Monday, November 28, 2011

Letter in Today newspaper, 28 November 2011

The letter in today's edition of the Today newspaper, "From transparency to opacity" by David Boey, was not written by me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

1/3 empty or 2/3 full?: Suggestions for sensing the commitment of Singapore Permanent Residents towards National Service

Without a shot fired, Singapore lost the services of 4,200 male Singapore Permanent Residents (SPRs) who could have made a substantial addition to its defence manpower in the past five years.

In the same period, some 8,800 SPRs served two years of compulsory National Service (NS) with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) or Home Team agencies such as the Singapore Civil Defence Force or Singapore Police Force.

So is the glass one third empty or two thirds full? Both interpretations are valid and accurate.

The absence of more data, however, makes trend analysis and attempts to measure the commitment of SPRs to Singapore's defence impossible.

Data shared by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen last Tuesday (22 Nov'11) in response to a parliamentary question could have helped frame discussions on the matter more effectively if it stretched further back in time.

For a long time, heartland chit chat has suspected that SPRs pay lip service to NS and make a beeline for the exit when junior is due to be conscripted. The figures show this to be true: one in three SPRs liable for NS cops out after enjoying years of subsidised education and assorted benefits Singapore dishes out to foreign talent.

The explanation on NS was not just brief. The response was more like a g-string: skimpy, barely there yet still covering the vitals.

This sort of half-hearted reply shows that the system has some way to go before it hits the sweet spot when engaging the public. The system's speech writers ought to consider substance over form and not throw the bare minimum of statistics to queries from Members of Parliament.

This sort of appeasement does nothing for commitment to defence (C2D).

Indeed, it only stokes further debate in the heartlands, online and offline, on SPRs and National Service. There are Singaporeans who wonder if SPRs are taking us for a ride, using this island nation as a springboard before relocating to places such as Australia, New Zealand or the United States.

It's easy to criticise, so here are some ways in which the issue could have been better handled.

First, the data should have gone as far back as our national records allow. In our statistics-obsessed bureaucracy, these numbers would surely reside in the portals of some ministry somewhere.

Sharing year-on-year changes would help heartlanders understand and appreciate how SPRs have supported NS. It would build mindshare and far outweigh any risks to national security because SPRs who served in the 1980s and 1990s would have long completed their NS liabilities.

Let's be frank, the Malaysian Army or Indonesian Marines are not going to march into town just because they know how many SPRs failed to enlist for NS in years long past.

It may well be that in some years, the drop out rate is far smaller than the one in three seen over the past five years. If that is the case, we should try to understand why this was so.

Second, the discussion would be more meaningful if we were told which type of SPRs have a tendency to renounce their PR status. Presenting raw data without any elaboration only contributes to gossip and nagging suspicions that SPRs who hail from certain countries tend to have parasitic tendencies.

This is not xenophobia.

This country puts in a lot in terms of money, effort and attention to groom every SPR student. If we are being taken for a ride by calculative minds who migrate here, enjoy subsidised education and the security umbrella that Singaporean familities provide by supporting NS, we need to know. And the sooner the better.

The data sets are there. By not sharing it, the system is surrendering the initiative to discussion leaders who may - out of ignorance and not ill will - take the discussion to the lunative fringe areas that may hurt C2D.

Third, the manpower deficit from SPRs who dropped out over the past five years translates roughly to the loss of a Singapore Army division-minus. At a time when birth rates are declining, this is a real and substantial shortfall.

We were told to welcome foreigners because their offspring would stay, serve NS and sink their roots in Singaporean society. We were told our forefathers were immigrants too, so we should open our doors to new Singaporeans who want to start life here.

Alas, the SPR-NS figures show the price Singaporeans are paying for this policy.

We now need to know how to read the drop out rate. For example, is the shortfall within Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) estimates? How has the loss of a division-minus over five years impacted the operational readiness and order of battle of the SAF?

The lack of clarity is likely to make most of us interprete the data much like we would read school examination results. The 60% retention rate (8,800 out of 13,000 SPRs liable for NS) is still a pass, not quite a distinction (>75%) and overall probably a B-. Is this the way defence manpower figures should be read?

If not, educate and inform Singaporeans or you risk losing the initiative.

Fourth, Singaporeans need to understand why the SPRs are afraid of or do not want to serve NS. After all the flag-waving sing-alongs during National Day and sweeteners for new Singaporeans, if SPRs remain uncommitted, we need to know why.

Are exit interviews or any kind of engagement surveys done with SPR families before they scoot? What are they saying about NS?

Fifth, utmost efforts should be made to plug the leaks among SPRs. At the same time, MINDEF should reassure Singaporeans that their support for NS will never be taken for granted nor assumed.

Singaporeans and SPR families who send their sons for NS need assurance that they are not being taken for a ride.

What is to stop an SPR male from avoiding conscription, returning to his home country to change his name and get a new passport and coming back to the Republic to start life afresh? If you visit discussion sites frequented by SPRs and foreign talent, you may be amazed/disappointed/shocked by the candour with which they discuss how NS can be skirted or cheated. Their descriptions of full-time NSmen are also largely unflattering.

Is our system smart enough to detect such schemers? Is the effort worth it, really?

Sixth, if social ideas that underpin the huge intakes of SPRs in the past decade are not supported by NS enlistment numbers, should this policy be modified or dumped? Are Singaporeans supporting a weak attempt at social re-engineering?

In my opinion, the money, time and effort that was wasted on the 4,200 SPR men could have been better spent on book grants to deserving Singaporean students. But hindsight is always 20:20.

Lastly, data like this should be audited by an outside entity such as a defence-linked think tank to reassure skeptics. If even drug statistics can be misreported, we need assurance that the headcount for something as important as National Service is credible, accurate and presented in a timely manner.

Losing the support of one in three NS-liable SPRs is a loss that can be measured from annual enlistment numbers. But we should not fret over the loss of uncommitted SPRs because they are likely to make poor soldiers, policemen or civil defence rescuers.

More damaging is the loss of support from the wider Singapore population if MINDEF fails to explain the issue properly in future.

This damage can also be measured when ballots are counted....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

In power in the real world, out of favour in the virtual one: Why the PAP has few friends in cyberspace

Singapore's political elite are treated differently in the real world and in the virtual world.

In the real world, the People's Action Party (aka Men in White) has been kept in power since independence by winning the popular vote, thanks to support from six out of 10 voters in this year's General Election (GE).

In the virtual world, the MIW appear to be less popular. Almost every news item about Singapore on Internet news sites (Yahoo News) or discussion forums (hardwarezone) generates scorn and ridicule bordering on outright hostility towards the same party that rules our island nation.

This love-hate relationship has immediate and direct relevance to the defence of Singapore because citizen soldiers who do not support or respect the party in power are less likely to respond to a call to arms.

So why won't the majority of Singaporeans who voted for them speak out to defend the MIW?

Perhaps it is because the strength of this silent majority has been consistently over-stated through optimistic projections that they exist as a latent vote bank: Quiet, unassuming, not prone to theatrics (or hysterics, unlike the lunatic fringe), dependable and staunchly loyal to the end.

It is naive to think that this vote bank can be counted on, time after time, at every GE.

Indeed, some who voted for the MIW could have done so at odds with their personal convictions about the party. From anecdotal accounts, this group includes civil servants and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regulars who cling to the impression that marking an "X" against the party is tantamount to career suicide.

But ground sentiments over the cost of living and red hot topics such as the pace and direction of the immigration policy are not sweet. All that pent-up angst must go somewhere.

And so it surfaces during lunchtime chit chat when former civil servants castigate the system. It appears in cheeky email chains circulated by former SAF personnel (some very senior, mind you). It stokes lively debates in the virtual world where the MIW become the lightning rod for criticism for everything you can think of from pet ownership in the heartlands to weightier affairs of state.

The size and strength of the silent majority is also eroded through own goals and collateral damage from government decisions.

For example, it would be interesting to find out how residents in Rochor Centre would vote in a hypothetical replay of this year's GE, now that they know their homes will be torn down to make way for a new expressway. You don't have to be a political scientist to figure this one out.

The own goal that came close to killing the goalkeeper includes the remark that residents in Aljunied would have five years to repent if they voted for the Opposition. They did so anyway.

Another reason for the reticence of the silent majority may be this group's unfamiliarity with the Internet.

The generation of Singaporeans who lived through independence in 1965 is thinning out. This group of voters may genuinely value the MIW's contributions. But their impact on online discussions is limited to non existent because the vast majority are simply not net-savvy.

The MIW's Janus-like persona in the real and virtual world is compounded by lack of guidance from top party leadership on how exactly the social media beast should be tamed. They appear to have entrusted the social media campaign to younger cadres, perhaps believing that good looks and a winsome smile are all it takes for engaging younger voters and the Gen Ys.

But is this mission placed in good hands?

In my opinion, some cadres seem unready and unqualified to take on the scale and intensity of a social media campaign. There was this young candidate - undeniably photogenic - whose spoke about her desire to engage the young through the Internet (which is commendable) during her maiden press conference. But nothing much is seen or heard these days from this MP. Her initiation into the hearts and minds battle was also brutal as she had overlooked the most basic - repeat basic - task of cleaning up her Internet footprint before chasing her political ambition. Worse, the candidate deleted personal pictures after they had gone viral - adding fuel to the fire through an ultimately futile task. So this sort of novice is leading the MIW's charge in cyberspace? Good luck.

Like a one-song band singing the same tune, their strategy appears to hinge heavily on Facebook and Twitter, as if this is the answer to winning the hearts and minds of Singaporeans.

When I was allowed to shadow a MIW team during their May Day walkabout this year, I was surprised by the lack of ideas from one senior MIW candidate when he quizzed a journalist for ideas on how young Singaporeans could be engaged. The team eventually won their seats, but the impression that they are out of touch remains etched in my mind and is replayed whenever I read about the party's PR blunders.(For the record, I have a clip of the conversation which is interesting to watch.)

Mind you, not all youngsters have part of their psyche permanently plugged into cyberspace. A good number value good old face-to-face debates. But during townhalls held with certain MIW big wigs, varsity students reacted with disappointment when the system required students to submit their questions before the event. How does this sort of mindset help engagement with the young?

In recent days, we're starting to hear that the MIW's youth wing may introduce more stringent checks on its members. This is a move to get to know prospective members better so as to avoid getting sucked into PR gaffes when inappropriate material posted online goes viral.

Now, tie this in with the censored Q&As and screened guest list during townhalls, steps taken to ban Facebook members or sanitise their comments after their remarks strike a nerve, and the system's legendary intolerance for people who speak up and you get a better idea why the party that won the popular vote is not so popular in cyberspace.

Almost every blogger and discussant who uses social media has his or her own hobby horse. This runs the gamut from neighbourhood cats to saving Bukit Brown cemetery, the arts, gender matters, transport, housing to defence and security. The list goes on. The system's knack for demonising and opening an account with those who speak up is regrettable. All it does is create conditions for a perfect storm when commentors for all sorts of issues, who have been taught a harsh lesson for speaking up, end up unfriending the MIW. To use a military analogy which many of you will understand, the MIW needs to fix its IFF as its blunt handling of critical voices cannot tell friend from foe.

There will come a day when the MIW has to cash that cheque. When that day comes, they will discover (belatedly?) that their failure to cultivate goodwill comes with a price - none of the chastened spirits in the virtual world will speak out for them.

Now in belly gazing mode, the MIW appear to be trying hard to craft a grand strategic plan to engage citizens and netizens better. If such effort is meant to shore up confidence in and support for the MIW come election time, it follows by the same logic that a failure to do so puts re-election campaigns on tenterhooks.

Their best answer may come with letting go of their control freak mentality in the virtual world and engaging citizens/netizens in meaningful debate. Mindsets also need to be rewired to stop villifying people whose point of view may not agree with the party's. We all carry the same passport at the end of the day.

If and when they are ready to do so, Singapore's political elite may be pleasantly surprised to discover that Singaporeans are not as politically naive, irrational or unreasonable as they appear to be.

During times of national crisis, like the SARs emergency in 2003, all of Singapore looked towards the MIW for strong leadership and for their technocrats to steer this island nation clear of the crisis. They did not disappoint.

Internet blogger Alex Au chose his words well when he was asked on his blog (click here for the discussion) why the popularity of alternative media for political news has not resulted in more Opposition votes. Mr Au replied: "Because having a better understanding of Singapore politics and the issues before us does not automatically mean rejecting the PAP."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Power for the People: Security implications from importing electricity

While a bright idea, the suggestion that Singapore could import electricity from its neighbours should not cast a shadow over the island nation's goal to be self-reliant in critical resources such as power and water.

The suggestion has already created a buzz among Singaporeans who wonder if all the effort weaning Singapore off Malaysian water will be negated by future reliance on Malaysian or Indonesian electricity.

The buzz was generated by a remark by Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran on 31 October 2011 when he officiated at the opening of the Singapore International Energy Week.

The minister said that by the end of 2011, Singapore's Energy Market Authority (EMA) would start asking the public for feedback on how electricity might be imported and how electricity from foreign power stations could be sold in Singapore.

As far as is known, nothing has been cast is stone. The EMA still has to mull over feedback from its forthcoming public consultation exercise, so it's early days yet before consumers get to see any new electricity tariff tables.

Observers have noted that a critical element was missing from the minister's remarks: The amount of electricity Singapore may import.

Any assessment on the feasibility of this project from a national security standpoint cannot be written until one knows how much Singapore will rely on foreign-sourced electricity.

For example, there is a big difference between a proposal to bring in 10 per cent of Singapore's average daily consumption and a plan to import, say for example, 30 to 50 per cent of our electricity requirements.

There is a nagging concern that over dependence on foreign-generated electricity may put the Republic at risk should the foreign government decide to flick the switch off for whatever reason.

Singaporeans who lived through the episode when then-Israeli President Chaim Hertzog visited Singapore in 1986 may recall protests by angry Malaysians chanting "Potong! Potong!" (potong means cut in the Malay language) when demanding that the Malaysian government signal its displeasure by cutting off the water supply to Singapore. Back then, about 60 per cent of the water Singapore used in a day was supplied by raw water from the Malaysian state of Johore.

Fast forward to 2011. Singapore's strategy for developing four National Taps - expanding local water catchment areas, reprocessing waste water from sewers as NEWater, setting up desalination plants and importing water from Malaysia - has reduced our vulnerability to such theatrics.

Importing electricity is not the same as importing fuel for power stations. So while 80 per cent of the electricity generated in Singapore comes from natural gas fields in Indonesia, such reliance can be hedged by importing the same fuel source from another country. This explains why Singapore is investing in a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal with an in-service date set in 2013. When fully operational, LNG tankers from other suppliers could dock and unload the fuel, which will then be piped to powerplants here.

Singapore learned the hard way how raw materials for its economy, such as sand and granite, are vulnerable to what can be politely termed as supply disruptions. Though it may sound illogical to ship sand/granite from farther afield when there are quarries closer at hand, such extraordinary measures are an Economic Defence measure to hedge against undeclared embargoes. The policy of diversifying the sources of supply has been reinforced by stockpiles comprising giant pyramids of sand/granite set up around Singapore that are intended to help local industry withstand supply disruptions for a certain period of time.

The rice stockpile with four months' worth of the grain is another example of Economic Defence in action.

We also have a petroleum stockpile and an ammunition stockpile of warshot - both of which are best not discussed here. Just know that we have it.

Turning the spotlight on importing electricity, it may sound astonishing that a country that can think out of the box (NEWater) and plan years ahead before imported water from Malaysia runs dry in 2061 would lose its strategic foresight when it comes to electricity. This is not how the system we know plans for the future.

These are the likely scenarios regarding electricity imports:
First, the amount of electricity Singapore may import is likely to be small, possibly in the low teens percentage-wise or even less. Such access is a hedge against unforeseen systemic failures in Singapore's national grid. For example, a turbine fault could cause a localised brownout and the extra boost from a foreign power station would then serve as a lifeline during such situations.

Second, the EMA's public consultation trial balloon could underline the importance of maintaining a level of national self-reliance in power generation.

With the inherent perils of relying too heavily on neighbours who may flick the power on or off, this may advance the argument for a powerplant fuelled by clean energy with the capacity to meet current and projected demand (for example, by the desalination plants) for years to come.

That source of clean energy would be - you guessed it - a nuclear powerplant.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Letter in Today newspaper, 9 November 2011

Just wanted to clarify that the letter in today's edition of the Today newspaper, "Subsidies for private citizens who pursue degree at private institutions?" by David Boey, was not written by me.

What are the chances of having a somewhat active letter writer with the same uncommon family name?

Well, after 3.5 years with a gaming company, one begins to realise that even razor slim, longshot odds do come out tops once in awhile!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sing govt's pledge to engage citizens will face tough tests in 2012

Whether or not those dark clouds on the horizon will result in an economic storm next year, the system's public relations (PR) professionals better belt up for a hectic 2012.

It won't be business as usual and stock replies plucked from the time-tested PR stylebook are likely to fall flat because the game has changed in three major ways.

Firstly, corporate disclosure in 2011 was cheered by report cards that reflected a global economic recovery. After the financial crisis of 2008, this year was no annus horribilis thanks to the recovery that kicked in last year. The report card tabled by Singaporean sovereign wealth funds and government-linked companies therefore showcased respectable performance figures and nice sounding text that describe the growth story.

This may not be the case in 2012. The benchmark set this year with full page, full colour ads in the mainstream media will expose the system's PR professionals to brickbats when the numbers don't look so rosy. Steering clear of publicising the results in major newspapers will not help as people would read it as a retrograde movement that unravels the benchmarks in corporate disclosure set this year.

When one's portfolio of investments is bruised, the standard response that investments are, ahem, "long term" may not go down well with heartlanders who have heard it all before. This may be true. This may indeed reflect a financially sound and prudent approach to coaxing maximum value from one's investment war chest. But outsiders may not share the same long term vision, especially when the dollar amount of losses (realised or paper losses) is trailed by many zeros.

The volume and intensity of criticisms in the real world and cyberspace will go hand in hand with the extent of losses reported - the higher the sum, the greater the fury.

Corporate disclosure is a double edged instrument. This means that whether the report card is good or bad, a poorly-written media statement or unconvincing sound bite may come back to haunt the system the next time Singaporeans head to the polls.

Secondly, one needs to recognise that world opinion on matters of national concern to the Singaporean government, such as nuclear energy and National Service, will make it more challenging explaining such matters to people on this island.

The days when the system's spin doctors could reinforce an argument with a string of first world countries who made similar decisions is fast slipping away. In the case of nuclear energy, one will be hard pressed to argue the case for nuclear power when industrial heavyweights such as Germany and Japan appear to be turning away from nuclear power to other sources of clean energy.

The challenges in explaining the need for and importance of National Service (NS) are similar to that faced by nuclear energy proponents because the number of countries who maintain conscript armies is dwindling. Taiwan is the latest example.

The old chestnut that NS is needed for citizens in the Lion City to sleep well at night will lose its appeal at a time when our neighbours are all smiles and courtesy. Furthermore, the lack of depth in defence discussions here coupled with the general reluctance by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence to foster such debate may prompt people to rationalise that the Special Operations Task Force, rather than armed teenage soldiers, are Singapore's best defence against transnational terrorism.

Thus far, foreign deployments spearheaded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have all relied on professional arms such as air, naval and special forces, raising a poser in some minds whether NS is still relevant in this changing strategic milieu.

If you think about it, the publicity generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States may prod people in Singapore to likewise ponder over the issue of corporate payscales. More to the point, heartlanders may see an oblique link between the restiveness shown by Americans towards payscales on Wall Street with the hot potato issue of ministerial pay scales. Mind you, both issues are explosive and unresolved.

The paradigm has changed. Standard PR lines for damage control or consequence management that may have worked wonderfully well in the recent past need to be recast to reflect changing world opinion.

Lastly, the success (of lack thereof) of the system's spin doctors in handling the PR challenges of 2012 will indicate whether or not Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call to engage Singaporeans and be more open has been taken to heart... or given mere lip service.

One can obviously follow the old PR playbook with the same old standard responses repackaged for local consumption.

But there is a price to pay for half-hearted explanations of a fait accompli in government decisions. There is a penalty incurred for reacting to feedback from citizens rather than proactively championing the same, and a cost for typecasting cynics and critics of a particular standpoint as dangerous radicals out to tear down the house.

To a defence-aware audience, the word "engage" has two meanings.

One is the warm, fuzzy, consultative spirit that PM Lee surely had in mind when he urged MPs in the 12th Parliament to engage their constituents better.

The second meaning is the kind of engagement the SAF is used to. In this instance, to engage means to kill (in the context of hearts and minds, this is a metaphor).

One hopes the system can tell the difference between the two and engage Singaporeans properly.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forging sabres, forging knights: Making the most of war games and battlefield experiments

Just as important as forging sabres is the process for forging knights who will wield those proverbial sabres.

In this regard, military war games will be just that - time wasting, cash burning military outings - unless warfighters embrace the right mindset to maximise the time spent outfield.

One should never expect things to unfold according to plan. Nor should the result of any two-sided engagement be a foregone conclusion against a thinking enemy.

Losing a mock battle and failing to extract the lessons from such situations defeats the purpose of two-sided engagements. Failure-averse officers who cannot see value from bloodless combat might as well have toyed with war games on plasma or stayed at home.

In a situation where warfighters are trained and indoctrinated in the same system, it is not difficult to anticipate how opposing staff officers might marshal and deploy their forces for the simulated battle. The structure and organisation of opposing units would be a known entity, as would the combat capabilities of war machines in the order of battle.

More importantly, shrewd staff officers who can read their opponent's personality may be able to guess how his forces may be deployed in the field along with the tempo at which he will push his subordinate commanders.

Reservists may be viewed as softie, city boy soldiers. But many of their commanders have chalked up more experience in field exercises than regulars. And it would probably surprise most regulars who have yet to spend a day in a corporate boardroom how much strategising actually goes on in profit-driven enterprises. An ably-led and motivated reservist unit is therefore not to be underestimated - as some regulars have found out at war games.

Remember too that when manoeuvres take place over axis overlaid on terrain that the command staff have fought over since they were junior officers, this sucks the realism out of the war games.

The spirit of aggression driven into the psyche of manoeuvre forces is also muted by the fact that everyone knows that whatever the outcome, everyone will emerge unscathed when the exercise is cut.

This may embolden commanders to risk forces in situations which they would not do, or hesitate just a little longer, in real life. It could also prompt commanders to lead with more dash and aggression that they actually have, if the bullets were real and the body count permanent.

When tempered with the right attitude, full troop exercises (FTX) give war planners a crucial opportunity to frame a battle and think through the various permutations for their command decisions.

It exercises not just options but underlines the consequences of poorly-executed command decisions.

To be sure, war games for manoeuvre forces can logically be conducted on plasma. It is certainly a cheaper and faster way of testing drawer plans and assessing tactical options than sending warfighters long distances to flex their muscles.

With a FTX, however, the friction inherent in planning, organising, deploying and supporting large bodies of troops - say for example one brigade versus another - in the field becomes obvious. Add in the air support elements (i.e. warplanes, tactical support aircraft and helicopters and UAVs) as well as assets that map out the enemy's electronic order of battle and the land battle grows into a more complex operation in multiple dimensions and with far greater depth than one's own frontage.

Having forces deployed in the field also shows the vulnerability of such units to enemy action. Even when inactive behind the line of departure, large bodies of troops and military vehicles need to supplied with rations, fresh water, ammunition and POL. When immobile, such military assets become military liabilities.

You only have to see a brigade in the field to realise what a plump target all those troops and vehicles look like from the perspective of enemy commanders with the reach and rules of engagement for firing at coordinates beyond line of sight.

Command decisions are not only hampered by Redcon 3 units that plod lethargically across the plasma at a subpar rate of movement. War games demonstrate that military planning, already a complex process at the best of times, may be complicated by an opposing command staff that is determined to observe, orientate, decide and act faster than one's own command apparatus.

Even worse that wincing from a battle lost "unexpectedly" (because only a fool goes to war fighting to lose) is scripting war games such that opposing forces are primed to fail.

In such situations, everyone merely goes through the motions for fear of upsetting the rhythm of the war games whose end result has already been decided before troops and vehicles move into action.

When warfighters fear losing face more than losing a war game, that's when you realise people are not getting the most out of their field training.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) celebrates its 40th year; warplanes from all FPDA signatories fly into Singapore

Typhoon warning: Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon from 6 Squadron enters the landing circuit at the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Changi Airbase (East) on 1 November 2011. The RAF sent a contingent to the RSAF airbase to take part in a static display to mark the FPDA's 40th year. The Typhoon was last seen in Singapore skies during the Next Fighter Replacement Programme (NFRP) flyoff that saw the RSAF pick Boeing's F-15SG Strike Eagle as the A-4 Skyhawk replacement.

The Five Power Defence Arrangements marked its 40th anniversary in Singapore this afternoon with a display of airpower at Changi Air Base (East), off Changi Airport.

Supporting the display were warplanes from all five FPDA signatories, viz Australia (RAAF F/A-18A Hornet), Malaysia (TUDM F/A-18D Hornet), New Zealand (RNZAF P-3K Orion), Singapore (RSAF F-15SG Strike Eagle) and the United Kingdom (RAF Typhoon).

We span the ocean: The open weapons bay doors and EO device under the nose of this Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion maritime patrol aircraft from 5 Squadron RNZAF are perhaps the only hints that this turboprop has teeth. Despite the lack of fast jets, the RNZAF is one of the world's leading proponents of blue water surveillance, having honed its crews on long range, long duration missions over the unforgiving southern oceans. New Zealander Orion crews routinely fly 15-hour missions over featureless ocean with two engines shut down (!) to maximise mission endurance.

The warplanes are deployed to the region for FPDA war games codenamed Exercise Bersama Lima, which pits air and naval forces from the five nations against a simulated attack by conventional forces against peninsula Malaysia and Singapore.

Heavy air activity over West Malaysia and Singapore island provided Singaporean plane spotters with a bonanza of aircraft spotting opportunities. This includes flying activity this past weekend from the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Paya Lebar Airbase, which had a busy time sending up and recovering multiple strike packages comprising F-15SG Strike Eagles and C-130 Hercules sorties.

This morning, attention was centered on Changi's Runway 3 as FPDA warplanes came in to roost at the RSAF's Changi Airbase (East).

Lenses were trained on warplanes rarely seen in Singapore skies such as the Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon, which was supported for her Far East deployment by a VC-10K tanker. The Typhoon's appearance at Bersama Lima is significant as it is the type's first appearance in the Far East since Typhoons were engaged in combat operations over Libya. Experience gained from operations over Libya are likely to have fuelled many war story sessions in aircrew messes in Malaysia and Singapore.

Storm warning: Not a typhoon but a thunderstorm. A Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon from 6 Squadron is framed by a approaching thunderstorm as Changi Airbase (East) secures itself for Cat 1 lightning risk conditions. The Cat 1 condition put an end to the ground viewing of the aircraft after just 10 minutes. Out of frame is the RSAF safety officer, a one-woman crowd control party, who was busy shepherding everyone off the open area before the storm broke.

The visit to CAB was ruined by an incoming thundercloud that imposed a lightning risk of Cat 1 on the airbase. As such, we had just 10 minutes at the Transport Apron to literally shoot-and-scoot and there was no chance to loiter. :-(

It was ironic that the secondary effort ended up contributing the motherload of images (some of which you see here) when the point of main effort inside the base was scuppered. Well, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Unsung hero: Royal Air Force deployments to the Far East depend heavily on tanker/transports such as the VC-10, which is flown by 101 Squadron RAF. Apart from tanker support which gives warplanes longer legs, such converted airliners also carry groundcrew, spares and equipment for first line maintenance work - the lack of which will crimp any air force's ability to generate and sustain airpower during deployments far from home.

Proud heritage: Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18A Hornet wearing special anniversary livery to commemorate 75 Squadron's 70th year. Defence buffs might remember that RAAF 75 SQN has a special link with Singapore because the unit's Mirage IIIO interceptors used to be based at Tengah Airbase years ago.

Double trouble: A pair of Boeing Hornets flown by Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) partner nations, Australia and Malaysia, grace the Transport Apron at Changi Airbase (East). The Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18A wears a special colour scheme to make 75 Squadron's 70th anniversary (1942-2012) while the Royal Malaysian Air Force F/A-18D from 18 Squadron wears darker warpaint almost similar to the grey on RSAF F-15SGs.  

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the RSAF Air Operations Department, the Public Affairs Directorate at the Ministry of Defence, Singapore, and the team at Changi Air Base (East) for facilitating this rare spotting opportunity.