Thursday, September 30, 2010

S'pore suspends AH-64D Apache, S-70B Seahawk helicopter flights

Two helicopter types have been grounded after a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Apache attack helicopter (01-2069) made a forced landing in Woodlands housing estate this afternoon.

AH-64D Apaches and S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters had their wings clipped. The choppers will stay grounded pending results of what is believed to be simultaneous engine failure on the Apache.

This is believed to be the first time Singapore's air force has grounded two helo types at the same time.

The RSAF has yet to publicise the arrival of the Seahawks. The plane spotting community believes that three such naval helos are in town, though this is just a guesstimate not based on any special info.

The loss of the Apache underscores the danger faced by the RSAF's fleet of six Seahawks, which has no spare capacity to make good attrition and provide a naval helo element for the Navy's six Formidable-class stealth frigates. Please see results of an earlier poll on this blog.

Apart from the grounding, the RSAF is believed to have suspended recruitment advertisements for the time being till news of the forced landing blows over.

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore
Recovery Completed for RSAF Apache AH-64 Helicopter After Emergency Landing

Posted: 30 Sep 2010, 2100 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Apache AH-64 helicopter, which made an emergency landing at an open field between Woodlands Ave 12 and Woodlands Dr 64 at about 1530hrs today, was recovered back to Sembawang Air Base at about 2000hrs this evening. As a precautionary measure, the RSAF will temporarily suspend all training for its fleet of Apache AH-64 helicopters pending the outcome of the investigation. Training for the RSAF's Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters, which have similar engines as the Apache AH-64 helicopters, will also be on hold.

RSAF Apache crash: AAR

Grateful to all plane spotters for the Apache crash tipoff. Am glad that the network that alerted me on the Cessna airspace intrusion is still very much operational.

Next time, we should aim to get the news out within 30 minutes.

First with the news.

RSAF Apache crash: Official statement

RSAF Apache AH-64 Helicopter Makes Emergency Landing

Posted: 30 Sep 2010, 1715 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

A Republic of Singapore Air Force Apache AH-64 helicopter has made an emergency landing at the open field between Woodlands Ave 12 and Woodlands Dr 75 at about 1530hrs today. There has been no damage to civilian property or injury to personnel reported. Investigation is ongoing.

Last updated on 30 Sep 2010

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore
Find this article at:

RSAF Apache crash: Update

Likely that remaining Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Apaches will be grounded pending investigation, possibly Seahawks too as they use the same engine. A wild guess, not based on any special info.

Flash: Apache down

16:52 Hotel update: Believed to be multiple engine failure.

16:40 Hotel update: No Longbow radar.

16:35 Hotel update: Eyeballs on one AH broken tail. Police maintaining security cordon. Pilots are alright.

16:22 Hotel update: Initial reports from plane spotters indicate that a Republic of Singapore Air Force Apache attack helicopter went down around Woodlands Avenue 12 around 15:30 Hotel.

Media incident vehicle observed moving to the area.

Will amplify or remove this post as information is collated.

Many thanks to the Milnuts network for this report.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BMT Graduation Parade: March order

Invitations have gone out, the show venue is booked and there’s no turning back on the Basic Military Training (BMT) Graduation Parade this Saturday.

As preparations shift into high gear, planners are aware that this high-profile event staged with a postcard view of Singapore’s city skyline can earn the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) heaps of positive publicity – or it could swing sentiments the other way.

Officers and men from the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) who think the 24-km route march to the parade venue is all but routine must snap out of this mindset before their recruits march off.

Spectators won’t just crowd the 26,000 seat floating platform at Marina Bay. They will be found all along the marching route and not everyone may react positively to seeing 3,200 recruits marching in close order, chanting for all the world like some Tolkien army off to battle.

If the recruits sing – as they normally do on Tekong – with a full-throated gusto loud enough to wake the dead, would sensitive, sleep-deprived civilians complain to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) as fast as their fingers can punch out their missive on a BlackBerry?

And what songs should BMTC instructors choose from their selection of marching tunes? Army ditties bordering on crass vulgarity or those laced with dark humour about the military life? Some Army songs are best sung out of earshot of civilians and this will be hard to police unless the enthusiasm of song leaders is reined in way before the march.

No route march is complete without song, so the dilemma BMTC instructors may face is how to manage public reaction to a route march of this magnitude.

Toilet stops in Singapore’s urban landscape will also pose a challenge. With 3,200 recruits on the march for some six hours, all that water parade fluid will have to come out some time or other. These recruits can’t turn the streets into an open sewer, as they normally do while outfield on Tekong. Will there be enough portaloos? Will the queue lines stretch a mile long at rest stops, throwing the no-rehearsal route march out of sync and delaying the parade?

Is there a security plan?

One hopes the recruits parade under a dry sky too because there’s no shelter at The Float – the terraced spectator platform at Marina Bay – unlike the spectator gallery normally used for BMTC parades.

As the clock ticks towards H Hour, the parade will demand many last minute preparations from BMTC personnel.

And should unknown unknowns crop up which threaten to unhinge well-laid plans, the SAF will look to the individual soldier's initiative and effectiveness of small unit leadership to bring things on an even keel.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scene setter: BMT Graduation Parade

This weekend, Singapore’s newest soldiers will have their mettle tested in a 24-km route march to the heart of the Lion City.

The march distance is no impediment to the Singapore Army - its combat and combat service support formations routinely train to deploy and fight over long distances.

The fact that some 3,200 Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) recruits will execute a brigade-plus movement to Singapore’s city centre is the challenge.

These recruits will do what no Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) unit has done before. Indeed, the last time armed soldiers moved towards Singapore city on foot and in such numbers was probably during the Japanese Occupation in February 1942.

This time round, every Singaporean son will find a more enthusiastic reception as parents, friends and well-wishers gather for the combined BMTC passing out parade and photograph the landmark occasion in a flurry of camera flashes.

As BMTC troop columns weave their way from Changi Point, at the easternmost tip of Singapore island, to Marina Bay, everything they do will be open to public scrutiny. It takes a leap of faith for BMTC instructors to trust their recruits will do what’s right and demonstrate a level of competence, discipline and professionalism that the SAF expects from its warfighters.

For example, whether the recruits show proper noise discipline at their rest stops or cackle like chickens on a poultry farm will show, to some extent, if they’ve made the jump from excited school kids on an excursion to soldiers who know how to behave during a rest stop.

Complicating the troop movement is the fact that there’s no rehearsal for this route march. Previous generations of recruits performed their route marches on Pulau Tekong island, a training ground sterilised of nosey civilians and well-familiar to BMTC instructors.

To get to the graduation parade, BMTC recruits and instructors will have to organise themselves into four waves of troops, in the correct march order, in the right platoon and company sequence, through housing estates and major highways, with the right amount of medical and logistics support along the way.

And they can’t all take their time.

The passing out parade kicks off on Saturday and the 24-km distance will have to be accomplished well before showtime.

Every recruit who takes part in the route march will be there by choice. How many recruits will be present at the roll call before the march off is open to question.

Those who want to shirk this physical trial and decline the opportunity to prove they are up to the challenge will have ample opportunity to drop out. An imagined ailment, an exaggerated pain, a cooked-up excuse at the BMTC Medical Centre is all it takes for them to step out of line.

The recruit who dreams up creative excuses to chicken out will probably be the same sort of character who goes through life blaming all his misfortunes on society, on fate or circumstance, even on family and friends, without once taking responsibility for his actions.

Recruits who drop out will cement the image that polytechnic students are made of softer stuff than junior college students. This image has been stoked by newspaper reports that link the lack of physical education classes in polytechnics to supposedly poor fitness scores among poly students.

This batch of BMTC recruits is the best judge whether that impression is true or misguided.

At the other end of the spectrum, BMTC instructors must be able to spot recruits with a misplaced gung-ho spirit who want to join the route march even though their personal health does not match their sense of adventure.

Training casualties can be prevented with the right safety first mindset by all BMTC personnel.

On Friday night, as BMTC instructors perform their roll call, under-strength platoons, depleted companies and swollen ranks of the sick parade will make the most vocal statement that three months of Basic Military Training have done nothing for these recruits. BMTC recruits will have to decide for themselves whether or not this scene will materialise.

It is up to BMTC recruits to show that this batch of warfighters-to-be is made of sterner stuff.

Many operational SAF units will be watching how BMTC runs its show.

The SAF has entrusted BMTC - in short, every recruit - to carry out the first ever route march to the city.

Come Friday night, BMTC recruits will get the chance to show they can indeed excel through basics. Urra!

Note: Senang Diri is grateful for the upcoming opportunity to watch BMTC recruits in action as the route march unfolds later this week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

ST Forum clarification

Hi All,
I'd like to clarify that this Straits Times Forum letter isn't mine.

My thoughts on the NSRA have been amply ventilated in earlier posts.


ST Forum
Home > ST Forum > Story

Sep 14, 2010
My Point
Recognise them
'The SAF would not be what it is today if not for the NSmen of yesteryear.'
MR DAVID BOEY: 'I refer to last Wednesday's commentary ('Consider a coherent structure for rewards') by academic Ho Shu Huang, who said the National Service Recognition Award serves as a reminder that the Government and Singaporeans care about national servicemen. But the award falls short in that it is not inclusive - it leaves out former NSmen. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would not be what it is today if not for the NSmen of yesteryear.'

Sunday, September 12, 2010

RSS Tenacious snags power cable in Darwin

The Singaporean Navy stealth frigate Tenacious (FFS 71) is said to have damaged an undersea power cable off Darwin while retrieving its bow anchor in Australia's Northern Territory.

Awaiting official announcement on the Singapore Ministry of Defence webpage.

At the most basic level, the first news release should state simply what happened. Factoids on why it occurred, how it took place, who was in charge are premature and speculative at this juncture, pending a full and thorough investigation. If we wait for all the pieces to fall into place before a statement is issued, that could take weeks. My 2 cents.

Note: Warships at anchor are usually given precise coordinates to drop anchor. At least that's what I observed on my embed aboard USS Russell some years back (my only at-sea embed that didn't see the host vessel come alongside. OFE doesn't count.). The Russell's NO said the anchor detail took immense pride in hitting the exact spot as closely as possible when we arrived in Phuket.

Source: ABC§ion=news

Posted September 12, 2010 12:37:00

Singapore's ministry of defence says it will cooperate with investigations into how one of its navy vessels snagged an underwater power cable in Darwin.

Singapore navy vessel RSS Tenacious was anchored in Darwin Harbour for Exercise Singaroo 2010.

A statement from the defence ministry says the ship was told it was anchored too close to underwater cables and it should relocate.

But when crew members attempted to pull up the anchor it snagged a 66,000-volt power cable and raised it 30 metres from the seabed.

The Power and Water Corporation says it may be some days before the extent of the damage to the cable is known, but has indicated there may be an expensive repair bill.

The harbour master is investigating the incident, which he says happened in a clearly marked "no anchor" area.

- ENDS -

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An Open Letter to PAFF

Men and women of the Public Affairs Directorate,

Only a handful of PAFF officers have attended farewell dinners to honour an outgoing Director Public Affairs/MINDEF Spokesman. The one you are attending is the eight since the DPA post was created in August 1989.

Many more PAFF officers would have seen such a transition had they stayed the course. Many chose not to.

The loss of PAFF branch heads and staff officers is the Ministry of Defence's (MINDEF) loss. This manpower erosion has robbed PAFF of institutional memory and professional expertise at a time when the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) needs cheerleaders to sell its story.

The reasons for these resignations are as varied as the personalities involved. But they all seem to lead to one common denominator. Don't we all know what that is?

As the eight DPA’s term draws to a close, look forward to Monday 13 September 2010. I hear that’s the day when Singapore Army Colonel Desmond Tan Kok Ming will assume operational control of PAFF.

There may be times when defence observers wonder if COL Tan (he turned 40 on Wednesday) will take over a going concern.

Having done some discrete checks, I am quietly confident the ninth DPA will rebuild, recharge and reset PAFF on firm ground.

He will command a directorate with a proud history that began in 1979.

Starting from scratch, PAFF’s influence grew to such an extent that by the early 1990s, briefings by PAFF for the world’s defence journalists counted the who’s who of military journalism. Major titles and distinguished bylines would make time to attend PAFF press conferences to hear, learn more and write about the SAF. The highwater mark were the Asian Aerospace media days hosted by the SAF. The events were so successful that aviation and defence companies would make sure their AA press events did not clash with PAFF’s. In its heyday, there was no question which event would draw a bigger crowd.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, when budgets were tight and time was short, government agencies naturally gravitated towards PAFF as its staff officers were known to deliver.

Why else was the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) tasked with producing the National Day Parade programme when there were other government ministries set up primarily for information management who could have done the job? During NDPs of yesteryear, it was the Defence Ministry's PIONEER magazine team that helmed the programme with organisations like MINCOM taking a back seat. Everyone else looked the other way, content to let someone else do the work. That someone else was PAFF.

Who was left holding the fort when giant star-shaped balloons hung over Orchard Road were deflated by passing traffic? It was PAFF. I know a Media Relations Officer who cried after her wonderful media plan quite literally fell to the ground. One Star after another, set up for the Singapore Jubilee Spectacular in August 1990, fell unceremoniously in Singapore’s tourist belt. What could have become a media fiasco was remedied, the MRO pulled herself together and PAFF did damage control.

A Second Lieutenant back on a term break from Sandhurst was attached to PAFF for the SJS. The young officer saw firsthand the importance of defence information management. Lessons he picked up under the leadership of the DPA at the time saw him in good stead when he commanded Operation Flying Eagle in Meulaboh some 15 years later. That 2LT is today’s BG Tan Chuan-Jin.

When the SAF needed a firm hand to rein in the feral press, PAFF was there. PAFF officers guided newshounds even under demanding circumstances, like the aftermath of the RSS Courageous incident. Even with emotions running high and morale at a low ebb, news updates continued to be filed from and on the sea. These updates kept a concerned nation informed of the search for its lost daughters.

PAFF officers were forced to learn fast. New staff officers, almost invariably female, are usually flummoxed by the mountain of acronyms they have to master when talking to MINDEF/SAF. There was this PAFF MRO who couldn’t tell the difference between an M-16 and F-16, MCV and MCMV when she first arrived. When she was duty officer one day, she rang the RSAF Air Operations Department frantically, holding an incident report of an RPV crash in one hand and shouting down the phone: “But where is the pilot?!”

Then there was another who routinely confused DPO and DS(P) since both Ps stood for “Policy”, confusing both with proposals meant for one another at a time when submissions were sent by hand, fastened by paperclips to cardboard folders.

They had to learn fast because DPAs like COL R Menon didn’t suffer fools. Soon enough, these same PAFF officers were the ones whom senior commanders consulted for media guidance.

DPAs during my time as an NSF earned the respect of officers they led. Submissions sent to Level 5 would cascade down to the PAFF offices on Level 1, peppered with hand-scrawled notes and suggestions. COL Menon’s command of grammar was strong and shoddy submissions came back clear and polished. Those who didn't know or care about differences between English and American spelling - mobilise or mobilize - soon got a lesson in grammar from the good Colonel. Astute staff officers soon learned that these enlightening moments were best avoided and they put in extra effort to polish their submissions before it went upstairs.

Long before CMR was added to MINDEF/SAF’s stylebook, PAFF officers wore out their shoes walking the ground with the SAF’s combat formations. They went all out to reach out to residents before large-scale war games got underway. The outreach by PAFF forged strong ties with the Singaporean community and was a key communications channel for residents to share feedback during the Torrent-series of exercises and other combat manoeuvres.

Good leadership is what PAFF needs as it reflects on the past three years and rebuilds confidence among its staff officers and the trust of its business partners.

The incoming DPA should take heart that there exists a network of people who spent part of their lives with PAFF who are still keenly interested in what goes on at PAFF. The friends of PAFF are determined that the directorate’s work will not unravel.

We will watch PAFF’s progress closely.

Treat us as a friend and the PAFF alumni will represent a precious resource who will run this race with you. We will not allow what we've built to be broken.

Choose to open an account and that account will be settled and repaid with interest. Calibrate this relationship anyway you wish.

To 8's cronies, hear this: housekeeping has begun. Step in line and pull your weight with the rest or prepare to step out of line.

Those who know, will know the system has heard PAFF’s woes loud and clear.

PAFF cannot fail because our defence matters.

An Open Letter to PAFF

Due for release after your Cohesion activity today. Have fun!

Will release after 18:00 hrs timed with the PAFF dinner.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Five days to Liberation Day

Enjoy your farewell dinner tomorrow. Evergreen Room. SAFRA Jurong.

Countdown: Five days.

Fab @ 40

Dear PAFF,
Don't forget to wish your new commander a Happy 40th Birthday!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Singapore Army's new Vocational Obstacle Course

The Balancing Log now has steps at the end and the Low Ramp is a gradual terrace. What happened to the barbed wire coils that used to garnish the sand pit bottom of the Low Ramp?

Hits and Missus

Foreword: This post illustrates difficulties whistleblowers may face and the burden well-intentioned defence personnel may have to bear when commenting on the annual promotions list.

Signaling that an officer may not be ready or suitable for an appointment is neither straightforward or hazard-free. SAF personnel who voice misgivings have to remember that the very act of doing so may invite repercussions.

This post was never intended to cast aspersions on the motives of SAF officers/WOSEs who commented on past promotion cases. As a reader pointed out, they did so because they care for the right things. Please read this post in that light. Thank you.
War talk took a back seat when the Mexican General’s mobile phone buzzed to life. The electronic interloper stopped our conversation in midstream but rewarded me with a better feel of just how close our officers are to the General’s armed forces.

Being the consummate gentleman, the General apologised before checking the SMS - something most Singaporeans don’t ever do. Tsk.

“Wait a moment,” he said, leaving a half-told story of a tank battle in Lebanon hanging in the air as his fingers scrolled down the message.

“Do you know (name of Singapore Armed Forces officer)?”, he asked.

I replied “yes” and he reached over the table – peanut dish and ash tray indicating enemy and friendly positions of the foretold tank battle – and handed me his mobilephone.

From what I recall, the message went something like this: “Dear (name of Mexican), I have been promoted to the rank of Tat Aluf…”

I can’t recall the rest. Even if I did, it would be improper to share private conversation between a General and peasant soldier.

But I can share that I did ask him what on earth a Tat Aluf was.

It meant the rank of Brigadier General in the Mexican’s defence force.

I was happy for the SAF officer as I had known him in a professional capacity for a number of years.

As I would soon find out, not all of the Singaporean Tat Aluf’s peer group officers shared my sentiments. Some even said they would have hung up their uniform for good had the newly-minted Tat Aluf risen to command the Singapore Army.

One of the realities of a hierarchical system populated (or shall we say dominated?) by highly-driven personalities who are the cream of Singapore’s education system is the intense rivalry that takes place for top positions. Scholar officers jockey to be top gun, eager to catch the eye of the system yet not sabotaging their chances for promotion by rocking the boat or stepping out of line too much.

Innovation and initiative are triumph cards in a system where conformity brands one as a follower, not a leader. And leadership of a high order is precisely what the system expects from its generals. So the ambitious have to calibrate their career signature and prominence wisely.

Some who make it truly earn their keep.

And then there are some who squeak through from one ranking and banding exercise to another till one day, they end up at the top of the heap to the utter surprise of some, the disgust of others and the dismay of their hapless underlings.

To be sure, I had no issues with the Tat Aluf in this story. In our many conversations, he had always shown himself competent, well-grounded in the theory and history of war, able to hold his own in numerous what-if scenarios we discussed involving mechanical age warfare. He did strike me as being somewhat flamboyant, but who out there doesn’t have some quirk worth talking about.

His peer group officers felt otherwise. I was therefore surprised when he left the SAF even after he was offered a top post in the system. The aforementioned Tat Aluf had only one position in his sights. And when he didn’t achieve that goal, he left for the private sector.

This episode has two takeaways for me. First, that the promotion system does result in exceptions who are fully competent technically, tactically and scholastically, but lack that X-factor expected of high office holders. If you know what I mean, all well and good as I won’t elaborate.

Second, some SAF officers feel it’s worth their while memorising the rank structure of a certain foreign defence force. Indeed, some even speak the language. I’m not sure why, but I personally doubt committing foreign rank structures to memory will accelerate one’s career trajectory.

As promotion season looms, there’s little doubt many SAF officers will nurse ambitions of higher rank attained by a select few.

By and large, the system seldom disappoints.

But there are exceptions to every rule.

Some of these exceptions disappoint both the system and the staff officers in the directorate they were entrusted to command. And when the sun sets on their reign, the delta measured from the time they took command to the magic handover moment is at best negligible, at worst a few steps backward.

Their legacy is a contribution to the story bank that will be retold at mess functions and private get-togethers, mostly behind their back as the system picks up the wreckage and rebuilds.

Some stories will be retold with relish, some with unrestrained glee but I know of one directorate which will retell its experience with relief.

Six days to Liberation Day

Countdown: Six days.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Seven days to Liberation Day

One week to go.

This post is dedicated to all the brave women who have got their priorities right. You know who you are. :-)

Countdown: Seven days.

P.S. The time stamp recognises a certain office unit, 1-26.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Eight days to Liberation Day

What he started, we will finish.

Countdown: Eight days.

Friday, September 3, 2010

NSRA stokes evergreen concerns on National Service

Evergreen concerns about National Service (NS) haunted the Defence Ministry this week, with people of all political persuasions jumping into the fray.

It is regrettable to see a good idea like the National Service Recognition Award (NSRA) letdown by confusing and contradictory messages from a poorly-conceived defence information management plan (if you can call it that) and an incomplete notion of the NSRA's terms of reference.

And if you follow the issue from print to screen, the gulf in opinions voiced by the mainstream media (MSM) and the blogosphere makes one wonder if the commentators are even on the same planet. Unctuous praise on the one hand, fiery condemnations worthy of a Pyongyang communiqué on the other.

The system has itself to blame for the public relations shambles.

When Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the NSRA last Sunday at the National Day Rally, Singaporeans probably had the award’s $9,000 dollar value ringing in their ears at the end of his speech. Not surprisingly, journalists picked this up and the dollar value made headlines in the MSM the next day.

Here’s where the messaging went askew. It seemed to flip flop between publicising the award’s monetary value as something meaningful (a “substantial sum” gushed one editorial on the $9k sum), to the lofty and philosophical basis for the NSRA.

Then the name calling began. NSRA supporters took potshots at critics by asking if they would give up defending Singapore just because the $9,000 was insufficient. Singaporeans from opposing camps cast aspersions on one another with debates on loyalty, sense of nationhood (New Singaporeans versus the oldies) and money face politics fuelling the biggest debate on NS in recent memory.

Two days after the announcement, the NSRA was variously described as a “token” or “signal” or “gesture” to recognise the sacrifices and contributions of every Singaporean son.

In my opinion, one loses PR and political mileage when financial expediency takes precedence over a fair and even distribution of goodwill.

If the NSRA was conceived to thank NSmen, then the decision to give it to some and not to all speaks volumes of its misfired intent. The pain is keenly felt when Operationally Ready NSmen from the SLR and AR-15 generation learned that the NSRA is merely a token of appreciation – and they aren’t even worth that. It’s like being at a party when gifts are doled out only to some and not all. Ouch.

Indeed, in parceling out the NSRA selectively and hiding behind bureaucratese (government policies are not retroactive), MINDEF’s spin doctors have ignored two of the three key tenets of NS. These are the principles of universality and equity, which means the system is a fair one which treats all equally. The remaining principle is one of national need.

In my opinion, the system should have decided to bite the bullet by granting the NSRA to all NSmen in a one-time show of goodwill. Future generations of NSmen would then earn that $9,000, ermmm, windfall?

This exercise would have cost a heap of tax dollars. But calculations of how much the government pays to sustain the NSRA annually miss the point entirely when they don’t factor in how much the economy benefits from the protection and security rendered by a combat-ready Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team. Furthermore, dare anyone calculate the economic opportunities lost by the 15,000 or so Singaporeans who enlist for full-time NS every year and thus do not have the chance to enter the workforce or further their studies?

The NSRA publicity plan is like a war plan with no point of main effort. To me, it had a fuzzy schwerpunkt.

The award was first described as something that can help pay for one’s education and home. Then it became a signal/token/gesture. Appeals were made to look at the signal it sent to Singaporean citizens who served NS. But wait, this signal is meant for some and not all.

So it’s no surprise that misgivings have been expressed. One of these was published by the Today newspaper today. I can assure you that citizen Mr Chin Wei Chung isn’t alone in feeling this way.

If the NSRA’s $9,000 cash quantum will break the bank, then more thought ought to have been given to the shape, form, timing and intent of the NSRA.

There's already active speculation about how the system will claw back the money NSmen will pocket. Some have talked about a hike in university fees (probably during a term break when undergrads are away), or a spike in the Goods and Services Tax or (please fill in your favourite government charge). When that day comes my fellow Singaporeans, all the goodwill the NSRA generates will disappear faster than a foreign talent fleeing with a foreign passport.

Would a medal for NS have sufficed? What about a personally-signed letter? How about a tee shirt similar to the Finisher tee shirts so coveted by marathon wannabes? People are known to bid ridiculous amounts on certain websites so they can bluff other people that they took part in an certain endurance sport.

Whatever one’s political persuasion, we should remember that from the many opinions raised about the NSRA, the majority of Singaporeans did not turn their back on the need for a strong defence. People did call into question the part New Singaporeans (aka foreign talent) serve in the defence eco-system. Ample opinions have been raised in the new media. Please check Google.

In an ideal world, Singaporeans will understand the philosophical motives behind the NSRA and remain committed to the defence of their city-state even if they don't pocket a single cent. But such philosophical ideals fly over the heads of the average Singaporean because most are unaware of the drawer plans that other countries have for bullying the Lion City by military or non-military means.

In my opinion, these are some reasons why the NSRA has triggered more jeers than cheers.

When I served my full-time NS in MINDEF’s Public Affairs Directorate, we were keenly aware that we had to run faster and work harder and smarter to close the 10-year gap in lost PR guidance. All officers and NSFs from the early 1990s era, when MINDEF appointed its first and second Director Public Affairs/MINDEF Spokesman, knew that defence information management plans could fall flat because some misconceptions about defence are deep-seated. Mind you, that was years before the Internet came along.

In those days, media to PAFF meant local or foreign media, print or broadcast. The permutations were finite. One could rely on the MSM to voice official opinions as people relied on - and trusted - this medium as the main source of news.

Things are vastly different today.

Add three more years of weak leadership to the 10-year gap (which MINDEF is still chasing) and you can well understand how the NSRA publicity plan rapidly lost focus.

Coming from the gaming industry, I know full well there’s no such thing as a sure bet. But I’m willing to punt that we haven’t heard the last of the NSRA.

Anyone game enough to bet against me?

10 days to Liberation Day

Countdown: 10 days.

Hang in there PAFF.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

NSRA: How much is enough?

If you receive a gift with the price tag still stuck on it, there’s a high chance that knowing the gift’s dollar value will cloud your attitude towards your well-wisher.

A highly priced item will probably earn the well-wisher much gratitude whereas a pitifully small number (say $1.99?) could poison even the best friendships. Such is the reality of human nature.

Stretch this analogy to the National Service Recognition Award (NSRA) and you will begin to understand why Singaporeans are jumping to all sorts of conclusions about this “token” for sons of Singapore.

The award, announced by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, is intended “to provide sustained recognition for Singapore citizens who serve National Service (NS)”.

Had the NSRA been a medal, that intention might have been achieved handsomely. And if the medal was something well-designed, it might even be treasured by Operationally-Ready NSmen. During the Second World War, many German soldiers fought and died for the right to wear the Iron Cross because of its prestige value. The medal was enhanced by simple devices such as Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds and soldiers gave their best to elevate themselves from Iron Cross (Second Class) to the first class honours list.

Alas, the NSRA is a monetary award. Its dollar value was highlighted by the mainstream media (MSM) in articles on the new award. Can you blame citizens for missing the forest for the trees and making mental calculations of how much their NS liability is worth?

As forecast in an earlier post, it is precisely this dollar value that has provided ample ammunition for nay-sayers, critics and detractors. And the firing continues unabated. Indeed, if NSmen and Singaporeans could display similar tenacity and creativity when this city-state is under attack, the SAF would be hard to beat.

The system’s cause was not helped by the fact that for more than one-and-a-half days, details on the NSRA were unavailable. In the Internet age where opinions change by nanoseconds, that delay gave netizens a free run of the house.

Put in military terms, the initiative was lost till the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) press conference on Tuesday shed light on the award. By then, damage had been done.

Sunday’s bombshell from PM Lee ought to have been matched by a holding statement of sorts that gave Singaporeans some idea when details would be revealed. Even a simple line such as “Wait for MINDEF to tell you more on Tuesday” would have sufficed to stave off critics.

Instead, we had that teaser of an announcement which the MSM morphed into a $9,000 carrot. Even the platitudes mouthed by hand-picked NSmen to beef up newspaper articles couldn’t venture beyond the obvious. Shallow and no-brainer comments celebrating the windfall added to the ire of Singaporeans who, quite naturally, began to equate the $9,000 award to the price of NS. Who wouldn’t welcome more for their years of service?

Apart from wresting the initiative with a better designed defence information management (DIM) plan, I would have matched this with more persuasive statements on the higher intent of the NSRA.

Bald statements that the offspring of New Citizens will do their part cut no ice with NSFs, NSmen and sons of Singapore who stood on guard in the First Generation and Second Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

It would have helped the NSRA’s cause immensely if hard numbers were added to backstop puff statements.

Are we’re ploughing new ground with theories about how New Citizens (aka foreign talent) will warm towards NS? Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve walked this road before.

I would love to know how many Hong Kong families who migrated to Singapore before the 1997 handover have stayed with us till today. Would it be too much for the system to tell us how many of these ex-HK families have sent their sons through NS? It’s been a good 13 years since 1997. Surely more than a handful have hit the enlistment age?

If the enlistment numbers are strong, then it strengthens the case.
If the numbers are pitiful, then use this fact to address Singaporeans’ fears, concerns and misgivings that the FTs are taking us all for a ride.

If New Citizens are needed for sustained growth and national resilience as birthrates turn south, then tell Singaporeans how the attitudes of new citizens towards national defence will be strengthened. Hopefully, the likes of the unsurpassed MINDEF Public Affairs Directorate would have a reassuring war plan on how this should be done.

More than ever before, defence issues look likely to be a hot topic at the coming General Election.

But while we rant and rave, let’s not give the schemers overseas a chance to catch us blindsided.