Thursday, May 26, 2011

RSAF Open House 2011: Republic of Singapore Air Force Air Combat Command fast jets set to wow visitors with aerial display and mock attacks; aerial display underscores close cooperation with Singapore Army

With a Mechanized Igla anti-aircraft missile fire unit standing by like a guardian, a F-15SG Strike Eagle roars off the main runway at Paya Lebar Airbase.

Visitors to this weekend's RSAF Open House will get to see how the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) deals with aerial intruders with its F-15SG fighter jets and F-16C Fighting Falcon interceptors. The Air Force will also demonstrate a mock attack and show how its Chinook and Super Puma helicopters conduct Joint Operations with the Singapore Army with Apache attack helicopters as escorts.

Star performers include the Army's Red Lions Commando freefall parachute team, a C-130 Hercules and the Singapore Youth Flying Club's new generation DA40 trainer planes.

There will be two Aerial Displays on Saturday and Sunday. The 30-minute displays are set to take place at 1100hrs and 1630hrs.

* The morning show faces east. Aircraft and helicopters may be backlit as camera lenses will face the morning sun.

* Ear plugs are essential. Trust me on this one.

* The 5,000 seat spectator gallery will fill up 30 minutes or more before showtime. Shutterbugs should grab their seats early as they fill up fast.

RSAF Open House 2011: Republic of Singapore Air Force UAV Command unveils new Bronco variant for UAV command and control; armoured vehicle enhances survivability and mobility

The Air Force's eyes in the sky are controlled from expert hands in this Singapore-made armoured vehicle.

The Generic Ground Control Station fielded by the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) UAV Command is the nerve centre for controlling flights by camera-equipped drones known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

The UAVs are used to observe the area of operations and can also direct artillery fire against enemy positions. Post-strike BDA can also be performed by the UAVs as they orbit the battlespace.

Mounting the GCS onto a Bronco allows UAV Command to keep pace with Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) manoeuvre units. The swimming capabilities of the Bronco give UAV Command more mobility over the battlefield as the vehicle can swim across rivers and move over soft terrain that would bog down wheeled vehicles.

Check out the Generic Ground Control Station - this vehicle is crying out for a sexier name - at the RSAF Open House this weekend at Paya Lebar Airbase.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

RSAF Open House 2011: Ready for takeoff: Military aircraft "flights to nowhere" by Republic of Singapore Air Force Participation Command await lucky visitors to the RSAF Open House

Flights aboard Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) transport planes and Chinook helicopters (above) are among the highlights at this weekend's Air Force Open House.

The flights are free but will have to be won by ballot, with visitors picking the type of aircraft they hope to board before casting their ballot. Each winning ticket allows the winner to bring a friend along for the ride.

RSAF C-130 Hercules and Fokker 50 Utility aircraft will ferry visitors from Paya Lebar Airbase on "flights to nowhere" over the Singapore Strait before heading back to PLA.

A seat aboard the Chinook heavylift helicopter gives visitors a firsthand experience of how helicopter pilots and aircrewmen earn their pay.

The Chinooks will make high speed runs at a low but safe flight level over the Casuarina trees along Pasir Ris beach and the coastline off Sengkang before cutting across Singapore island for an aerial excursion over the city skyline.

Sea sights: Aerial view of Sembawang Wharves as the Chinook traces Singapore's northern shoreline. It was a treat flying past Senoko power station below the top of the chimney stacks. 

The flight rewards lucky visitors with an aerial perspective of Singapore which beats the view from Marina Bay Sands' Skypark.

Free, good fun. You must be Looney* not to enjoy this Chinook flight.

* Thank you Looney and friends for the ride. :-)

Show tip: Many visitors who try their luck for the rides do not stay around for the lucky draw results. Do lurk around the lucky draw when winners are announced as tickets will be drawn till all seats on the aircraft are filled.
Wear proper footwear as visitors in slippers and high heels will not be allowed to fly. More rules and regulations can be found on the RSAF Open House'11 website here.

RSAF Open House 2011: Republic of Singapore Air Force Air Defence & Operations Command (ADOC) Spyder anti-aircraft missiles begin defending our skies; to replace ageing Rapier SAMs

First views of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) two-in-one Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) fire unit called the Spyder, which you can see this weekend (28 and 29 May 2011) at the RSAF Open House at Paya Lebar Airbase.

This weapon adds to the air defence shield over and around Singapore island provided by the RSAF's Air Defence & Operations Command (ADOC).

ADOC defends our skies by maintaining a 24/7 watch of everything that flies over and around Singapore island. Its network of ground-based sensors detect, identify, track objects and marry the track data from ground sensors with data picked up by G-550 Airborne Early Warning planes - essentially flying radar stations - to form a comprehensive air situation picture of the airspace around the city state.

This blend of RSAF air and ground sensors, warplanes and air defence weapon systems - the sensors and shooters - forms Singapore's integrated air defence network.

At the sharp end are RSAF fighter aircraft whose operational ranges, flying performance and weapons load ensure enemy aircraft are engaged as far from Singapore as possible. All RSAF fighters can be refuelled in the air by KC-135R Stratotanker or KC-130B/H Hercules aerial refuelling tankers, giving Singapore's air force added reach and endurance during operations. Thanks to the aerial refuelling tankers, RSAF fighter aircraft can hit an enemy afar, day or night, or stay in the air for a longer time.

Defending Our Skies
Enemy intruders will have to fight their way through successive rings of combat air patrols flown by twin-seat F-15SG Strike Eagles, single-seat F-16C Fighting Falcons and single-seat F-5S Tiger IIs before coming into the range rings of ADOC SAMs.

If enemy aircraft manage to get through the fighter aircraft, the Improved Hawk SAMs, which can hit targets 40km away (the distance from Tuas to Changi Point) will swing into action, followed by the 7-km range Rapier missiles.

ADOC's I-Hawks benefit from an upgrade that has allowed fire units to reduce the number of its vulnerable radars. At the same time, the upgrade increases the system's survivability by drawing realtime target information from fibre optic cables, which are impossible to detect using Wild Weasel warplanes tasked with SEAD/DEAD missions.

It is important to note that ADOC's ground-based air defences can be bolstered by the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Aster 15 missiles, should the Navy's Formidable-class stealth warships add their firepower to the air defence of Singapore. The stealth ships can also provide a radar picket service out at sea, thus giving greater clarity to the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) awareness of the threat situation.

It is also timely to acknowledge the part served by Singapore's defence engineers in tailoring weapon platforms and systems to ADOC's specific operational requirements. These include entities such as the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), the city state's authority on weapons technology and arms acquisitions, and DSO National Laboratories.

Once over Singapore island or the Singapore Army's area of operations, aircraft can be engaged by manportable air defence systems (MANPADS) such as the laser-guided RBS-70 or heat-seeking missiles like the Mistral and Igla missiles fitted on quad launcher Mechanized Igla and the twin tube Salvo Launch Unit. This mix of laser-guided and heat-seeking missile complicates an enemy's attempts at deceiving RSAF air defence weapons as each missile is programmed to hunt its aerial quarry using different technology.

ADOC's last ditch defence is mounted by batteries of radar-directed Oerlikon 35mm anti-aircraft guns, which are designed to throw up a wall of 35mm shells in the path of low flying enemy planes.

No air defence is leak proof. But Singapore's hefty investments in its integrated air defence network has given the city state one of the world's most heavily-defended skies with more SAMs and warplanes per square km than any other country in the world. Such firepower forces a potential aggressor to assemble, train and deploy an immense overmatch in capabilities before an air campaign as a failure to knockout the RSAF will inevitably trigger a deadly autostrike.

When all else fails, key installations in Singapore and the RSAF's airbase infrastructure are hardened and designed to absorb the weight of attack from a (presumably depleted) enemy air strike or rocket artillery attack.

The latest addition to the integrated air defence network is the Spyder, devised by Israeli weapons maker Rafael to counter new and emerging aerial threats.

Introducing the Spyder
The Spyder, whose name means Surface-to-air PYthon 5 and DERby (Spyder), is an anti-aircraft system comprising two missile types designed to kill aircraft, helicopters and missiles up to 15 kilometres away.

Spyders will arm ADOC's 165 Squadron, which is due to swop its ageing Rapier SAMs with the longer range, more agile and jam-resistant aircraft killers.

The blunt-nosed Python 5 missile homes in on the heat from the engine(s) of its target before detonating its warhead when the missile flies close enough to the target to cause grievious hurt.

The Derby uses the radar mounted in its sharp nose to track, engage and kill enemy fliers.

Both missiles are highly agile and are designed for combat even when the enemy attempts to deceive the missiles using infrared flares (which mimic the heat given off by an engine) or by blinding the radar by jamming its signals.

Any combination of the Python 5 or Derby can be mounted on the RSAF Spyder fire unit. The missiles can be launched in all weather conditions in any direction around the fire unit.

The truck-mounted SAM is among the highlights of the RSAF Open House. To find out more, please click on the poster below.

Check Six!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Which office window offers you a view like this?

Find out tomorrow at 1800 hours Hotel.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Indonesian Navy's KRI 593 Banda Aceh shows how it wins the "hearts and minds" of Singaporeans

Changi Naval Base, 19 May 2011: We arrived onboard the Indonesian warship unannounced, smack in the middle of their makan siang (lunch) and in a platoon-size group.

Duty personnel aboard KRI 593 Banda Aceh did a headcount and herded the Singaporean NS men to the quarter deck. An officer soon appeared and took charge of the situation immediately.

IFF: TNI Captain Marvil (facing camera, centre) and duty personnel aboard KRI 593 Banda Aceh establish the identities of the small group of 20 Singaporean NSmen who boarded the Indonesian LPD unannounced at lunch time. CPT Marvil, Gunnery Officer aboard Banda Aceh, led the military enthusiasts on a ship tour. Much to the surprise of the NSmen, he later apologised for the awkward questions when we boarded. He was an exemplary host and a model example of naval diplomacy personified as he left his Singaporean visitors - many of whom had never come face-to-face with the TNI before - with a positive impression of the TNI's professionalism and mission readiness.  

After some initial probing ("Where is your RSN liaison?"), TNI gunnery officer Captain Marvil realised we were just warship nuts and brought us on a somewhat comprehensive tour of the brand new LPD.

He gave a running commentary in good English of the LCM and two pilot boats in the LPD's tank deck, led the group to the tank deck where he fielded questions from NSmen from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Armour units, then up to the galley (yes, the crew were still having lunch), meeting room, wardroom and the bridge.

The KRI Banda Aceh was berthed at Changi Naval Base this past week as part of the Indonesian military's contribution to the IMDEX 2011 naval show (18 to 20 May 2011).

By the end of the visit to Banda Aceh, we had a better idea of the LPD's role in protecting the Indonesian archipelago and in anti-piracy sweeps in the Indian Ocean when paired with a Sigma-class corvette.

The LPD's crew had justifiable reason to be proud of their warship. It was kept spick and span, the hangar deck was hand-polished for an evening reception for the Singaporean Navy and build quality was commendable*. The ship also cherished its pioneer batch and had a plaque engraved with the names of all TNI personnel involved with the ship's construction and ICIT.(*Having been aboard many men-of-war, you soon get to know what a poorly-built ship looks like.)

The officer's apology at the end of the trip was as unexpected as it was sincere. CPT Marvil was sorry for the initial hesitation in welcoming the group and wanted to make amends.

And the Singaporean NSmens' unscripted and near simultaneous responses said it all. His apology triggered a chorus of assurance from his visitors that no apology was necessary. Score one point for the TNI.

Back on Singapore soil, across we went to see the stealth warship our tax dollars helped pay for.

Again, smack in the middle of lunch time and we were told to come back at 1400H. It was a 45-minute wait, which was no big deal.

With time to kill, we asked if we could photograph the Seahawk on the helideck and the answer was no. There was no attempt to compromise, exercise some flexibility or engage the group.

Sure, the ship would be open to visitors 45 minutes later. It was not an arduous wait and visits aboard warships are always a privilege, not a birthright.

Lunch interruptus: Singaporean NSmen watch as foreign VIPs are piped aboard RSS Stalwart. Minutes earlier, the NSmen had been turned away from the ship and were told the frigate could not host visitors as the crew was having their lunch.

As the NSmen gathered for an impromptu conference pierside, along came some VIP visitors who were whisked up the gangway and piped aboard with stiff formality.

At that point in time, almost everyone walked away disappointed as we realised the ship had smoked us.

We would have much preferred a straight and direct answer from the warship's crew - that the ship was closed because VIPs were on the way.

And if the message was late in coming - because VIPs being VIPs tend to show up at awkward moments - then one gets the impression that the 3G-ness of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) does not include keeping the door bitch sentry plugged into the info loop.

One also wonders why the RSN was so unprepared to host visitors throughout IMDEX show times. Would staggered meal times have thrown the ship's duty roster for the day out of whack? If other ships can do so, was it so hard to plan for and execute? If the TNI could exercise some initiative to foreign guests, was it so difficult for the best little navy in the world to show even a smidgen of hospitality?

Sure, we could have waited. But after being brought onto an emotional high by KRI Banda Aceh's warm and friendly welcome, the NSmen were given a sharp reality check by their own navy.

We felt this ship wasn't worth the wait and we trooped off and left Changi Naval Base.

Do not expect NSmen to suffer fools. After 45 years of nation-building, thinking soldiers expect and are entitled to seeing competent and confident officers and ratings in the RSN. Singaporeans will prefer a no bullshit, direct answer rather than an excuse that cannot hold water. Dancing around an issue sinks the Navy's credibility and makes one wonder how the organisation is really run.

With the SAF hardwired with this sort of mindset, it will clearly take more than headline-making calls for the civil service to open up and engage Singaporeans before the SAF walks the talk.

And if the RSN feels enthusiastic visitors are not worth cultivating, it may one day realise belatedly that preaching to the converted is a much preferred option to the hard task of engaging the apathetic.

Why bother wasting tax payers money on expensive public relations campaigns to shore up commitment to defence when straight talk and commonsense would do the job?

And you wonder why the Singapore government's attempts to "engage" Singaporeans (engage = a new buzzword) fail so miserably.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

After the battle: PAPies conduct media relations after-action review

Votes are not the only things counted during the 2011 General Elections (GE) in Singapore.

Newspaper stories, pictures and editorials are being tallied and scrutinised by People's Action Party (PAP) cadres as the party conducts an after-action review of media coverage it received during the lead-up to GE 2011.

Opinions are already being formed of certain journalists from the mainstream media and editorial slants allegedly taken by certain newsrooms.

Whether this will eventually result in editors being summoned to Cavenagh Road for another one of those Istana briefings remains to be seen. But some of the initial findings on editorial calls are off-the-mark and betray an astonishing lack of awareness of the newsroom beat system and how pages are laid out, pictures selected.

In the bigger scheme of things, these blinkered views of the media are disturbing because they point to a lost opportunity for the party to transform itself afresh.

It is indeed interesting to hear that in wards that faced a close tussle, the MIW seem keen to identify and nail down newspaper stories with a pro-Opposition bias. The analysis for some wards goes back several months and encompasses stories that journalists wrote for PAP candidates and other political parties.

The amount of editorial space accorded to the MIW, the prominence of the article, writing style and choice of phrases used are among the items examined. The MIW also consider whether the pieces published were straight news reportage or whether the writer had tried to weave in commentary into a news story - which is something journalists should never do for news stories.

As MPs sift through their media clippings, they must not to jump to conclusions and blackball a journalist for simply doing his/her job. The spotlight has already been cast on some bylines...

It is only too easy to blame one's dip in vote share to poisonous penmanship or picture selections that capture your opponent's better side or crouch.(If only 90C journalists were so influential!)

MIW MPs should also be wary of what is whispered into their ears. They must judge for themselves why certain media opportunities did not turn out according to plan.(von Moltke's view that "No plan survives first contact with the Enemy" is a saying I hold dear and is worth mulling over.)

Especially in cases where the scribes being scrutinised have no right of reply, it is only too easy to allow guesswork, conjecture and character assassination to lead to half-baked theories that would collapse under more intellectual rigour.

The terms of reference for the media study must be crystal clear. What is the objective of the media forensics? Is it designed to find scapegoats? Is the party on a witch hunt for poison pens? Or is the party serious about reformasi transforming itself to right missteps in government policy formulation and execution?

A good media relations strategy cuts both ways.

This means journalists must be streetwise enough to realise what is being said behind their back and take proactive steps to correct misconceptions and build trust and goodwill. Journalists must value their beat and make that extra effort to win the trust of their newsmakers or, if empathy is impossible, at least win the respect of the newsmaker that the journalist - though damned for being hard-nosed - is at least a professional one who writes fairly and intelligently.

Whether or not the MIW succeed in pulling the mainstream media back onto the straight and narrow might prove irrelevant during the next GE. The social media will grow in reach and influence, giving voters more options five years from now to gather news and form their own opinions.

The funny thing about the MIW's concerns about editorial integrity (i.e. concerns over a pro-Opposition bias) is this: Speak to Opposition supporters and they will say exactly the opposite about coverage their favourite parties received from the MSM. Go figure.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

After the battle: Public relations and sentiment management hits and misses in the General Election 2011 campaign

Reality check? The lead letter in The Straits Times Forum Page published on Wednesday 11 May 2011 is an egregious example of how some observers choose to sugar coat bitter pills with skewed intellectual arguments. If the party is sincere about improving its performance in the next Geneal Elections, it needs a no BS assessment of GE 2011.

The letter you see above underscores and emphasizes the uphill task the People's Action Party (PAP) faces when analysing results of the 7 May 2011 General Elections (GE).

If the PAP continues to be in denial or indifferent to public opinion, the party will find itself in trouble at the next GE. The party's information management war plan to win the hearts and minds of voters badly needs revamping because its current playbook is sadly dated and public relations (PR) advice either poorly-conceived or poorly-received (assuming its PR gurus were competent to begin with).

The writer points out that the GE result was "actually a step backward for the opposition" and builds his case on the fact that the new Parliament will have "only one elected opposition party". Such logic is delusional.

By the writer's definition of opposition success, he would probably remain indifferent so long as the absolute number of opposition parties in Parliament remains low. Hardwired with such logic, the Workers' Party's (WP) achievement in raising its presence in Parliament from one to six seats failed to impress him.

The writer also points out the WP's defeat in various seats, including Joo Chiat single member constituency where I live. It would be timely for the writer to reflect on the sharp swing vote against the PAP in the past two GEs from sandwich class households who populate Joo Chiat. Had Mr Chan Soo Sen stood in Joo Chiat against the WP candidate, I have little doubt the PAP incumbent would have been ousted as Mr Chan is not as popular as people make him out to be. If you do some spadework, you will find out why.

Internet chatter
A political party that ushered a resource-deprived city state from Third World to First, in one generation and against all odds, should be adored by its people. Sadly, net chatter does not mirror such sentiments. Indeed, the opposite holds true in the virtual world.

GE 2011 shows there is a clear disjoint between bureaucratic efficiency and smooth running of Singapore's economy and essential services (i.e. the hardware of a country) with the heartware so vital in enlisting and maintaining the support of people for government policies - both popular and unpopular (like COEs).

The public relations posture of PAP candidates during the lead up GE 2011 seemed puzzlingly behind the curve, almost amateurish and it paid the price after votes were tallied across the island.

In my opinion, the botched PR strategy saw the PAP surrender the initiative to the Opposition at critical junctures during the campaign season. It made the party voice reactive, belatedly so in some of the cases narrated below, lending credence to the heartlanders' view that this is a party with its head so high in the clouds it cannot relate to ground sentiments.

Such bungling cost it votes, particularly when MIW candidates were fielded against better and opponents who are more net savvy.

At a time when rally speeches can be tweeted or blogged about before the speaker's bum returns to his/her seat, the PAP's lack of adroitness in the blogosphere revealed its soft underbelly. Its opponents realised this and went in for the kill. Just look at how anti-PAP sentiments dominate the blogosphere.

The old playbook's style of demolishing opponents also hurt the party's public image in cases where PAP candidates unwittingly fed public concerns that the party had grown arrogant, materialistic, overbearing and out of touch with ground sentiments.

The impact of social media during GE 2011 worries party strategists because netizens made good their pledge to voice their unhappiness at the ballot box. Party advocates were lone voices, flamed and isolated in a hostile virtual Singapore.

So while the MIW go into belly-gazing mode and reflect on GE 2011, it is vital that the so-called 4th Generation leaders pick up the right information management lessons from their 3rd Gen mentors and grassroots advisors.

Hits and misses

2 April 2011: Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong made a poor judgement call with his handling of running mate, Tin Pei Ling, who went into radio silence after being flamed by netizens. By letting TPL go incommunicado from the time the flaming began, the party surrendered the initiative at a time when aggressive proactive counter action was needed.

Mr Goh's off colour joke that TPL was "traumatised" sent netizens into overdrive as pro- and anti-PAP elements speculated on TPL's state of mind. Just when the party could have engaged heartlanders with real issues that bugged them, the PAP made front page news on 3 April's edition of The Sunday Times for all the wrong reasons. Column inches in a prime spot in a newspaper were wasted, repeat wasted, on TPL. The fact that TPL still needed SM Goh to defend her emphasized her ineffectiveness in reaching out to netizens and young Singaporeans, and reinforced the view that she lacked maturity.

18 April: "Servants, not masters". I like Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's reminder to party activists that the party is here to serve all Singaporeans.

With Confucius-like firmness, PM Lee said: "Never forget we are servants of the people, not their masters. Always maintain a sense of humility and service. Never lord it over the people we are looking after and serving. Be as strict with ourselves as we are with others, because that is the way for us to win respect and support, and for the PAP to remain the People's choice to govern Singapore."

This is good. There are not "buts" though I ask that you scroll down to the entries for 25 April.

22 April: The headline of this longish personality profile on a new PAP candidate, Mr Lawrence Wong, is unfortunate. I bet that the vast majority of readers did not read the story from start to end but simply glanced at the headline before flipping the page. Seen out of context, the headline reminded netizens why alternative voices are vital in the new Parliament. It was a free advertisement for a notion Opposition voices had been seeding among heartlanders: That PAP candidates are Yes Men.

23 April: Please read the headline of the report above. Now look at the one below (dated 1 May 2011).

The backflip is apparent. The party compromises its goody two shoes image and hurts its credibility with such antics. This is politics? Perhaps so. But do not forget you are appealing to voters to support people they can trust. After the financial fiascos at the National Kidney Foundation and Ren Ci Charity, the Opposition's strategy of harping on the security of CPF money plays on people's unvoiced or unheard fears that similar monkey business could ruin their retirement savings.

The rule of thumb for effective public communications is never to hem yourself in with words that will come back to haunt you.

25 April: It was a bad call by the PAP's Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team to turn the spotlight on a video that supposedly exposed the "gay agenda" of Opposition candidate, Dr Vincent Wijeysingha. The political schadenfreude strengthened the prevailing view that the party had grown arrogant and - more tellingly -  that such arrogance needed to be put in its place. So this was, in my opinion, an own goal.

The Holland-Bukit Timah PAP candidates showed poor understanding of social media after they let the genie out of the bottle and found they had whipped up unexpected vitriol against their party.

It was naive of Dr Vivian Balakrishnan to expect net fury to die down just because he said people should not talk about the issue anymore.

Few people would have argued with Dr VivianB if Dr VincentW's intentions were truly nefarious. But when netizens examined the net footage and compiled a transcript of the forum Dr VincentW, it emerged that it was verbal jousting with a good dose of humour that could put many stand-up comics like Kumar out of business.

The tomfoolery of the PAP's Holland-Bukit Timah team was regrettable. It was sneaky and tarred PM Lee's "servants, not masters" reminder which attempted to coax voters to understand that the party was taking pains to win the confidence of voters with a sound and logical manifesto. In retrospect, the noise and fury generated by the videogate saga drowned out PM Lee's earlier message.

Remember this: the shelf life of a media talking point is around two weeks (which is why netizens are no longer interested in the SAF maid saga. They have moved on). By opening the account just a week before Polling Day, the PAP's Holland-Bukit Timah team ensured the topic would remain hot during the campaign season. Pity.

30 April: In the last week of April, media watchers would have seen SM Goh renege his decision not to comment on Opposition outside Marine Parade and endured the videogate saga.

Along came Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who with characteristic frankness told Aljunied residents what sort of future they faced if they voted against the PAP. MM Lee said: "Well, it's their choice. And I'd say they have five years to live and repent." *ouch*

Ample views have been aired on this matter. As far as own goals go, this one nearly killed the goalkeeper.

3 May: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's public apology was astute, albeit belated. It is true that it is never too late to say sorry, but a closer appreciation of ground sentiments over cost of living, foreign talent and other bread and butter issues would have allowed superior information management to swing into action.

In my opinion, the PAP does not lack early warning indicators. But the system has shown its disdain/disrespect for people who have dared to question its authority. It seems intolerant of dissent and must always have the last word. Case in point: Look at how academic Dr Bilveer Singh was severely chastised for remarking that some Singaporeans live a hand-to-mouth existence. (Even my Forum Page letter questioning SAF training safety in 2009 got me on the wrong side of MINDEF's Director Public Affairs, who took it upon himself to mete out childish punitive measures.)

The desire for political glasnost after PM Lee's mea culpa should not open the doors to shoddy research (not saying that Dr Singh's research was shoddy but he withdrew his remarks after the firestorm) nor should we kowtow to crackpot opinions and political opportunists.

We dig in, hold out ground when we need to be firm. But the Establishment must be more receptive to alternative viewpoints without the kneejerk reaction of demolishing critics and blackballing individuals by adding unkind remarks to their P-file.

Above all, it needs to weed the field of smarmy grassroots who tell their political bosses things they want to hear or volunteer to help the MIW for pecuniary interests (example: lucrative town council contracts).

4 May: The deluge of questions during PM Lee Hsien Loong's webchat demonstrated convincingly that politicial awareness is thriving in the blogosphere. But coming so late in the campaign, the webchat was political theatre - nice for headline news but in reality, contributing little to the relief valve for pent-up frustrations.

5 May: Foreign Minister George Yeo, who led the PAP's Aljunied GRC team, pledged to help transform the party and acknowledged "widespread unhappiness". To me, this was a turning point in the campaign as it showed the battle for Aljunied was over before the first vote had been cast.

It was a watershed because the MIW had been put on the defensive so close to Polling Day. With social media abuzz with chit chat over voting preferences, heartlanders (i.e. voters) were operating in as near a situation of knowing voting patterns ahead of time as one could hope for.

While Singaporeans seemed uneasy with voting the MIW out of power, making Aljunied the WP's point of main effort eased fears among voters of a freak election result, thus neutralising the MIW's freak election result messages. In simple language, greater clarity of the election battlespace allowed the Opposition to elevate Aljunied into a national issue while MIW Aljunied candidates were going on endlessly about 5 cents/10 cents municipal issues - midges, lift upgrading, covered walkways, yellow boxes for traffic junctions etc.

The Opposition was quick to jump onto these belated attempt at fence mending. The apologies by PM Lee and calls by George Yeo to transform the party worked to bolster the WP's call for alternative voices.

Too little, too late. The PAP's poor record at making room for alternative voices alarmed people with the possibility they may wake up on 8 May with no one to challenge the party.

When then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong called a GE in 1991 and led the PAP to its worst defeat since independence, the poor showing was blamed on Goh's folksy and consultative style of leadership. So the party swung the other way after Goh said he would be a little deaf to people's voices.

Fast forward 20 years to GE 2011. The PAP now blames its loss of six seats (plus two near misses - Joo Chiat and Potong Pasir) to its failure to listen to the people.

How ironic? This is politics.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

After the battle: Aljunied GRC

The MIW have lost the hearts and minds battle in Aljunied and a new management will soon move into town councils there.

The General Elections 2011 demonstrated convincingly that Singaporean netizens walked the talk after they aired a slew of personal, municipal and national level grouses on the Internet.

Their votes have spoken. So what's next?

Cabinet transformation
High on the agenda for the People's Action Party (PAP), which has returned to power, is the selection of a new Minister for Foreign Affairs. Few in Cabinet can match the philosophical musings (eg, comparing Singapore's destiny with the rise and fall of Venice) and appreciation of historical moments as outgoing minister George Yeo.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) will lose two political appointees. They are Mr George Yeo Yong-Boon and Mr Zainal Abidin Rasheed, its Senior Minister of State. Both stood as PAP candidates in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency and lost their seats to the Workers' Party (WP).

Bottomline: It is possible that PM Lee may double hat as MFA minister while the rest of the new Cabinet gets into steady state mode. Some young ministers showed an unfortunate lack of sensitivity during the hustings and this is likely to count against them, especially for the MFA slot.

Four defence and security issues that Singaporeans will have to watch closely include:
* The Points of Agreement (POA) that will lead to the land swap with Malaysia.
* The sea border negotiations with Indonesia and Malaysia. Unresolved for years, this has given Indonesian Navy warships a good excuse to wander into what Singapore deems as Singapore Territorial Waters (STW) with passive agressive challenges using high speed runs and blinding searchlights at night.
*  The Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with Indonesia. The deadlock in talks is holding back closer and more meaningful defence relations with Indonesia. The Siabu Air Weapons Range in Pekan Baru is slowly but steadily deteriorating in Sumatra's harsh tropical weather and is just one casaulty of the failure to renew the DCA.
* To a lesser but no less important degree, the MFA needs a minister who can fend off pressure for Singapore to contribute Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops for assorted missions overseas. The United States, in particular, has been knocking on doors of its partners around the globe to lessen the burden on US forces. The unspoken line is for coalition partners to spread the load as a larger pool of international participation reduces the odds of an American ending up as a war casualty.

The outgoing Aljunied team
The PAP has never had a better opportunity to prove to the electorate that its multi-million dollar ministerial salaries are calculated because its candidates are worth it. Don't get me wrong. This is not a snarky remark.

For years, ministerial pay has been a hot topic which has been dissed by the MIW.

Singaporeans will watch closely where Mr Yeo's career path will lead to. Whatever the case, he is unlikely to require a handout or remain unemployed for long.

If he is given a job with a state-linked company as a consolation prize, this saving grace will only fuel unhappiness that minister's cannot hold their own in the private sector. By this I mean the real private sector, not privatised companies that are government-owned as it would lend credence to the view that a hidden hand helped nudge Mr Yeo into his new job.

The spotlight will also fall on the future for Mr Zainal and Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and 2nd Minister for Finance and Transport.

Will HR professionals and talent scouts beat a path to these candidates with (multi-million dollar) job offers in hand? This is a delicate matter which the MIW must weigh carefully because a botched job placement plan will erode its morale high ground when debating ministerial pay.

Bottomline: I reckon Mr Yeo will be retained as a consultant to the MFA. Other government departments (OGDs) such as the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) have done so for outstanding individuals and I expect MFA to do the same.

The future for Aljunied residents
The five-year window for Aljunied residents to repent starts today.

If the PAP is to distill lessons from the 7 May'11 GE for the top takeaway, it should be this: The playbook is outdated.

Any attempt to make Aljunied residents pay and pay for their decision at the ballot box will backfire. In the social media era, every resident has a voice and any reprisals will be magnified as residents cry foul online and offline.

While the old regime's playbook may have recommended a scorched earth policy by withdrawing and leaving hollowed out town councils, this tactic will not work today.

The change in management will test grassroots volunteers. Will they withdraw from the community they live in and therefore send a signal that their time and sweat is allied more to party colours and not a genuine desire to serve the residents? Will MIW grassroots stay in place with a passive aggressive attitude to disrupt, delay and destroy goodwill between Aljunied residents and the new town councils?

With citizen journalists on the prowl, any attempt to do so make backfire, with unintended results for the party.

This isn't a case of letting Aljunied residents have their cake and eat it. The WP team will have to shoulder the burden, voters will have to live with their decisions but the children, young adults of non-voting age and elderly must not be part of the collateral damage in the politicking.

If the WP fails to deliver, there is always another GE for people to decide.

Bottomline: No scorched earth. A proper handing/taking over should be executed. Incoming town council members should be briefed on potential trouble spots and institutional memory must be handed over. Grassroots volunteers and leaders should place community interests above party loyalty.

To leave Aljunied residents hung out to dry smears the MIW's image that they are there for the people.

This would only serve to give its critics more ammunition to blast the PAPies when the next GE comes around by 2016.

Next: After the battle: Hits and misses in GE 2011 by various political parties that engaged the mainstream and social media

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Election Watch: The day after tomorrow

The day after the General Elections should be a day of national unity, regardless of election outcome.

How you vote on Saturday will decide if the MIW or Opposition parties end up licking their wounds.

If the People’s Action Party (PAP) is returned to power, one would hope the party will accept its fresh mandate with humility and respect.

The public image that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong projects is one of a leader who genuinely cares for Singaporeans and works with their interests at heart.

This image is demolished whenever high handed statements that chide or belittle Singaporeans are rammed down the throats of voters. Words like “repent” and “slum” spring to mind. Older Singaporeans who have not voted for some time are not amused. They worked hard to build up Singapore during the city state's formative years and do not take well to such paternalistic talk.

Many will see the inside of a polling booth for the first time in their lives tomorrow, so one hopes today's cooling off period will allow them to think through what's at stake before marking the "X".

Add Generation Y young voters, who have that independent streak typical of today's youngsters, add grassroots members who tell their masters what they want to hear and you can well understand why the upper echelons of the PAP have been caught blindsided.

We have met MPs with poor EQ before. Just read about this sorry episode here.

Whether real or perceived, the PAP’s arrogant image could upset voters who genuinely fear the lack of Opposition voices will let the PAP run roughshod over public feelings.

This view is reinforced by words such as “repent” because the combination of arrogance and perceived demi-god status in multi racial, multi religious Singapore is a potent one. Are you surprised Singaporeans in and outside Aljunied GRC were taken aback by that call to repent? People seem sick and tired of the old punchlines and the MIW may learn the hard way tomorrow the price of scoring own goals.

We are an educated society. But many English speaking Singaporeans lack the literary flair to appreciate the nuances or subtleties of word play. Not to make too much of this matter but can you imagine how non English speaking heartlanders would react after the vernacular press translated the "repent" quote for Malay, Mandarin and Tamil newspapers? Pause for thought, please.

To defence aware Singaporeans, the amount of power the post 7 May government will wield makes it imperative that the people in power govern with a heart and a level head and a pledge to follow not just the rule of law, but the spirit of the law. Draconian laws that govern free speech, spell out what is an illegal gathering, legislation that allows detention without trial and police powers that allow the PM to quash dissent are instruments that could be abused by a rogue party.

If the PAP scoops all seats, except for Hougang, it should have the foresight to engage netizens before the next GE swings round.

With PM Lee making the effort to connect with Singaporeans, the party must walk the talk and ensure it reaches out to different and dissenting points of view if it really believes it is the best only option to shape Singapore's future.

If the MIW are serious about giving Singaporeans a voice, it should not let problems fester only to see problems bubble to the surface come election time.

Above all, Singaporeans will watch closely how the MIW behave after the polls.
* Will it settle scores with opponents and all those who dared to speak up against it?
* Will mopping up operations extend to social media that gave netizens a play by play account of the hustings (such as Yahoo News)?
* How will voters be made to repent?

The PAP must be prepared to say how it will repay the trust of voters if they take the PM's apology at face value and give him another five years to get the party transformed.

Talk is cheap. The price of your vote is priceless.

As the saying goes, people get the government they deserve.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Election Watch: A look at social media issues at half-time of the GE 2011 campaign

This time next week, Singaporeans will have elected a new government to look after their day-to-day needs and oversee Singapore's national destiny.

Results of the 7 May'11 General Elections (GE) will show if Internet chatter will indeed translate into votes won or lost. Whichever way the vote margin swings, the GE will be a watershed for social media watchers.

The day after:
Scenario 1: People's Action Party (PAP) increases its lead
If one uses comments in the blogosphere as a popularity index, one might be surprised the ruling PAP has governed Singapore for so long.

Comments on a multitude of Internet sites in the lead up to GE 2011 have been overwhelmingly anti-PAP. When all is said and done, if such animosity does not bleed the PAP's vote margin, this is likely to convince party strategists to ignore, downplay or disengage from Internet chatter in future.

It is not inconceivable that the same netizens who go crazy with anonymous flaming against the MIW end up casting a vote for the PAP. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of comments found on blogs and discussion groups are penned anonymously. Few netizens dare to fly their colours from the mast and state who they are. Why?

Perhaps Singaporeans, being champion Complain Kings and Queens, draw Dutch courage from the anonymity of the blogosphere and use it as a medium to vent and condemn, and that's it.

There are also many civil servants and voters (albeit from the older generation), who earnestly believe each vote can be tracked by authorities. This fear prompts them to vote for the ruling party, even though their heart tells them otherwise.

Should this scenario unfold, PAP strategists are likely to discredit net chatter as GE 2011 would have proven that all the huff and puff does not hurt its re-election prospects.

Scenario 2: PAP loses its lead
What would make PAP strategists really sit up and take notice is a big win for the Opposition. In my opinion, a big win could be defined as the failure to retake the Workers' Party-held Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC) and loss of five parliament seats in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), as well as a dip in overall vote share for the PAP.

If such a scenario pans out, social media pundits will have ample material on the Internet to dissect and analyse to get a better sense of voter sentiments and social media trends.

In particular, voting patterns of young voters from the Gen Y or Strawberry Generation will continue to fascinate PAP and Opposition strategists.

Hits and misses during the campaign period will also be looked at in after action reports drafted by all political parties - one would expect credible parties to carry this out.

The PAP already knows from net chatter the extent of voter unhappiness. It must be blind, deaf and dumb if it does not already realise the ground is not sweet in cyberspace. The loss of Aljunied GRC and failure to make inroads in opposition strongholds like Hougang would prove that unhappy voters have no qualms demonstrating their displeasure at the ballot box with an endorsement for the other team.

This could force PAP strategists to rethink how the party should engage and cultivate the young. In this regard, the PAP appears at a loss. It does not seem to know how to engage and work with young voters and the politically apathetic.

At half-time of the GE 2011 campaign season, the PAP's young opinion shaper, Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) has proven to be a non-starter in the blogosphere.

"Our own activists have to be active out there in the social media realm," Ms Tin, 27, said on 28 March 2011.

"Currently it is quite dominated by some of the netizens who are more pro-Opposition or anti-establishment from the bulk of comments that we always see.

"One (of the things) we can do is for our young activists to engage netizens on serious topics and issues to find out more of what they are concerned with and try to put forth our point of view."

Alas, Ms Tin subsequently found herself at the centre of an Internet storm.

In my opinion, Ms Tin's mistakes early in the hustings point to a poor understanding of social media. The subsequent damage control measures, which include taking certain images offline after they had gone viral, were futile and misguided. Worse is the period of silence when heavyweight PAP candidates had to step in to defend Ms Tin.

The sanitisation of Facebook comments on pages purportedly supporting PAP candidates signals the FB member is unprepared or unready for dissenting views. Such a tactic may have to be looked at should netizens put their money where their mouth is and follow through their threats on polling day.

It remains to be seen if voters will be prepared to forgive or overlook remarks by PAP leaders that have struck some Singaporeans as arrogant and out of touch with the ground. These include phrases such as "repent" (a questionable choice as it has religious undertones) and a media statement by PAP's Holland-Bukit Timah team that some people found homophobic and sneaky - traits that are inconsonant with a political party that built Singapore from nothing. A confident party need not resort to such tactics.

At half-time, the PAP has brought big picture issues such as the sandwich class, jobs, housing and cost of living back into focus. It has also acknowledged that some Singaporeans do want an alternative voice in parliament. Indeed, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong remarked this evening that the party would see if Singaporeans "could have their cake and eat it" by voting PAP and having alternative voices to air different points of view.

Is it too late? With 20:20 hindsight, perhaps such ideas and assurance could have been floated months earlier.

Cleaning house
Apart from serious soul-searching should voters give the PAP a wake up call, one should also monitor how the party will clean house after GE 2011.

The number of government scholars and former civil servants who turned their backs on the PAP to join the Opposition is likely to be a cause for worry. Party stalwarts might wonder who's next?

If this leads to a thorough review of current civil servants and armed forces officers to weed out the politically unreliable, this will eventually populate the system with individuals who tell the party what it wants to hear. In the long run, such cherry picking would be akin to inbreeding and would lead to predictable results in future elections as the gulf between party rhetoric and public sentiments widens.

The PAP should ensure its IFF is working well so it will not cast out supporters and friendlies as it purges the system of potential turncoats. If its house cleaning is ruthless, such a purge will only swell the ranks of voters who will turn their backs on the party (some for good).

Remember that for GE 2011, the PAP still has a powerful voice within its ranks to admonish or rally voters to its cause. That voice may be absent in GE 2016 and beyond.

With a more mature Internet and growing segment of Gen Y voters, it will be hard to hold back the tide.

Please tune in this weekend for the GE 2011 scorecard.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Election Watch: Singapore's National Solidarity Party (NSP) manifesto for GE2011 proposes alternative defence strategy

With seductive logic words, Singaporean opposition group the National Solidarity Party (NSP) has called for a cut in National Service (NS) to 15 months - down from the current 24 months.

This line from the NSP's manifesto is a likely crowd pleaser as few full-time NSmen or Operationally Ready NSmen (i.e. reservists) would argue with that. It is a dangerous line to argue because a botched approach to defending Singapore poisons whatever the NSP intends to roll out in terms of education, healthcare, economic affairs and so on.

Indonesian and Malaysian defence watchers are also likely to give it a hearty thumbs up, as the NSP's populist view will weaken Singapore's defence posture.

The ones who will suffer from the NSP's nonsensical policies are Singaporeans who will be left with no insurance the day the NSP's approach to defence planning strips Singapore of its deterrent edge.

NSP = No Sensible Policies... but who is the Enemy?
Paragraphs 23 to 26 of the NSP's manifesto state that the NSP would downsize the Singapore Army and "restructure the Army to conduct counter terrorism operations during peacetime".

With terrorism the threat du jour, this line addresses a present day danger to Singaporean lives and property while leaving the 40km long by 20km wide Lion City vulnerable to diplomatic pressure.

Such pressure was applied during the visit by Israeli President Chaim Herzog during his state visit to the Lion City in 1986. His visit infuriated Malaysians even though the Israeli head of state did not step foot in Malaysia. Some Malaysians staged demonstrations (more lively than NSP election rallies) with chants of "Potong! Potong!" - nothing to do with opposition stronghold Potong Pasir but more to do with cutting the water supply pipelines from Johor to Singapore. Potong is the Malay word for cut. The city state relied on raw water from the Johor river for about 60 per cent of its fresh water supply and has since reduced its dependency on Malaysian water by sourcing water incountry.

We felt this in August 1991 during an exercise called Malindo Darsasa 3AB when Indonesian and Malaysian warfighters practised a scenario that keeps Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) planners awake at night. The war games that year saw Indonesian and Malaysian military joining forces for operations against Singapore.

During the exercise, airborne troops from both countries staged an airdrop on 9 August 1991 - Singapore's National Day - with the drop zone some 20km away from Woodlands. If the timing of this airdrop wasn't provocative enough, the codename for the exercise left little to the imagination of the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF. It was called Pukul Habis, a Malay phrase for Total Wipe Out.

In more recent times, disagreements between Singapore and Malaysia over the status of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) facility on land owned by Malaysia's KTM contributed to a period of tension (POT) between the SAF and Malaysian Armed Forces in late 1998. This POT was related to me by a MAF officer during a discussion on Singapore's security posture, who mentioned the episode as an example of how defence relations between the two countries must be carefully calibrated to prevent misunderstandings.

And prior to the settlement of the dispute over Pedra Branca (a rock outcrop called Pulau Batu Putih by Malaysia) in May 2008, the rock on which Horsburgh Lighthouse sits was the area of operations for numerous brushes between Singaporean and Malaysian warfighters. At one point in time, SAF Commandos armed with ATGMs were deployed to Horsburgh to protect Singaporean installations there should Malaysian special forces attempt to land on the island.

NSP = Nicole Seah Politiking
NSP candidate Ms Nicole Seah's politiking for the Marine Parade GRC seat is unlikely to mention these episodes. She was too young to experience and remember the tension of the period. What's more, rally time is designed to whip up sentiments so voters will support one's party. People are there for political entertainment, not a lecture on defence policy planning and capability development in the SAF.

Let us be clear that Indonesia and Malaysia are not about to invade Singapore, nor are these countries our enemy. To be sure, the physical and historical links with Malaysia can be seen on Singapore's state crest which features both the Malayan Tiger and Singapore Lion together.

But the military might of neighbouring countries, coupled with the tendency of some political leaders to wield military muscle to force down their argument, makes it sensible that Singapore retain a strong, balanced and integrated SAF. Past Indonesian Presidents, Gus Dur and Habibie (who coined the catchphrase Little Red Dot) are striking examples of the real politik in Singapore's neighbourhood. And need one even mention Malaysia's Dr Mahathir Mohamad?

Few NSP supporters would sleep behind an unlocked main door though statistically speaking, the likelihood of a burglar hitting one's home is small. And yet, we are being persuaded to strip down the Army for an upsized Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The absence of any apparent conventional threats to our national security has persuaded the NSP that the SAF's combat capabilities can be whittled down.

Such incredible naivette ignores the military necessity that air and naval bases have to be protected. Warplanes and helicopters, however lethal, are merely targets when on the ground. They become weapons only when they are in the air, armed and fuelled for action with competent pilots in command and a superiority in electronic warfare that puts enemy aircrew at risk even before RSAF warplanes come within visual range.

The NSP's call to "build up" the RSAF and RSN is welcome as it acknowledges that Singapore's continued and free access to air and sea lanes is vital to our nation's survival. Without such access, the supply of food, fuel and raw materials needed to keep Singaporeans gainfully employed will be choked off.

Without the SAF, it is likely that political games by neighouring countries to withhold supplies of sand to Singapore may have been extended to other seaborne supplies so vital to Singapore's economy. Sand supplies were withheld on the pretext of preventing environmental damage, which was a politically expedient way of masking economic warfare by other means.

It is the proposal to streamline the Army that is deeply disturbing. The NSP's proposal says: "Normally a defender is a third the size of the attackers. Downsize the Army and restructure it to be deployed in Singapore to defend against conventional attack during wartime."

The NSP is foolish to assume any attacking force would settle for such odds. This statement is a self-serving intepretation of military thinking that recommends an attacker should have 3:1 numerical superiority against a defender. This means that the attack plan would take the size of the defending force and multiply it by three for the baseline size of its attack force. This is not an easy option because attacks against the SAF have to guess how far and how much MINDEF/SAF will mobilise during a POT.

The NSP does not say who these "attackers" could be, but one assumes their idea of a "conventional attack" entails a landward thrust from Malaysia or perhaps an amphibious landing from the Singapore Strait. In any case, their leap of logic about the attacker:defender ratio is ill-informed.

It is foolhardy to assume Singapore can be defended with the Army "deployed in Singapore".
* Where would heartlanders evacuate to?
* Why endanger Singaporean homes by turning urbanised areas into battle grounds?
* How and where would the SAF deployed on home ground manoeuvre?
* How would the NSP respond should "the attackers" decide to bombard Singapore with rocket artillery munitions and destroy its air and naval bases before mounting a "conventional attack"?

Would Nicole Seah's politiking be wielded as Singapore's secret weapon to sweet talk and dazzle malignant Malaysians in Jalan Padang Tembak with her net appeal and tens of thousands of Facebook "likes" the next time we come under military pressure?

Though voters may have a beef with some PAP policies, defence-aware Singaporeans would probably feel safer with a strong national security posture instead of NSP's dreamland alternative.

Singapore's deterrent edge comes from a forward defence strategy which calls for detecting, engaging and destroying aggressor forces as far away from heartlanders as possible should diplomacy fail. Hostile elements know that their way of life will forever change with SAF manoeuvre forces unleashed on their territory. It is a tricky balance of diplomacy and military power than has kept Singapore steady despite open as well as unpublicised attempts at military coercion.

Mind you, from the time Singapore formed its then Top Secret Special Operations Force in 1984 till the day they shot and killed four Pakistani terrorists on 26 March 1991, any idiot could have blamed Singapore for spending too much on counter terrorist training. This was the pre-9/11 era. There were no terror threats to the island and no airliner had been hijacked in Singapore since Vietnam Airlines Flight C589 in 1977.

The Commandos who put their lives on the line when they stormed Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 117 in March 1991 against terrorists could not have done the job without strong and sustained support over the years which ensured HQ Commando was provided the tactics, techniques and procedures for a decisive takedown.

The NSP's manifesto writer may also have forgotten that piracy to Singapore in the 1980s meant attacks on mainland Singapore from Tuas to East Coast Park. Strong investments in the RSN and coastal surveillance network crimped pirate attacks. That their rudimentary understanding of defence matters embraces a strong navy is welcome as our sea borders are routinely tested, though no sea robbers/pirates have successfully breached the maritime security screen.

It is disingenuous to assume that terror threats are all the SAF has to deal with. To gain political mileage at the expense of a balanced and integrated SAF with a high level of defence readiness to deal with a range of defence scenarios puts Singaporeans at risk from future shocks. It is political opportunism that we can do without.

Singapore is not some South Pacific paradise, lonely and isolated from potential threats. One only needs to think about how Chinese Indonesians were treated in 1998 during race riots in Jakarta to realise how much of an oddball this Chinese majority city state is perceived smack in the midst of a Malay sea.

No Sound/Picture in Marine Parade GRC
It is strange how the NSP is prepared to peddle its election manifesto with big picture issues (albeit poorly considered) when concrete plans for things that matter to heartlanders are patently absent.

In particular, the NSP's team contesting the Marine Parade GRC seems some way behind in sharing with voters there how picking the team would enhance their lives.

Without a plan for estate management - let's not even talk about estate renewal - the NSP's lack of a plan for Marine Parade GRC only adds to election wags who say that NSP stands for No Sound/Picture.