Sunday, February 26, 2012

The aerial display: A leading indicator of the RSAF's wish-list?

Once every two years, even amateur defence watchers can glean reliable clues on Singapore's air force procurement priorities just by looking at the airshow flying display line-up.

It is not rocket science. This leading indicator proved accurate years before the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) picked a new high performance warplane and an advanced jet trainer to spearhead its transformation into a Third Generation fighting force.

The downside to the flurry of airshow-linked marketing activities is the lack of show presence from the losers whose birds have disappeared completely from the flying display list. This means more work on the part of the airshow organiser to stamp the Singapore Airshow's status as a regional and not just a Singapore-centric event.

Stealthy exits 
Runner-ups for the RSAF's Next Fighter Replacement Programme have all but disappeared from the Singapore Airshow's flying display after United States aviation and defence giant, Boeing, won the long-running evaluation in 2005. 

French aviation firm, Dassault Aviation, no longer hawks its Mirage-series or Rafale fighter jets in Singapore after its Rafale was bested by the Boeing F-15T Strike Eagle (which was subsequently renamed the F-15SG as the "T"-for-Temasek suffix suggested a trainer role). Dassault's absence is all the more striking as it had sent Rafales to Singapore for four airshow seasons since 1998. Since the 2006 airshow, Dassault has realigned its focus to market its Falcon-series of business jets and the company's footprint at the Singapore Airshow has downsized noticeably from its heyday when it ran neck-to-neck with Boeing's Strike Eagle.  

The same can be said of BAE Systems' Typhoon fighter jet. The Eurofighter was part of the trio downselected by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) but was eventually dropped as the warplane's development timeline did not meet MINDEF/RSAF operational requirements.

In hindsight, the Asian Aerospace 2004 flying display marked the highpoint for aviation buffs. That year's airshow saw two downselected NFRP candidates - Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle and Dassault Aviation Rafale - sent to Singapore to dazzle airshow spectators. BAE Systems made up for its lack of aerial presence (Typhoon wasn't ready for its Far East outing) with a 1:1 scale mock up of the Typhoon and an energetic marketing campaign that included media junkets to the United Kingdom and outreach sessions with Singapore schools (both of which have since died).   

It was much the same story for the RSAF's Advanced Jet Trainer programme, which sought to find a replacement for the TA-4SU Super Skyhawks now fielded as Advanced Jet Trainers in Cazaux, France.

The first edition of the Singapore Airshow in 2008 saw two leading contenders take to the skies. These were the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 Golden Eagle and the Aermacchi M346 Master from Italy. The Italian bid eventually won and Aermacchi sent two M346s to this year's SA 2012. But none of these trainers took part in the flying display.

To be sure, only an idiot would buy a new warplane just by watching it perform at an air display. These shop windows are expensive to stage but are seen as essential adjuncts to behind the scenes marketing campaigns where warplane specifications, specific operational requirements and contract details are banged out during closed-door talks.

With the big ticket flying machine contracts all inked, fears voiced by aviation and defence enthusiasts that lack of support from airshow participants would kill the flying display appear to be coming true.

Makers of the Rafale and Typhoon no longer see a need to send their fighters to perform in Singapore. Ditto for the AJT makers now that the M346 has won its Singapore bid.

Singapore Airshow 2014 (SA 2014)
With nothing on the horizon except for replacements for the RSAF's KC-135R Stratotanker aerial refuelling tankers, the Singapore Airshow organiser must redouble efforts to ensure SA 2014 is worth the ticket price.

If not for the presence of Australia's Roulettes and Malaysia's Smokey Bandits aerobatic display teams, the performance by the RSAF's aerobatic combo comprising an F-15SG and F-16C may have been the only thing to keep spectators riveted.

Show organiser Experia should make full use of the two-year lead time before SA 2014 to plan and deliver a world-class flying display. As things stand, the RSAF's key fast jets have all come into service and unless Experia can convince tanker makers to have their lumbering birds take part in an air display, it is going to take some work to convince fighter makers to show their stuff during SA 2014.

By that time, one hopes the elusive F-22 Raptor - hinted as a show stopper in SA 2012 ads - will make its presence felt. 

Even without the promise of multi-million dollar RSAF contracts, Experia could take the cue from this year's show to woo more regional air forces to take part in SA 2014.

Say what you want about the ageing MiG-29 Fulcrums but Malaysia's Smokey Bandits team was a crowd favourite at SA 2012. If comments on the Smokey Bandits' Facebook page are to be believed, one fan even flew all the way down from Penang to watch them fly. If this isn't a ringing endorsement of the team's crowd appeal, I don't know what is.

The 100,000 spectators clocked during SA 2012's public days makes the event is a major attraction on Singapore's event calendar.

With some forward planning, coordination and string-pulling with MINDEF/RSAF, perhaps war games staged by the Five Power Defence Arrangements could be arranged to conveniently coincide with airshow season to coax FPDA members to also send their war machines to SA 2014.

Building mindshare
At the same time, airshow participants need to realise that the public days are a valuable opportunity to reach out and build mindshare with future customers. It is a pity many companies view public days as chill-out time and do not bother to send all but their most junior execs to man their booths. Some go to the extent of roping up their booths and barricading chalets to keep the public outside.

Even Lockheed Martin, which won repeat orders from Singapore for its F-16 Fighting Falcon and also sold HIMARS rocket artillery to the republic, kept itself out of reach from the public. Its exhibits were displayed in its exclusive chalet some distance from the main hall. Lockheed's failure to make its presence felt in the main hall is the company's loss.

Boeing did things differently: its footprint at SA 2012 comprised a chalet for private meetings and a stand in the main hall. Boeing staff were observed patiently explained its products and services, repeating themselves time and again as new visitors thronged their stand. All visitors were welcome, regardless of their buying power.

The last trade day of SA 2012 saw a sizeable number of Singaporean students attend the "trade only" event in their school uniform. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) probably did its part in boosting attendance numbers by sending bus loads of full-time National Servicemen and young regulars to the airshow. It was indeed insightful observing how different companies treated this young audience.

The RSAF pilots who performed at SA 2012 were in their teens when word of NFRP first galvanised defence contractors to put on a big show at Asian Aerospace. Every and any attempt to build goodwill with young Singaporeans will payoff years from today as Singaporean officers typically rise to squadron command in their mid-30s. In airshow terms, this means that the teenage student or young RSAF officer cadet that an airshow exhibitor ignored during SA 2012 could conceivably drop by within the next few shows as a potential customer. 

This sort of career trajectory is probably uniquely Singaporean and defence contractors would do well to treat visiting members of the public well as the same bloke may some day sit across the negotiating table for that big ticket contract. Today's airshow irritant could end up tomorrow's customer.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My day job

A number of you have asked what role a former journalist can serve in the HR department of a gaming company.

On Thursday night, when our team won three HRM Awards at an event that appraised written submissions from Singapore's HR sector, the answer should be obvious. See the list of winners here.

It was humbling to know that the 16 judges from government ministries, HR consultancies, academia and industry found our submissions award-worthy.

Our company is a newbie compared to other finalists from the public and private sectors, which included big brand names and legacy companies.

So we were clear we had to make our submissions shine. It helped that the HR team I'm with has a compelling story to tell, a credible track record and a boss who has been with the pre-opening team since construction site days.

Defence matters are still close to my heart, as will be obvious from this blog. But I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone four years ago to join the pre-opening team for a project that had no historical precedent, a challenging start-up cycle and unknown prospects.

To our internship partners who have stumbled on this blog, thank you so much for all your support, suggestions and professional guidance as educators. This is a milestone year for us as we will be fully operational by end 2012.

Come visit us soon. :-)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Worth reading about: ScanEagle Unmanned Aircraft System


As you read this, there are an estimated 20 Insitu ScanEagles on airborne surveillance duty somewhere on this planet.

Military buffs will probably remember the American-made ScanEagle Unmanned Aircraft System as the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that made a surprise appearance aboard the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) stealth frigate, RSS Steadfast, during a media embed in February 2009.

Insitu officials at the Singapore Airshow were tight-lipped about their customer list. But this blog understands that this machine can be categorised in the "worth reading about" category.

Richard Aplin, a business development manager with Insitu Pacific, said there are more than 1,000 ScanEagles in service worldwide. A sizeable number serve aboard warships that never operated UAVs before. Here's where the ScanEagle's compact, foldable launcher and Skyhook retrieval system allows space-challenged warships to operate and recover the UAVs out at sea.

"ScanEagles expand the reach of the commander who is now able to exert his influence a long way away," said Mr Aplin, adding that navies routinely send ScanEagles for over-the-horizon scouting missions.

ScanEagles can be operated by as few as two personnel - a pilot and sensor operator. However, prolonged usage will require the presence of a maintenance team.

It takes about 10 weeks to train a newbie to operate the ScanEagle system.

Some interesting trivia about the ScanEagle:
* Fielded by the United States Navy for NATO-led operations off the coast of Libya codenamed Operation Unified Protector.

* Provided an aerial watch during the April 2009 hostage rescue mission that freed the captain of the 1,092-TEU container vessel Maersk Alabama off Somalia.

* ScanEagles can send live, colour imagery to small boat crews tasked with executing Visit, Board, Search and Seizure missions. The eye-in-the-sky can also support compliant or non-compliant boardings by checking the blindside of vessels being approached by small boat teams.

* A ScanEagle can stay airborne for more than a day. While at sea or in the littoral zone, its mothership can send it over-the-horizon for a look-see without exposing the host warship to enemy surveillance.

* RSS Steadfast demonstrated its ability to operate UAVs when it launched and recovered a ScanEagle at night. The launch was witnessed by embedded Singaporean media (plus your's truly, who was already with RWS). ScanEagle's status with the RSN is unknown. As a side note, the RSN had also experimented with a shipborne UAV developed by DSO National Laboratories called NATALEE.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Teen arrested over online hoax posting on full-time National Serviceman's death

A teenager has been arrested and interrogated by Singapore Police Force (SPF) detectives for his alleged involvement in a hoax posting about a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training incident.

Unclear if the "Chinese youth" reported by Todayonline (see below) is a description that refers to his nationality or race.

You may also like to read:
SPF computer forensics detectives zero in on Internet hoaxes. Click here.

Youth arrested for SAF hoax
04:46 AM Feb 16, 2012
SINGAPORE - A 19-year-old Chinese youth has been arrested by the police for posting an online hoax that a full-time national serviceman was shot dead during a training accident at Sembawang.

He was arrested for an offence of Transmitting a False or Fabricated message under Sec 45(b) of the Telecommunications Act, Cap 323, said a Police spokesperson yesterday. The youth is assisting the police investigations.

A police spokesperson said a report was lodged last Saturday and the Defence Ministry (MINDEF) said yesterday that it had filed the police report following an online hoax on Jan 27.

"MINDEF takes a very serious view of hoaxes that undermine public confidence in the Singapore Armed Forces and cause undue alarm to the public," said Colonel Desmond Tan, MINDEF's director of public affairs in a statement yesterday.

The hoax was posted on Jan 27 on a blog called Temasek Revealed. It also appeared on a Facebook page called Temasek Review. It is understood that both sites are not associated with socio-political website Temasek Review Emeritus.

If convicted of an offence under the Telecommunications Act, he could be jailed up to three years and fined.
URL http://www.todayonline.com/Singapore/EDC120216-0000048/Youth-arrested-for-SAF-hoax
- END -

Singapore Airshow 2012: Seen and heard

Check Six!

The 90 cents newspaper got its war machines mixed up (again). This time confusing Malaysia's MiG-29N Fulcrum from the Smokey Bandits with Singapore's F-15SG Strike Eagle. To be sure, both look kinda the same to laypersons: both have one big wing, two tail fins, are painted grey and make lotsa noise. But one would have hoped for better QC (quality control) by Singapore's paper of record. Hopefully, air force warfighters whose job is to smoke the bandits don't make the same mistake in a hot war. As Malaysians and Singaporeans would say in the local slang: Alamak! (Image scanned by Who from the Milnuts spotter group)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

First look at the RSAF's Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Coming out of the closet: The Republic of Singapore Air Force Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Command (UAV Command) unveils its IAI Heron 1 UAV, which takes pride of place at the Static Aircraft Display Area at the Singapore Airshow.(Picture courtesy of Roy from the Milnuts spotting group)

The Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which serves the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), is being shown in public for the first time at the Singapore Airshow 2012.

The Heron, the air force's largest eye-in-the-sky, can stay aloft for more than a day. It will eventually replace Searcher UAVs which were fielded by the RSAF since 1994. Both types of UAVs were made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

Delivered recently from Israel, the Herons are operated by the RSAF's 128 Squadron and is grouped as one of the drone squadrons under UAV Command. The squadron, the RSAF's oldest UAV unit, operated the Malat Scout MRPV in the 1980s.

The Herons used by the squadron must maintain line-of-sight with its ground control station. Video feeds are understood to be in full colour - a marked improvement from imagery from earlier types of RSAF UAVs which were in black/white due to bandwidth transmission limitations.

Herons will complement Hermes 450 UAVs flown by 116 SQN. During operations, the two units will be assigned to support different Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units.

Some interesting factoids about 128 SQN's Heron 1 UAVs:
* The Heron has the longest wingspan and endurance among all RSAF UAVs.

* UAV controllers from 128 SQN are assigned to work in shifts for long endurance missions that can last 24 hours or more.

* A camera is slung under the starboard wing to aid autonomous landings.

* The Heron is the only UAV in RSAF service that slows its landing run using pneumatic brakes, just like a fixed-wing aircraft. Other models that do not have brakes come to a stop using arrestor hooks (Hermes 450) or descend via parachute (Skylark).

* And finally, 128 SQN's Herons quite possibly have the most number of serial numbers painted on their airframe than any other RSAF aircraft type - manned or unmanned. Numbers can be found on the fuselage, main wing, both tail fins and the support in between the tail fins.

The Herons are being worked up to attain initial operational capability.

This blog wishes 128 SQN and RSAF UAV Command many hours of safe flying.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hits and misses by the Singapore defence industry

Every two years, the Singaporean defence industry brings out its latest gizmos to wow the world. That time will come again when the Singapore Airshow throws open its doors to trade visitors on Tuesday.

While the shop window has undoubtedly generated impressive public relations (PR) mileage at successive editions of Asian Aerospace and two editions of the Singapore Airshow since 2008, defence watchers might do well keeping track of what's missing from the line up.

Absent war machines and products/services quietly dropped from glossy marketing brochures tell a story of missed opportunities by Singapore's defence industry. To be sure, the missing war machines also tell a story of progress: upgraded A-4 Skyhawks giving way to souped-up F-5s, with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles coming out of the woodwork this century. Faithful visitors to the Lion City's airshows would have noted the capability leaps.

For a city-state that has constantly banged on the self-reliance drum, missed opportunities in the area of defence technology are indicative of a corporate mindset that sometimes needs to be prodded to realise that the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) do not owe the local defence industry a living.

Our reputation for thoroughness and straight dealing may have earned us the moniker of "reference customer" from the world's defence press. But taken to the extreme, an obsession with paperwork may result in our local guys missing the forest for the trees and compromising the SAF by making weapons purchases more bureaucratic than they ought to be.

Beyond all the smiles and handshakes, the clinking glasses on the cocktail circuit, Singaporeans must realise that our defence industry has a somewhat shady reputation among weapons makers. If you get the chance at SA2012, speak to old Singapore hands privately and listen to what they have to share. Unless we calibrate our industrial relations well, there is a high risk that this island will someday be lumped into the same category as weapons industry pariahs than nobody wants to work with, sell to or rub shoulders with.

If you check the Business Times archive, you will realise that I was an early advocate for the merger of four Singapore Technologies companies to form Singapore Technologies Engineering (ST Engg).

We needed critical mass at a time when the world's defence industry was undergoing a post-Cold War restructuring. Consolidation to protect market share and preserve earnings growth was the name of the game. A comparison between participants at early Asian Aerospace airshows and companies listed in the SA2012 directory will reveal many legacy companies that have faded into history. The likes of Aerospatiale, British Aerospace, General Dynamics, Grumman, Hughes, Martin Marietta, Northrop, Westland and so on are no longer standalone companies. They exist under new corporate banners, having merged with partners and erstwhile rivals to form defence heavyweights.

So having ST Engg command four major business units (BUs), viz ST Aerospace, ST Automotive (now ST Kinetics), ST Electronics and ST Marine, made perfect sense from a business perspective. The combined strengths of these BUs outweighed the impact each BU could exert individually. Synergy was the buzzword. It looked like a great game plan - at least on paper.

My sentiments changed the deeper I probed.

Accounts of BUs fighting (needlessly) over who pays for floor space booked at the airshow were just the tip of the iceberg. At a grand strategic level, the promise to shareholders of growing ST Engg 10 times in 10 years made a nice newspaper story but, alas, never materialised.

LongShot glide bomb kit
Defence watchers may recall the LongShot glide bomb kit displayed at the ST Engg pavilion during Asian Aerospace 2002. Where is LongShot now?

Word has it that while we quibbled with the American designer over rights to his design, which gives dumb bombs a longer range with strapped-on wings, someone else marched in and plonked serious money on the table to buy the design. According to industry gossip, an asking fee for Singapore that totaled several million US dollars was eventually eclipsed by the other party which offered more than twice the price. The US designer must have laughed all the way to the bank. Good for him. This is entrepreneurship at its best.

Because of our penny-pinching bureaucratic mindset, Singapore lost a golden opportunity at buying over an innovative design that could have sharpened the combat edge of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilots and weapon systems officers. We had a first-mover advantage but ended up the loser when we let LongShot slip from our grasp.

Bronco deal
ST Engg's desire to reach out to partners has rubbed some companies the wrong way. Indeed, some never want to work with Singapore again. In an industry which is as gossipy as the arms trade, this sort of notoriety travels far and wide.

A case in point is the Bronco all-terrain tracked vehicle. The inspiration behind this home-grown vehicle's design was disputed by Swedish defence firm, Hagglunds, which sued our defence industry some years ago. The case was settled amicably and went largely unreported by defence journalists. But the loss of goodwill with the Swedish land weapons maker (now under the BAE Systems umbrella) is something money cannot repair.

In 2001, when I attended the IDEX defence show in Abu Dhabi as part of a press junket, I learned firsthand the extent of the hostility discomfort towards the Singapore weapons industry brand. As my trip was sponsored by an ST company, the host kindly assisted with visitor registration. A bureaucratic mix up resulted in the IDEX organiser issuing me a trade pass that said I belonged to the ST company.

The Arab gate guards at IDEX were as easy-going as they come and fanned me in despite my insistence on getting the error corrected.(This was several months before 9/11)

When I got to the booth of a Belgian small arms maker, which in that year was selling a new bullpup assault rifle, the folks on duty took one look at my badge and said I wasn't welcome. If you know me well, you'll realise I'm not the sort who walks away from this sort of situation without getting a good answer. To cut a long story short, the explanation by the small arms maker made me look at our defence industry from the perspective of a foreign partner who wanted to do business and got more than they bargained for.(Convinced of my bona fide, they eventually let me tour the stand, stay as long as I wanted and explained the rifle in some detail. That's European hospitality for you.)

Many of the things Singapore's defence industry has put in its shop window would not have seen the light of day without foreign assistance. We have cultivated strong partnerships worldwide and should be thankful for the assistance people have rendered to Singapore.

We've done good in many areas. Our Bionix and Terrex family of armoured vehicles have made foreign armies sit up and take notice of tiny Singapore - despite the SAF's lack of wartime experience. Even without a national automobile, we have a "national" armoured vehicle in the form of the BX. It is something Singaporeans can be rightly proud of.

The value of humility
As much as we would like to play up our self-reliant attitude, we must learn to eat humble pie and treat our foreign partners in a way we ourselves would like to be treated.

At times, our young staff officers let their pride get to their head. The story of a young punk staff officer from Singapore's defence eco-system talking down their opposite number - some of whom have spent more time in a combat zone than these fresh graduates have clocked in the working world - is so numerous and varied that it isn't funny anymore. Defence contractors from Europe, the Americas and Asia have their own version of the story to tell.

When smarty pants is engaged outside his or her comfort zone of their pet MINDEF/SAF Project, defence contractors quickly realise these youngsters actually know precious little about military technology or, god forbid, military history and tactics. They can talk your ear off about the widget they have been tasked to look after, but steer the conversation into the history of war and what-if scenarios for (insert your favourite battle, general or war machine) and smarty pants becomes clueless.

The high-and-mighty attitude, bordering on sheer arrogance, which is the business communications ethic adopted by some of our young, fresh out of school, promotion by default staff officers makes some foreign contractors feel that they should grovel for our multi-million dollar contracts. Is this the kind of world-class reputation we want to cultivate? Mind you, they have long memories and are unlikely to forget the lack of social graces.

The Singaporean staff officers (SOs) may be as young as the defence contractor's children, but this isn't about respect for our elders. It is about extending a professional courtesy to a fellow defence professional, many of whom were former military and earned their stripes the hard way. Sadly, some of our SOs behave just like one.

Still on people management, a quick word on talent management. ST Engg should treasure its weapons engineers as they are the core of our country's competence in defence technology. Let's not talk about the annual Defence Technology Prize. Let's focus on the day-to-day grind many ST Engg staff have to endure. On many occasions, hapless ST Engg staff get the short end of the stick whenever MINDEF/SAF, the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Engg lock horns over a project.

Assimilating foreign defence technology through joint ventures, collaborative arrangements, M&A, MOUs etc helps Singapore leapfrog the development cycle for defence products. But doing so at the cost of nurturing a local talent pool of engineers will steadily erode Singapore's defence engineering base.

In some ways, the tech erosion has already started, no thanks to cut throat rivalry from defence companies more business savvy, more experienced and more driven than our own.

Ask yourself what happened to our capability to manufacture and market fuzes for infantry support weapons such as mortar bombs. We used to make these in-country as it was a strategic advantage for Singapore to have this sort of defence know-how. It took a fatal explosion in an FH-2000 155mm gun to reveal that artillery fuzes were bought from overseas (the faulty fuze was provided by a US-based company but actually Made in China).

We surrendered our production of 5.56mm small arms ammunition, arguing that bullets have become a commodity product that can be stockpiled more economically. That's a budget-friendly answer. But what happens if that stockpile is compromised during a period of tension? Would a local production capability not have a sterner deterrent value?

One could go on and on spinning yarns about ST Engg at the risk of straying into Official Secrets Act (OSA) territory. So I'd better stop here as the point has been made: The Singaporean defence industry has achieved much in nearly half a century but must steer astutely through the cut throat world of arms sales as it has many skeletons in the closet.

You may hear stories of your own at SA2012. For me, the cocktail circuit with gossipy defence industry types starts... tonight!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Singapore Airshow 2012: Seen and heard

Ruffled feathers
Minor ruckus at the Singapore Airshow 2012 site this morning when media pass holders were unceremoniously ejected from the show venue. Some foreign scribes who made their way halfway across the island to Changi and were told to leave before they could even crack open their notebooks/cameras were none too pleased, to put it mildly. Feathers were apparently ruffled by security personnel and Experia staff in red T shirts whose service culture and EQ wasn't exactly world-class.

Media personnel used to covering previous editions of the Singapore Airshow and other world-class air shows would probably agree that the weekend recces before the show opening are vital for working out their game plan for interviews and press coverage before the media circus kicks off.


Dreamliner's nightmare
This gem of a PR gaffe surfaced at a somewhat routine press call staged by American aircraft giant Boeing today. A select group of photojournalists were invited to photograph the arrival of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner at Changi Airport Runway 3 this afternoon. Boeing reps shrugging off jet lag had a wake-up call when one of the (non Boeing) personnel briefing the media said: "Later when the Airbus lands ah....".

For the record, the Boeing airliner touched down safely. Here's proof -->

Airbus Boeing 787 Dreamliner touches down on Changi Airport's Runway 3 on 11 February 2012.(Source: Boeing)

Singapore's Defence Budget for Financial Year 2012/13

One of the biggest highlights for defence professionals arriving this weekend for the Singapore Airshow will take place far from the show venue in Changi.

The reading of Singapore's Budget Statement this coming Friday (17 Feb 2012) will be keenly watched by the city state's friends and frenemies.

From an information management standpoint, timing is perfect. Releasing the Budget Statement when key defence professionals from around the world are still in town ensures defence watchers will be better appraised on the value, focus and national priorities for Singapore in the 2012/13 financial year. This kicks off from 1 April.

Defence hacks bombed out by five days of intensive coverage at the airshow (Monday's press preview plus four Trade Days) will have a ready-made story on the Lion City's defence posture just by looking at the Defence budget figure. As news flows tend to dry up on the last Trade Day of the Sing Airshow, having this big story delivered on their plate helps scribes justify their presence in sunny Singapore when most of Europe is locked in the big freeze.

Underlining commitment to defence
Armed with this information, word of Singapore's commitment to its national defence will spread far and wide as Singapore Airshow delegates pack up and head for home. The value of such awareness, whispered in the corridors of Kementah in Kuala Lumpur, the Pentagon, MODUK and elsewhere will do much to sell the message that Singapore is serious about protecting its national interests.  

So come Friday, it's a safe bet that many plasma TV sets in the swanky chalets that ring the airshow will be tuned to the "live" broadcast of Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, unveiling the Singaporean government's proposed fiscal priorities and allocations.


For the Singapore Airshow crowd, one highly anticipated budget item is the value of the Defence budget.


For regular visitors to this blog, no surprises are likely when it comes to defence spending. Indeed, it would be news to us if the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) had its budget clipped from the S$12.08 billion budgeted for national defence in FY 2011/12. The figure for FY 2010/11 amounted to some S$11.46 billion


Singapore Airshow delegates from overseas bemoaning the strength of the Singapore dollar vis-a-vis their home currencies will realise the sum for MINDEF/SAF is a hefty commitment by this tiny nation.


Defence spending is likely to claim the lion's share of national spending (30% of the national budget) because Singapore has made it abundantly clear a feast or famine approach to defence spending is not the way to guarantee the island's security.


Instead, the mission of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is realised by financial contributions capped at 6% of Singapore's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As the city state's GDP crept past S$300 billion in 2010, table napkin calculations show that MINDEF and the SAF are working well within the budget cap. 


If anything, there is ample room for growth.


Reference customer
Makers of war machines and other defence equipment are likely to keep their ears tuned to that magic Defence budget figure in the hope of enjoying spinoffs as MINDEF/SAF renews its arsenal.


Singapore's military procurement priorities in coming years - which need not necessarily fall within the scope of the FY 2012/13 work year - include but are not limited to:
- Fast landing craft for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) capable of embarking Leopard 2SG-class main battle tanks
- Renewal of the RSN's maritime patrol aircraft fleet
- A replacement for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 Hercules fleet
- Reappraisal of the size and composition of the RSAF fighter force after the F-5S/T Tiger II fighter jets are stood down
- A medium-lift helicopter to replace Super Puma and Cougars
- A dedicated CSAR bird
- Sensors and hardstandings for an air defence system that can also track and engage tube/rocket artillery ordnance


The SAF is also likely to continue committing combat or combat support forces to selected overseas deployments, provided such commitments can be made within the SAF's defence readiness calendar - already heavily populated with critical force development items that will see the SAF train with one foreign armed forces every week throughout the year.


The world's arms industry will be angling for contracts as the republic's war chest is revealed this Friday.


In addition, Singapore's no-nonsense approach to weapons purchases makes it a valued reference customer.


Defence companies that count the SAF as a customer enjoy bragging rights for having successfully aced an evaluation process known (or notorious, as the case may be) industry-wide for its technical competence, thoroughness in defining specifications, mile-high tender documentation and rigor in field trials.


Having gone through the washing machine, defence companies that come up tops after being made to draft and rewrite documentation that can amount to hundreds of pages can say, hand on heart, that they are better armed to tackle less-rigorous procurement processes in other parts of the globe.


All the guesswork about the level and size of Singapore's commitment to its national defence will be answered when the Budget Statement is tabled. If you've not made a note to self about this announcement, do it now.


You may also like to read:
The best customers. Please click here.


Upcoming commentaries this week:
Hits and misses by the Singapore defence industry
The aerial display: A leading indicator of the RSAF's wish-list?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

70th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore: Usque Ad Astra ("All the way to the heavens")

Depending on which octogenarian you ask, the question "What did you do during the war?" may unlock long-forgotten stories of wartime privations or personal embarrassment.

Jimmy Chew Kian Tong apparently had no such hang ups.

As a teen, he served Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) as an aircraft technician 70 years ago in the futile struggle against Imperial Japanese forces, who invaded and occupied Singapore between 15 February 1942 till the war's end. Captured by the Japanese, he was held as a prisoner of war in Java (then occupied Dutch colonial territory) for his part as a combatant.


After World War Two, Jimmy Chew was one of the first people from this island to earn his pilot wings with the Malayan Auxiliary Air Force (MAAF), which was formed with the aim of training pilots from British Malaya to RAF standard. Trained at RAF Tengah (now Tengah Air Base), Jimmy Chew rose to the rank of Squadron Leader (almost in the same tier protocol-wise as a Republic of Singapore Air Force Major).

Jimmy Chew would probably have hours of yarns to share about his wartime ordeal and MAAF experience.

Oral history specialists have done their best at data mining and scattered references for Jimmy Chew can be found through Google.

Skilled interviewers could probably draw out more. But it's too late as Jimmy will be laid to rest this afternoon. He died last week at the age of 88. He leaves behind two sons, three daughters and three grandchildren.

His death marks the passing of one of the last WW2 POWs from Singapore. At a time when this island was in trouble, people like Jimmy Chew bravely stepped forward to resist the aggressor.

We will remember them.

Usque Ad Astra



Acknowledgement: I thank the RSAF officer, who evidently knows his military history, for bringing Jimmy Chew's passing to this blog's attention.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Singapore Police Force (SPF) computer forensics detectives zero in on Internet hoaxes; many brought to justice after rigorous police investigations


Sunday Times, 29 January 2012: As a matter of interest, look at how two politicians respond to net rumours about their private lives...

Spreading false information about the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) or any national security issue may create an Internet sensation. It could also land the author(s) in jail.

Anyone found guilty of transmitting a false or fabricated message could be jailed for three years and fined.

This little-known piece of legislation is not without teeth as computer forensics sleuths with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) have made many hoaxers answer for their actions. In one case, a bomb hoax was traced all the way to an Internet cafe in Bangkok - the man was arrested upon arrival in Singapore and hauled to court.

It is a penalty that a 24-year-old engineer found out the hard way after police raided his Bedok Reservoir flat in May last year. The man is suspected of being behind a web hoax posted on the net forum Hardwarezone that claimed a Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16 fighter jet had crashed.

The Straits Times 27 May 2011

Alerted by a member of the public, SPF computer forensics detectives were ordered to find the author of the hoax after it went viral around noon on 26 May 2011. The team wrapped up its search by dinnertime.

At 8pm that night, police detectives arrived at his doorstep with an arrest warrant. His home was raided and personal belongings searched for evidence. Detectives arrested the person and seized the desktop computer thought to have been used to post the hoax.

More recently, netizens were alarmed by a posting which claimed an SAF full-time National Serviceman (NSF) had died in a training accident (please see first image, text is readable when you zoom in "+" on the image).

It went viral - which is not surprising. Even for this blog, postings on SAF training safety, NS defaulters and anything on SAF scenarios for war usually result in a spike in unique page views/day, according to the web tracking software that analyses visits to this site.

The denial by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) killed the hoax and attention faded away almost as quickly as it began. Again, not surprising as netizens have more distractions and websites to visit than free time.

Odds are, there will be skeptics who don't buy MINDEF's explanation. There will always be such people around. This brings to mind the TV news report of certain people denying that OBL had been killed even after reports to the contrary by the US Department of Defense.

Trust established between MINDEF/SAF and the citizen's army is a fragile one. People should never take for granted the amount of effort needed to win that trust - and then win it again - as public perceptions are constantly assaulted by assorted points of views. Not all POVs are well meaning or have Singapore's interest at heart.

Indeed, there are indications foreign citizens regularly plant flame bait on news sites that Singaporeans visit just to arouse negative sentiments and watch Singaporeans tear one another apart. 

MINDEF's handling of the training incident in Thailand in May 2010 is a classic example of how things should not be done. Unless the defence eco-system institutionalises such cases, younger MINDEF/SAF staff officers may, in time to come, not even know the case existed and repeat the misjudgement. Click here to read MINDEF's letter on shooting incident in Thailand.

Laws that deal with net hoaxes must be backed by a mechanism to bring people who started hoaxes to justice.

Defence authorities do not always have the monopoly on how defence information is released. My rule of engagement (ROE) is simple: the moment an SAF war machine crosses the fenceline of an SAF camp onto a public road/open sea/sky, the war machine is fair game for military nuts.

This ROE guided this posting on 30 September 2010. The flash message could have gone out faster but time was needed to verify information that trickled in to build an appreciation of situation. The risk of a miscomm was managed by having a network of military nuts who can report concisely what they see and understand the difference between observation and opinion. This network of plane spotters is credited for two scoops published by the 90 cents newspaper - the 1 April 2005 story on the A-4 Skyhawk last flight (see here) and the airspace intrusion by the Cessna seaplane. Ironically, after all the effort, some readers thought the 1 April Skyhawk story was an April Fool hoax. Please read more about plane spotters here.

Singaporeans need to realise that there is nothing funny about defence and security-related hoaxes.

At a social level, net mischief causes unnecessary anxiety among families and needless suspicion leveled against MINDEF/SAF or the SPF or civil defence, as the case may be. 

Hoaxes also corrode commitment to defence and could, if MINDEF/SAF is unwary, be used as a tool by foreign psywar elements to whittle away C2D. This is why the police and MINDEF/SAF must be able to given the resources to track down hoax authors. It is one thing to bring a 20-something mischief maker to justice for the nonsense he bangs out on his keyboard. But authorities need assurance that net hoaxes are not part of a sinister, long-term attempt to chip away at public support for national security. Unless computer forensics teams are built up, trained and supported to execute the work they do, we may be none the wiser.

The author(s) behind such hoaxes may get a kick out of seeing their handiwork go viral. But they should also know that computer sleuths who earn their pay with the SPF or MINDEF's Military Security Department are good at what they do.

This is why I never bothered starting an anonymous blog: because MSD would have found out who was behind it in pretty quick time.