Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Royal Malaysian Air Force to send largest contingent of warplanes to Singapore Airshow

Show time! An RMAF twin-seat MiG-29UB lines up for takeoff at Langkawi International Airport for LIMA 2011's air display segment as a single-seat MiG-29N waits its turn. Image courtesy of RX from the Milnuts group.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is set to send its largest contingent of fighter aircraft to next month's Singapore Airshow when six RMAF MiG-29 Fulcrum warplanes fly into town, reports defence journalist Dzirhan Mahadzir from Kuala Lumpur.

RMAF Chief General Tan Sri Rodzali Daud revealed the air force's intention to participate in the airshow during an interview with Dzirhan last week.

The Malaysian warplanes are due to perform daily at the airshow - marking another first for Malaysia as its warplanes have never flown at the Singapore Airshow before - though not all MiGs will fly at the same time. 

The Singapore Airshow will be held from 14 to19 February 2012, with flying display participants using Changi Airport's Runway 3. The first four days of the show are open only to Trade visitors.

Defence diplomacy
While the Singapore Airshow serves mainly as a shop window for weapons makers and commercial aviation companies, host nation Singapore uses the biennial airshow as a tool for advancing defence diplomacy as the large number of visiting defence big wigs makes it an invaluable platform for formal and informal catch-up sessions. 

These include events held on the sidelines of the airshow such as courtesy calls between defence officials, cocktail receptions as well as defence-themed conferences. The main organiser for such defence diplomacy interactions is the Foreign Military Liaison Branch (FMLB), which comes under the Joint Intelligence Directorate at the Ministry of Defence.

Warplanes and helicopters from regional air forces such as Australia and the United States have been regular participants at the Singapore Airshow, which was first held in 2008. This event took over where Asian Aerospace left off in 2006. The airshow's organiser decided to move the show to Hong Kong after holding it 13 times in Singapore.

RMAF warplanes visit Singapore occasionally for Bersama Lima air combat exercises held under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). Set up in 1971, the FPDA commits Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore to jointly consult one another in the event of an external threat to peninsula Malaysia.

Low key presence
Malaysia has maintained a low key presence at previous airshows in Singapore, keeping its participation principally to contingents of ATM officials who fly in for the event.

The sole fixed-wing participant from Malaysia comprised a RMAF Aermacchi MB-339AM which took part in an Asian Aerospace edition in the 1980s as a static exhibit.

Giving his take of the RMAF's presence at the Singapore Airshow, Dzhirhan said:"I don't think it indicates anything really. It just happened that the timing is right and we do have aircraft free to fly.

"Before the Su-30MKMs reached IOC last year, the MiGs were restricted from flying overseas as no other frontline aircraft were available for duties then."

Readers should realise that the RMAF has commitments over East and West Malaysia, as well as Malaysian territorial waters in the air-sea gap in the South China Sea between peninsula Malaysia and Borneo.

"The RMAF has always wanted to reciprocate Singapore's participation at LIMA (the Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace show in Langkawi, Malaysia), just that budget and circumstances prevented so."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rail security matters for Singapore: Questions to mull over

There must be many anxious hearts in SMRT hoping that the electric mass rapid transit (MRT) train system will behave itself over the four-day Lunar New Year long weekend from today till Tuesday.

The holiday season from pre-Christmas till now has not been a happy one for Singapore's largest train and bus operator, SMRT Corporation Ltd.

Hapless train commuters who experienced the pre-Christmas SMRT train breakdowns could say the same.

As we wait for the Committee of Inquiry (COI) set up by the Singapore government to tell us more, all parties involved in the matter must align themselves to the common objective of ensuring better transportation safety, security and reliability for the city-state's MRT system.

Any attempt at grandstanding the media and public to score points (political or otherwise), corporate bullying and selective release of facts and figures to gain public relations (PR) mileage will do nothing to help us pin down the root cause(s) of the train breakdowns. We must work towards the objective of making Singapore's transportation security protocols not failure-proof (because this is an ideal state that cannot realistically be achieved), but less failure-prone. We can only do so if we focus time, energy and resources to serving commuters better, rather than setting up others for the fall.

Key questions that we need to ask include:

1. How are our transportation security protocols calibrated to handle civil emergencies?
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) have put their forces through dress rehearsals involving a terror attack on Singapore's MRT system.

If the causal factor(s) leading to a train outage is not scripted in the CE response protocol, who makes the decision whether SAF, SCDF and SPF forces should be marshaled and deployed to handle the kind of transport chaos we witnessed 10 days before Christmas?

If the end result is the same, i.e. trains stopped in their tracks and people unable to get anywhere, would it be prudent to ensure that the steady flow of people milling in and around MRT stations does not result in people ponding which could endanger lives? It is a stampede risk, not to mention a safety hazard to vehicles when the people ponding spills onto busy roads during rush hour.

There is concern whether our CE protocols are so finely defined that the absence of a clear and present danger to lives/property, explosive devices and/or fire risk makes a train breakdown - however severe - unworthy of being deemed as a civil emergency. Perhaps mindsets need to be rewired?

2. What should SMRT and commuters do in future situations?
In my mind, SMRT's crisis management could have been better executed.

But as we castigate the company for not doing things better, we should realise that it would take an inordinate number of buses activated for bridging services to move every passenger affected by a system failure.

Let's work out the numbers. It has been estimated that 127,000 commuters were affected during 15 December 2011 system failure. Buses activated by SMRT to provide bridging services to move commuters between stations with stalled trains could each carry 80 to 120 pax. Even with around 90 buses plying the bridging service, this leaves a backlog of tens of thousands of commuters running out of time and patience. Mind you, they were stranded not on any Thursday night but during a holiday period 10 days before Christmas.

Evening rush hour, plus pre-Xmas shopping crowd, plus larger population thanks to the surge in immigrants plus more people obeying the call to use public transport either by choice or because of sky high car prices, plus a train system that is a radial line along a one-way street (Orchard Road) - SMRT couldn't ask for a more perfect storm.

Sure, more buses could be activated if we were playing a table top exercise. But how realistic is this? Would it not end up choking Orchard Road - a one-way street already congested during the evening peak hour - with even more vehicles?

For commuters to help themselves in future situations by walking away - as many Londoners did after the Tube bombings - people need accurate, relevant and timely information on the extent of the delay, the number of stations involved and the estimated duration to remedy the situation.

Fog of war - Dealing with imprecise information
Alas, the fog of war also affects peacetime situations and SMRT grappled with understanding the magnitude of the breakdown.On Thursday 15 December 2011, the first SMRT train was unable to move after losing power at around 6:47pm. By 6:55pm, three trains had stalled. Trains stalling are not unknown and it takes around five to 10 minutes for the train operator (TO) - usually the sole SMRT staff onboard a train that can carry 1,200+ pax - to run through safety checks and train restart protocols before the six-carriage train can resume its journey.

It is worthwhile assessing how TOs and controllers in the operations control centre, where train movements are directed and monitored, can build a better rail situation picture from fragmented and sometimes conflicting information trickling in from stalled trains. It appears some TOs radioed in to report stalled trains as the emergency lighting kicked in. But there was at least one train with three train cabins fully lighted (because the shoes could still collect power from the third rail) and the last three darkened cabins lit by emergency lighting. As luck would have it, the powered cabins were closest to the TO, so he reported that the train had stalled but was still drawing power. Other than the fact that the train was unable to move, all looked fine.

Another train is said to have limped from the Orchard area to Braddell, with internal lights flashing on and off as the train shoes struggled to maintain contact with the third rail which supplies the train with electricity. Power supply eventually died near Braddell. So this sort of conflicting information does nothing for OCC controllers who were saturated with data while trying to figure out what was happening on the ground.

This incident makes a compelling case for SAF information managers to collate, sort, prioritise and make sense of tactical information from frontline units to form a comprehensive, best effort picture to penetrate the fog of war.

3. How can mass media be better employed to share time critical information?
For reasons too technical to explain and too sensitive to mention, Singapore's short messaging system (SMS) run by local telcos cannot broadcast SMS alerts to everyone at the same time. We're talking about a subscriber base of several million mobilephone users.

A better way might be through radio and television. As with the CE issue raised above, newsrooms need to better calibrate their sensitivity to breaking news, particularly in situations with no deaths, no bomb or fire. The reality of the transport business is that mechanical things do break down. The trick is not making the broadcast decision regime too sensitive and crying wolf all the time.

4. What impact, if any, did SMRT's fourth generation trains have on the rail network?
The fourth generation trains of the C151A model used today are some 20 tonnes heavier than the lightest SMRT trains and around five tonnes heavier than the 3rd Gen Kawasaki trains.

The 4th Gen trains were made in China. As China-made products have a tarnished image for shoddy workmanship, poor QC and substandard materials, questions have been raised over the choice of the C151A rolling stock.

The fact that the 4th Gen trains came from Chinese factories concerns me less than the question of whether the heavier rolling stock was vibration tested? If not, then why not?

It is understood that in the immediate aftermath of the 15 December outage, China-made trains were withdrawn from the North-South Line as a precaution. The N-S Line is the stretch on which the trains were stalled. These C151A trains have since been reintroduced on the N-S and East-West Lines, but run at slower speeds over certain stretches of the tracks.

5. Give the public the background to all statistics.
Numbers released in Parliament point to an increase in disruptions on the SMRT North-South and East-West lines that were timed between five and 10 minutes long.

In 2007, there were 213 such incidents clocked. In the first 11 months of 2011, 217 disruptions were recorded. In and by itself, this rising trend does not look great. The conclusion that there is something inherently wrong with SMRT's maintenance regime is therefore natural and not unexpected.

I believe Singaporeans deserve to know just how many of these incidents were contributed by the installation of half height platform screen doors at elevated MRT stations. In my opinion, it is wrong to regard disruptions caused by lack of synchronisation between train doors and newly installed half height screen doors in the same way as train breakdowns arising from the loss of motive power.

The release of data sets without any context ends up tarring the reputation of SMRT employees, particularly its engineers who have been working behind the scenes to make things right. Worse, it does not make Singapore's transportation security any safer because people may jump to the wrong conclusions based on such data. Looking further downstream, which young engineer would want to join a company that is seen as technically slack? In the mid to long-term, SMRT's rail expertise will be hurt if engineers look elsewhere for employment, to the detriment of us commuters because rail engineers sit at the core of SMRT's system reliability, safety and efficiency as a people mover.

There are indications that SMRT lines that were shutdown for overnight checks after the second outage on Saturday 17 December 2011 could have been reopened earlier, if not for additional checks imposed on SMRT engineers.

Just what were these checks and were they in any way related to the dislodged claws holding up the third rail which trains tap motive power from?

In my opinion, the delay in reopening SMRT stations that Sunday ended up making the company's rolling stock team look inept and technically incompetent in delivering what they had promised. But in hindsight, is this impression fair?

I am hopeful the additional checks were introduced on the grounds of caution and that there was nothing sinister behind this.

There are many people tracking this investigation, not just the COI. All parties should therefore perform their duties honorably and professionally.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training death for 2012

Death of Singapore Armed Forces Operationally-Ready National Serviceman
Posted: 10 Jan 2012, 1640 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)
Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Operationally-Ready National Serviceman, Corporal (CPL) (NS) Li Hongyang, 28, a security trooper from 62 Combat Service Support Battalion, fainted at 8.38am on 10 January 2012 after completing his 2.4km run during the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). He was undergoing his In-Camp Training at Kranji Camp III.

An SAF medic on site attended to him immediately and evacuated him via a safety vehicle to the Kranji Medical Centre where an SAF doctor attended to him at 8.43am. CPL (NS) Li was sent via an ambulance to the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) at 9.00am and arrived at KTPH at 9.20am. The SAF doctor continued to resuscitate him in the ambulance en route to the hospital. CPL (NS) Li was pronounced dead at 9.40am at KTPH.

The Ministry of Defence and the SAF extend our deepest condolences to the family of the late CPL (NS) Li. MINDEF is assisting the family in their time of grief and is investigating the incident.

Lieutenant-Colonel (NS) Gan Fong Yin, Commanding Officer of 62 Combat Service Support Battalion, said: "Hongyang was a cherished member of the battalion. His demise is definitely a loss to the battalion. We will miss him and our hearts go out to his family."

Last updated on 10 Jan 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Letter in Today newspaper dated 7 January 2012

The letter in today's edition of the Today newspaper, "When foreigners are treated as Singaporeans" by David Boey, was not written by me.

As for social media signatures, I'm not on Facebook or LinkedIn. I prefer to keep in touch with all of you via this blog, email or personal contact.

Exercise Wallaby 2011 war machines return to Singapore after intensive war games in Oz

How many types of armoured vehicles can you identify from the image above? 

These Singapore Army war machines were part of the air-land integrated live fire manoeuvres, codenamed Exercise Wallaby, that took place in Australia last year. They were observed in Singapore after they were shipped home from Australia aboard a commercial roll-on/roll-off car carrier.

Tank nuts may notice that at this range, the BX2 Command Post vehicle and BX2 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) are virtually indistinguishable. Special thanks to Hans Johnson for this contribution and field report.

It is interesting to compare the Bionix Launched Bridge (BLB) and Leopard 2 Biber armoured bridgelayer in the foreground of the vehicle park.

Do note that the Ultra OWS. Rarely seen in Singapore these days, the M-113s upgraded to Ultra standard and armed with a 25mm Bushmaster cannon mounted in a Rafael Overhead Weapon System are being replaced by Bionix 2 IFVs.

The number of Bronco VSAT vehicles ("coffin carriers") that were involved in the exercise is also noteworthy. Their strong presence points to the level and intensity of networking done by the Singapore Army during the war games held in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Australia's Queensland state.

This blog would like to put on record its thanks to the military enthusiasts who watched Ex Wallaby take shape at Rockhampton Airport. Many of their images and trip reports are found on the Central Queensland Plane Spotting site which is found here

Your contributions allow defence enthusiasts to see, understand and appreciate the logistical challenges involved in staging the war games 5,750 km from Singapore. Please keep up the splendid effort.

Further reading:
Forging sabres, forging knights: Making the most of war games and battlefield experiments. Please click here.

Big bird: Sunday, 27 November 2011, Rockhampton Airport. A Polet Airlines Antonov AN-124-100 Ruslan, arriving as Flight POT4765 from Perth, prepares to load her cargo of four Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopters (063, 065, 066 and 067) and one Eurocopter AS.332M Super Puma (281).

The availability of heavy lifters such as the Ruslan, leased from a Russian company, gives RSAF mission planners from the Transport Group a heavy airlift option unimaginable during the days of the Cold War. During a period of tension, strategic transports like these could rapidly reinforce home defences by airlifting Army and RSAF war machines based overseas back to Singapore. The success of this air bridge hinges on excellent strategic intelligence of a potential enemy's intent and drawer plans that can quickly mobilise and deploy commercial airlifters in support of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

At a tactical level, RSAF engineers must also be well-versed with the intricacies of strategic airlift. This skill was amply practised ferrying cargo to and from Singapore to Rockhampton - and are captured by pictures from Australian plane spotter Ben O'Dowd.

Homeward bound: Apache gunship 067 from RSAF 120 Squadron ready for her ride home in the Antonov AN-124-100 Ruslan heavy lift transport. The pre-flight planning and SOPs that Team RSAF executed during Exercise Wallaby are exactly the same skill sets that will be called into play for a strategic airlift tasking. Such skill sets are perishable and cannot be practised in a simulator. The logistics involved in airlifting RSAF and Army war machines to and from Singapore and Australia provided a valuable dress rehearsal for skills that will be called into play should the SAF be required to mobilise and deploy its full force potential.

Easy does it: The AN-124-100 Ruslan kneels by lowering its nose wheel to aid the loading of cargo through its nose, which is hinged like a visor, and in goes Apache 065. Watching the action is Super Puma 281 from 125 Squadron.

Special delivery: Super Puma 281 is gobbled up by the Ruslan. Main and tail rotors have been removed by RSAF engineers. It takes about eight hours to cover the air miles between Rockhampton and Singapore. This means the Aussie-based Super Pumas and Cougars could conceivably be back in Sembawang Air Base within 24-hours in an emergency. This of course assumes the availability of commercial assets such as the Ruslan. 

More importantly, Team RSAF must be able to execute the strategic airlift mission and draw up a loading plan in collaboration with the commercial air cargo operator. Exercise Wallaby allowed RSAF engineers the opportunity to take down, load and reassemble RSAF assets in an out-of-base environment thousand of miles from home base. 

Over the years, overseas deployments such as the one you see here have given RSAF mission planners firsthand knowledge of which mission critical spares it needs to pack and what items can be left at home. Such know-how contributed significantly to the air force's ability to surge, deploy and sustain operations in two theatres simultaneously after the Boxing Day earthquake/tsunami in 2004. 

Within these theatres (Phuket in Thailand and Sumatra in Indonesia), the RSAF operated from no less than nine austere airstrips for up to three weeks. These were Phuket Airport in Thailand as well as Banda Aceh, Medan, three landing strips in Meulaboh and three Republic of Singapore Navy helicopter landing ships (RSS Endurance, RSS Endeavour and RSS Persistence) offshore. The designation "helicopter landing ship" was a temporary expedient to indicate to the United Nations and foreign media that the tank landing ships (LSTs) could embark helicopters. To add to the confusion, the LSTs are in reality dock landing platforms (LPDs)... :-)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Update to Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) website

Dear Friends,
The typo is finally fixed. Took them awhile though.

Best Regards,


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training safety in 2011

Three Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel died during military training in 2011. These fatalities include two full-time National Servicemen (NSF) and one air force Regular.

SAF training deaths in 2011 break the fatality-free year in 2010, which was the safest year for military training since compulsory National Service began in 1967.

Although SAF training deaths rose three times in 2011 in year-on-year terms, last year's record is lower than the 10 training deaths reported for 2009.

The tally for 2011 brings the SAF safety record back to the level in 2006 when three military training deaths were declared that year. Compared to 10 years ago, the year 2001 also saw three SAF training deaths. The figure for 2002 was also three deaths.

The ten years from 2001 to 2010 saw 42 Singaporeans die serving the SAF.

Friday proved the deadliest day for the SAF. From 2001 to 2010, 14 SAF servicemen died on a Friday. Could the promise of a weekend out of camp make SAF personnel let their guard down on the last day of a work week? Records show that the deaths of Second Lieutenant Nicholas Chan in 2009 and Lance Corporal Wee Yong Choon Eugin last January took place on a Friday after they were knocked down by reversing MID vehicles.

The second deadliest day was Wednesday. Nine SAF personnel died mid-week during the period.

As Saturday is book out day for the majority of SAF personnel, you probably will not be surprised by its record as the safest day from 2001 to 2010. Naval rating LCP Mar Teng Fong, 20, was the only servicemen to die on a Saturday although technically speaking, he died in hospital from injuries sustained the previous Wednesday aboard his tank landing ship.

June proved the deadliest month with eight deaths from 2001 to 2010 while May came a close second with seven fatalities.

The safest months - February, March, August and December - were tied with one death each during the past decade.

Compare these statistics with the training deaths reported by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) for 2011:

28 January 2011 (Friday) - Lance Corporal Wee Yong Choon Eugin, 20, was hit by a reversing Unimog while unloading stores at Jurong Camp 1 at 0700 hours Hotel. He was pronounced dead at NUH at 0759 hrs H.

11 June 2011 (Saturday) - Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Regular Major Toh Tze Wah Edi, 49, collapsed at 0911 hrs H collapsed midway during his Individual Physical Proficiency Test 2.4km at Tengah Air Base. He was pronounced dead at NUH at 10:24 hrs H.

2 August 2011 (Tuesday) - Specialist Cadet Ee Chun Sheng, 21, was found unconscious at about 17:11 hrs H while participating in a navigation exercise in the Ama Keng Training Area in Lim Chu Kang. An SAF medic went to the site and tried resuscitating SCT Eee at 17:15 hrs H. He was evacuated to the medical centre at Tengah Air Base where doctors attended to him after the safety vehicle arrived at 17:39 hrs H. At 18:05 hrs H, SCT Eee was rushed to NUH. The ambulance arrived there at 18:32 hrs H. He was pronounced dead at NUH at 21:03 hrs H.

During the year, MINDEF also reported that SCT Percy Toh Cheng Kai, 21, was injured on 31 July (Sunday) after a 40mm round exploded prematurely in a 40 AGL (automatic grenade launcher). He was injured on his chest, right arm and right cheek. SCT Toh was discharged from hospital in August 2011. The significance of this incident can be seen by the death that hit the training school just two days later. The proactive steps taken by its commanders to manage morale of SCTs in the school are commendable.

To the best of our knowledge, there were no unreported SAF training deaths in 2011. We are satisfied with the level of transparency by MINDEF/SAF when reporting training incidents last year. However, BOI and COI findings should be shared in an open forum as lessons picked up from such investigations will do much to reinforce safety awareness in our citizens armed forces.

All NSFs, Operationally Ready NSmen and SAF Regulars are urged to make training safety a personal commitment and team effort in 2012 and beyond.