Monday, February 28, 2011

Singapore's internal security options: When lethal force might be used

Some of us may feel that riots in Singapore are an unlikely scenario. Singapore has been spared social unrest, but there are elements in Singapore's national security apparatus who train hard to meet and defeat far fetched scenarios.

The red vehicles you see above are used by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) Special Operations Command (SOC). The SOC unit they belong to is known as the Police Task Force (PTF), otherwise known as the riot police.

The vehicle on the right was introduced several years ago to replace the Command Vehicle on the left. The old Command Vehicle dates from a design from pre-Independence days when modified buses were deployed for riot control. The concept successfully quelled riots in Malaya as it gave law enforcement officers a raised platform from which to marshal and deploy riot police against street protests. Riot police from Malaysia's Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) still use Command Vehicles of a similar design as the turret gives them an elevated view of the street scene.

The Command Vehicle includes a turret with an observation deck for four to five PTF officers, a bell for sounding riot police formation changes (continuous rings means "Baton charge!") and a 1234X light box for giving visual cues at night. The flashing "X" signals a baton charge.

Please click on the image to enlarge it and take a close look at the open signboard. This signboard is usually closed up when the PTF troop is deployed for duty. Many of you would be seeing this sign's wording for the first time.

When PTF officers display this in public, it is time to look for cover.

It appears that the old Command Vehicle never deployed the signboard in anger. Had Singapore's riot police wielded the sign against street protestors, such an action would have damaged Singapore's international image.

There may be occasions when brute force is require and where mob violence must be met with terminal intensity. This could include occasions anarchist groups bent on destruction unleash organised mayhem on the city state. Should push come to shove and the safety catches on firearms are put to "fire", Singapore must be prepared to present a credible case for the just use of force to an international audience.

On the home front, the government of the day must fulfill its social contract with Singaporeans by keeping such powerful forces on a tight hold. The sweeping laws in Singapore must never be abused and SPF and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) capabilities must always be employed responsibly.

Now that a new vehicle has been introduced, it is time to reconsider the use of such language (DISPERSE OR WE FIRE) as it may not work in the 21st century for the following reasons:

1. Many Singaporeans have seen or experienced a real riot. Deploying a sign that says "DISPERSE OR WE FIRE" tells the MTV generation that action is going to take place soon. It is a free show worthy of YouTube and may encourage gawkers to hang around the demonstration site, thus negating the crowd dispersal value of this sign. For example, Gen Ys may linger to watch the action just as many Singaporeans slow down to rubber neck a road traffic accident.

2. It is interesting to speculate the concept of operations (CONOPS) that would see PTF officers deploy such a sign. What sort of firearms would be discharged? What are the conditions for a ceasefire? When the PTF warns that it will open fire, does it mean non-lethal or less than lethal munitions such as CS gas, baton rounds or obscurants? Or does this mean single shots from Taurus revolvers, MP-5 submachine guns or is this a warning that the PTF are about to turn the place into a free fire zone?

3. Who will be the target? Angry Singaporeans or disgruntled foreign workers protesting pay and work conditions? Both groups must be handled with extreme care. Any Singaporean government that draws blood from Singaporeans without just cause loses its social contract with the people.

Shooting foreigners opens a new can of worms. For example, no Malaysian general will stand idly by if Malaysians protesting in Singapore are shot dead or wounded by PTF gunfire. Our northern neighbours can be expected to take a decisive stand against political violence and the situation could escalate alarmingly fast.

4. Where are the troops trained to aim at? A head shot for a brain stem kill? Or a shot at the legs to incapacitate? A leg shot would kill a person within six minutes if a femoral artery is ruptured. What does the CONOPS state if protestors are unarmed? This brings to mind the classic response from South African authorities during the height of the apartheid era when they were accused of using live ammunition against blacks and coloureds. They are quoted as saying: "We will fire rubber bullets, when they throw rubber bricks". Classic.

5. The message "DISPERSE OR WE FIRE" is ungrammatical. To be sure, it sounds like the kind of threat Asian bad guys from a James Bond movie or Dr Fu Manchu show would spout. Singaporeans may be deterred if the sign said simply "Disperse Or We Will Arrest U" or "Disperse Or Fine $1K". The Malay version, "Bersurai Jika Tidak Kami Tembak", is roughly translated as "Disperse, if you do not we fire" - not quite a direct translation of the English text.

6. The sign spells a bonanza for any photo journalist covering a riot. Imagine a picture with unarmed demonstrators in the foreground with the sign in Singapore's four official languages in the background. It says it all: that an unarmed crowd is about to be gunned down. Magazines and media agencies will pay good money for such action shots and the price such publicity will exact on Singapore's international image will be high.

7. As unpalatable or unlikely as nightmare scenarios are to most of us, the hard truth is that our security forces train for many eventualities that may threaten to destabilise our fragile city state. One may deem such situations implausible or improbable, but authorities think otherwise.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Singapore Armed Forces quake relief in New Zealand: RSAF C-130 Hercules transport planes airlift supplies for NZ quake survivors

While the rest of Singapore took time off this weekend, Singaporean C-130 pilots, navigators and airmen from the Air Combat Command's Transport Group were hard at work ferrying earthquake survivors and relief supplies in New Zealand.

The current Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) deployment in support of NZ-led quake relief operations is the Singapore air force's largest and longest range deployment since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. To get to New Zealand, RSAF C-130 pilots and airmen flew a single distance trip of around 8,400km from Paya Lebar Air Base (WSAP) to Christchurch (CHC). The C-130s took off from WSAP on Wednesday morning just after 0400hrs Hotel.

Their flight would not have been possible without the RSAF ground support elements who loaded, fuelled and prepared the C-130s for their long flight. RSAF navigators were also instrumental in shepherding the pair of turboprop transports across the vast Australian continent. The flight took them from Paya Lebar Air Base to RAAF Darwin, then to RAAF Richmond and across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

The contribution of the RSAF Air Movement Centre (AMC) and Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Foreign Military Liaison Branch in arranging flight clearances is also acknowledged.

The RSAF contribution was spearheaded by a KC-135R tanker/transport from 112 Squadron.

Early on Wednesday morning, 112 Sqn pilots and airmen flew a KC-135R tanker/transport to Christchurch for quake relief work. A jet-powered sibling of the Boeing 707 airliner, the KC-135R flies faster than the propellor-driven C-130 transports. The KC-135R was thus tasked to fly as pathfinder with the advance party for Singapore's earthquake relief team, which the government of New Zealand accepted for the NZ-led relief operation in South Island's largest city. The team comprises SAF and Singapore Civil Defence Force rescuers.

RSAF C-130s from 122 Squadron are no strangers to New Zealand skies, having participated in the Sky Train series of tactical airlift exercises with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

From time to time, the RNZAF also despatches aircraft to Singapore for war games held under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA).

Well done, 112 Squadron and 122 Squadron. Fly safe.

(Note: MINDEF should really work on its paragraphing. See the chunky news release below.)

SAF C-130s assist in Christchurch earthquake

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore
Posted: 27 Feb 2011, 1650 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

Over the weekend, two Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 military transport aircraft, which arrived in Christchurch on 24 Feb 2011, were dispatched to assist the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to airlift humanitarian aid and supplies to victims of the earthquake. The aircraft have made two supply runs to transport bottled water and welfare supplies, as well as a decontamination team and equipment into Christchurch. The aircraft also evacuated 138 civilians out of Christchurch to Wellington and Auckland. The SAF has made available the two C-130s currently based out of Whenuapai Air Base near Auckland for use by the NZDF as part of the ongoing assistance provided by the SAF for the disaster relief efforts in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This morning, the NZDF Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Richard Rhys Jones visited the SAF team and expressed his appreciation for the SAF's contributions to the rescue operations and disaster relief efforts thus far. Singapore Contingent Commander Colonel Melvyn Ong, who met with LG Jones, said, "The Singapore contingent remains committed to assisting the NZDF with rescue operations and to provide humanitarian aid to the residents whose lives and homes have been affected by the earthquake. We hope that our assistance has gone some way towards relieving the suffering of the earthquake victims."

Since Friday, two medical officers from the SAF team were deployed with the NZDF mobile primary healthcare team to welfare centres in Christchurch where they provided medical assistance to civilians affected by the earthquake. The 116-strong SAF team continues to be deployed to help the NZDF with cordon operations to ensure the safety and security of the residents whose lives and homes have been affected by the earthquake.
- ENDS -

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Libya in crisis - Use of mercenaries to put down political unrest and its relevance to Singapore's internal security

Please vote in the latest poll. The context is a face off between the armed forces and unarmed citizens staging a political protest, as seen in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Yemen in recent weeks. If your officer orders you to shoot, would you do so? Many thanks.

Political unrest in the Middle East is the closest thing to the Domino Effect coming true.

After leadership changes in Tunisia and Egypt, the spotlight is now on Libya with the country gripped by civil unrest. The kingdom of Bahrain also pops up in the media with its on again/off again political violence that pits Bahraini against Bahraini.

In recent weeks, we have seen Egyptian security forces lack the will to shoot unarmed Egyptians. But their Libyan neighbours have hired guns to do the state's dirty work.

African mercenaries are said to be prowling key cities with shoot-to-kill orders. Reports from Libya claim that the brutality of these hired guns has in turn prompted some Libyan soldiers to turn on the regime, fuelling a spiral of violence that is tearing the country apart.

The role of mercenaries in keeping the peace by waging war on civilians appears to have bought the embattled Libyan regime some time. It may die soon, but there is little denying that mercenaries have put the regime on life support.

It would appear that when ordered to open fire on civilians, thinking soldiers do reason that they are not paid or conscripted to shoot the very people they train to defend. The reluctance of citizen soldiers, who are mainly conscripts and reservists, to pull the trigger when ordered to do so will cast doubt on the role of the military during a national uprising.

Mercenaries have no such moral dilemma.

Mercenaries/hired guns/private military contractors are loyal to whoever signs their pay cheque. Many will have no compunction using deadly force against unarmed gatherings. This lack of moral compass and their dependable nature during times of strife will make mercenaries sought after as life insurance by regimes worldwide.

To those familiar with Singapore's national security apparatus, the relevance of the points just raised will be obvious. But more on that in a bit.

The security situation in Bahrain sends mixed signals to defence and security watchers around the globe. Authorities there are said to have unleased military and security forces to gun down Bahrainis. But the response from the United States, which has based its 5th Fleet in the Arab kingdom, has been limited to restrained tongue wagging.

There was no Tiananmen redux after blood flowed in Bahrain. The muted response from Western leaders raises the poser whether a country can get away with shooting its own people so long as the bodycount does not hit a trigger point. And if so, despots would no doubt be keen to know that magic number.

One imagines that if a country is a major destination for American weapons makers and a host to US military forces, then the government of the day can get away with murder political violence.

This brings the discussion back to Singapore.

The city state has enjoyed 45 years of peace, progress and prosperity - this after a tumultous start to nationhood which has been hailed as the Singapore story.

In a worst-case scenario, a freak election result could boot out the government of the day. If Singaporeans unwittingly vote in a rogue government, a would-be despot would find that he (or she as the case may be, since there are many bad tempered and scheming Singaporean women out there) has at his/her disposal a host of instruments to muzzle dissent.

In this nightmare future, the new government of the day would also find that Singapore's importance to the US military presence in the Pacific Rim is a useful trump card. As with the case of Bahrain, this trump card is likely to buy the Republic some breathing space should the rogue government find a need to beat down protestors.

At present, the number of Nepali mercenaries in Singapore outnumbers that of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units on standby as an Alert Red force.

The Nepalis form the Gurkha Contingent - an innocuous sounding set up that counts a brigade strength unit of highly-trained police officers. The GC is equipped with wheeled armour and has its own special forces unit with all the bells and whistles one would expect a SF team to possess.

The hard truth is that if a rogue government takes power some day, Singapore's citizens army will be powerless to stop an oppressive regime from clamping down on dissent using brute force.

Unlike National Service armies in Israel, Sweden and Switzerland, Singaporean NSmen are not allowed to bring their personal fire arms home. This means that a rogue government has little to worry about should it want to impose harsh measures against Singaporeans.

Placed in a similar conundrum as warfighters in the Middle East, SAF officers are unlikely to tolerate a situation should a rogue government order the GC to open fire on civilians. One can imagine a situation where SAF NSFs and NSmen deployed for "civil contingency operations" refuse to obey orders to open fire on unarmed protestors.

Even if the SAF plans to mount a counter strike, the forces at the disposal of Singapore's military can be quickly neutered by the GC. The Gurkhas have superior numbers vis-a-vis SAF standby forces in peacetime and, more importantly, have access to intelligence that alerts the powers-that-be of murmurings of dissent.

The value of intelligence in aiding the fight cannot be under-estimated. Astute information gatherers who can break into the SAF's decision making cycle can rein in the citizen's army before it mobilises for action. The LTIOV for internal security and civil contingency operations is short and the ability of Singapore's internal security apparatus to gather, process and act on time-sensitive intelligence makes it less likely the SAF can hatch a plot under the nose of a rogue government.

Singaporeans who have seen Gurkhas on duty at events such as the Singapore Air Show, Shangri-La Dialogue and high profile international conferences held in Singapore (IMF World Bank Meeting, APEC) will probably agree they stand out as disciplined professionals. Off duty, those you bump into during runs at Mount Vernon or at the East Coast Park are as friendly as they come.

But it is precisely this steel discipline, the fact that they are hard wired to follow orders without question, that worries me.

If the men in white are one day replaced by men in black (i.e. rogue government) who have nefarious intentions, street protests of the kind we have seen in the Middle East are unlikely to result in a change of government. Indeed, civil disobedience in Singapore is likely to be brutally suppressed.

I am unaware of any circuit breaker that could muzzle internal security forces such as the GC so long as Singapore's Prime Minister gets into his Parliament seat by the ballot box.

The elected President might be the people's saviour. But remember that this office was designed more to safeguard the Lion City's massive financial reserves than to hold back the goon squad internal security elements. A People's President may hold another key to the reserves, but he cannot hold back internal security operations and may find himself besieged in the Istana, powerless to intervene.

This nightmare scenario is unlikely to pan out anytime soon and is as likely to come true as the nightmare scenario of Malaysia invading Singapore.

Still, the SAF trains hard to defend Singapore against a full threat spectrum.

And defence aware Singaporean netizens should likewise be mindful of internal security scenarios that could trip up our fragile nation.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Singaporean rescuers in New Zealand: Operation Lion Heart image gallery

"Our team will stay for as long as necessary. This is part of our show of support to the people of New Zealand during this difficult period."
Mr K Shanmugam, Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs and Law.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has shared the following images of its Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team now deployed in Christchurch to assist New Zealand authorities with quake relief operations.

Singapore has sent 55 SCDF officers and four search dogs to New Zealand under the banner of Operations Lion Heart.

The contingent commander for Ops Lion Heart is Lieutenant Colonel Ling Kok Yong, who is Commander of the 1st Civil Defence Division. Based at Alexandra Fire Station, the 1st CD Division provides emergency response coverage for the southern parts of Singapore.

The team includes members of the SCDF Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART), which is the SCDF's crack rescue team, as well as SCDF officers trained, organised and supported for USAR work under demanding conditions.

Mr K Shanmugam, Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs and Law, said on Wednesday: "We are all deeply saddened at the loss of so many lives and the scale of the destruction. We are sending our SCDF officers including the DART Team to New Zealand to help - to rescue lives and help in the post-disaster relief efforts. The SCDF team has the experience, and the necessary equipment for the task. They will work with the NZ authorities and be deployed where assigned or needed."

All images courtesy of HQ SCDF. The assistance of the SCDF Public Affairs Department is appreciated.

Wednesday 23 Feb 2011, Singapore
Paya Lebar Air Base, 0300 Hotel, 23 February 2011
Send off: Mr K Shanmugam, Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs and Law and Assistant Commissioner (AC) Eric Yap, Acting Commissioner SCDF, were at Paya Lebar Air Base to send off the Lion Heart contingent. The SCDF Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, codenamed Operation Lion Heart, were airlifted to New Zealand in two waves.

23 Feb 2011, New Zealand
Life savers: A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team made up of an SCDF rescuer and his search dog comb the debris of a building along Gloucester Street, about 1km west of the SCDF's base camp at Latimer Square in Christchurch. This picture was taken around 7pm, Singapore time, on 23 Feb 2011.

Protect and save: SCDF rescuers use the keen sense of smell of various breeds of dogs to detect signs of life in debris fields.

Four SCDF search dogs are in Christchurch as part of the 55-member SCDF Operation Lion Heart USAR team. The danger of falling debris from aftershocks which rock the city occasionally is evident in this picture.

24 Feb 2011, New Zealand
Hand of friendship: Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr John Key briefly spoke to Lieutenant Colonel Ling Kok Yong, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Commander of the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Contingent during his visit to the Christchurch Art Gallery, which is now converted to a Crisis Management Centre.

The New Zealand PM was briefed on Singapore's contribution to the quake relief effort and met some of the rescuers deployed to NZ.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Singaporean soldiers join NZ-led quake relief effort

SAF Assists NZDF in Christchurch

Command Group Meeting: The commander of the Singapore contingent now in New Zealand, for quake relief operations, Colonel Melvyn Ong, speaking to his team upon arrival in Christchurch. The RSAF KC-135R from 112 Squadron that was instrumental in airlifting Singaporean rescuers to NZ looms in the background. (Photo credit: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore
Posted: 23 Feb 2011, 1640 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

A 116-strong Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team has begun to assist the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and local authorities with rescue operations and providing humanitarian aid to victims of the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand since this morning. The SAF personnel have been deployed to help the NZDF with cordon operations to ensure the safety and security of the residents whose lives and homes have been affected by the earthquake.

Describing the team's efforts, Major Xu Youfeng, Operations Officer Headquarters Guards, said, "We have been working closely with the NZDF and other New Zealand authorities to assist in the conduct of earthquake relief operations since this morning. The NZDF and the locals have been warm and hospitable during our stay here and we are very appreciative of their friendship. We will do the very best we can to help the victims of the earthquake."

The SAF servicemen were participating in a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise, codenamed Lion Walk, with the NZDF when the earthquake happened. Singapore also dispatched a 55-member Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) urban search and rescue team and an SAF command team to assist in the disaster relief efforts early this morning. The Singapore contingent departed from Paya Lebar Air Base in two RSAF C-130s and one KC-135 military aircraft. The KC-135 aircraft arrived in Christchurch this afternoon and will be evacuating civilians out of the earthquake zone to Auckland, New Zealand.

Ops Lion Heart

C-130s brakes off.

Second C-130 wheels up approx 0416H.

Best of luck to Ops Lion Heart.

Ops Lion Heart

C-130s warming up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Operation Lion Heart: Singapore's quake relief forces set to depart for Christchurch, New Zealand

Flash: Operation Lion Heart earthquake relief forces due to takeoff from WSAP 0300 Hotel 23 Feb 2011.

Singapore Armed Forces Guardsmen help New Zealanders with quake relief - more help on the way after NZ gov't gives green light

Singaporean soldiers are now assisting with earthquake relief operations in the New Zealand city of Christchurch and more help will wing its way there from Singapore early tomorrow morning.

As you read this, additional quake relief forces are being prepared at the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) air base at Paya Lebar. They were assigned their mission to New Zealand after the NZ government accepted Singapore's offer to assist with quake relief operations in Christchurch, the largest city in New Zealand's South Island.

Rescuers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will be airlifted to New Zealand aboard one KC-135R from the RSAF's 112 Squadron and two C-130 Hercules transports from 122 SQN.

The airlift will be the RSAF's largest and longest range humanitarian assistance and disaster relief flight since the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. The flight from Singapore to New Zealand is expected to take around 12 hours, with refuelling stops in between for the KC-135R and C-130s.

This demands thorough route planning and weather intelligence by RSAF pilots, navigators and airmen as the airlift will have to cover the vast continent of Australia and the wet gap to New Zealand. Anyone who has taken a C-130 ride for any length of time will realise the challenge of riding cargo class in a Herk on a SIN-NZ air route.

Complicating flight schedules and time-on-target arrival planning is the difference in airspeed between the turbofan-powered KC-135Rs and the slower, propellor-driven C-130s. This may see the contingent arrive in New Zealand at staggered timings, complicating the deployment of the Singaporean rescue force in one wave.

Presently deployed in and around Christchurch are 116 SAF regulars and full-time National Servicemen from Headquarters Guards.

The Guardsmen, who are trained as heliborne infantry, are in New Zealand for the Lion Walk land forces manoeuvres with the New Zealand Defence Force.

Their mercy mission alongside New Zealander rescuers extends a helping hand to residents of Christchurch after a 6.3 magnitude temblor struck around midday on Tuesday (22 Feb'11).

DPM Teo Offers Assistance in Response to the Earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore
Posted: 22 Feb 2011, 2048 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean has conveyed Singapore's condolences and offer of assistance to the New Zealand government and people as they grapple with the devastation of the earthquake in Christchurch.

In a telephone conversation with the New Zealand Minister of Defence Dr Wayne Mapp this afternoon, Mr Teo offered the assistance of 116 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regulars and full-time national servicemen to help with rescue operations and to provide humanitarian aid to victims of the earthquake. The servicemen, from Headquarters Guards, were participating in the annual bilateral exercise in Christchurch, codenamed Exercise Lion Walk, when the earthquake happened. The exercise has since stopped, and all SAF personnel are safe and accounted for.

The New Zealand authorities have accepted Singapore's offers of assistance. Besides the SAF team in New Zealand, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will be flying a 55-member Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) urban search and rescue team and a command team led by Colonel Melvyn Ong, Commander 7 Singapore Infantry Brigade, to assist in the disaster relief efforts. The Singapore contingent will depart from Paya Lebar Airbase in two RSAF C-130s and one KC-135 military aircraft early tomorrow morning.

Last updated on 22 Feb 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Singapore's Defence Budget FY 2011/12

The record amount of $12.08 billion (US$9.5 billion, RM 28.8 billion, Rp 84 trillion) earmarked for Singapore's defence this coming financial year provides much food for thought for Singapore watchers.

For military buffs, the proposed FY2011/12 defence budget is likely to trigger spirited debates over the type and number of war machines on the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) shopping list.

For government critics, the largest slice of the planned Budget provides ammunition to attack the spending plans of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

Singaporean journalists from the mainstream media are likely to churn out arguments defending MINDEF's war chest. And while some reports may build up a case along the lines of "how much is enough", just wait for the "but" in the story for the usual catch phrases and predictable quotes to kick in. *yawns*

With a General Election looming as early as the April-May 2011 timeframe, such arguments better be good.

To skeptical tax payers, painting a doomsday scenario of an underfunded Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) falling victim to threats unseen, unexpected and unfriendly towards Singapore may not sit well with the voting public. They have heard this tune replayed for the past 45 years and the rehashed public relations (PR) script is looking far too predictable.

What Singaporeans need to hear is how the SAF is earning its keep.

And this, in my opinion, is an area MINDEF's spin masters from the Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) have to work hard to excel at. Spending more than S$100,000 on expen$ive media offensives to carpet bomb Singaporeans with Total Defence messages and televised sing sings is not the way to win hearts and minds.

As Singaporean parliamentarians gear up for the Committee of Supply (COS) debates in March'11, one would hope PAFF would be more creative in selling the SAF's story.

The cookie cutter approach to churning out MINDEF/SAF-friendly media reports based on a rigid PR stylebook and predictable punchlines may not work as threat-weary Singaporeans and carefree Gen Ys throw caution to the wind. Add left-leaning Singaporean politicians into the mix, plus sweet talking politicians north and south of the Lion City and PAFF's storyline may border on paranoia.

It would be tragic for the Republic's defence and security posture if money assigned to protect its national interests ends up triggering voter discontent. Restive voters and a complacent attitude towards national security could undermine the political system that pencilled in that amount for the FY2011/12 spending in the first place, thus contributing to the freak election result theory.

Explaining what makes up operating expenditure should take Singaporean readers and viewers behind the fencelines of vital installations. This way, the media can help citizens see and understand what Island Defence is all about. Such operations, carried out 24/7, have kept the SAF at a high operational tempo since the 9/11 attacks a decade ago.

The security threats are real. Question is: Are heartlanders convinced?

Operating expenditure also embraces SAF missions overseas. Singaporeans need to know why sons of Singapore put their lives on the line on foreign soil and on the high seas far from Singapore's shores. I bet many do not realise what is at stake.

At the same time, MINDEF/SAF must show citizen soldiers that the defence system uses its soldiers' time and commitment prudently. It must also demonstrate that the system is financially prudent and astutely managed. Damage is done whenever citizen soldiers see, sense or experience wastage in terms of their time (through administrative cock ups) or poorly executed military training. Stir coffee with any operationally ready national servicemen and each would have his own stock of stories about the SAF's infamous hurry up and wait culture.

The development expenditure side of the story could provide a tantalising glimpse into the SAF's 3rd Generation transformation effort. Many defence systems and platforms take years to develop, and then some, before the new acquisition attains Initial Operational Capability.

A lot of work also takes place behind the scenes so that SAF war machines can meet its specific operational requirements. Such vital work accounts for part of defence spending and tax payers ought to know more about what they are paying for.

In doing so, one need not give MINDEF/SAF censors a heart attack by revealing trade secrets. PAFF can cherry pick the list of retired SAF war machines for compelling examples - and there are many - of MINDEF's concept-to-retirement approach in defence development. Along the way, introduce the defence engineers, scientists and SAF warfighters who were involved in everything from Project Almond to Project Archer to Project Zebra to make the story come alive. This way, even the Singaporean layperson can appreciate the amount of effort in Ops Tech integration needed to sharpen and maintain the SAF's defence readiness.

Such stories would probably amaze young Singaporeans, many of whom know more about foreign soccer teams than their own country's armed forces.

The PAP's critics have already got their defence themed counter arguments prepared. Red button topics include the need for and duration of National Service, as well as the amount of money spent on defence... with no enemy in sight. When told by a natural orator in front of a crowd hungry for political entertainment, such defence themed jibes are likely to stir listeners into a frenzy because they touch on issues every Singaporean son can relate to.

Such political entertainment comes at a price and a dip in yardsticks used to measure fuzzy concepts like commitment to defence (C2D) is the least of the problems MINDEF/SAF planners need to worry about.

The real worry comes when vigilance fatigue extracts a price in blood from Singaporeans - whatever their age, skin colour or political persuasion.

The FY 2011/12 budget estimates for MINDEF/SAF are a done deal. This is the reality of a one party system. The green light to spend will not mark the end of the story. The real action starts when various political parties hit the campaign trail to woo voters to their camp.

Record defence spending may be needed to make Singapore more secure. At the same time, the billions of dollars proposed for MINDEF/SAF make the system more vulnerable to barbs from its critics.

Such is the irony of politics.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Singapore raises defence spending by 5.4% to a record $12.08 billion

News report from the Singapore media. Analysis of the Defence Budget will follow soon.

Budget 2011: S'pore to raise defence budget by 5.4%

From: Channel New Asia
Posted: 18 February 2011 1609 hrs

SINGAPORE : Singapore, which has one of Asia's best-equipped militaries, has raised its national defence budget by 5.4 per cent this year, government data showed on Friday.

The government plans to spend S$12.08 billion (US$9.5 billion) on defence in the 2011 fiscal year, up from S$11.46 billion the year before.

Singapore's navy, army and air force will get S$11.53 billion to buy and maintain military equipment, for the upkeep of camps and for payment of salaries.

The city-state currently has a population of more than five million, a quarter of whom are foreigners.

Singapore's economy grew 14.5 percent in 2010, the fastest in Asia.

The defence budget is about five per cent of gross domestic product.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

National Day Parade 2011 - Singapore Spirit T-shirt design contest launched!

The National Day Parade 2011 Executive Committee (NDP 2011 EXCO) invites you to have a go at designing a T-shirt celebrating NDP 11's "Singapore Spirit".

For more, please visit

The Milnuts are proud to support NDP 11 and look forward to CR1. :-)

Advance & Overcome!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Singapore's Defence: The week ahead

The week ahead includes three items that Singapore watchers may want to pencil into the diaries.

These are:

1. Monday 14 February 2011, Parliament sitting
Debate on Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training safety in the wake of the death of LCP Eugin Wee on 28 January 2011.

2. Tuesday 15 February 2011, 69th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will sound its Public Warning System to mark the occasion.

3. Friday 18 February 2011, Budget for FY 2011/12
Look out for the sum budgeted for the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). This is expected to be another bumper budget for MINDEF as the transformation of the Third Generation SAF advances further and as the SAF takes on operational commitments overseas.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Malaysian military operations that made headline news in the past 10 days

Regardless of whether Malaysian warfighters will fight to protect you or fight against you, there is no denying the amount of newsprint the Malaysian military has generated in the Federation's media in the past 10 days.

Print, online and broadcast media reports of Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia) operations around the globe tell Malaysian defence watchers what the ATM can do in peace and war.

In Operasi Fajar (Operation Dawn, a chapter in the holy Koran), ATM special forces showed how they will deal decisively with suspected sea pirates. No lives were lost on 21 Jan 2011 when a gun battle erupted between the pirate suspects and ATM commandos embarked aboard Bunga Mas 5 and a Fennec flying overwatch.

To those who know how the ATM trains its commandos, the end result of the firefight was a foregone conclusion even before the first shot was fired. The commandos showed tremendous fire discipline in rounding up the suspects – all 18 were captured alive. Had they wanted to, they could have easily shot and disposed of all 18 suspects on the high seas as the firefight took place out of sight of the media and far away from the big shots who work at the Defence Ministry HQ along Jalan Padang Tembak.

I hope Malaysian authorities are keeping track of the weight of the skinny pirate suspects, because the amount of care they are given under the custody of the Federation of Malaysia is likely to see them in a better state of health than before their capture.

In Operasi Piramid (Operation Pyramid), thousands of Malaysians have been airlifted to safety from the Egyptian cities of Cairo and Alexandria amid the chaos of a country on the brink of civil war.

Ops Pyramid may be a non-combatant evacuation operation conducted under benign conditions (i.e. no one is shooting at your forces), but Malaysia's ability to pull it off is a noteworthy counterpoint to those who speak dismissively about its joint force capabilities.

I am willing to bet that the vast majority of Malaysians ferried out by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (TUDM) do not even know the skuadron the TUDM fliers belong to or the type of aircraft fielded by TUDM. But whatever the case, the TUDM personnel executed their assigned mission as they were trained.

With operations unfolding in different theatres, the ATM also launched its third contingent to the Lebanon under MALBATT 3. Malaysia's ability to mount and support operations involving its air, sea and land forces, around the globe and almost simultaneously, says a lot about its potency as an integrated fighting force.

With Singapore’s Defence Budget due to be announced next Friday, budget script writers in Singapore would do well to ponder the ATM’s track record before blowing the trumpet for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

To be sure, the SAF has had an eventful year conducting operations in far flung places like Afghanistan and the Gulf of Aden.

But one would hope the script writers show some humility and restraint, as the SAF’s track record will naturally be compared against those of its neighbours.

Headlines scored by ATM warfighters in the past 10 days point to the Malaysians' ability to plan, execute and support complex, multi Service operations, in different theatres and time zones, at the same time. Ops Fajar and Ops Pyramid are likely to provide discussion points for staff level presentations in years to come, just like the SAF's Ops Flying Eagle is still talked about in the Lion City six years after the tsunami relief mission ended. The net result is likely to be a boost in morale within the ATM's ranks, with greater confidence in its combat and combat service support capabilities reinforcing Malaysia's steadfastness during a period of tension. Such confidence, even if misplaced, will dent the impact of a foreign opponent's deterrent posture. Food for thought for SAF mission planners and those who man the AFCP.

It would be a mistake to cherry pick past snafus, such as the Sauk siege in 2000, puzzling procurement choices and the botched live-fire exercise where a Sea Skua anti-ship missile decided to become a torpedo in March 2006, to talk down the ATM’s combat capabilities.

In my opinion, there is a disturbing among some defence watchers to do so.

Credit should be given when it is earned and the ATM has done so – rather convincingly in my view - in recent days.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Civil Resources in action: Malaysia launches Operasi Piramid (Ops Piramid, Operation Pyramid) to airlift Malaysian citizens from Egypt

Malaysia's largest strategic airlift operation, codenamed Operasi Piramid (Operation Pyramid), is the angel of mercy which is flying Malaysians to safety from troubled Egypt.

Ops Pyramid demonstrates the ability of Malaysian authorities to rapidly plan, mobilise and deploy civil-military resources for a national effort, at short notice, with no rehearsal and at long range.

That the operation is taking place five time zones, some 7,400 km from its main support area in Kuala Lumpur and demands that flight schedules tie in with Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia; ATM) ground support elements in Egypt illustrates the complexity of Ops Pyramid.

The operation's mission planners have on call three TUDM C-130 Hercules medium-lift transports, a pair of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) B-747 jumbos and an AirAsia A330 airliner. These planes are tasked to form an airbridge from Egypt to a forward staging area in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, where the Malaysians will be flown to Kuala Lumpur.

In addition, the MISC vessel, Bunga Mas 5, now on Q ship duty in the Gulf of Aden as pirate bait, has been retasked for Ops Pyramid. The converted merchant ship, with TLDM special forces elements embarked, will stage out of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.

The operation makes a compelling case for anyone who underestimates Malaysia's ability to harness its civil resources. Although it is premature to dub the operation a resounding success, early indicators point to a positive start.

In particular:
1. The Malaysian Defence Ministry (KEMENTAH) and Markas Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (Malaysian Armed Forces HQ) launched Ops Pyramid on 2 Feb'2011 with no funding. Money apparently came from Malaysia's National Security Council.

2. Wisma Putra (Malaysian Foreign Ministry) and TUDM air operations planners were successful in negotiating overflight clearance over eight countries for the C-130s. There were also issues over visas for the flight crew and other bureaucratic hurdles, which were subsequently sorted out.

3. Inclusion of Malaysian Army religious teachers from Kor AGama Angkatan Tentera (KAGAT) and ATM medical personnel to muster and roster Malaysia's citizens for the airlift is a nod to Malaysia's understanding of the principles behind sound civil-military relations (CMR). The air evacuation is a complex task involving a passenger manifest totalling some 10,000-plus Malaysians, drawn to air hubs in Alexandria and Cairo amid traffic chaos and civil disorder in ancient cities which, even in peacetime, are not exactly models for traffic planning. In addition, the Malaysians in Egypt will probably turn up in no particular order and in varying states of distress. The passengers will need to be triaged, with the most pressing cases receiving priority seats, and family/student groups may need to be airlifted as a group to preserve some form of organisational cohesiveness.

4. No less important is the contribution of mission planners in the Saudi city of Jeddah, which is the transit point before Malaysians are flown home. TUDM air operations planners are working round-the-clock to ensure the airbridge can be sustained with fuel, fresh water and flight crews who are adequately rested.

5 It is likely, and prudent considering the volatile situation in Cairo, that Ops Pyramid packs a drawer plan to ratchet up security should central authority collapse in Egypt and airports there descend into chaos.

6. As Ops Pyramid gains traction, the growing number of evacuees in Jeddah demands close coordination to track every single person before assigning them follow-on flights to the Federation. Some 160 ATM personnel from TUDM and the Malaysian Army are forward deployed in Jeddah for this task.

7. The media plan for Ops Pyramid has ensured that Malaysia's Rakyat back home receive timely updates on the mission. National media embedded with the Ops Pyramid team in Jeddah provide on-the-spot coverage that has dominated Malaysian TV coverage during the long Chinese New Year weekend - usually a dry spell for hard news. The professionalism and operational readiness demonstrated by ATM personnel in this unprecedented recall and deployment of Malaysia's civil resources is a great advertisement for KEMENTAH/ATM recruiters.

8. Lessons learnt from Ops Pyramid are likely to reinforce the Federation's ability to plan, mount and support an airbridge between East and West Malaysia using TUDM transports and civilian airliners. That such experience gives ATM planners the ability to surge its forces in either theatre goes without saying. It is worth remembering that long-range TUDM fighters like the SU-30MKMs have the reach and endurance to prevent foreign forces from interfering with Malaysia's airbridge over the South China Sea.

All the best to Ops Pyramid personnel. Ta'at Setia.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Singapore Armed Forces Training Safety Audit 2001 to 2010: A look at training halts

Four lives lost from RSS Courageous in the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) worst training accident in the last decade did not result in a training halt.

SAF training also continued throughout 2009, the year which chalked up a grim tally of 10 lives lost. The year emerged as the SAF’s deadliest year from 2001 to 2010.

But two deaths in as many days in June 2008 spurred the SAF to order a “time out for physical and endurance training”. Both incidents occurred off Singapore island.

The first training incident involved full-time National Serviceman Andrew Cheah Wei Siong. He fainted on 10 June 2008 during a 2km walk on Tekong island, off Singapore’s Changi coastline, and died later in hospital. The very next day, a Republic of Singapore Air Force regular, Officer Cadet Lam Jia Hao Clifton, collapsed while on jungle orientation training several hundred kilometres away in Brunei. OCT Lam received a posthumous promotion to the rank of Second Lieutenant.

The three-day training halt was an extreme measure not taken since early 1997. The training halt that year resulted from two deaths in the FH-2000 chamber explosion in New Zealand in March 1997 and one death in Singapore when infantrymen picked up a Armbrust blind (i.e. an unexploded anti-tank warhead from a misfired Armbrust light anti-tank weapon).

The reactions of the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF to training deaths spaced out over a period of time make a noteworthy comparison with official responses to a spike in fatalities.

As a Singaporean, I personally hope the theory that MINDEF/SAF will react more vigorously to deaths occurring one after another compared to a situation with fatalities spread out over time is never put to the test.

What is clear from the SAF’s fatal accident record is the Singaporean military’s move to call a stop order after training incidents claimed two SAF deaths in two days.

This may be prudent. It may have been done to calm public concerns and disquiet among NSmen. But such a move may also be read by defence analysts from neighbouring countries as proof of the Lion City’s aversion to casualties. If and when these analysts do so, it will whittle away the SAF’s value as a deterrent force.

It is this very point, which stems from the public’s hazy appreciation of when a training halt is called and when a situation does not merit one, that underlines why a clear and credible public communications plan should guide information management of training incidents.

While it is arguable that accidents will occur despite the best policies, leadership (or lack thereof) and good housekeeping, Singaporeans should never desensitize themselves to SAF training accidents and near misses.

The 42 lives that SAF training accidents claimed in the decade just ended comprised the following:

Singapore Army: 26 deaths.
Republic of Singapore Air Force: Eight deaths, including the loss of an F-16C.
Republic of Singapore Navy: Seven deaths, including an Anti-submarine Patrol Vessel beyond economic repair.
MINDEF: One Defence Executive Officer (DXO).
The deadliest accidents:
3 Jan 2003, Four RSN women regulars died after RSS Courageous was rammed by a container vessel.
11 May 2007, Two NSFs killed by a ROCAF F-5F which crashed into a warehouse in Taiwan. A third NSF was flown to Singapore for treatment but died in Singapore more than a week later.

We must not be afraid to ask ourselves how situations could have been prevented or risks mitigated in a military organization that trains more vigorously around the globe than any other armed force in Southeast Asia. At the same time, MINDEF/SAF must gird itself for probing questions from citizens whose commitment to defence (C2D) is a cornerstone to Singapore’s citizen’s armed forces.

Singaporeans have endured news of SAF training deaths for more than four decades already, which is why every training death is one death too many. If Singaporeans appear frustrated hearing the SAF's usual line that it will tighten its already vigilant safety regime, then such sentiments must be seen more as a reflection of the need for MINDEF/SAF to communicate its safety message better/more convincingly than a signal to beat down dissent.

MINDEF/SAF must reach out to rebuild trust and confidence in the national service system proactively and as behave a friend to its citizens. If it cannot even handle public reaction anger to a single training death or spate of safety lapses, I worry for its prospects in a hot war scenario where the likelihood of SAF NSFs dying in large numbers is high.

We can expect astute opponents to capitalise on such a perceived weakness.

And when situations arise which – to the layperson at least – appear to mirror past incidents, MINDEF/SAF should take immediate and proactive measures to address the natural concerns that the organization is not doing enough for its people or was asleep at the switch.

Concomitant with such measures is the need for officialdom to keep its processes transparent and open to public scrutiny. Nothing hurts commitment to defence (C2D) more than an opaque mechanism for reporting training accidents which lags behind what citizen soldiers and Singaporeans are saying about Our Army. In a worst case scenario, netizens may be the first with the news with PAFF following up with a somewhat belated news release. In such situations, MINDEF/SAF essentially surrenders the initiative to news gatherers who can work faster than its own information gathering cycle (i.e. planning-direction-collection-interpretation/analysis-dissemination).

A look at MINDEF/SAF incident reports for the 2001 to 2010 period reveals that the MINDEF website does not mention the deaths of 2LT Daryl Loh in February 2001, CPL Ricky Liu Junhong in November 2007 and the near miss in which a Commando was shot by a Thai farmer in 2010.

It also puzzles me why the loved ones of a full-time National Serviceman injured in the shotgun incident had to speak up before Singaporeans learned that the incident involved more than one soldier.

In addition, Singaporeans had to read a Forum Page letter to learn about the incident where Recruit Liam Kai Zheng fainted at the SAF Ferry Terminal in Changi and died in hospital a day later. The letter was written by REC Liam's father.

These lapses/honest mistakes do not win the hearts and minds of netizens. One would hope that the MINDEF Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF), which has at its disposal various communication channels in cyberspace, will use these tools more effectively in future.

Past is not prologue. But it would be ill-advised and simplistic to credit the SAF’s fatality-free record in 2010 to constant reminders on training safety issues. Was the excellent safety record due to, or independent of, the tighter safety regime?

SAF training halts should serve as a time out to improve the organisation and reinforce troop morale, not a cop out from reporting what Singaporeans need to know about their own armed forces.