waters, the Minigun's destructive power makes it a weapon of choice in any last-ditch gunfight.

"There's a tracer with every few rounds fired and I walk the stream of rounds to the target like a garden hose," said an RSN warfighter at the Navy Open House."It can chew up a target accurately up to 1-km away. The rounds are also lethal up to 2km-plus."

The 4,000 ready rounds linked to each Minigun by the flexible feed chute give gunners the punch to fend off several small craft attacks against their warship before reloading.

It doesn't give an iron-clad defence, but is nonetheless a vast improvement to the 12.7mm CIS 50 heavy machineguns that are the current last-ditch weapons on RSN warships. The pintle-mounted machineguns are fed by a 100-round box magazine, have a lower rate of fire and are hard to control against fleeting targets.

The electrically-fired Miniguns offer far better insurance, especially during anti-piracy operations where there's a need to keep hostile fast craft as far away as possible lest small arms fire or rocket-propelled grenades disable the RSN warship's sensor suite.

The Minigun's ability to reach out and touch hostile vessels up to 1km away and the "garden hose" effect from the stream of hot tracer rounds will give unwelcome visitors a hot reception.

Go Navy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Plane Crazy - The Singapore Airshow (Part 2)

Singapore’s special place in aviation history isn’t apparent during the island republic’s air show season.

From start to finish – the Media Day, four Trade Days and two Public Days – it’s all business. The strong business focus is a good thing for bean counters who need to justify sky-high bills chalked up at the biennial event.

But as crunch time dawns and budgets shrink, air show organisers the world over must look for, and exploit, key advantages that will keep exhibitors and show visitors coming.

Not all of these advantages - unique selling points in marketing speak - can be quantified purely in dollars and cents.

The passion for flying machines and appreciation of aviation history are good examples. Singapore was the place from which famous British warbirds such as the Spitfire fighter, Sunderland flying boat, Beaufighter and Mosquito warplanes made their last operational flights.

In its heyday, RAF Seletar in the north of Singapore was acclaimed as the finest flying boat base in the British Empire.

Singapore is also the only country in Southeast Asia to have developed its own TV-guided glide bomb.

Its TA-4SU Super Skyhawks are the only ones in the Skyhawk family upgraded for a particularly demanding type of combat mission.

This rich aviation heritage isn’t celebrated, let alone mentioned at the Singapore Airshow - the world’s third biggest air show. Pity.

When the Singapore Airshow returns for its third showing on 14 February 2012, more attention should be paid to rekindling people’s interest in things that fly.

It is this love for aeroplanes that drew many people in the aviation sector to their chosen profession in the first place. Pilots, aircrew, maintenance teams, air traffic controllers and other professionals in the aerospace industry who excel in what they do all share a love for aircraft.

This passion is hard to quantify. It is an intangible, a straight-from-the-heart attitude, sometimes irrational love for flying machines that cannot be measured as an ROI or EVA. And it's such passion that the Singapore Airshow needs to nurture, if the event wants to avoid falling by the wayside.

Anyone with a runway, generous apron space and a sheltered (preferably air-conditioned) exhibition area can stage an air show. Good show infrastructure aside, what keeps people coming back is the network of like-minded individuals and business associates they meet at the show.

People travel across many time zones to meet and greet their business partners because one cannot email a handshake.

Strengthening the “air” element of the Singapore Airshow is the way to distinguish the event from the also-rans in Asia.

A quick fix solution would be to inject more life into the Singapore Airshow's Flying Display and flightline.

The Singapore Airshow 2010 clearly had difficulties selling exhibition space. It says a lot when prime real estate in the main hall is turned into lounge areas with chairs, tables and blank walls – space that could otherwise be sold per square foot for a pretty penny. Instead of turning it into a plain visitor’s lounge, why not fill any unsold space with information on the island’s rich aviation history? Surely Singapore has enough to showcase?

The event's Flying Display and Static Aircraft Display Area (SADA; an unfortunate acronym. SADA used to be the Republic of Singapore Air Force formation that shot down airplanes!) could also do with a makeover.

Rather than entreat the RSAF with a static display wish list as long as your arm, why not think creatively?

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) showed the way in 2001 at its Navy Open House. It was the biggest ever Navy Open House, measured in terms of variety of warships displayed and total tonnage of hulls visitors could see. The RSN succeeded because it held a major regional naval exercise around the time of that year’s IMDEX naval show and foreign warships set sail for Singapore just to take part in these events. It was thus an opportune time for the RSN to showcase Changi Naval Base to visitors.

The Singapore Navy did so, most successfully, without breaking the bank. The Navy Open House 2001 organising committee did such a wonderful job that their record (total tonnage of ships and variety of warships displayed) stands unchallenged till today - this weekend's Navy Open House 2010 pales in comparison with that staged nearly a decade ago.

If the RSAF timed war games with regional air forces to coincide with the Singapore Airshow 2012, surely some could be persuaded to park their warbirds on the SA 2012 flightline?

To be sure, flying displays are hugely expensive to hold. And the closure of Singapore's air routes for the air show's Flying Display has a knock-on effect on connecting flights as far away as Europe and the United States.

What's more, nobody in his right mind will buy an aircraft just because of its spirited air display.

But when done well, air displays are crowd magnets and are the cornerstones of major air shows.

Though the Singapore Airshow and its predecessor, Asian Aerospace, were touted as regional events, more effort could have been made in gathering a diverse Flying Display lineup. In my opinion, past air shows banked too heavily on RSAF contracts. Indeed, some foreign vendors have commented that the manner in which they were arm-twisted to support the air show left much to be desired.

Now that major RSAF contracts for its Basic Wings Course (Lockheed Martin offering training hours using PC-21s), Next Fighter Replacement Programme (Boeing's F-15SG Strike Eagle) and Naval Helicopter (UTC's SH-60B Seahawk) have been signed, that pipeline of RSAF contracts has dried up. This is bad news for the air show as there is little, or no incentive, for warplane makers to send their birds to the Far East.

This explains why we no longer see Dassault Aviation's Rafale or BAE Systems' Eurofighter flying in Singaporean airspace. And once the Advanced Jet Trainer winner is announced around the middle of 2010, I am willing to bet that the losing platform won't be seen at SA 2012.

The air show should have embraced a regional focus and not look to the RSAF for Flying Display participants. A stronger list of participating fixed and rotary wing machines, from different air arms, would heighten the show's appeal to aviation fans - and this includes people in the industry charged with deciding whether an air show is worth attending.

We ignore such passion at our peril. People automatically gravitate to like-minded strangers and if the Lion City fails to show it is a part of the world’s aviation fraternity, in spirit and in deeds, they will eventually flock elsewhere.

Some years ago, Singapore Airlines celebrated a major historical milestone by restoring – at some expense – an Airspeed Consul twin-engine passenger plane. It was the first plane that flew with Malaysia-Singapore Airlines, the forerunner to today’s SIA.

The Airspeed Consul made the headlines and stories were written on the restoration effort. It was a labour of love that made a great yarn.

Where, pray tell, is that propellor plane now?

I hear it’s been restored (again) in Australia. It ended up there because the Airspeed Consul was bumped around like an unloved child after the SIA anniversary exhibition. It was placed in the open at the Singapore Science Centre, where the wooden plane attracted more termites than visitors. From an exhibition showpiece, it became a basket case until plane crazy Australians came to the rescue.

This isn’t the first time Singapore has lost part of its aviation heritage. Years ago, a Dakota, Hawker Hunter, Meteor and Sea Vixen that were left to rot on Sentosa island were rescued by an Australian aviation museum. The planes were shipped Down Under, stripped and painstakingly restored.

If this is how we treat our aviation history, how can we expect people to take our world-class air show seriously?

Home Team Convention 2010 Report Card

When an event goes all-out to engage the community with freebies and exhibits people can try, it usually pulls in big crowds – except when you hold it at the height of the school examination season.

Last weekend’s Home Team Convention, held with the theme “A Role for Everyone”, tried to touch base with the community using exhibits and interactive displays that engaged hearts and minds.

Gone were 2009’s exhibits explaining high brow concepts such as the structure and organisation of the Executive Group and how the Home Ministry plays its social media card.

In their place were exhibits people could have a go at. Visitors could sit in a living room and feel what it's like to be shaken and stirred during an earthquake, talk to real life Crime Scene Investigators and learn how CSI officers conduct fire investigations, pat the rescue dogs or run away from the attack canines from the Police K-9 Unit. A free archery range, a chance to shoot with air rifles or have a go at a climbing wall catered to visitors with more energetic pursuits.

There was something for gadget nuts too. Singapore's Police Coast Guard (PCG) displayed its Command and Control Surveillance Barge (C2SB) concept for the first time, and a new class of high speed PCG vessel that can land PCG officers on the beach.

It was all good fun and the message that everyone has a part to play in the island nation’s security was received loud and clear.

It was therefore a pity the Home Team Convention didn’t pull in more people as the two-day event made for an enjoyable way for people to learn about security and law enforcement agencies commanded by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Perhaps next year, the Home Team Convention’s organizers would consider blending high-level strategic concepts (like an update on the Executive Group command structure chart, shown in 2009) with family-friendly exhibits. And hold the event during the June school holidays.

Overall, I’d give the Home Team Convention 2010 a B.

Variety of exhibits: B
Many of the exhibits were recycled from the Home Team Work Plan Seminar. These were professionally done, exhibition-quality displays. Budget and operational requirements permitting, a bigger spread of vehicles and weapons would have been crowd pleasers.
The PCG exhibits on the layered coastal defence concept was particularly interesting.

Quality of information: B-
Small arms were displayed without technical specifications, which meant people came, gawked and left the weapons shown no wiser than when they arrived. The vehicles were clearly explained though.

Standard of showmanship: A-
Considering the small size of the performance area, the K-9 Team put up a commendable performance. The MCs should try to wing it and comment on the show as they watch it unfold, rather than reading from the prepared script. But this takes practice.

Attitude of duty personnel: B+
The service level of duty personnel was exemplary. Most came clearly prepared for show-and-tell and made guests feel welcome. But some officers were clearly curious when the group I visited with started grilling them about technical stuff. The stock reply from one PCG officer on duty on Saturday morning was amusing. He prefixed his answers with the phrase “according to media reports”. Son, if we could rely on media reports alone, there would be little need to attend the exhibition itself.

Show venue: A-
Accessible, rain-proof show venue in the heart of the city, close to major bus routes and the MRT underground train network. But there were few prominent signs indicating why shoppers should make their way six floors up in Suntec Convention Centre. If the Suntec folks can't support a returning customer better, perhaps MHA should take its business elsewhere in 2011.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Patriot

The death of a public figure usually sees books on the person’s life story fly off the shelves.

Not so for some personalities. There’s precious little in the open domain on the life of the Patriot, one of a team of men who charted an unlikely nation’s progress from Third World to First.

Netizens may indeed wonder why that farsighted titan would carry his hard won experiences to his grave. Thus far, the only insights the country’s citizens have about his psyche, temperament and leadership come from stories recounted by his peers or faithful staff officers who had the privilege of his tutorship.

He may have been a public figure, but was a private person by nature. The Patriot was hardwired to slog for the greater good of his countrymen. When he was compos mentis, he is said to have shared his thoughts so future generations would know the background, constraints and context to decisions made in the early years of independence. These were decisions that shaped a people’s future.

It was a timely move as his memory failed him in his later years.

His legacy is massive. Several volumes of oral history (classified S) are said to reside within a ministry on a hill.

The oral history that resulted is a real gem. Because it is classified S, few know or realise that the Patriot took the bold step of recounting his life’s story many years ago.

True to form, the Patriot took nothing for granted. To ensure the volumes would not gather dust for eternity, a select few were told they exist.

If the system wants younger citizens to know how their country's destiny was shaped by their nation’s founding fathers and the sacrifices of its older citizens, steps should be taken to declassify and publicise this rich oral history without delay.

The Patriot chronicled his past for a reason – for us to take a lesson from his life’s journey so we can build a better homeland.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Home Team Convention 2010: A Role For Everyone

On any ordinary day, Home Team officers are not the kind of people you’d like to see on your door step.

The Police? They appear when a crime has been committed.

Civil defence ambulance crew? They’re there to whisk the injured or dying to hospital.

Immigration officers? Better hide that stash of uncensored VCDs. : )

The irony is that Home Team officers are the ones we turn to when life turns upside down. They are there for extraordinary situations. And when they are summoned, we expect them to be at the top of their game.

This weekend’s Home Team Convention represents the biggest public display of tactics, techniques and technology used by Home Team agencies now and in the near future. Short of an actual incident, one would be hard-pressed to think of another occasion when one can see so many Home Team assets in one location.

The Home Team – which is an umbrella term for security-related agencies under Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs – is rolling out this two-day show-and-tell for good reason.

The underlying message of the convention is how everyone has a part to play in homeland security. Indeed, the event's tagline, "A Role For Everyone", sums up the inclusive, engaging nature of the Home Team in reaching out to the community, in the heartlands and in cyberspace. [This is quite unlike the behaviour of another PR-related directorate, whose focus has been soured by poor leadership]

The watchword from New York City’s ongoing counter-terrorism publicity campaign, “If you see something, say something”, saved the Big Apple from the botched car bombing attempt on Labour Day.

This mindset is just the thing Singaporeans need to adopt because apathy, vigilance fatigue and a heck-care attitude are key allies of terror cells.

Here’s my wish-list for this year’s event:

Police Coast Guard Command and Control Centre: This floating PCG base cum helicopter landing pad is intriguing. It would be great to hear coast guard officers explain the concept of operations for this structure.

Specialised Vehicles: As it's hazardous chasing the Home Team's specialised vehicles on public roads, and as it's a crime when one attempts to take pictures or copy vehicle number plates while driving, one relishes the opportunity to get up close to such hardware. *grin*

MHA’s online presence: At last year’s event, the Home Ministry showcased how it intends to reach out to the online community. A year on, how has this outreach on Facebook and Twitter developed? What are the key thrusts for the near and medium-term?

Casino Regulatory Authority: As both Integrated Resorts are now open, insights into how the CRA earns its pay will be timely, educational and appreciated.

Finally, a word on freebies.

In 2009, the steady stream of visitors who emerged from Suntec City with large Traffic Police tissue boxes helped me find my way to the event. People even went back for seconds, such was the popularity of these freebies.

The organizing committee must’ve known that Singaporeans are suckers for freebies and they hit the nail on the head with the eye-catching (and useful) tissue boxes.

What do they have in store this year? We can all find out soon. :-)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Plane crazy: Some thoughts on the Singapore Airshow Part 1

This commentary discusses why the Singapore Airshow needs a capability jump to attract and retain industry leaders. This is Part 1 of a multi-part series.

The Singapore Airshow is likely to lose more big name exhibitors, unless a capability jump is made to secure these market leaders.

One big name exhibitor absent at the Singapore Airshow 2010 in February is a likely no-show in 2012.

What's more troubling is news I've picked up that two American heavyweights are rethinking their presence at SA 2012. At best, they'll scale down their footprint at the biennial event. At worst: they won't come.

To be sure, the loss to the world's third biggest air show seen in absolute numbers in miniscule. There were some 820 exhibitors at this year's show - the second in the series after the long-running Asian Aerospace event relocated to Hong Kong. Knocking off three names isn't going to amputate the index in the show directory one bit.

Seen in dollar terms, however, one's perspective changes significantly. When added together, the revenues booked by this year's big name absentee plus two possibles from the United States put these companies among the world's top 10 of their league.

The long-term impact of exhibitor attribution could put the Singapore Airshow in a death spiral.

The appeal of trade shows comes from commanding a critical mass of exhibitors that makes it worth the while of visitors to attend the show. If big name exhibitors give the event a miss, smaller companies will eventually follow suit. Once that point is reached, the number of absentees will rise exponentially as small companies that supply aircraft on ground (AOG) services or aircraft widgets decide to stay home. These mass market clients are the bread and butter of the air show circuit and losing them will damage the event's financials. No client is too small to ignore.

In Singapore's case, every foreign exhibitor and trade show visitor is also a tourist. On and off the air show site, the money the visitor spends on each night's hotel room stay, on wine and beer, food, transport, gifts for the family/mistress and so on represent a lucrative economic spinoff that Singapore can ill-afford to lose.

This is why Singapore Airshow's team has its work cut out for it.

In my view, the air show organiser needs to achieve another capability jump to convince companies that this is an event they cannot miss.

High points of Singapore's air show circuit include:
1984 - The decision to open Asian Aerospace to public visitors. This generated added revenues for the event organiser. More importantly, it became a tourist attraction in itself, much like how some Singaporeans will pay good money to attend foreign air shows.

1988 - Asian Aerospace finds a new, enlarged premises at the Changi International Exhibition & Convention Centre. This became a white elephant that was roused every even year when Asian Aerospace was held.

1988 - The Dragon Year also marked the first time flying displays were staged. An air show without a flying display is like a pretty salesgirl without a smile - she's incomplete.

1990 - First appearance by the Republic of Singapore Air Force's six-aircraft Black Knight aerobatics display team. It wowed crowds with six A-4SU Super Skyhawks.

1994 - The United States and Russia make a strong presence at the show. Russia sends two of its latest attack helicopters, while Gulf War 1 veterans like the A-10 Thunderbolt make its show debut.

2000 - The Millennium Air Power Conference brings together air force chiefs and industry experts to discuss the future of air power. Singapore's international standing as the world's meeting place was reinforced substantially.

2000 - First time Asian Aerospace features three different aerobatics teams. These are the Royal Australian Air Force Roulettes with six PC-9 turboprops, French Air Force Patrouille de France with eight Alpha jets and the RSAF's Black Knights with four A-4SU Super Skyhawks and a pair of F-16As. The Black Knights were unique as they flew two aircraft types in one team during that year's display season. The year's show was, in my opinion, the high water mark for Asian Aerospace.

2004 - First time Unmanned Aerial Vehicles take part in the Flying Display segment.

2008 - First Singapore Airshow event at a new site at Changi North after Asian Aerospace pulled out.

Looking towards 2012, aviation and defence buffs can look foward to the third Singapore Airshow from 14 February to 19 February 2012.

I am hopeful the event will see yet another capability jump that will yet again raise the bar for the industry.

How it could do so will be the subject of a subsequent post. Please look out for it and keep the comments coming.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The nuclear option

Home Team Convention 2010

The upcoming Home Team Convention (Suntec Convention Centre 15-16 May 2010) will show you how Singapore is protected today from baddies ranging from house robbers and illegal immigrants, to smugglers and terrorists.

To see how the Home Team will develop in future, you must look at recent articles in Singaporean newspapers and mull over the implications of the nuclear energy option.

Out of sight: Underground caverns tunnelled into granite metres beneath the surface represent ideal "safe houses" for high value facilities such as power plants and fuel storage. Some rock caverns are 27-metres high, which makes them as tall as a nine storey building. (Source: JTC Corp)

If Singapore goes nuclear, Home Team agencies will have to up their game substantially.

The concept-to-retirement process for nuclear energy will demand watertight security at every step of the journey. This starts from the time nuclear facilities are conceptualised to the process of disposing spent radioactive energy rods.

The Home Team – which is a catchall term which covers security agencies under Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) – must scale up substantially to protect such nuclear facilities – if plans move into the execution stage.

At present, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) goes on high alert whenever nuclear-powered vessels, such as United States Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, dock in Singaporean waters. SCDF officers monitor the air quality around the vessel, round-the-clock in all weather conditions, and are trained, organized, equipped and supported to detect and mitigate radioactive contamination.

Using hand-held and vehicle mounted sensors like Sodium Iodide detectors, the SCDF can pick up and identify more than 500 types of radioisotopes. Its capabilities continue to evolve and adapt to Singapore's tropical weather, urban environment and wind patterns.

These operational deployments have been carried out faithfully for several years now, and to good effect.

Going forward, America’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) serves as a best-in-class template worthy of study by Singaporean authorities.

Scientists and engineers familiar with the intricacies of harnessing the energy of the atom must be backstopped by a sharp-end of well-trained, heavily-armed security elements with high levels of initiative, team spirit and commitment to mission success.

Special forces elements within the Singapore Police Force contain just such high energy individuals and could form the high readiness core of the Home Team's version of NEST.

What’s needed is a framework to direct their resources to the complexities of nuclear energy security. Ideas need to be conceptualised and stress tested, and the Home Team funded with the resources to bring these plans to fruition.

In the case of nuclear energy, this could involved equipping the Police Coast Guard with ocean-going vessels to escort high value units carrying nuclear material on their journey to and from Singapore.

It will also involve 24/7 security at nuclear facilities on – more likely under – Singapore island.

Incoming: One of the access shafts to the underground caverns built under a project managed by Singapore's JTC Corp.(Source: JTC Corp)

When the waste disposal process inevitably kicks it, it will demand high levels of deterrence as the nuclear waste is brought to disposal grounds overseas.

It will also demand a best-in-class information management apparatus. The PR officer who fretted over and worried over media reports from fallout from, say for example, red dye from an air force warplane, does not have what it takes to take command and demonstrate superior leadership for managing the consequences of a nuclear incident. If red dye made him sweat buckets, the implications of a nuclear incident - stolen fuel rods, safety and environmental issues etc - are clearly out of his league.

The Singaporean government is known to think long-term.

And there’s good reason to speculate on the reason behind the recent flurry of trial balloons on nuclear energy in the Singaporean media.

To be sure, the nuclear energy option is simply that – one of a number of energy alternatives on the table.

But you can bet that if the greenlight is given some day, things will move. Quickly indeed.

Visit the Home Team Convention from:
15 May 2010(Saturday) 1000 - 2000 hrs.
16 May 2010(Sunday) 1000 - 1800 hrs.

Location: SUNTEC Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre Exhibition  Hall 603, Level 6.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Eyesore at sea

Singapore is the world's leading maker of jack-up and semi-submersible sea platforms, but you wouldn't have guessed it looking at a barge designed to give the Police eyes at sea.

The floating Command and Control (C2) centre is functional, yet fugly.

The C2 barge looks like something designed via committee - a blend of Police Coast Guard (PCG) specific operational requirements, translated into technical specifications, crunched down into a collection of design compromises to be built by the lowest bidder.

It looks like the progeny of awkward looking tin mining dredges once seen in Ipoh. Her inelegant yet functional block house harks back to Britain's HMP Weare floating prison - a design that only her architect could love.

At 80 metres in length and 30 metres wide, the 4,500-tonne floating platform gives new meaning to presence at sea. Mariners will have to notice her bulk because a collision at sea into the C2 barge will have dire consequences indeed. Her four-storey tall slab sides and sheer bulk will give her a radar echo rivalled only by super tankers or the biggest container vessels - this is no stealth platform.

When this monstrosity is moored off the Lion City's coastline, this littoral eyesore would give the PCG a floating base at sea. Two such platforms will be anchored off the coastline at locations that have not been disclosed.

If the artist's impression is to be believed, each C2 barge will have a four-storey accommodation/work block capped by what looks like a ship's mast festooned with communications aerials and quite possibly EO and radar(s).

And if it works as advertised, the C2 barge would give coast watchers a better feel of the goings-on at sea, day and night, whatever the weather. If something is amiss, the sea police will step off the floating platform and zip away towards trouble in one of their heavily-armed, high speed craft.

As the C2 barge will spend its time attracting barnacles in a strategic patch of sea, the PCG will cut down on their response time needed to reach that patch of sea. And the officers will have a place to stretch their sea legs during their rest periods - which is so essential for a force that provides maritime security 24/7.

One applauds the move to strengthen Singapore's maritime security.

The concept of having a mothership isn't new. Indeed, the United States Navy and US Army's armada of coastal vessels and modified landing craft that patrolled, defended and fought in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War as the Brown Water Navy employed a variety of motherships ranging from powered lighters to tank landing ships.

These provided the Brown Water Navy's patrol craft with a source of accommodation, repair space and a stable platform on which crews could relax and prepare for missions. Land lubbers often underestimate the enervating effects that the sea swell can have on the crews' physical and mental well-being, especially when they are deployed for protracted periods for operations on and from the sea.

One wonders if Singaporean rig builders such as SembCorp Marine and Keppel FELS were consulted. I am certain that better and perhaps more cost effective designs could have been tabled using offshoots of their better-selling commercial designs.

During the 1930s, a British designer called Guy Maunsell devised floating platforms to protect the Thames Estuary and Britain's eastern seaboard from air and maritime intruders. Many of these platforms resemble oil-drilling platforms, which Singapore excels in designing, fabricating, deploying and supporting on oilfields around the globe.

For a look at Maunsell's designs, click here.

From an operational security standpoint, the immovable dumb barge (dumb as in unpowered, not lacking in intellect) is a plump target that is out of place in the post-9/11 environment.

A semi-submersible or jack-up rig, on the other hand, would have better situational awareness as the C2 facilities have a better visual horizon - they being far higher above the sea surface.

PCG officers would be better protected and the structure could easily accommodate a helicopter platform for a Super Puma-type medum-lift helicopter. A rig is also more resistant to the vagarities of sea weather, these commercial designs having been designed to withstand terrific storms in open water miles from shore.

It may be too late to go back to the drawing board now. But one hopes that the Mark 2 incarnation of the floating C2 centre will have refinements that Guy Maunsell thought of decades ago.

At the very least, his 1930s era designs proved their worth during wartime service and looked way better that the PCG's C2 barge.