Strictly-speaking, a display of war machines and weapons outside a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) camp counts more as an exhibition rather than an open house.
With that context in mind, the Army Open House (AOH) 2012 which you can visit this Saturday and Sunday may give you the impression that it lacks the punch that previous editions of the AOH packed when the event was staged at the SAFTI Military Institute and SAFTI live-firing area in Pasir Laba.
Military enthusiasts would probably still troop down to the event anyway, so here's a suggestion of things you can see and do at the AOH.
New sniper rifles
Location: Pavilion Display at the Infantry booth
The 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry presents new small arms that will allow Singapore Army snipers and marksmen to deliver precision firepower during gunfights, day or night. Visitors are invited to handle three sniper rifles and learn firsthand what's so special about the Knight's Armament M110 semi-automatic 7.62mm rifle (USA), Sako TRG-22 .308 bolt action rifle (Finland) and the Accuracy International AX50 12.7mm bolt action anti-material rifle (England).
These weapons are not known to have been shown in public before.
Special Operations Force (SOF) military equipment display
Location: Pavilion Display at the Commando booth
Weapons fans will get an armful of special forces small arms borrowed from SOF weapons racks to photograph, handle and drool over. These include the Heckler & Koch HK416 5.56mm assault rifle, the ever popular MP5-series in various guises, FN P90 personal defence weapon, FN Five seveN pistol, FN Minimi 5.56mm light machine gun, assorted shotguns and more.
Anonymous personnel on duty - dressed in civvies like private security contractors - will patiently explain why the SOF small arms collection reads like the weapon menu of your favourite online shoot-em-up multi-player game.
Spoiler answer: The SOF has to be ready to configure itself for a host of mission requirements.
There is also a ghost grey jet ski thingy (serial number 04) that would not look out of place in a James Bond movie. Strangely, the machine had no info board to explain its role.
Big cats - New additions to the Armour Formation's Leopard main battle tank family
Location: Army Avenue along the F1 Pit Building
Making their AOH debut are the German-made bridge-layer and armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) variants of the Leopard tank family. The bridge-layer can span a 25-metre wide gap with its Leguan bridge and is known by its German name as the Biber (Beaver). The Biber's two-person crew can execute an assault bridging mission while under fire, all the while protected by the armour of the Leopard tank chassis. Unlike scissors bridges which have a higher profile because the bridge is raised to half is max length when it unfolds, the sliding Leguan bridge allows the crew to lay a bridge more discretely. When all else fails, they will fire off their smoke dischargers and make a run for it.
The ARV, known in German army service as the Buffel (Buffalo), is designed to keep Leopard 2SGs battle ready under combat conditions. The Buffel can change the Leo2 engine and carry out assorted maintenance tasks too lengthy to type out on this blog. Ask the full-time National Servicemen or regulars on duty to find out more.
Info display on SAF past and current operations
Location: Pavilion Display
The SAF and Home Team agencies have had a busy time in the past few decades in security operations in Singapore and in support of Singapore's part as a member of the international community.
Take time to learn about the SAF's involvement in United Nations missions around the globe as well as peace support operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief taskings over the years.
This info display is quite comprehensive and should be kept somewhere even after the AOH as the historical information is timeless and allows the display to be reused at other occasions.
1. The V200 at the entrance lacked its barrel for its 20mm Oerlikon. Am surprised the vehicle was allowed to be displayed this way as no war machine should be shown as an exhibit incomplete.
2. The duty personnel stationed alongside various vehicles and equipment along Army Avenue have no shelter and will get sunburnt should cloudless skies crown the AOH show venue this weekend. At previous SAF Open Houses - be it for the army, navy or air force - all such displays had shelter of some sort to protect duty personnel and keep them show-ready to answer a blizzard of questions from curious visitors. This is a heatstroke hazard waiting to happen.
3. Queue line management at the NS45 Showcase should be geared for a large number of visitors. A common practice in theme parks is to keep visitors in the queue engaged by theming the queue line. This could include pictures or simple info boards about the exhibition they are about to see, in this case the indoor exhibition on National Service (NS).
This has two purposes. First, visitors are prepared for what they are about to see and experience. Second, the theming gives them something to do while waiting in line so time appears to past quickly and the visitor will not feel it is a waste of time standing around idly. All movie theme parks do this.
I felt the NS45 exhibition was comprehensive but visitors guided through the exhibition may not have time to read and reflect on the stories and pictures inside. At future shows, some of the pictures and story boards should be used to theme the queue line as it gives visitors something to do.
For a quick fix, why not have mascots stalk the queue line at intervals. You could deploy a sniper team, a pair of POI troopers, an MP with dog, Spike missile crew, a GMPG crew at intervals. I can almost guarantee the people in line will happily take pictures as the line inches forward. Before doing so, please see below.
4. Several Singapore Army personnel roamed the grounds fully armed to give guests photo opportunities. At theme parks, such "mascots" are always accompanied by one or more "performer escorts" who help with queue management, phototaking and time keeping (if not, the endless queue of people will keep the mascot out all day).
At today's AOH, the personnel tasked with photo ops did not seem to have any performer escorts to explain to guests that they were actually there for guests to take pictures. Some soldiers looked like they were on prowler duty and guests were hesitant to approach them. The lack of such escorts also made photo ops messy when visitors discovered what the "mascots" were there for. Without a proper queue, a scrum soon developed as people swarmed round the "mascot". This is really a quick fix and getting some fatigue party personnel who are proactive and can guide guest into a queue line (Something like: Hi folks! Stand in front of me.The line is this way!) and take photos for visitors is all that's needed.
Rule of thumb: Avoid keeping mascots on show for more than 20 minutes. Anything more and the mascots will be fatigued. This is why the performer escorts have to know when to cut the queue line and do so tactfully. Your visitors will complain if this is not handled properly as nobody wants to be cut off from the line and will insist on being allowed to join the last person in line.
5. As a final point: I fail to see why the AOH literature does not mention Singapore when it talks about the Army. You can brand the AOH as people may be familiar with the event. But we should say Singapore Army at every opportunity as it strengthens the branding for Our Army.
And the AOH literature should also say the event is held in 2012. Why does the Show Schedule mention date and day without the year? Visitors do keep this sort of literature as a souvenir. In years to come, visitors may forget what year this landmark event was held unless they perform mental sums and figure out that the 45th year of NS was celebrated in 2012.
Good luck with crowd management tomorrow. If the PAFF publicity plan works as intended, you'll need it.