Monday, August 30, 2010

AFPN 0011

The DIMwits will have a change of command three days before Hari Angkatan Tentera Malaysia.

Maintain close surveillance.

Watch LSE.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Softening the defence burden: The National Service Recognition Award

Tonight's National Day Rally by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong provided ample fuel for debates on National Service (NS) and the part New Singaporeans serve in national defence, or more to the point, don't serve.

It also introduced a new acronym to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) stylebook with the announcement of the S$9,000 National Service Recognition Award (NSRA).

All Operationally Ready NSmen (i.e. reservists) stand to pocket a sum of $9,000 while serving out their NS obligation, which stretches to age 40 for Specialists (i.e. non-commissioned officers) and the age of 50 for officers and key appointment holders.

Details will be announced from tomorrow.

The NSRA's unveiling is a telling sign that the system has heard, sensed and has reacted to feedback from the ground about the defence burden. This basically centres around citizens' perception and unhappiness over the idea that they have been left to man the trenches while New Singaporeans get away scotch-free.

The post 9/11 era is one where Singaporeans have been made to realise that national defence is a pressing need. We live in an age where citizens have been bombarded with messages of vigilance through umpteen speeches and newspaper editorials. Many sons of Singapore have heeded that message.

It is thus painful for them to see the full weight of the defence burden borne by sons of Singapore while New Citizens chatter and play in the sunshine in their native tongues.

The argument that the offspring of New Singaporeans will serve NS carries with it the following assumptions:
1. That New Singaporeans will actually stay.

2. That New Singaporeans will marry.

3. That New Singaporeans who marry will procreate.

4. That the children of New Singaporeans are boys.

5. That the boys will not end up as NS defaulters.

The NSRA scheme is tacit recognition that there is an imbalance in the defence burden between New and Old Singaporeans. It is, however, a reactive scheme that is several years late.

One would have hoped that the NSRA scheme was introduced before the annual influx of 100,000 to 150,000 New Singaporeans hit our city-state. It was this influx - sudden and unannounced in timing and intensity - which chafed the feelings of Old Singaporeans, regardless of race, language or religion. Seldom has Singaporean society closed ranks as readily as it has against this influx.

But Singaporeans have been told it is for the betterment of society. Many grin and bear it, but there's no denying that if you peel back the academic arguments about national productivity, replacement ratios and the future of the city-state, feelings have been hurt. (I would have been alarmed if Singaporeans did not feel aggrieved, because it would only underscore the sad fact that they don't care enough for their homeland.)

Now that the system has heard ground sentiments, it appears to have swung into reactionary mode.

This step will flop unless the NSRA scheme is policed rigorously to take into account the feelings, sentiments and feedback from NSmen and their families.

Feelings and emotions are touchy feely. Hard to quantify.

But that $9,000 stamps a dollar value on how much the sacrifices of NSmen are worth. Assuming a full-time NSman Specialist completes his two-year stint at the age of 21, this means $9,000 spread over his 10-year cycle. If you do the math (or maths, as Singaporeans like to say), it works out to an extra $900 a year or something like $2.50 a day.

Cynics will probably have a field day jumping all over this figure, which can hardly buy you a meal plus drink at a hawker centre and counts as a one way ride on Singapore's distance-based-fares-will-save-you-more public transport system. It will, however, buy you five issues of PIONEER magazine, so I suppose that counts for something.

I would argue it's a positive development by MINDEF - and I'm not being sarcastic.

Now that the system has scrambled into damage control mode with a General Election looming, these are some issues the NSRA committee should take note of:
1. The scheme will have to be policed pro-actively to ensure the $9,000 is not whittled down to pittance by the inevitable inflation over time.

2. Some thought should be given to recognising the 700,000 Singaporean NSmen who have completed their NS obligation. They probably won't qualify for the NSRA. There will be cynics and incurable whiners who will poo-pooh the NSRA quantum. But I'd argue conversely that if you ask any of the NSmen who don't qualify for this sum, this amount of money is no small chunk of change.

3. A public education campaign is vital. No smoke and mirrors. No father knows best. NSmen deserve to know how that $9,000 figure was calculated. You know why? Because they paid for it in the form of tax dollars.

4. The system should consider being proactive for a change by telling Singaporeans what's next after the money is doled out. Is there a NSRA Mark 2, a Product Improved NSRA in the pipeline? How will the system be tweaked? Who will make the recommendations etc.

So we await the great MINDEF Public Affairs Directorate to creak into motion to inform and educate us all. Cue: Applause.

P.S. I intend to run a poll on this blog on the NSRA once details are out. Please look out for it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Forewarned is forearmed

In peace and war, forewarned is forearmed.

Knowing your opponent's intentions gives one the flexibility to repay an account in full and with interest.

However much energy, resources or determination one devotes to the quest for improved battle sense, the end result is never enough. There's always room for that additional nugget of data, that Easter egg uncovered that will make a report shine or give it unprecedented prescience and value.

No less important is knowing what to do with all the information amassed.

There are some secrets that will have to remain so forever. There are collaborators whose selfless and tireless service to the common cause cannot be unmasked.

During the Second World War, Allied commanders made doubly sure that success in breaking the German Enigma signals was protected and screened by elaborate disinformation. The Ultra intelligence gleaned from reading German signals - some of these decoded before the German recipients decoded their's - could not be used unless a plausible source could serve as the possible source of the tipoff.

On occasion, Ultra intelligence could not be acted upon because there was no plausible source which could have alerted Allied forces. For example, Ultra intelligence about U-boat sailing schedules could not be acted upon unless the Germans could be convinced that a loitering Coastal Command aircraft or patrolling warship had spotted the submarine.

To Allied commanders, the ability to read their enemy's mail was a godsend. The absence of any overt indications of thanks should not be mistaken for a lack of a deep sense of gratitude on their part.

Many books have been written about Ultra, more than a handful of movies have enthralled people about the shadowy world of intelligence work.

Even so, some aspects have never been unveiled and never will be.

More than 70 years after World War Two, the network of Allied agents in occupied Europe who helped downed fliers reach friendly territory has never been detailed. This network of informants and friendly agents served with distinction but have never been recognised publicly.

Their courage working behind enemy lines, fighting their opponent with total commitment, made a telling contribution to the war effort. Their service has been guarded by grateful handlers who repaid their loyalty by protecting their identities till today.

High level intelligence is also said to have come from within the ranks of the Axis High Command. After the war, several Axis generals aired the suspicion in their auto biographies that turncoats could have sabotaged the war effort.

Theories about double agents fuelled witch hunt paranoia among the Axis . But they could never quite get a grasp of the extent, number or determination of collaborators who had infiltrated their ranks. It must have been frustrating and professionally debilitating to sit in a room not knowing who would leak the precious secrets.

Even the best efforts of the Axis passive (PCI) and active counter intelligence (ACI) machinery proved no match for selfless individuals who knew in their heart they were doing the right thing. The infiltration was so effective and thorough that multiple sources of information helped corroborate tipoffs.

Used with discretion, these tipoffs exacted a heavy price from Axis forces. Attacks hatched by the tipoffs were relentless and committed to mission success.

Once information superiority was lost, it was only a matter of time before the Axis lost the war. They were made to pay a heavy price indeed for opening the account.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The best customers

Spend some time with people who sell home alarms and you will learn that people whose homes were just burgled are their best customers.

My friend who is in the security business says he doesn’t even have to make a sales pitch. He just stands and waits for two questions: How much do I owe you? When can it be installed?

Spend some time with insurance agents and you will learn that their best customers are those who had a recent brush with death. Stage 1 cancer detected in the nick of time. Wanderlust brought to a halt by a near-death experience. A small home fire that nearly became a newspaper page lead. These are all it takes to convince skeptics that insurance is worth paying for. And they’ll pay till it hurts.

Spend some time with a friend of mine and you’ll realise why he says a prayer of thanks after every work day. He is with the Home Team.

I’m not sure what sort of paperwork he is privy to, neither do I want to know too much, but I do know he spends a great deal of time with threat assessments.

He says the threats to this island nation are real. And I believe him.

The security threats this country faces will hurt people using a macabre and cruel interpretation of the words of our pledge. They will hit us regardless of race, language or religion.

Sadly, the success of our security agencies working behind the scenes is also the source of their greatest bugbear. Success breeds complacency. It stokes a sense of smug security bordering on stupidity, a kind of blasé stupor that will not be shrugged off short of seeing the worst effects of a terror attack, blood and mayhem on our streets. This is the wake-up call our society is waiting for.

When it comes, are you ready for it?

Conventional threats, too, loom real in our neighbourhood.

Our neighbours know that sabre-rattling achieves little because of the round-the-clock vigilance by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team agencies.

Back in 1991, the combined might of Malaysian and Indonesian armies staged a parachute drop just 20km from Woodlands. The exercise was codenamed Pukul Habis (Malay for "Total Wipeout"), which was a wonderfully chosen moniker. Indeed, some SAF war game codenames and targets on the simulated hit list would send a chill down our neighbours’ spines too. When Mal-Indo forces announced they would stage the Pukul Habis airdrop on 9 Aug 1991 - Singapore's 26th National Day - the war games resulted in an unprecedented open mobilisation of SAF armour battalions on the eve of National Day. The unzipping of SM1 light tanks from dri-clad wraps and engine start by the NSman armour battalion was widely covered by the Singaporean media.


In years that followed, such posturing was also played out in numerous incidents-at-sea in the waters around Horsburgh Lighthouse. The lighthouse is sited on Pedra Branca, an islet disputed by Singapore and Malaysia until its ownership was resolved by the International Court of Justice in Singapore’s favour (a day after my best friend’s birthday, I might add).


It is fortunate that the Malaysian military showed tact and restraint. Had the standoff flared into a shooting match, they would have quickly discovered that Horsburgh can unleash a lot more energy than the lighthouse's revolving lights. At the frontline were SAF warfighters who were deployed under operations that have never been publicised so as not to antagonise sentiments on both sides of the border.

As military provocations proved futile - indeed counterproductive as they only help thicken the Lion City’s national education syllabus – new tricks have been added to the bag.

Our island nation endured a virtual blockade of sand and granite in the past couple of years. This was enforced in the name of environmental concerns but was really primed to hit Singapore’s construction boom. Sand barges were intercepted and detained within sight of Singapore harbour. The sea blockade was later extended to granite shipments. Fallout from this blockade resulted in higher prices for home renovations and construction work and delayed the opening of the massive Marina Bay Sands integrated resort too.

It is perhaps fortunate that the blockade was confined to sand and granite. Had it encompassed food shipments, Singapore would have acted decisively as this counts as one of our vital interests. Ready at the frontline, the SAF.

The SAF and the demands of National Service (NS) are natural lightning rods for Singaporean critics - and there are many of them. We love to poke fun at the SAF. This includes everything from cookhouse food to scholar officers and war machines that are always several rungs down from what armchair generals claim we should buy.


But when push comes to shove, like the occasion in March 1991 when Singapore Airlines Flight SQ117 was hijacked by Pakistani radicals, everyone trusts and believes the SAF will magically appear and do the "'right" thing. The battle streamer that hangs on the flag of HQ Commando marks the successful conclusion of Operation Thunderbolt - the hostage-rescue mission spearheaded by Commandos. [In recent days, we've all seen how such missions can go belly up with tragic results.]

And in December 2004 and January 2005, when Singapore served as a regional coordination centre for relief supplies sent to tsunami and earthquake-hit areas, SAF logisticians and Combat Service Support units quite literally delivered the goods. The mission readiness and professionalism of CSS units, their ability to coordinate the sudden surge in flights, cargo volume and foreign rescue personnel isn't happenstance (look at how Haitian authorities were overwhelmed). Years of investments that built-up CSS capabilities and the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Air Movement Centre positioned Singapore well as a hub for regional relief efforts.

That said, all it takes is one ill-fitting sock bought from an SAF eMart to trigger a torrent of jokes about how farked up the SAF is. Haven't we all contributed to this stock of jokes at one time or other?

While it's now blue skies and sunny weather, one can expect the antics to continue in this neighbourhood despite the smiles and handshakes among politicians.

What’s next is anybody’s guess.

What's certain is this: Remove the reassuring presence of the SAF and the schemers will almost certainly exploit that imbalance of power.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Soldier scholars: IQ versus EQ

If emotional intelligence was an examination subject, how many Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers would score a distinction?

Having seen SAF officers on operational deployments on four occasions (Ops Flying Eagle (Taiwan), Ops Blue Heron I, Ops Blue Orchid I, Ops Flying Eagle 2004), I’m sure many would do fine. But a number of book smart scholar soldiers seem to lack the street smarts to make them true officers and gentlemen.

Case 1:
It was standing room only at the PBH briefing. Intent on getting his seat, a Lieutenant Colonel eyed the seated participants for a suitable victim. He found one.

Crouching over the junior officer, the LTC tapped his own shoulder epaulette and then pointed to the seat.

The junior officer got the message and vacated it promptly. Senior officers command that privilege.

Many eyes saw that incident and it became a talking point long after the war game had ended.

Case 2:
Lunch at Gombak was always a boring affair, so the branch head scholar soldier treated his branch to a meal outside the premises. He brought his staff officers to his country club where they enjoyed a hearty meal. Everyone thought they should buy a lottery ticket after that rare treat.

That single, once-in-a-blue moon occasion was brought up time and again by the scholar officer who boasted about how much he’d spent to feed his branch.

Such crass behaviour didn’t go down well with his staff officers who would rather he split the bill. It’s true what they say: there’s no free lunch.

Case 3:
Scholar officer had won an overseas prize which shares the same name as a twin turboprop transport plane. He was feted by the media but inexplicably disappeared from the estab of his service after a few years. Scholar officer had the smarts but lacked leadership. Zero charisma. Tasked with an S3 appointment during his command tour, he had to be virtually shadowed by a fellow officer as his CO felt he might drop the ball. The system wasn’t blind and the scholar soldier soon found himself on civvy street.

The incidents cited above come with real names left out intentionally.

Just as some officers poison their reputations with incompetent behaviour, there are many astute commanders who know just what it takes to earn the trust of men and women under their command.

I’ve heard at least two Singaporeans relate to me the same story of how a certain Singapore Army officer showed he cared for his men. After a demanding exercise, soldiers were taking a break when the senior Army officer swept in to speak to his men. He sat down by the longkang (drain) with the soldiers and spoke to them casually with no airs or ceremony. This made an impression with the battalion of Operationally Ready National Servicemen and reinforced the officer’s reputation as someone who cares for his soldiers.

In a citizen’s armed forces, leaders must earn the trust and respect of citizen soldiers.

Citizen soldiers (especially those who are Singaporean) are champion cynics. They will see through any theatrics from commanders who pull off PR stunts with an ulterior motive.

Being a tough commander isn’t the same as being an effective leader.

By the same reasoning, it would be a mistake to caricature a caring commander as being a softie.

Above all, it would be a colossal mistake to equate book smarts to leadership potential.

More than a handful of SAF officers have told me that the most important exam they took in their lives was the A Levels when they were 18. This is the benchmark the system uses to pick its future leaders and separate the wheat from the chaff.

They related how scholars who aced their A Levels ended up coasting through their university days – performing as well as but perhaps no better than the late bloomers who somehow botched their A Levels.

But once scholarships are minted and career endpoints charted, all these high fliers need do is watch out not to step on anyone’s toes or rock the boat too much. Creativity and innovation is needed in so far as getting the obligatory PRIDE Day submission in one’s P-file. And of course there’s the obligatory essay to the Pointer that proves one’s writing and analytical skills haven’t gone rusty.

Nobody likes a wild card in the pack. Same goes for an unpredictable maverick in a system where conformity rules. This is perhaps why most scholar soldiers seem cut from the same template: exam results which are virtual facsimiles of one another, attendance at an overseas staff college is a must, trophy girlfriends followed by marriage and kids by a certain age etc.

A contact who used to work at a particular Ministry of Defence department dealing with SAF officer matters related how he used to field cold calls from officers anxious to know whether they had been scheduled for a particular command course. You see, there’s fierce rivalry among ambitious officers to top the league table. Attendance at some courses, which are a pre-requisite for higher command, are treated as a leading indicator of the market worth of up-and-coming officers.

With their IQ applied for the right exam and charmed with an astute sense of EQ, high fliers can indeed go far.

But there are some scholar soldiers who fail the system with their absymal performance. To its credit, the system is smart enough to recognise and weed out these anomalies.

Don't we all know a couple of these flunkies?

National Service: View from a foreign mum


If you cut through the platitudes, Ms Aarti Giri's letter (The Straits Times 20  August 2010) emphasizes several issues that defence information managers should not lose sight of even after 43 years of National Service.

The first concerns the gulf in attitudes towards NS among Singaporeans. Another red flag is the perception that NS is a sacrifice capped at the duration of a full-time National Serviceman's service to Singapore.

As increasing numbers of foreign-born citizens approach conscription age, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) - which account for the bulk of defence manpower - have little time to lose in calibrating their messages properly.

Every family that sinks its roots in the Lion City brings essentially the same mindset, outlook, fears and prejudices towards NS that Singaporeans harboured when conscription began in 1967. This gulf in attitudes between New Citizens and long-time citizens (Old Singaporeans?) is not easy to bridge.

Dumb down defence information messages for New Citizens and the tone of the messaging could be seen as smug and patronising by older folk.

Calibrate it for Singaporeans who have embraced full-time NS and you risk losing the New Citizens who have yet to buy into the lofty ideals of nation-building and national security.

More worrying is the fallout MINDEF/SAF will be saddled with should a New Citizen NSF end up as a training fatality. Going by probability and the rules of chance, it is only a matter of time before a training accident/incident/glitch that involves a New Citizen NSF triggers the proverbial wake-up call.

When the clarion call is sounded, will New Citizens be rattled?

And how will New Citizens who hail from caste-based societies react when their sons are commanded by someone from outside their social circle? Will centuries-old prejudices undermine their commitment to defence?

Chinese parents in the 1960s knew of the old saying that good sons do not become soldiers, just as good iron is not used as nails. After years of public education more or less erased that point of view, in comes the influx of foreign talent. The wheel has turned full circle and defence information managers may find themselves back at the start line, educating and engaging New Citizens with zero exposure to the military.

This is why MINDEF needs a Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) at the top of its game. In my opinion, the time for rebuilding will have to begin in earnest after the Director Public Affairs (Designate), Colonel Desmond Tan Kok Ming, formally assumes command of PAFF next month.

Ms Giri's letter is useful because it exposes how expatriates feel towards NS.

She wrote: "I have often come across expatriates discussing how they can help their children avoid NS. To me, it is only fair that if one wants to become a permanent resident or call Singapore home, one should willingly serve because that is what every Singapore male does."

For Singapore's sake, one hopes her point of view is not in the minority.

If Ms Giri keeps it up, her attitude and pro-NS letters may, someday, win her a Total Defence Award.

Be that as it may, even converts such as Ms Giri seem to cling on to fallacies about NS.

She noted that "sacrificing two years of a man's career is a small price to pay for Singapore's safety and security".

This statement ignores the sacrifices that Operationally-Ready NSmen make every time they are called up for NS. It is an obligation that stretches till 40 for other ranks and the age of 50 for officers and key appointment holders.

So New Citizens will need to know, appreciate and accept the stark reality that NS is really a life-long commitment.

NS in Singapore is not a limited tenure, 24-months stint in which citizen soldiers serve and forget.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Embracing the value of sea power

When you think of the part sea power served in defending Singapore during the Second World War, it is likely that the failure of the Royal Navy's Force Z warships will spring to mind.

The tragic loss of the British battleship, HMS Prince of Wales, and the battlecruiser, HMS Repulse, to Japanese air power has a little-known prologue: some naval assets that defended British interests in the Mediterranean came from Singapore.

These include the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, which was based in the Far East, an entire flotilla of Singapore-based submarines and a shallow draft 15" gun monitor, HMS Terror, which lived up to its name harassing the Italian Army in the Libyan Desert.[Terror Camp in Sembawang is named after this monitor and not after the attitude of Naval Diving Unit instructors who lord over their tadpoles.)

Had these warships stayed in Singapore, the fate of Force Z may have been very different. This blast from the past underlines the importance of a balanced fleet and shows the telling effect that sea power, when ably led by aggressive commanders, can serve in a theatre of war.

Those who ask why these precious assets set sail from Singapore would do well to remember that Europe had been at war for nearly two years and three months while people in the Far East watched as bystanders.

In a war of survival, the Royal Navy needed every war machine at its disposal. Warships recalled from Singapore robbed defence planners here of naval aviation and submarines that would have complemented the weight of fire from capital ships.

A 64-page booklet published during WW2 by His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO), titled simply His Majesty's Submarines, noted: "As diplomatic relations with Italy grew steadily worse, all submarines east of Suez, including the 4th Flotilla at Singapore and the 8th Flotilla at Colombo, were sailed for Alexandria to form the 1st Flotilla. Half of this force went to Malta; and when the war with Italy began, there were six British submarines there (two of them refitting) and six at Alexandria."

The withdrawal of 4th Flotilla from Singapore explains why Imperial Japanese Navy submarines had a free run of the South China Sea in December 1941. These submarines formed a picket line which detected Force Z as it made its passage north for its date with destiny.

The fact that half of the HMSO booklet sings praises to successful RN submarine operations in the Mediterranean tells us the impact these boats could have had in regional waters. RN submariners could have been sent first in, ahead of Force Z to protect the surface ships from enemy submarines.

The aircraft carrier Eagle was pulled out for the same reason.

The HMSO booklet, East of Malta West of Suez, recounted: "Early in 1940, Italian neutrality deteriorated into passive hostility towards the Allies. By the end of March, 1940, she had made it plain that she was only biding her moment to throw in her lot with Germany. The lull was nearly over and the gathering storm sent the Battle Fleet from home waters to the Mediterranean, and reinforced it with cruisers from the East Indies, the aircraft-carrier Eagle and some submarines from China."

HMS Eagle served with distinction in the Mediterranean. The RN recognised the value of naval aviation and paired aircraft carriers together with battleships and battlecruisers into task groups named after letters of the alphabet (Force A, Force B, Force H etc).

In that theatre, the battlecruiser HMS Renown showed that warships steaming at speed in the open sea were hard to hit. That the Renown was a sister ship of HMS Repulse is unlikely to have been overlooked by British planners who despatched the Repulse to Singapore.

The battleship Prince of Wales was no ordinary battle wagon either. The King George V-class warship was then Britain's newest battleship, bloodied during the Battle of the Denmark Strait during the encounter with the Bismarck and having won the affection of Britons for ferrying British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Newfoundland for his meeting with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was known fondly as Churchill's yacht.

After two years of operations in the Mediterranean, no RN capital ships had been lost to air attack.

British disdain for the "new weapon" (i.e. air power), as noted in the WW2 HMSO booklets, is spelt out clearly in this account of a clash with the Italians.

"The Warspite and her attendant destroyers were attacked by bombers twenty two times. Force C fifteen times; altogether nearly 400 bombs were dropped on the British Fleet during its return to Alexandria without causing damage or casualties. The new weapon had had every chance to prove itself a substitute for sea power and had apparently failed; in the confusion of the enemy's retreat to the Straits of Messina the Italian bombers were twice observed to be attacking their own fleet. The German dive-bombers had not yet appeared on the scene."

HMSO's text is accompanied by pictures I've not seen elsewhere. These show RN warships under heavy air attack. One picture shows the battleship Malaya (what an irony, considering where Force Z met its fate) sailing "unscathed through the forest of water hurled up in the bombing attack".

With more than two years of experience fending off attacks by two air forces in the narrow seas, one cannot be surprised at British confidence that Force Z would stand up to the then-untested Japanese air power.

The signal lessons for Singapore are as follows:
1. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) military history reading list should include British naval ops in the Med. This theatre should not be considered out of the syllabus. Understanding how and why British sea power remained undefeated in the Med is a key to appreciating the importance of a balanced fleet.

2. A study of Allied ops in the Med would also show the importance of timely intelligence. What the HMSO booklets do not mention is how Axis convoys were found and wrecked. Years later, we all know the part that Ultra intelligence played in betraying Axis intentions and destroying Rommel's supply lines.

3. Early SAF planners seem to have spent too much time fighting the last war. Singapore's defenders during WW2 had no tanks, a weak air force and relied on powerful warships for their defence. The 1st Generation SAF reversed all three factors - we had armour and plenty of it, a strong air force and the navy became the Cinderella of the SAF.

4. The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) needs to maintain a balanced fleet. Sea power amounts to more than what its six Formidable-class stealth frigates can bring to the party. Photo calls with all the good and the great aboard these stealth warships should not detract from the fact that the RSN needs to keep its undersea, naval aviation, close escort (i.e. patrol vessels), underway replenishment and special operations capabilities sharp.

5. Some naval capabilities such as naval aviation will cost a pretty penny. This is because specialised warships need to be designed and built for naval air power. Central to the whole operation are the people who generate and sustain naval air power. Underfund the navy and you undermine the SAF's full spectrum capabilities. How much is the economy worth?

6. In the pre-Springboard era, the neglected Navy lost many officers and WOSEs. With economic prospects in the private sector continuing to beckon warfighters to hang up their uniforms for good, we cannot afford to have a similar mindset or the Navy will never make good its manpower losses.

7. The best drawer plans can sometimes be scuttled by events outside one's control. Pre-war Singapore had an aircraft carrier plus submarines. These were siphoned off to shore up the Med front. Drawer plans are imperiled by cost pressures that cut capabilities razor thin. Our one-per-ship assignment for the S-70B Seahawks is a good example - there's no spare capacity to go round. The cost per helo in the event we ever need to replace one will be far in excess of what it would have cost Singapore to buy spare airframes in the first place.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Informing the People: Bolstering C2D during WW2


If you find informing the people a peacetime challenge, think about how you might do it during a shooting war when you're losing battles, losing lives and losing time.

The British approach to what is nowadays known as defence information management (DIM, what an unfortunate acronym) during the Second World War holds key lessons for information and public relations practitioners.

Britiain's Ministry of Information (MOI) and His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO) published more than 100 titles to counter Axis propaganda. In the pre-Internet age, these low cost pamphlets were snapped up by Britons hungry for news on the war and road maps to their uncertain future.

Long before anyone coined the term Total Defence, British authorities enlisted the help of home-based writers, book designers and illustrators to publish these pamphlets. In reality, the "pamphlets" were books of between 40 to 100-plus pages in length, illustrated with pictures of frontline action and maps showing theatres of operation. The work was done rapidly. Many of these books had a short gestation period and were planned, written, cleared by British policy-makers and security and released during the war.

A HMSO book, Informing the People, describes how the HMSO pamphlets were done.

It said:"... although most pamphlets appeared anonymously, many were written by experienced authors of established reputation, who could write well and thus provide a graphic, lively and easily comprehensible story. These authors were provided full facilities to compile their records and, whilst security might demand some excisions from the resulting manuscripts, or delay in publication, their only instruction was to seek the truth, and to tell what they found."

While some writers tend to gravitate towards subjects like pilots, submariners or Commandos, which are easier to write about because their job scope seems exciting, the HMSO pamphlets embraced low-profile and sometimes arcane subjects. These include writing a 94-page book on the role of the post office in war, shipbuilders and even the blood transfusion service.

A British netizen suggested I read these and I've amassed some 40 different titles over the past half year.

One of my favourite, Transport goes to War, devotes 80 pages of text and pictures to the unglamorous, low-profile yet vitally important functions of the British transportation system. The blog posts on the National Day Parade 2010 Mobile Column's lesser-known elements like traffic marshals and the signboard party were inspired by this WW2 book.


To the credit of the authors, many Britons treasured these books and kept them long after the war. They were dubbed "the first draft of history".

HMSO said: "The legacy is as fascinating and valuable to today's readers as it has already proved to be to the official and unofficial historians who have made extensive use of the material during the following half-century. The sceptical should remember that the pamphlets' authors, with serious and respectable reputations to protect, had every opportunity after the war to repudiate their work for the Ministry, or to qualify the record they left. None of them has done so.

"Several have written of these experiences in their autobiographies. None of them has cast any post-war reservation upon the reliability of their wartime texts, or of the spirit in which they were commissioned."

Reviewing the strategy of informing the people through these instant books, many of which were published during the war, HMSO concludes that an upfront and honest editorial approach was the best way to bolster commitment to defence.

I've looked at the HMSO titles I've collected and this is certainly true. The loss of of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, retreats in the desert and loss of Greece and Crete in the Mediterranean theatre are all discussed with a candour which one might not expect for a book released while ops were in progress.

HMSO explains why it preferred this strategy. It said: "... the safest and surest way to bolster and support morale was to keep the people fully and promptly informed of the bad news as well as the good. Slowly they came to see that honesty and explanation were far more effective than campaigns insulting to the intelligence and courage of even the faint-hearted."


"Other governments used the series, and copied it, and it had an effect upon the enemy as well. Dr Goebbels both attacked it publicly and privately commended it, holding up individual titles as models for his staff to learn from.

"That the series attracted such worldwide attention, support and imitation demonstrates, better than could anything else that, by their use of pamphlets, both MOI and HMSO were doing an important job for Britain, doing it well, and helping to win the war."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Introducing: The Malaysian Army Infantry Section


Geared up for action, a Malaysian Army infantry section shows off its tools of the trade.

You won't want to get within 300 metres of this section because these soldiers can do a lot of hurt.

From left,  we see a Sergeant with a six-shot Milkor MGL (multiple grenade launcher); rifleman with a 5.56mm AUG assault rifle, a section machine gunner with a M249 Minimi Squad Automatic Weapon with 200-round box magazine, two riflemen with AUGs (ammo carriers for the RPGs), two RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade gunners and a section signaller with an AUG.

Contrast the Malaysian Army's choice of a reloadable anti-armour weapon with that of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) which arms its infantry sections with two single-shot Matador LAWs.

One should not be too clinical when it comes to defence science and harp endlessly on the accuracy and penetrative power of the SAF's Matadors. There's good reason why RPGs have captured the attention of armies in combat. True, these rocket-propelled grenades are inaccurate in a crosswind and cannot penetrate bird cage armour. But when fired en masse and against targets other than armoured vehicles, these shoulder-launched rockets have collected blood debts in battlefields around the globe from Chechenya to Lebanon.

During firefights in plantation areas or urban battlespace, the RPGs give Malaysian soldiers a hefty punch. The reloadable RPGs represent the infantry's own artillery. They can be fired against enemy armour, soft skin vehicles as well as troop concentrations and come into their own during urban shootouts.

With two RPG gunners per section supported by suppressive fire from the SAW and indirect fire from grenades lobbed by the MGL, a Malaysian infantry section will prove hard to dislodge. The weight of fire the section can deliver is intense, though the sustainability of such firepower is worth looking into (see below).

I hope the day never comes when Singaporean defence engineers will have to explain to SAF infantry why they have been outgunned after their Matadors have been spent and a RPG-armed enemy continues hammering them with rocket-propelled fire.

Malaysian infantry platoon commanders are trained to think through and deploy their sections with a mutually supportive fire plan that maximises home ground terrain advantage.

The addition of RPGs at section level must be seen as part of a wider plan to beef up the Malaysian Army's anti-armour firepower. The unguided, shoulder-launched RPG munitions are back-stopped by battalion-level ATGMs such as the Russian-made Metis-M and Baktar Shikan from Pakistan.

It is noteworthy that a similar menu of anti-armour weapons was used by Hezbollah fire teams with decisive effect against Israeli armour during the summer 2006 war in southern Lebanon.["Decisive" is arguably a matter of opinion. I belong to the school of thought that Hezbollah won the engagement because the IDF failed to achieve mission success.]

The battalion-sized Malaysian Contingent (MALCON) that served United Nations peace-keeping missions is likely to have reconnoitered recent battlefields for nuggets of information on how ATGWs defeated Israeli heavy armour such as the Merkavas. (Wouldn't you do the same if you were on duty there?)

The shock effect that main battle tanks such as Merkavas may have on Malaysian troops during a battle may be diluted, in view of the Malaysian Army's investments in anti-armour munitions, tactics and battle indoctrination.

The value of MBTs in rolling up a front held by Malaysian infantry may thus be more imagined than real, and the shock effect could be turned against the aggressor by determined Malaysian Army troops once enemy units come within the concentric range rings of their anti-armour weapons. Think Agincourt.

Coming back to the image of the Malaysian infantry section, it will be clear that while the Malaysian section's firepower-on-call is hefty, so is the ammunition expenditure.

Every soldier in the picture stands without his full pack. Questions might be asked about the sustainability of Malaysian infantry operations, day and night. With packs on in full battle order, the mobility of a Malaysian infantry section will drop appreciably.

This isn't an issue during defensive operations against armour-heavy incursions, particularly on home ground as Malaysian Army troops can forage among the Rakyat (Malaysian populace).

But if hostile forces can shrug off the initial reply from the Malaysian infantry, then the issue of ammunition resupply comes to the fore because the MGL, Minimi and RPGs consume prodigious quantities of munitions. There is a limited amount of ammunition the section can carry into battle.

The distance any infantry battalion can travel on foot before hitting exhaustion levels is inversely proportional to the weight carried per soldier. You only have to read accounts of Wehrmacht operations on the Eastern Front during WW2 to realise that there comes a point when well-trained and battle-conditioned infantry cannot move any further once exhaustion kicks in.

Anyone who has seen troops on a forced march will realise that fatigued units are more of a liability when mental alertness and the adroitness of individual troops is compromised by sheer physical exhaustion.

The Malaysian Army's teeth arms will find it needs to rely on a combat service support arm that can keep frontline battalions adequately stocked once the firefight gets underway. If motorised transport is used, this vulnerable tail would subject itself to interdiction from the air or by an enemy with overwhelming superiority in artillery which has zeroed in key transport nodes like bridges and road junctions and will not hesitate to fire for effect. 

Fighting from prepared positions which are properly camouflaged and hardened against enemy fire goes some way in addressing the ammunition resupply question. This is because the prepared hides can be pre-stocked with extra munitions during the period before hostilities.

As the Lebanon 2006 battle showed, individual firing positions - particularly those inside buildings - are difficult to detect until troops open fire and the weapon signature (noise, smoke, blast effects) betray the position. Shrewd commanders would use deception as part of their fire plan by deliberately attracting enemy sensors to certain positions (smoke, remotely-triggered weapons, fake missile launches with Smokey SAMS) and drawing fire.

Remember that the ammunition resupply issue cuts both ways - it hits Malaysian units as well as aggressor forces because aerial bombs, artillery shells and other instruments of war are not unlimited.

On point about the signaller: the signal set represents the only electronic link to PCs and above. The signaller helps higher command maintain some semblance of tactical control once the battalion is dispersed for combat.

In my opinion, the Malaysian soldier has some way to go before its battlefield communications allow individual units to mark out hostile targets, call for fire or indicate its position to friendly forces using some blue force tracking device.

This in itself isn't a disadvantage particularly when the Malaysian soldier is defending home territory. The downside comes when Malaysian commanders need to secure an open flank, say against air mobile enemy forces, or quickly wheel a battalion around when fighting on reversed fronts.

In summary, the Malaysian soldier has come a long way from the Emergency period when he was pitted against Communist forces fighting in the jungle.

The anti-armour emphasis of the Malaysian Army section is a nod to the type and intensity of threat it may have to face and it would be unwise to discount their staying power in a hot war scenario.

Acknowledgements: I'm grateful to Khoo Jin Kiat for the image and to ATM units who hosted me on study tours. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NDP 2010 Mobile Column: Achieving Mission Success


The guy wearing civvies (above) at the last Mobile Column command brief on National Day wasn’t what he seemed.

His tee shirt - one of thousands made for the National Day Parade 2010 – and blue jeans made him blend in with NDP spectators on the streets. But there was good reason why he listened intently to the staff officers giving the briefing.

Lam Pei Sien. Colonel, Singapore Army. Passport Number: 70xxxxx X. He commanded them all.

As chairman of the Mobile Column and Celebrations Committee, COL Lam was a picture of studied calm hours before the 210-vehicle Mobile Column advanced into Singapore’s heartlands on 9 August 2010.

The manoeuvre was last practised at the 2005 National Day Parade. Many of the staff officers from NDP 2005 who helmed the event have moved on to senior appointments or left the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

To put things in perspective, many of the teenage full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) who drove or commanded SAF war machines at NDP 2010 were only in Secondary Two (Eight Grade or Form Two equivalent) or Sec 3 the last time the Mobile Column was seen during National Day.

To casual observers, the NDP 2010 Mobile Column team made up of more than 900 SAF and Home Team personnel was about as raw, untested and inexperienced as you could assemble.

But what they lacked in experience, they more than made up in enthusiasm, creativity and hard training.

Months before H Hour, the NDP 2010 Executive Committee (EXCO) built a 1:1 scale driving route that replicated every street corner, turn and the length of the Padang. Markers placed on the road indicated the points where Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks would swivel their turrets and dip their 120mm guns to salute the President. There was even a mock saluting platform for the tank commanders to salute. The Padang, an open field in Singapore's city centre, was the parade venue for Singapore's 45th birthday.

It was fortuitous that the first rehearsals were conducted on Sundays in Tuas, an industrial area in western Singapore, out of sight from the public. The first sessions bordered on organised mayhem, with vehicle alignments haywire and out-of-shape formations. Drivers moved in fit and starts as they eyeballed one another and attempted to drive in a straight row in close order without hitting one another. As the parade was months downstream, there were morale issues to tackle as some servicemen – admittedly just a handful of NSFs - found it a bloody waste of time practicing so hard for the 15-minute drive past Mr President.

These internal rehearsals soon gained traction. As vehicle alignments and formations were slowly perfected and drivers gained confidence, things fell into place smoothly.

As part of the planning process, SAF staff officers gathered satellite images of Singapore and used these to brief drivers of their driving route to the heartlands, which are housing estates in the west, north and north eastern parts of the island.

Experiments were conducted using SAF vehicles in the dead of the night, when traffic was light, to ensure that armoured and outsized military vehicles could negotiate neighbourhood roads safely without damaging civilian property. The vast majority of the drivers, however, had to wait till 9 August itself for their heartlands adventure.

Fast forward to 9 August 2010 and 26,000 people packed spectator stands built at the Padang and along St Andrew’s Road to cheer on the Mobile Column. Abour 100,00 others stood around Marina Bay. By then, the 210 vehicles had rehearsed in front of a live audience at least five times – CR 3 in front of family members of NDP participants, at the three National Education shows and the Parade Preview.

They could see for themselves that crowds of Singaporeans and tourists would pack the roadside for hours just for a sneak peak of the Mobile Column – a moving display that appears once every five years.

COL Lam’s attitude on National Day is one indicator of an effective planning staff. The concept plans, strategies, operational and tactical details had been hammered out way before H Hour over many burnt weekends and late nights. So there was little for him to do that morning but order his staff officers to move plans into action.

On National Day, staff officers who briefed Mobile Column participants for the last time made an all-out effort to coax everyone to give their all. They went beyond the scope of their briefings on issues such as engine start times and the scheduling of toilet breaks to rally everyone.

It was the crowning moment of a sustained hearts and minds effort to boost the morale of Mobile Column participants and make sure they were fully committed to the event.

From what I observed, they were preaching to the converted.

Mobile Column rehearsals consumed many weekends and nights. Thousands of mosquitoes have Mobile Column participants to thank for the blood feast over the past months. And who likes to be yelled at for not getting the timing of that blasted vehicle salute spot on?

But on National Day, months of practice paid off. SAF and Home Team officers and men were confident the show would come together, that Singapore would see the best-ever Mobile Column fly the flag proudly.

COL Lam did address his men. Twice in fact: once to Formation Liaison Officers and the second time at a massed briefing for drivers and vehicle commanders. Predictably, the battle cry was for them to give their all. Do their best. That after months of rehearsals, today was the big day. Be safe, look out for one another.

It is one thing to second guess what a commander might say. It is quite another to hear him say it. And when timed at the right moment, delivered to the right audience at the right forum, the effect can be electrifying. See their group hug here.


To those who know, the way in which the SAF trained and conditioned supposedly raw and inexperienced city boy warfighters for the Mobile Column mirrors its approach to defending Singapore.

Insightful defence observers would realise that land warfare manoeuvres practised over the vastness of the American plains, Australian outback, Indian desert or South African veldt replicate - almost kilometre for kilometre – the distances the SAF is prepared to travel to strike and kill a hostile army.

You only have to look at the hand-drawn markings on map overlays to realise that towns, bridges, plantations and obstacles that an aggressor may throw in the path of SAF manoeuvre units are replicated in these war games. Some obstacles are simulated with the help of award-winning innovations. Please turn to page two after you click here.

Thanks to friends overseas prepared to host Singapore's citizen army, these division-size exercises give the SAF’s air and land forces full freedom of action unavailable in the city state. Full-troop exercises are complemented by classified computerised war games that replicate the SAF's likely battlespace in frightening detail.

Another takeaway from the Mobile Column is the hearts and minds effort showcased by COL Lam’s team. This can be seen in the way Singapore reaches out to friends in the region to explain its deterrent posture by building partnerships for peace. At the same time, the defence eco-system reaches out to inform, educate and reassure Singaporeans that force will be met with force.

Friendships are forged through mutual respect and understanding, a spirit of give and take, a commitment to give diplomacy a chance and a willingness to live with national quirks that every society has.

Good sense and good neighbourliness ensures that the war machines Singapore has invested heavily in will serve only as crowd-pleasers once every five years at National Day.

May the SAF's war machines remain clean and polished for years to come.

Monday, August 9, 2010

NDP 2010 Mobile Column: Command and Control


With 14* successful drivepast rehearsals on the score sheet, one would think the National Day Parade (NDP) 2010 Mobile Column Committee has said everything there is to say about the drivepast.

But the last group briefings held this morning took more than an hour to complete because they sprung last minute route changes as surprises.

Hours before the show hit the road on Singapore's 45th Birthday today, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team participants were updated on changes to the Mobile Column's route.


A night reconnaissance last Saturday (7 Aug'10) erased parts of the looks-good-on-paper driving route through the city and the route to the western part of the island. This meant that drivers, vehicle commanders and safety officers had to change their mindmap of the route they would ply. And they had mere hours to rehearse this in the minds because no rehearsal was possible.

So this morning's sitrep was a blend of safety brief, rah-rah session (to get participants in the mood to perform) and a don't-say-I-didn't-tell-you session all rolled into one that kept drivers and vehicles commanders in rapt attention.

As is typical when the SAF rolls out its action plan, the centralised planning process was reassuringly thorough and gave fresh meaning to the phrase "left no stone unturned".

Recce teams from Headquarters Armour had counted the number of road junctions the vehicles would have to pass (total: 136 junctions), scrutinised road widths and made sure vehicles could safely pass under overhead bridges and flyovers without snapping off whip antennae or other expensive bits that adorn SAF war machines and Home Team vehicles. Turning radii of the vehicles were committed to memory and tested out on Singapore's streets - sometimes in the dead of the night when traffic was light.

Primary and secondary locations for loading the vehicles onto low loaders at the end point were charted and timetables drawn up for sending these vehicles back to camp. A dry weather plan, wet weather plan, flash flood plan and other drawer plans that factored in nasty situations like terror attacks were also part of HQ Armour's planning process. Indeed, short of an asteroid hitting Singapore, the Mobile Column would get its job done. Yup.

Paper wall charts of Singapore's road network traced the routes that the Mobile Column vehicles would take after the 210 tracked and wheeled vehicles split up into three separate convoys to visit the heartlands - housing estates in the west, north and northeastern parts of Singapore island. The 42-km long by 24-km wide city state is so tiny that a map the size of a ping pong table (above) was all that was needed to show a bird's eye view of all arterial roads and expressways.

Backing up the paper charts were powerpoint presentations that used overhead imagery to illustrate the driving routes.

For all that forward planning, Mobile Column participants had to adapt to changes. And they didn't have the luxury of time to slowly ease into their comfort zone as the 7 Aug'10 recce uncovered a better way of doing things and a command decision was made to change things. And adapt they did - from seasoned regulars to teenage full-time National Servicemen.

And while planning was centralised and thorough, the execution of the Mobile Column's war plan was largely decentralised. This is a line inspired by Field Manual 100-5 "Operations".

Sitting through the briefings before H Hour, it was apparent that the SAF ran the Mobile Column as a military operation and the success of this operation depended heavily upon smooth, decentralised execution of orders. The initiative rested with the drivers and vehicle commanders and ground commanders. Each vehicle was a self-contained, self-aware unit that had to take the initiative to make snap decisions as events unfolded.

Captain Jay Chan sketched out scenarios where impatient (and foolhardy) pedestrians were seen dashing in between gaps in vehicles during prior rehearsals, risking an encounter with an SAF armoured vehicle whose end result did not require a rocket scientist to figure out.

Major Lim Han Yong reminded formation liaison officers, who were tasked to cascade the message to participants under their care:"Drivers should focus on the task at hand and watch out for pedestrians."

Scene setter: Major Lim Han Yong from the Singapore Army's Armour Formation addresses drivers and vehicle commanders from the SAF and Home Team. Sessions like these establish the commander's intent and strengthen rapport with the troops, which is vitally important as face-to-face briefings augment the instantaneous and wide reach of plasma devices. The briefing was held in a disused car park at Kallang after the Mobile Column committee recognised that it needed a weather-proof area as a command post for the weekly rehearsals.

Taking the initiative, it seemed, did not include blundering into housing estates after dark in armoured vehicles when drivers came across an unfamiliar road junction and the lead vehicle had shot out of sight.

So drivers were urged by Major Lim Kah Keng to stick to the 30km/h speed limit and leave a gap between vehicles lest a pedestrian flirted with the idea of becoming a traffic statistic.

"Speed and distance are the only assurances we have,'' said MAJ Lim, the deputy chairman of the Mobile Column and Celebrations Committee. He noted that the convoy's movement out of the Padang would push the Mobile Column into terra incognito.

As time was short, MAJ Lim crunched down his talking points into the four "S"

Standards: "Your alignment, spacing and actions on the move must be sharp." (They were, from what I saw on TV)

Serviceability: The emphasis was on 100% readiness. "The maintenance officer must be the most free guy today." (Last seen merrily shopping at Kallang Leisure Park)

The last two points covered the security sweeps and safety.

That nightmare scenarios weren't played out tonight is a credit to the 600-plus SAF road marshals mobilised to shepherd the thundering convoys on their assigned routes. Some 200 traffic police motorcycle outriders kept the three convoys moving with progressive closures of road junctions, which is by no means an easy feat in a city state with Singapore's urban density. Executed at dinnertime on a public holiday, these road closures could potentially result in traffic chaos if ineptly planned, clumsily executed and blithely ignored by road users. Alas, everyone played their part.

That nothing of that sort has occurred at time of writing is a credit to the SAF tankees, clerks, storemen and personnel from other assorted roles whose job descriptions do not include traffic marshal duty. These traffic marshals literally had to think on their feet as the convoys to the heartlands were not something the SAF had rehearsed.

To be sure, technology in the form of vehicle navigation systems probably played a part in keeping the Mobile Column on track, if you excuse the pun. The new generation of SAF and Home Team vehicles are known to have moving map displays and GPS way finders that help the vehicle crew find their way around unfamiliar territory.

Thankfully, today's route was on friendly ground and the only shots the vehicles attracted during their adventure to the heartlands came from untold number of camera flashes that went off as the vehicles came within camera range.

The NDP 2010 Mobile Column that Colonel Lam Pei Sien, chairman of the parade's Mobile Column and Celebrations Committee, had earlier pledged would showcase the Lion City's "Ready and Relevant" defence and security muscle had evidently impressed the citizens.

* Practice sessions count Combined Rehearsal 1 on 19 Jun'10, CR2 26 Jun'10, CR3 3 Jul'10, the 1st National Education show 10 Jul'10, NE2 17 Jul'10, NE3 24 Jul'10 and the Parade Preview 31 Jul'10. The Mobile Column made two runs during each rehearsal for a total of 14 runs on National Day morning. With the exception of CR1 and CR2, all other rehearsals were done in front of a live audience.

Acknowledgements: The NDP 2010 Executive Committee kindly granted access to the briefings this morning and I found these sessions very educational. I thank all Mobile Column participants for their courtesy. I guess showing up this morning finally let you put a face to a name. :-)

The group shots - Armour, AIs, Combat Engineers, Guards, Infantry and Peacekeepers - taken today will be handed to HQ Armour.

I'd like to record my appreciation to CPT Clarence from HQ Armour, who was the liaison officer assigned to this blog project from CR1.

Friday, August 6, 2010

NDP 2005 Mobile Column poster

The Mobile Column was last seen during the National Day Parade in 2005.

This poster shows the type and number of vehicles that took part in NDP 2005's Mobile Column.

Back in 2005, motorised infantry meant infantry carried on 5-tonners. This year, their transport has been vastly improved.

To all Mobile Column personnel: I'm posting this for reference to show how it was done five years ago. Please do not confuse your formations with the ones shown here or it will mess up the show! : ) 

NDP 2010 Flypast

While the National Day Parade (NDP) 2010 Mobile Column rehearsals have been closely followed, plane spotters have been busy tracking Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) rehearsals in the western part of Singapore.

This photo essay shows RSAF Air Combat Command fast jets waiting for their curtain call on 31 July 2010. Many thanks to plane spotter Vincent Ng for the contribution.

Check Six! This is not the view hostile pilots would like to see in their rear view mirrors. Seen here on 31 July 2010, five Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) single-seat F-16Cs caught tracing race track patterns over Singapore. The Vipers were waiting for their datum call for the Parade Preview.

The RSAF is armed with the largest fleet of F-16s in Southeast Asia. These fly into battle with the advantage of the largest force of AEW elements in the region, plus other national assets which are best left unmentioned. :-) 

High Fives: RSAF F-5S Tiger IIs, which are the most lethal F-5s in the world, hold position on either wing of a Gulfstream G550 airborne early warning aircraft. The G550s main "weapon" is superior air sense and they fly into battle armed with a keen sense of the battlespace. Both types fly with the RSAF's Air Combat Command.

Peeling off: The spare F-5S peels off from the G550-led formation. Minutes later, the formation is seen flying past Singapore's City Centre (below). The National Day Parade 2010 Flypast comprises fixed and rotary-wing elements with spare aircraft ready to step in should the need arise.


Eagles high: RSAF F-15SG Strike Eagles seen in the race track pattern in loose formation. Two batches of F-15SGs have returned to Singapore and are based at Paya Lebar Airbase. The operational masterplan for RSAF airbases drawn up in the 1970s saw hardened shelters built for F-15-sized fighter aircraft, though the wing tip clearance for the Strike Eagles is said to be pretty close!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NDP 2010 Mobile Column: Ready, Aye Ready!

Maritime Security Task Force

With faces camouflaged, you will hardly recognise the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters who man the National Day Parade 2010 Mobile Column vehicles.

This photo essay shows you some of the sailors, soldiers and airmen who formed the Mobile Column during the Parade Preview last Saturday.

All of them put in many hours of planning, test runs and full dress rehearsals to get the Mobile Column looking the way it is today.

They're all eager to put on a great show on Singapore's 45th birthday.

Ground-based Air Defence

C4ISTAR

Infantry

Singapore Artillery

Acknowledgements: I thank all Mobile Column participants for being such gracious hosts during the combined rehearsals and to the NDP 2010 EXCO for the access. I cherish the opportunity to learn more about how the Mobile Column is put together and I hope some of the curiosity shows in the blog entries. Special thanks to Captain Clarence from HQ Armour for being here, there and everywhere.

NDP 2010 at Resorts World Sentosa


Five blimps done up in national colours at my workplace. :-)

Please catch our NDP video tribute here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Behind the scenes: NDP 2010 Mobile Column Traffic Marshals


If you put Singapore Army Captain Jason Lee and his tankees on traffic marshal duty, they instantly become stealth soldiers - present but unnoticed.

Station them in their Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks and they'll be feted like superstars by an adoring public.

That's the reality of traffic marshal duty: It is one of the least appreciated of National Day Parade (NDP) 2010 Mobile Column duties. But it's also the most vital.

Without the traffic marshals, the 210 tracked and wheeled vehicles that make up this year’s Mobile Column will be nothing more than car park residents.

These duties are shared between officers and men from the 41st Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (41 SAR) and the 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR). Traffic marshal operations in the stadium area are led by Captain Jimmy Goh and his team from 41 SAR. CPT Lee and the tankees from 1st Company 48 SAR shoulder traffic marshal duties from Nicoll Highway onwards.

Week after week, the Armour Formation's traffic marshals transform the mass of tracked and wheeled vehicles into an orderly, parade-worthy display that has dazzled spectators lucky enough to catch NDP rehearsals.

People who have seen traffic marshals in action would realise their duties go beyond simply fanning vehicles along while standing by the roadside.

These traffic marshals are on duty day and night, whatever the weather. The blazing afternoon sun is the bane of traffic marshals. And when they pray for cooler weather, down comes a torrential downpour of such intensity that part of car park Foxtrot was flooded on 17 July.

The tankees ensure Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines and Home Team hardware leave their form-up point/holding area in the right sequence, on time, and reach the Padang safely.

This grand sounding job description belies the tedium and mind-numbing monotony of traffic marshal duty.

When it's time to close public roads and highways for NDP rehearsals, traffic marshals will push plastic barriers to block certain lanes to motorists. They will also roll out miles of white tape and plastic netting to screen the car park at Kallang Leisure Park. They do this to maintain a safe distance between curious members of the public and the Mobile Column vehicles.

And while the job can be boring, not all duty stations are created equal. Some duty stations, like the roads close to Suntec City shopping mall, are sought-after because the high pedestrian traffic gives traffic marshals a steady flow of eye candy to look at.

Thus pre-positioned, traffic marshals must steel themselves to the reality that the public hardly notices or cares about them. The traffic marshals who stand there for hours during each NDP rehearsal would be lucky if the man in the street even removes the lens cap from his camera when traffic marshals are within visual range, let alone take a photo of the men at work. They are part of the streetscape, anonymous stealth soldiers whom nobody sees.

To their credit, the traffic marshals know they’re there to support the real “stars” and do their utmost to make sure the Mobile Column puts on a good show. Never mind if even the Combat Service Support field toilets are photographed more often than all the traffic marshals combined. These tankees know they serve a key role getting the show on the road.

Their job includes being part-time tour guide too. It’s quite common for curious tourists to ask why on earth the Singaporean military has war machines on the street. Though there’s scope for rather imaginative replies, traffic marshals are professionals who don’t take tourists for a ride or smoke them by saying there’s a war in progress... at least that's what they tell me. :-)

Less sought-after are isolated duty stations where traffic marshals have only lamp posts for company. Here’s where resourceful tankees make full use of their solitude. They turn themselves into mobile entertainment kiosks/canteens by packing every pocket on their Number 4 camouflage uniform with snacks, a PlayStation/electronic game, book/magazine and sweets of all types for good measure. Some may even have iPod headphones dripping out of their ears when the officers aren’t looking.

If they’re lucky, they may get to practice their people management skills on drivers who, blur like fark and obviously in a hurry, try to argue their way past the roadblocks after failing to see the huge road closure signs.
It’s an exercise in futility because traffic marshals are trained to stand their ground. Nothing gets through without the proper passes and no amount of “do you know who I am?” will make them give ground.

Still, such arguments can spice up an otherwise boring afternoon.

Roadblock duty demands the utmost vigilance by traffic marshals. They have to look out for unauthorised vehicles and look out for one another.

On 4 June 1995, full-time National Serviceman Private Choy Ying Keong, 19, was killed at 4am in the morning by a speeding car at Fort Road. PTE Choy, who served with 40 SAR, was on traffic marshal duty for the first Army Half Marathon.

HQ Armour has never forgotten PTE Choy's loss. This explains the large number of Ford Everest safety vehicles and other security precautions that screen the Mobile Column from harm.

As we approach NDP 2010, the tankees in the picture below will once again help the Mobile Column form up safely and punctually.

CPT Lee said: "They're the unsung heroes who make things happen. Things have finally settled down and we're looking forward to NDP itself."
Road runners: Captain Jason Lee (squatting, sixth from right) with his fellow officers and tankees from 1st Company, 48th Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR). This Singapore Army tank battalion operates Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks, one of which is seen in the background.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the NDP 2010 EXCO for providing the opportunity for Milnuts to learn about the Mobile Column, and to Captain Clarence from HQ Armour who served as our liaison officer, day and night, one rehearsal after another.

Monday, August 2, 2010

NDP 2010: Letter to all 12,000 NDP participants

Gunners, Take Post! Corporal Louis (extreme right) and the crew for Gun Six, manned by gunners from Charlie Battery, 20th Battalion, Singapore Artillery, await their orders to fire the Presidential Gun Salute (PGS). Six 25-pounders were deployed as part of the PGS battery on 31 July 2010 at the War Memorial Park.

Singapore Artillery gunners had fired the last round for the Presidential Gun Salute and were getting ready to stand down for the day.

As they got ready to move out from the War Memorial Park, envelopes were handed out to the gunners. A single, crisp sheet of paper was extracted from each envelope and smiles broke out all round.

Officers and men from Charlie Battery, 20 Battalion Singapore Artillery (20 SA), had just read the letter from Colonel Benedict Lim, the chairman of the National Day Parade 2010 Executive Committee (NDP 2010 EXCO).

Each letter was unique, addressed to each serviceman by COL Benedict and signed off individually. Not a computer-generated facsimile.

"Wow, looks like he signed 12,000 letters," said a 20 SA gunner as the gunners compared letters like students comparing exam results.

Here's Corporal Louis with his letter.


The letter brought a heart-warming touch to the 20 SA gunners, who had been perfecting the Presidential Gun Salute these past months - just as all NDP participants have been doing their part too.

To see C Battery at Combined Rehearsal 2, please click here.

Compare their performance at the NDP Preview, where the 25-pounders are fired. Please click here.[The battery RSM seems to have done away with the clipboard recording the rounds fired.]

It must have been quite a feat for COL Benedict to ink more than 12,000 letters AND address each NDP participant by name. His personal touch was made at a time when there was no let up in the Armour Formation's work schedule. Even with NDP on the horizon, large-scale war games are planned for later this year and Armour battalions have been busy operationalising Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks.

Issuing the letter in the days leading up to Singapore's 45th Birthday will no doubt bolster morale of all participants. Every NDP participant should receive his or her letter this week.

It is instructive to see that as the NDP 2010 machinery moves from raw concepts to rehearsals to the actual event, attention has been given to strengthening the resolve of participants to give their best.

Having seen them perform from CR1, I've little doubt the NDP 2010 team will deliver - and deliver with style.

Here's what COL Benedict said to all NDP participants:


Dear (hand-written name of participant),

12,000 STARS, BUT EVERY STAR COUNTS

I hope that this letter finds you and your family well.

Participating in the National Day Parade is an emotionally uplifting experience for many because once a year, we celebrate our achievements and reinforce social cohesion in a meaningful and fun way.

This year’s NDP will be put together by a 12,000-strong contingent of organisers, participants and support staff. We have toiled for months on end to perfect our moves, our steps, our songs, our drills, our positions, just so that we can deliver the best NDP the nation has ever experienced. The electrifying mood that is created at each combined rehearsal grows in strength. Each combined rehearsal also sees us becoming more confident.

On 9th August, our 12,000-strong team will work to bring the most spectacular parade and show to the nation. I urge all to give of our best so that we will all be proud to be part of this NDP 2010 journey.

On behalf of NDP 2010 EXCO, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation for your commitment and attitude. Because of everyone’s quest to do our best, there will be 12,000 stars on show.

So get ready for THE NDP 2010 – brought to you by 12,000 stars!

“Live Our Dreams, Fly Our Flag”.

Yours Sincerely,

(Signed)
COL BENEDICT LIM
Chief Armour Officer/Comd 25 Div/
Chairman EXCO NDP 2010