Sunday, October 24, 2010

Info Management in cyberspace: Learning to leave well enough alone

There are many instances in the real world when it pays to leave well enough alone.

This approach to life applies to the virtual world too, especially when one mounts an information management campaign in cyberspace against an unknown opponent.

The ongoing case of a website which has been requested goaded coaxed persuaded seduced ordered asked "asked" to change its name by a big name Singaporean entity is, to the best of my knowledge, without precedent.

From the look of things, both sides are unwilling to budge. Both appear to be digging in for a slug fest. So grab your snacks and soda and get ready for a showdown.

Who will blink first is the million dollar question media watchers are asking.

Regardless of the end result (i.e. whether the name change is acceded to or not), I'm willing to bet that the publicity has generated a spike in web traffic for the website.

Most bloggers and webmasters track, compile and dissect traffic patterns with analytics freeware. It is likely that more than a handful of netizens have surfed to the site out of sheer curiosity to see for themselves what the fuss is all about. This spike in unique page views - not the overall numbers count, which could come about from the same people visiting the site repeatedly - is what most bloggers are after. A rise in unique page views shows you have new customers and it's up to the webmaster(s) to keep these eyeballs coming back time and again.

For a website whose contents yearn for attention, having a big name Singapore entity inadvertently direct netizens to its domain name is more than it can ask for. It's an attention-seeker's dream.

One should not confuse the way officialdom has reacted to dissenting voices from the foreign media with this case. Previous cases involving what one could politely term as media management took place in the real world against known entities, with real office addresses and business interests one could hit (like advertisements and newspaper/magazine sales).

The website's case is peculiar because the puppet masters have yet to be conclusively unmasked.

To be sure, nothing in cyberspace is totally anonymous. If you can call in a favour with friends working with tech-savvy organisations, there are ways of ferreting out the website's origin and contributors (i.e. in military-speak, its C2 network).

The challenge here is that most private sector organisations will not be able to receive, and are not supposed to have access to, such cyber prescience. The cyber sleuths who can put together the big picture reside with government bodies and one must be mindful of calibrating the links (real or perceived) between what is afterall a commercial entity with the Big G's all-seeing eye.

With both sides standing firm, the standoff may lead to the following end game:
1. Status quo ante bellum: Website keeps its name, big name entity turns its back and life goes on. Though it could be viewed as a draw, I wouldn't bet against the likelihood of the website trumpeting its success in holding on to its moniker. The big name entity's reputation may take a knock, depending on whether people view its change of heart as being generous or muddle-headed.

2. Change in status quo: Website changes its name, big name entity gets its way. The website could do so and sell its skin dearly. Parallels with a David vs Goliath struggle can readily be drawn and netizens may sympathise with the underdog.

The case also raises this poser: Had the website's contents displayed a consistently pro-Establishment slant, would there be a need for house-keeping in the first place?

With a GE looming on the horizon, the last thing pro-Establishment entities need is to score an own goal by creating a cause celebre from this particular website.

This begs the very real question of how the big name entity will persuade, coerce or coax the website to do its bidding, when it is dealing with a threat unknown. It is like flying into battle without radar, not knowing who one's opponents are, where they lurk, how big is the threat or how extensive their network is.

And if it results in a lawsuit, whose letterbox would one's silks use to drop the bombshell?

The approach towards a single website which shares the same name as the big name entity lays bare local sensitivities towards external barbs and Internet critics. In my view, there's little to fear for business partners or stakeholders confusing one website for the real deal, if one's stakeholders know you well enough.

Had the call been made to leave well enough alone, the website concerned would quite likely continue yapping away at socio-political issues of the day.

So what if it does?

It would continue to have its fair share of followers, but netizens ultimately decide for themselves where their time is best spent while plonked in front of a laptop, computer monitor or how the battery life of their iPhone should best be expended.

Yes, it will do so under the guise of one's esteemed state-of-the-corporation report.

Yes, there are few things more irritating that netizens basking in reflected glory and sharing your spotlight. This is why there are tough laws against trademark infringements and intellectual property theft.

The key thing to remember, looking at the website's response to the name change request, is that the website appears to be challenging the big name entity to fire the next shot. In doing so, the website has nothing to lose as net traffic will only increase the longer this case pans out.

As the impasse continues, media watchers will glean valuable learning points from this landmark case where same name entities face off with one another.

Alea iacta est.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

S'pore Army tank crew tops tri-nation MBT shoot-out

On high alert and with all eyes scanning down range, the Singapore Army Leopard tank crew was out on a hunt.

Their quarry: targets that popped up randomly and at varying distances on an Australian Army live-fire range.

They had done this many times before - on a simulator and only for about half a year. Now, the Singaporean tankees were pitted against regulars from Australia and the United States and fighting without a home ground advantage.

Whenever a target appeared, the tank commander would issue crisp fire control orders, the gunner swivelled the turret towards the kill zone while the loader readied the 120mm gun for a fire mission.

The Singaporean main battle tank crew did well and was named the "Best Tank Crew" in a tri-nation shooting cum manoeuvre exercise that involved Australian and American tankees. This was a credible performance for a MBT team made up of full-time National Servicemen (NSF) led by a young regular.

Senang Diri understands that the NSFs had trained on the Leopard for about six months, which makes their performance against regulars even more noteworthy.

According to the September 2010 issue of the Singapore Army's Army News, the Leopard 2A4 main battle tank crew led by tank commander, Army regular Second Sergeant Andy Hoe, and the NSFs comprising driver, Corporal First Class Lim Hao Jie, tank gunner, Corporal Malcolm Ong, and loader, Lance Corporal Chiang Wen Jun, earned the title of "Best Tank Crew" in a friendly face off for main battle tank crews from Australia, the United States and Singapore. The shoot-out took place in September 2009.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) deployed refurbished M1A1 Abrams while the US was represented by US Marine Corps M1s. Team Singapore comprised tankees from Platoon 7, 3rd Company, 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment, who took to the field in Leopard 2A4 MBTs that had yet to be upgraded to L2-SG standard with heavier armour and improved battle sense.

In the Aussie outback, the X-box generation of full-time National Servicemen proved they were nimble hunters, deadly shooters and strong team players.

Senang Diri understands that NSF gunners from 48 SAR who train on the Leopard tank gunnery simulator display the same hunter-killer reflexes that most teens show when engaged in an intense video game.

Tank commander 2SG Andy and gunner CPL Malcolm were responsible for searching for, identifying, prioritising and engaging the targets quickly and accurately. Driver CFC Hao Jie had to bring his war machine into firing position quickly, guided by and sensing what his tank commander would want to do even before verbal orders were given. Loader LCP Wen Jun's job was to pull 120mm rounds from the ammo racks, load each round rapidly and safely, close the breech and stand aside before the gunner loosed off a shot. The tank crew had to do this over new ground and work with a targeting system they were not familiar with.

Closed up under armour in terra incognito, their guiding principle was the same for every 120mm round they sent downrange: Shoot to kill.

They had to beat the clock and fend off friendly competition from professional warfighters from the ADF and USMC tankees.

Despite their achievements, the NSFs exposure to armour tactics and operational art has just begun. Their two years of compulsory NS merely introduces them to the rudiments of Armoured Battle Group manoeuvre warfare and follow-on training in coming years is needed to hone their battle sense.

Earlier batches of 48 SAR tankees were trained in Germany by instructors from the Bundeswehr panzer school.

CPL Ong told Army News: "Honestly, we didn't do anything special or extraordinary. We just put what we learnt into practice and carried out what we have been training for."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fighting Fit - Singapore aims for higher combat fitness

For Singaporean citizen soldiers who have never seen the top of a chin up bar or the finish line of a 2.4km run with the race clock readout in its low teens, improvements to way the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) trains its people will give them a fighting chance at enhancing their personal and combat fitness.

And here's a little known factoid: Many of the changes were suggested by Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen, also known as reservists in other militaries) themselves. This includes comprehensive feedback collated by the Army Fitness Centre after a trial batch of more than 300 NSmen were put through an improved training programme early this year.

Examined superficially, the fact that NSmen must clear their annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) fitness test within nine months instead of 12 months makes for a sexy newspaper headline and invites cynical barbs. It generates the mental picture of out-of-shape NSmen, already struggling to clear their IPPT within a year, now challenged to do this in the same time it takes for a baby to pop.

This is the sort of over generalisation that robs the media - even mainstream media, mind you - of its credibility. I recently attended a briefing on the new physical training enhancements with a group of NSmen in their 20s, 30s, and NSmen who had long completed their NS liability. Almost to a man, everyone had a better grasp of the advantages of the new system as media articles had skimmed over salient points.

Much thought, consultation with NSmen and, most important of all, professional advice from the Singapore Army's Army Fitness Centre (AFC) resulted in the biggest makeover to the SAF's physical training regime since October 2006.

In that year, the SAF introduced a new acronym to NSmen: IPT which means IPPT Preparatory Training.

The current system will be revamped from 1 April 2011, when the SAF ushers in a fresh work year. At present, NSmen can volunteer for 10 sessions of physical training over five weeks of IPT to whip themselves into shape. The theory is that intensive training will help laggards focus on weak areas and thus eventually clear their fitness test. For instance, an NSman who is weak in the Standing Broad Jump station will be taught exercises that strengthen his lower body strength along with techniques to add centimetres to his jump distance.

Four years on, that SAF has decided to throw the IPT Version 1 out of the window. Data collated over that time showed that NSmen pushed themselves for five weeks, then tended to slack for the remaining period of the year. The peaks and troughs in their stop-start exercise timetable did more harm than good.

The Enhanced IPT (E-IPT) spreads out 10 sessions over nine months instead of five weeks. NSmen will be given Personal Performance Targets to help chart their progress. This demands a shift in the mental model that people have of the Army's physical training sessions because NSmen will be given intermediate targets which are challenging, yet achievable. Once the baseline target is met, AFC fitness specialists will raise the bar - if you excuse the pun - and coach NSmen to achieve even better standards. This isn't some ivory tower theory as trials with the 300-plus NSmen shows it works.

In a reflection of the Army's push to care for its soldiers, professionals at the Army Fitness Centre have invested much effort in using sports science and sports nutrition to craft training timetables for our NSmen.

The revamp of the physical and combat fitness system draws upon more than 40 years of accumulated data from NSmen. Such data represents a rich data mine from which the SAF fitness specialists can learn and pick out trends in physical fitness over the years. No commercial gym in Singapore has anything similar to the mountain of data that the Singaporean military has amassed and the physical training programme the SAF will introduce next year will be custom-made for the Singaporean soldier.

Senang Diri understands that feedback from NSmen who took part in the trial was reassuringly positive. NSmen appreciated the individual attention by AFC specialists and were taught sport science principles and the importance of a healthy diet.

Rather than coughing up a chunk of change for a personal trainer at a commercial gym, the NSmen enjoyed the same benefits for free, courtesy of the Singapore Army.

Putting aside the minority of cynics or pockets of NSmen who spend more mental energy figuring out how to skirt their IPPT than getting themselves to look better, the preponderance of NSmen realised that the helping hand extended by the Singapore Army not only helped them clock better IPPT results, but look good too.

This triggered a boost in self-esteem among the trial batch of NSmen, especially over-fed soldiers who had difficulty seeing their toes while standing. AFC's advice was also a boon to soldiers who want to keep fit but didn't know how to start, how to train or the intensity required. Sports science answered all their questions.

From the standpoint of a defence force geared for deterrence, fitter NSmen will strengthen the operational readiness of SAF units. Fitter soldiers are the basic building block for a armed force to take on the rigours of the modern battlespace, the exertions of operations other than war and the months-long period of tension that could precede a shooting war. Complement improved combat fitness with cutting edge war machines and a will to prevail against adversity and this will build a fighting force that is ready, relevant and decisive.

The Enhanced IPT must be seen alongside changes to the Standard Obstacle Course which mimics the area of operations SAF soldiers may fight in and a yet another acronym recently added to the SAF lexicon. This is VRE, the Vocation-Related Exercises which zero in on specific muscle groups which a serviceman can expect to exert while on duty.

In summary, the SAF's drive towards higher combat fitness is spearheaded by:
1. A active partnership between NSmen to raise their personal fitness levels, which is the subject of this blog post.
2. A revamped Standard Obstacle Course for full-time National Servicemen from October 2010. Please see the earlier post.
3. Introduction of VREs tailored for combat and combat service support units. For example, artillery gunners will go through exercises which strengthen their arm power and upper body strength. Gunners will call upon these muscles when they lift and load 20-plus kilogramme 155mm heavy artillery shells and 120mm mortar bombs.

This brings us back to the perception that NSmen are being forced to get their act together in a shorter time.

Imagine sitting for a 120-minute exam which you were poorly-prepared for (writing a second language essay, Math or Science). If you have a lousy vocabulary or forgot the formulae needed to solve Math and Science questions, having a longer time to complete the test paper is meaningless. No amount of time will help you.

The new system is akin to shortening the exam time to 90 minutes but having a model answer to refer to AND a personal tutor to coach you along. The shortened exam window is newsy. But the bigger news is the presence of the personal tutor and open book examination.

This is the essence of the nine months versus 12 months argument.

If a citizen soldier cannot clear his IPPT under the current system, adding more time does little to help weak performers.

The new system guides soldiers through a personalised training programme over nine months - a training window calibrated to raise fitness levels for NSmen in their 20s and 30s with the demands of their work/family life in mind.

At the end of the nine months, should they fail to clear their IPPT, eight additional sessions spread over three months will kick in. This builds on the nine months partnership because it grants weaker soldiers even more time to train and score meaningful improvements.

To be sure, the new system will itself be subject to rigorous reviews to ensure AFC stays up to the mark as sports science matures. It also calls upon NSmen to be disciplined enough to follow the recommended training programmes and dietary restrictions.

For now at least, this is the best form factor the SAF has come up with in partnership with NSmen who gave feedback over the years and in the early 2010 exercise.

Whatever system the SAF implements in consulatation with NSmen, there will be nay-sayers who disagree.

But going by feedback from the vast majority of NSmen who are serious about getting themselves back in fighting trim, it is clear that the majority of every Singaporean son want to avoid being out-of-shape couch potato.

Indeed, one Singapore Army officer remarked that when he was CO of an infantry battalion, his combat unit achieved a pass rate of more than 90 per cent for the annual fitness test. His is optimistic the Army's three-pronged approach to combat fitness will keep help NSmen score high pass rates.

One only has to look around at professional armies to see how ill-conceived or non-existent combat fitness projects result in regulars who are poor examples of fighting men. Left to their own devices, many older regulars in professional armies fight a losing battle against the battle of the bulge.

In the Lion City, many Singaporeans believe health is wealth. The number of (expensive) private gyms sprouting up all over the city state attest to that fact.

No less importance than rolling out enhanced physical training projects is the need to keep a critical mass of SAF Physical Training Instructors so they are not lured away by the private sector.

Their career path, salary levels and morale all need to be nurtured as closely as the SAF commands them to monitor NSmen fitness levels.

And if health is wealth, the AFC specialists who provide such advice (for free) are, in my view, priceless.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wife of 2M to launch Archer-class submarine

Ms Ivy Lim Swee Lian, the wife of Singapore's Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, is expected to launch the submarine, RSS Swordsman, in the port city of Karlskrona, Sweden, tomorrow (20 Oct'10).

The Singaporean Education minister is now is Sweden for a four-day official visit, according to a news release on the Singapore Ministry of Education website.

Ministry of Education, Singapore
October 16, 2010
Minister Ng Eng Hen to Visit Sweden

Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, will visit Sweden from 17 to 20 October 2010. He will meet Mr Jan Björklund, Swedish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, and sign an agreement to encourage further education collaborations between Sweden and Singapore. Dr Ng will also visit education institutions to learn more about educational developments in Sweden.

Dr Ng will be accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Education.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Singapore Navy's latest submarine set for Wednesday launch

Singapore's latest submarine is due to be launched this Wednesday (20 October 2010) at the Kockums naval yard in Karlskrona, Sweden, according to a media invitation on the warship maker's website.

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) submarine, RSS Swordsman, will be the second of two former Royal Swedish Navy A-17 Vastergotland-class SSKs renewed for the RSN. These were renamed the Archer-class.

The Archer-class boats had their hulls stretched to accommodate an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) unit, which as its name implies, allows the submarine to run submerged for extended periods. This makes AIP subs more difficult to detect compared to diesel-electric subs which need to either surface or extended a snorkel to suck in air for its diesel engines, which are run to recharge the boat's battery packs. When running on batteries, SSKs are difficult to detect because the electric powered propulsion runs silently.

RSS Archer and Swordsman are named after a class of 12 Swift-class Coastal Patrol Craft (CPC) launched in the 1980s.

The Archer-class subs follows the naming convention for the RSN's first subs, also acquired from Sweden, which were also named after CPCs. These boats are RSS Challenger, RSS Conqueror, RSS Centurion and RSS Chieftain.

One additional hull was acquired as a source of spares for the Challenger-class subs.

Some snippets about the RSN's undersea warfare capabilities:
1. Singapore's submarines are the Lion City's most stealthy men-of-war. They are also the oldest, dating back to 1968.

2. The name-ship of the Challenger class was never formally commissioned into Fleet RSN.

3. The submarines with 171 Squadron are not the only RSN assets that can surface and fight submerged.

Friday, October 15, 2010

VOC: A new acronym 3rd Gen SAF soldiers will learn to respect

Changes to the Singapore Army's obstacle course have to be matched by a mindset change by soldiers before they tackle the new test of their combat fitness.

In the past, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters trained to leave their rivals behind whenever they raced through the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC).

With the new obstacle course, every soldier trains to watch out for one another. The watchword is to leave no one behind.

The Singapore Army explained why it revamped the decades-old SOC when it hosted defence enthusiasts to a live-fire experience at Nee Soon Camp on Thursday afternoon.

Colonel Lawrence Teh said the Army revamped the SOC with feedback from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel, drawing key points from officers, warrant officers and specialists (WOSpecs) who had served operational deployments overseas.

The result is a set of 12 obstacles (seven of them new) that form a Vocational Obstacle Course (VOC).

COL Teh said: "The obstacles mimic the operational environment and soldiers will learn to clear these as a team. You carry with you your organic weapons like the SAW, MATADOR (Manportable Anti-Tank Anti-DoOR, a single-shot, shoulder fired anti-armour/bunker buster) and operate and clear the VOC at a team level."

The VOC's man-made obstructions and impediments to movement blend the most physically demanding aspects of the dreaded SOC (first introduced in 1967) with challenges that Singapore's soldiers may face in an urban battlespace. The obstacle course built for the 21st century soldier has one more obstacle compared to the SOC's 11 stations, which begins with a 50m run, the 11 obstacles and a final 600m run to the finish line.

These include vaulting through windows, leaping across stormwater culverts and crawling through the tight confines of underground drain pipes.

The course is designed to mirror three phase in a combat mission:
1. Movement to objective: On leaving the line of departure, the combat team must move speedily and with tactical cohesion.
2. Fighting in the area of operations: This is the obstacle course area which pits the team against obstructions they may face in their projected AO.
3. Post mission phase: This phase forces the team to practise resupply and casualty evacuation.

According to the Singapore Army, the VOC is more than a collection of Fear Factor-type challenges.

A major change entails having the soldiers clear the course with team members they will fight with. For example, signallers who operate in a minimum team of x-number of signallers will clear the VOC together with their man-packed signal sets.

An infantry section of seven soldiers will meet the obstacles with their support weapons like the pair of MATADORs every Singapore Army section is minimally equipped with.

COL Teh said that by clearing the VOC as a team, soldiers will know the strengths and weaknesses of their team members.

To the Operationally Ready National Servicemen who attended the briefing, the benefits of the new VOC became obvious once the rationale was explained.

In the past, each soldier worked to beat the clock.

With the VOC, timings still matter. But a key takeaway for combat teams is learning how best to compensate for their team's weaknesses while exploiting their strengths.

It's a nod to the axiom that forewarned is forearmed. The VOC exposes physical limitations of every soldier - who is afraid of confined spaces, the ones afraid of heights, the agile ones who can leap across ditches in a single bound - before the first shot is fired in anger.

The VOC means that the glory board which feted combat fitness may prove less relevant in coming years. As soldiers work as a team, it is clear that the combat team is only as strong as its weakest member.

An infantry section with fine physical specimens may find itself held up by a single soldier who, damned by claustrophobia, takes longer than usual to crawl through the tunnel.

Singapore Army commanders must take this in their stride. It's far better to learn about the strengths and limits of one's team on a peacetime obstacle course then finding out these facts of life belatedly, under time pressure and under enemy fire.

Come what may, section commanders must find a way to motivate their team members to perform as ordered as the VOC isn't done until the last soldier crosses the line.

COL Teh said: "During operations, if you are  true to your leadership qualities, you will never leave your men behind."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Singapore Army's SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifles pack more punch

Singapore Army soldiers are being armed with variants of the Singapore-made SAR-21 assault rifle which allow warfighters to gun down targets round corners and shoot with greater accuracy.

And more precision firepower is on the way as the 9th Division/Headquarters Infantry sharpens the ability of Singaporean soldiers to reach out and touch battlefield targets with powerful small arms.

Show-and-tell: Captain Alan Lee from the Singapore Army's School of Infantry Weapons updates NSmen on small arms developments spearheaded by the 9th Division/Headquarters Infantry. The NSmen were part of a larger group of defence buffs who were engaged by the Singapore Army's social media outreach effort. (Picture by Milnut xtemujin)

These updates were shared by 9 DIV's School of Infantry Weapons (SIW) this afternoon when it hosted a group of defence buffs who are Operationally-Ready National Servicemen.

On its last legs: M-16 5.56mm rifles with M-203 40mm grenade launchers.

Newly in service: SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifles mated with the M-203 grenade launchers.

A souped-up SAR-21 variant is on the way along with a new Ultimax 100 Mark III Plus.

According to SIW, the SAR-21 with a Round Corner Firing device (one per seven-man infantry section, or as mission requirements dictate) is the weapon to have in urban shootouts.

The iPhone-size device device is the peeping tom's ultimate toy. It allows the viewer to check a blind spot - be it a pile or rubble, a wall or trench lip - while keeping under cover.

The Singapore-made device works by piping the image captured by a camera mounted on the SAR-21's optical sight to a lightweight and rugged liquid crystal display. This allows the soldier to poke his gun barrel around a blind spot to deliver an accurate burst of gunfire, which is a better option than the spray-and-pray tactics used by infantry during urban shootouts.

Tests are also underway to introduce a lighter variant of the rifle while enhancing its factory-zeroed optical sights. Dubbed the SAR-21 Modular Mounting System, this variant will give soldiers the flexibility of adding night sights or powerful scopes to the assault rifle.

First introduced in 1999, the SAR-21 was designed with the citizen army's specific operational requirements in mind. Refinements that SIW shared may be viewed as a mid-life update that gives the 10-year old weapon more punch.

SIW instructors said the new SAR-21 variants, made by Singapore arms maker Singapore Technologies Kinetics, will be complemented by a new variant of the Ultimax 100 SAW (section automatic weapon) with a Picatinny-rail. This ladder of notches is simply a place on the light machinegun where optical sights/laser aiming devices can be fitted to further improve the accuracy of the combat-proven weapon.

One Ultimax 100 variant will be redesigned to make it compatible with infantry who deploy and fight on, and from, armoured vehicles.

It is important to remember that the optical sights on SAR-21s are more than just sighting aids which enable soldiers to deliver swift, precise and lethal small arms fires.

They allow the Singapore Army to rapidly recall, arm and deploy hundreds of thousands of citizen soldiers with an assault rifle than every soldier can use without first setting the calibrating the weapon for each firer - a process known as zeroing the weapon. This process change represents a significant boost to the SAF's defence readiness because less time is needed to mobilise its forces for battle.

At a live fire shoot hosted by SIW, NSmen who had never fired a SAR-21 before did well during a familiarisation shoot at Nee Soon Camp. The NSmen had been trained on the M-16 5.56mm assault rifle. They came from assorted NS battalions from Armour, Infantry, Combat Engineers, Guards (heli-borne infantry) and included one NSman from the Navy and a Police Coast Guard NSman. Some had long hung up their army fatigues as they had completed their NS service.

Less than a hour's instruction and tests was all it took to introduce the NSmen to the SAR-21. They learned how to field strip the assault rifle into its basic components, assembled the weapon and practised immediate action drills which saw them remedy weapon faults ranging from a jammed weapon to a rifle which had emptied its magazine.

Satisfied the NSmen could wield the weapon safely, the NSmen were trooped to the Individual Marksmanship Trainer (IMT) - an airconditioned electronic range which faithfully replicated what the shooters would see beyond their gun barrels later at the 100 metre range.

Think: a shooting game on steroids.

But this one had a serious purpose. The IMT takes the guesswork out of where bullets landed or where soldiers thought their shots had hit, or even if the target had been hit at all. Each "rifle" was an exact replica of a SAR-21 assault rifle, down to the working magazine catch and cocking handle.

The indoor range allowed citizen soldiers to concentrate on the fundamentals of good shooting, without the monkey antics of lesser-equipped armies where range sessions were prime opportunities for sadistic instructors to vent off steam on their hapless charges.

Rain or shine, day and night, a day (or night) at the firing range can take place. Firing sessions from foxholes and from prone position can be repeated till instructors are satisfied the Singaporean soldiers can shoot to kill. As no bullets are fired, cost is saved on bullets expended and from wear and tear on rifle barrels.

As instructors from Certis Cisco fussed over each firer with avuncular attention, with their expert eyes picking out wrong firing stances (snappy fingers, incorrect cradling of the rifle, posture etc), the computer calculated where each shot would have landed with a tell tale red dot on the target. These scores were enlarged and flashed on the screen for all to gawk at.

Test scores were flashed for everyone to see. It was a moment of pride for better shooters and one of embarassment for the cock-eyed, not that the NSmen needed peer pressure to get their act together.

The SAR-21 assault rifles used for the shoot had been warmed up by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel from earlier firing details. A detail is a group of shooters who occupy firing lanes at the range and and engage targets together.

The NSmen started with two magazines of three 5.56mm rounds and four magazines each loaded with six 5.56mm rounds. Firing stances included engaging a Figure 12 target from a foxhole supported, Fig 15 from foxhole supported and Figs 12 and 15 from prone position unsupported.

The three rounds allowed firers to "warm up" before the actual shoot where scores were kept. This practice run using live ammunition was a valuable opportunity for NSmen to line up the cross hairs of their rifle with the targets and gauge where rounds would land.

As the NSmen added more brass to the grass and the mute targets died, lived and died again, the electronic range tallied up the scores of the assorted bunch of NSmen.

Some did well enough to qualify as marksmen, which indicates they missed four out of 24 shots fired at targets 100 metres away.

Not bad for an hour's weapons class for two scratch-together sections of citizen soldiers who, earlier today, were SAR-21 virgins.

Acknowledgements: Senang Diri is grateful to the School of Infantry Weapons for staging the interesting class this afternoon and instructors from Certis Cisco for sharpening dormant combat skills at Nee Soon Camp. More details on the weapon enhancements will be shared when convenient.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trip report: BMTC 24km Route March

SAF Ferry Terminal, Singapore, 1 October 2010: All set for battle and named after ferocious creatures you won’t find at Singapore’s petting zoo, 13 wide awake Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) companies marched to the heart of a sleeping nation.

Every step brought 3,000-plus recruits closer to the end of their BMT; every second brought each company closer to showtime; every heartbeat a compelling statement of commitment to defence from these young warfighters-to-be.

The recruits had walked this 24-km long route before... but only virtually. The men and young women had been talked through their 24km route march journey during Powerpoint briefings by their BMTC instructors. But there was no rehearsal.

On October’s first evening, they did it for real. BMTC recruits knew they were making history. Their Graduation Parade would mark the first time BMTC’s four schools paraded together and their excitement, their collective eagerness to achieve mission success was palpable.

Boots on the ground, songs on their lips and a steady jaunt in their step, the snaking columns which stretched more than one kilometer-long pushed ever closer to Marina Bay. At the Float at Marina Bay – a steel platform the size of a soccer field made up of pontoons floating on a reservoir – recruits would meet their parents and loved ones. The event was formally known as the BMTC Graduation Parade for batch 03/10.

Journey’s end was at the Float.

Journey’s beginning was the SAF Ferry Terminal at Changi Point, a breezy seaside military facility which served Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units bound for Pulau Tekong (Tekong island, Singapore's largest offshore island) for war games.

As each Penguin Boat fast ferry disgorged its load of recruits and BMTC instructors, the massive troop column began to take shape. Section by section, adding up to platoons and full companies, some 3,000-plus recruits were assembled, counted and marched off in four waves.

Looking at the near full-strength recruit companies, it was clear few recruits had chickened out from this venture.

Days before the 24km route march, BMTC instructors fanned out along the route to mark out rest areas, scout potential traffic hazards and plan road crossing spots. They had penciled in contingency plans for rain, Cat 1 lightning risks and other factors that might mess up the landmark event.

The route march was meticulously plotted on Powerpoint charts that tracked the movement of all 13 BMTC companies from start to finish, with detailed tables indicating where everyone should be at a given time.

Despite all that planning, there was no rehearsal on the actual ground and the recruits gave it their all.

At the line of departure at the SAF Ferry Terminal, recruits went through final checks under the watchful eyes of their instructors and safety officers.

“Equipment check!” roared a young recruit picked as the IC (in-charge) for his platoon.

“Equipment check!”, the recruits from Viper Company Platoon 3 chorused.

“Magazine check!”

“Magazine check!” the Vipers repeated, multiple hands slapping plastic magazines on SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifles repeatedly to emphasize the point.

“Gas regulator check! Muzzle check! Reflector check! SOG check!...” The inventory check of easy-to-lose items proceeded apace.

Then the go signal. Chanting marching tunes repeatedly like pagan incantations, the company stirred, boots crunched the ground and off they went. See Viper COY march off here.

At one rest point, Colonel Simon “Excel Through Basics” Lim, Commander BMTC, watched his recruits and instructors with a keen eye. A Singapore Army commando warrant officer, whose name was lost in the darkness, stood silently by the colonel's side. A handful of BMTC officers and WOSpecs orbited COL Lim – the rest had been deployed along the route itself and at the Float – ready to lend a hand.

One wonders what went through COL Lim’s mind as he watched the recruits. If he was worried about training injuries, he didn’t show it – the medical plan was as thorough and professionally-managed as the SAF could arrange. The weather could have been a point of concern. But in hindsight, the route march was executed on a fine night. (At around 0420 Hotel on Saturday 2 Oct’10, the heavens opened up and drenched eastern Singapore with a furious pre-dawn thunderstorm.)

The BMTC companies had many nocturnal denizens of the Lion City for company as they threaded their way through park connectors towards their objective.

These ranged from amorous couples whose touchy feely at East Coast Park was interrupted by columns of recruits on the march, groups of campers crowding round BBQ fires who, curiosity aroused, left chicken wings to burn as they watched and photographed the recruits, and the gay distractions at the carpark near the Fort Road turnpike (and by this I don’t mean happy…).

And who could forget the insomniac exercise nuts – roller bladers, cyclists and assorted runners – who chalked up their mileage in the small hours of the morning, flitting past the companies at an uncomfortably close distance?

Rest stops were arranged every four kilometers. At each rest point, BMTC logisticians pre-positioned jerry cans of fresh water to keep every recruit and BMTC instructor hydrated. This was a troop movement unprecedented in the training school’s history and as Friday crossed into Saturday, few BMTC HQ staff enjoyed a decent night’s rest.

Towards journey’s end, the imposing 10-storey tall Sheares Bridge represented the final obstacle before the recruits could take a breather. The green columns crept steadily up the bridge via the pedestrian paths, recruits marching two by two, coaxed on by instructors and driven by their personal desire to complete the march.

There was scarcely time to soak in the sights of the Singapore’s skyline. Each BMTC company was determined to finish what it started and a steady stream of recruits soon flooded the harbouring area near the Singapore Flyer.

The 13 companies were mere hours away from being disbanded and the recruits who formed each company were keyed up for this final event.

This was no time for shut eye. They had a parade to catch.

Acknowledgements: Senang Diri is grateful to the instructors from the Singapore Army's Basic Military Training Centre for their courtesy and access, to former 03/10 recruits for proving that young ones don't give up easily, and to the Singapore Army's Army Information Centre for making things happen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

BMT 24km route march: Underway

As you read this, more than 3,000 Singapore Army recruits are sweating out their Friday night on a 24-kilometre route march from Changi to Marina Bay.

The marching distance and a graduation parade with Singapore's city skyline as a backdrop is all that separates these recruits from the completion of their Basic Military Training.

Here're some pictures from tonight's outing. More will follow.

Last stop: Marina Bay: Singapore Army recruits from Scorpion Company form up at the SAF Ferry Terminal before their 24-km long journey to the city centre. The recruits will take part in their Basic Military Training Graduation Parade on 2 October 2010 before they embark on further military training.

Ready to go: Basic Military Training instructor (left) Third Sergeant Shaik Qamarul Ariffin, 20, and Recruit Randall Quek, 21, both full-time National Servicemen with Viper Company, Platoon 3, at the Basic Military Training Centre, listen to a final briefing before setting off on a 24-km route march.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Recovery of crashed AH-64D Apache 01-2069

Please take part in the poll on the crash of Redhawk 69.

Source: Desmond Foo, The Straits Times