Friday, June 29, 2012

Singapore Navy stealth frigate reveals new defensive aids

The Singapore navy stealth frigate, RSS Formidable (68), shows off two new structures atop her hangar during a port call in Hawaii on 27 June 2012.

Weatherproof coverings which conceal the structures from inquisitive eyes probably drap defensive aids, possibly an unknown type of anti-torpedo decoy. The twin launchers are thought to be able to discharge their munitions to protect the 114-metre long warship against attacks by wake-homing torpedoes. The size of each launcher suggests that it comprises a multi-tube configuration which is designed to ripple fire anti-torpedo munitions in a set pattern to catch incoming torpedoes.

The primary anti-submarine weapon for the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) six Formidable-class warships is the S-70B Seahawk, one of which is embarked on each stealth frigate.

RSS Formidable is in Hawaii to join 41 warships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel from 41 other nations at RIMPAC, the Rim of the Pacific naval warfare exercises which stretch from 29 June till 3 August 2012. The play area is centered around the Hawaiian islands.

The stealth frigate's participation in RIMPAC takes on from RSS Supreme's assignment at RIMPAC 2010, where she participated in maritime exercises within the littoral zone.

All images: United States Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean Furey

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Greek tragedy: Security implications of GE 2016's change in management

Greeks will cast their votes tomorrow for a new government in a legislative election that has captured world attention.

Singaporeans will get their chance to do so come 2016 when a General Election (GE) is held to pick elected representatives for the Lion City's 13th Parliament.

If Internet chatter is to be believed, GE 2016 will be a watershed moment in Singapore's electoral history. Netizens have seeded theories that the upcoming GE will be the one where political giants are unrooted with fresh blood brought into Parliament House to give an alternative voice to Singaporeans.

As your vote is secret, it's anybody's guess what voting patterns will look like in 2016. Supporters of the Men in White (MIW) point to decades of peace, progress and prosperity as assurances that Singaporeans will continue to vote the party into power. Those in other camps cheer the trend analysis for GE 2011 and are buoyed by prospects of a stronger vote share at the next GE.

Role of the SAF and Home Team post GE 2016
Whichever theory holds true, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team agencies (police, civil defence, prisons, anti narcotics and immigration authorities) will have to obey the political party voted into power. The mission of protecting Singapore's vital interests will have to continue - people can vote in whichever politician they fancy but can never vote out or wish away security threats.

The party voted into power come 2016 will find itself in charge of a modernised Third Generation SAF that is powerfully armed, operationally ready and continues to evolve to update itself against emerging threats. Upkeep of such military power is expensive. The budget for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) commands the biggest slice of the Singapore Budget and represents about a third of government spending. This is a cash cow newbie politicians may be tempted to slaughter in an effort to redirect funds to appease voters.

The security implications of a status quo are well known as the MIW has led Singapore since its expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965. The impact on Singapore's security scene of a new party voted into power will be the topic du jour as we should think through what this means for the SAF and Home Team and, most important of all, for Singaporeans who brought this change unto themselves. This is the freak election result theory that the MIW has long warned us about. Is this merely scare mongering or is there more to it that is beyond the obvious?

GE 2016: Freak election result
The last vote has been counted and results of GE 2016 are shared in realtime in cyberspace and via the mainstream media. The reality for Singaporeans is slowly beginning to sink in: The MIW have been voted out.

Newspapers from the mainstream media scramble to meet print deadlines - MIW or no MIW, the printer will not wait for you. Newsrooms go for a straight news story by giving readers the bare facts and results of the polls in all constituencies. The analysis can come later. In any case, there is no way or time for journalists to sugarcoat the GE 2016 result.

Blogs go into overdrive cheering the landmark result. News discussion portals see a spike in comments from armchair political analysts. Some websites crash, swamped by the amount of traffic from Singaporeans local and abroad hungry for news.

Lights burn bright in many households with S xxxx CD-numberplate cars. Among the political-watchers are embassy and high commission staff who burn the midnight oil churning out diplomatic cables that are wired securely to the world's political capitals. Dossiers on new politicians are prepared and diplomatic positions are crafted for their respective governments.

At MINDEF GSOC, the live TV reports stun the officers on duty, all of whom had cast their vote earlier. It is a major talking point for the duty personnel, breaking the monotony of the graveyard shift. But the alert status of Alert Red Force SAF units remains the same and the SAF remains within its fenceline.

New political masters
As the sun creeps over the South China Sea, Singaporeans wake up to the reality that the promised defeat of the MIW has come true. Newspaper vendors sell out their day's consignment of papers in every language and the afternoon newspapers churn out a larger print run to capitalise on street sales. Even as politicians lick their wounds, there is money to be made.

There is money to be made shorting the Singapore dollar too. As money traders juice up their LED screens for a new work day, the USD:SGD rates shock observers. Net-savvy Singaporeans who purchase stuff online do a double take when they see exchange rates quoted by Paypal. This is the result of a global currency trading system that finds itself in terra incognito after GE 2016. The election result triggers a wave of uncertainty and a flight to safety. The Sing dollar, backed by nothing but a promise of stability as a safe haven in Southeast Asia, waits to see if the island nation's new political masters can convince the international community that it is business as usual. In the meantime, the watchword for currency traders is "sell".

As the political party voted into power scrambles to decide who will lead assorted ministries, power-brokering takes place behind the scenes as Opposition parties scramble to assert their influence. Parties with a small presence in Parliament peg a high price to their willingness to join a coalition. The new party needs a strong majority in Parliament to move things forward and as a counterweight to the MIW, who is the new opposition. Though voted out, the MIW claim a sizeable presence in Parliament.

Across the island, heartlanders who own their property thanks to decades-long mortages by banks are in trouble. Valuations nosedive as buyers stay away from making big ticket purchases until the new political landscape is charted out. Thousands find themselves in a situation of negative equity as homes purchased during the height of the housing boom in 2012 are worth far less on the open market.

Enter our foreign talent: Buoyed by liquidity stashed in their home currencies, which are now far stronger compared to the Sing dollar, foreigners go shopping. Thanks to political uncertainty bordering on turmoil, foreigners turned PRs strengthen their presence in Singapore snapping up cheap homes. These PRs are transients anyway with no desire to stay in Singapore for long. They hope to make a quick buck flipping property, then migrate to Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the United States or elsewhere.

With a question mark placed over Singapore's political future - which could shine under the new party or fade away - investors decide to play it safe by not investing in Singapore for the moment.

Enter the vultures: Economic agencies of foreign countries, sensing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, woo MNCs to relocate to their country with tax breaks, grants and pioneer status incentives. The war plan of these vultures is a facsimile of the plan hatched by Singapore's Dr Goh Keng Swee to convince foreign investors to set up shop in Singapore, thus providing much needed investments and jobs for Singaporeans. The plan is half a century old, but it works exceedingly well even in 2016. White and blue collar Singaporeans lose their jobs by the thousands as companies bid goodbye to Singapore. Rents in the Central Business District collapse as tenants pull out. This is business.

The swearing in of Singapore's 13th Parliament makes it an unlucky 13 for the MIW, especially stalwarts who believe in fengshui. Many former ministers are now backbenchers. A number of MIW politicians who lost their seats quit politics, following the lead of former ministers like George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua who retired from politics after losing their seats in GE 2011.

Defence expenditure
After the initial euphoria, uncertainty over Singapore's future and the reality that jobs are being lost goads the new government into action. The cash cow of defence spending is slashed. Money saved from defence is used to sweeten the lips of heartlanders through various schemes.

The SAF is ordered to cut its expenditure and activity-based budgeting is tightly enforced. To further please the people, National Service is to be cut progressively to one year with exceptions for talented Singaporeans, which is the solution anonymous netizens have asked for. The new Minister for Defence is inundated with requests for NS exceptions from parents who claim their kids are talented and demand exemption. These talents include a mixed bag of esoteric skills ranging from playing chess to finger painting and strumming guitars. Anxious to please voters, MINDEF is forced to rubber stamp these exemptions. This gives rise to a new cottage industry of exemption letter writers who can draft a convincingly letter for a handsome fee.

The Purge
As the new party settles into its rhythm, Singapore's new political elite starts to assert its presence in Singapore's political landscape. They are, afterall, Singapore's new ruling elite, the powers-that-be that are a force to be reckoned with. The father to son arrangement has given way to a coalition of parties that count a husband and wife duo and a brother and sister/favoured uncle arrangement. Singaporeans learn the true extent of political infighting, reported by the mainstream media years ago, that has stymied political renewal in the smaller parties.

New brooms sweep clean and it is time for the political elite to stamp its influence. With the powerful one golden share in Singapore Press Holdings, the new government decides to revamp editorial leadership in print and broadcast media. The purge is as brutal as it is expected. Editors are given marching orders. Singapore's mainstream media finds a new voice. It is easier to reshuffle the chain of command at state-owned broadcaster, MediaCorp.

Next comes the Singapore Civil Service. Long regarded as the bastion behind Singapore's efficiency and success as a city-state, the new political elites set their eyes on purging the civil service of personalities too closely allied to the MIW. The cull goes wider than the civil service.

They set their sights on weeding out the intelligentsia and academics allied by blood ties or career loyalty to the MIW. Labour unions and grassroot organisations such as the People's Association (PA) are not spared in the manpower renewal exercise of a scale unseen before in Singapore's history.

Along the way, opportunists sensing a chance to fast forward their careers and CEPs step into the picture. Even from Polling Day, Singapore's new political elite has been actively courted by sweet-talking opportunists who send congratulatory emails and SMSes praising them to high heaven. Worse are the poison pen letter writers who backstab their bosses, detailing their every move in support of the ousted MIW in an attempt to gain a higher perch in the new pecking order. This arse licking pays dividends. The new political elites cannot do everything by themselves. They will need hands and legs to run Singapore, the civil service, the media, academia, government organisations and quasi-government bodies, and so the politically astute junior and mid-level officers who dabble in political machinations find that this pays of handsomely.

Blame game
Months after Singapore's new Prime Minister is sworn in, the people's patience wears thin. The novelty of a new government that cannot put food on the table chafes nerves. The PM needs to buy time. So, in the battel for hearts and minds, public relations strategists play the blame game. Voting in a new party during GE 2016 does not put an end to the anonymous sniping in cyberspace directed against the MIW. They have been in power for 50 years and the new government blames the MIW's enduring legacy as the reason behind why Singapore cannot progress.

The online criticism and bitching continues with every fault laid at the feet of the ousted MIW. Singapore's new political masters are pleased as this bogeyman strategy buys them time to get their act together.

Some Singaporeans buy the argument. The global community continues to sell Singapore dollars. Consumer confidence falls as unemployment rises, giving bloggers a field day with dark poetry of the Lion City's new political situation.

With their Sing dollars devalued, inflation hits household savings on this resource-deprived island nation hard. Essential foodstuff, clothing and fuel - almost 100 per cent imported - are traded at unheard of prices. The government draws on emergency stockpiles of rice and fuel, bought at pre-election prices several months ago, and sells them at NTUC Fairprice supermarkets at the price consumers used to pay in an effort to quell public anger. It is a quick fix but it works - but supplies will not last more than six months. This move places Singapore in a precarious position to weather supply disruptions as the new government sees no immediate need to replenish the emergency stockpile.

With rising unemployment, street demonstrations are seen on Singaporean streets for the first time in decades. Social media is exploited by ring leaders comprising unemployed and disgruntled citizens to organised flash mob demos islandwide. An emaciated Singapore Police Force, worn down by budget cuts, fails to ring fence Singapore against roving gangs of anarchists who travel the world to spark off destructive street riots. Unbeknownst to the Singaporean organisers of the peaceful flash mob who are determined to exercise their human rights, masked foreign anarchists infiltrate street demos to incite violence. It is only a matter of time before the flash mob obliges. A final warning by Singapore Police Force Special Operations Command troopers goes unheeded and the riot police do what they are trained to do. Gunfire erupts on Singaporean streets for the first time since the 1969 race riots.

Deadly intent: Not "Disperse or we arrest" or "Disperse or we fine" or "Disperse or we cane". In the Internet age, any attempt to execute the "Disperse or we fire" order - especially against unarmed Singaporeans - will result in footage that will go viral worldwide. For maximum impact and for strategic ambiguity, the SPF should have simply written "Disperse or Die". That would get the message across.

Sensing a need to protect his position, the new PM realises he has a powerful tool at his disposal - the Gurkha Contingent which is said to report to PMO directly. Word of simmering dissent among SAF officers eventualy reaches the Internal Security Department (ISD), which continues to be the eyes and ears of the government - be it MIW dominated or not.

The PM has studied the force ratios. He knows his position is secure as the GC's full strength of 2,000-plus officers, which includes the elite G Force and wheeled armoured vehicles make the GC a praetorian guard that can hedge against any coup attempt by the SAF.

He takes preemptive and preventive action, ordering ISD to execute an island-wide sweep of dissenters. MIW loyalists are rounded up as the purge continues. The revamped mainstream media can be relied on to look at such internal security sweeps with rose-tinted glasses. It fetes the purge as a necessary step to put Singapore on a firm footing for future progress and prosperity.

In the meantime, the city-state continues to languish as voters who wanted to teach the MIW a vital lesson in GE 2016 got what they wished for.

This is Year 0 and Singaporeans have gotten the government they deserve.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Unknown number of Singaporeans take up A$200,000 bonus to fight for Australian military

FOREIGN recruits - including an unspecified number from Singapore - are said to have joined the Australian Defence Force (ADF) thanks to incentives that include relocation bonuses of up to A$200,000 and fast-tracked citizenship, said the Herald Sun in its 9 June'12 edition.

Figures obtained by the Australian newspaper show 726 international military personnel have migrated to Australia since 2006. This effort to swell the ADF's ranks is said to have cost the Australian government around A$100 million.

Australians interviewed by the Herald Sun voiced their unhappiness with the move. They said the ADF should hire and train more Australians.

War graves advocate John Saddington questioned the loyalties of foreign recruits.

"It's an absolute disgrace," the Herald Sun quoted him as saying. "We are hiring mercenaries."

According to the report, ADF recruits are coming from America, Britain, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Italy, Singapore, Poland, Greece and Germany.

No details were provided on age, gender or military vocation of former Singaporeans who decided to take up arms under the Australian flag. This blog understands that at least one former Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) fighter pilot who joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in the 1990s after migrating Down Under was declared persona non grata when his name appeared on the nominal roll for a RAAF detachment that intended to fly to Singapore for a Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) exercise.

It is not know if the Singaporean defence ministry has since relaxed its stance on Singaporeans who enlist with a foreign military force.

"Hundreds of internationals have been lured by the promise of better pay and entitlements - 570 put their hands up to move to the Navy after the force visited Britain in December on a "fact finding" mission," the report added.

A Defence Department spokesman said: "The ADF contributes to the cost of relocating lateral recruits. The costs vary according to the family composition and size, but is typically between $150,000 to $200,000.

"Given the significant cost of training and building experience in new military recruits, this cost represents good value."

Relocation bonus aside, the ADF's foreign recruits are also having their Australian citizenship fast-tracked after just three months of service.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Worth reading about: The Penguin anti-ship missile

Who says Penguins can't fly?: Artist impression of a Penguin drop launched from a Seahawk naval helicopter.

When operated aboard warships armed with their own battery of anti-ship missiles, naval helicopters carrying Penguin missiles expand the range of options for the naval commander. This is because the naval commander and his principal warfare officer (PWO) can count on two types of missiles with different performance envelopes and characteristics during fire missions.

The heli-borne Penguin is optimised for operations in waterways where islands or nearby shipping make missile engagements challenging to plan and execute for the PWO.

The Penguin can be programmed to fly dog leg flights to avoid obstructions as it speeds towards its target. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Lest we forget: Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) should remember and honour its old warfighters and defence engineers

Modernised Singapore Armed Forces versus older SAF - new wins?

Not so, as a walk down memory lane will show.

The way the Third Generation (3G) SAF is sometimes described, you cannot help but wonder if younger Singaporeans or foreign defence observers end up looking down on people, concepts and military technology fielded by early batches of SAF regulars, full-time National Servicemen and reservists.

In terms of people, concepts and technology, the First Generation (1G) SAF packed a punch in air, naval and land warfare in certain weapon platforms and systems that even the 3G SAF cannot match or took decades to catch up with in terms of capability.

1G Singapore Army V-200s outgun M-113 APCs for quarter century 
The Singapore Army's foray into armoured warfare in the late 1960s saw it develop the V-200 Singapura series armoured car with United States vehicle maker, Cadillac Gage. As we lacked our own defence industrial base and production capability, our design concepts had to be passed to Cadillac Gage who translated our specific operational requirements into an enlarged version of the V-100 Commando armoured car known as the V-200.

V-200s Forward! Singapore Army armoured infantry advance under the 20mm guns of V-200 armoured personnel carriers. The American-built 4x4, built to Singapore Army specifications, was the army's first APC. It was superceded by tracked M-113s in 1974 which had superior tactical mobility at the cost of a weaker gun armament (armoured turret with 20mm and optical sights replaced by hand held 12.7mm Browning in open cupola and iron sights). 

On paper at least, the V-200 scored well in meeting our Army's requirements in terms of firepower, protection and mobility. It was amphibious, could carry an infantry section of nine soldiers, was well-armed for all-round defence with 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Guns and had a high road speed. A version of the V-200 was armed with a two-man turret with a 20mm Oerlikon cannon and 7.62mm co-axial MG.

In field trials, the upsized armoured car proved to be unwieldly and the General Staff made a decision to test the then-new American M-113 armoured personnel carrier (APC), which was bloodied in Vietnam.

When we moved from wheels to tracks, the Singapore Army benefitted from a tracked M-113 which had better cross-country mobility than the V-200.

However, we lost out in terms of firepower. Our Army gave up the V-200's power-operated, optically sighted 20mm Oerlikon for a pintle-mounted 12.7mm Browning heavy machinegun which was aimed by iron sights in an open cupola. Measured by weight of fire, protection for the gunner and accuracy of rounds sent down range, the V-200 with its 20mm cannon was a better bet.

It took Singapore more than 25 years before we closed that capability gap with the Bionix 25 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and M-113 Ultra Overhead Weapon System (OWS). Even then, the BX 25 and M-113 OWS cannot match the high angle of elevation of the V-200's 20mm gun, which was designed to protect soldiers from low flying aircraft and helicopters and to engage enemy forces in urban shootouts. The limited elevation of the BX 25 and OWS means the 25mm Bushmaster cannon cannot reach high floors in certain tactical situations.

Our pioneer defence engineers had developed a 20mm turret that proved a hot seller but sales moved after Cadillac Gage astutely downsized the V-200 after its firsthand experience with the SAF. In terms of vehicle evolution, the Commando armoured car is probably unique in naming convention as its development cycle moved from V-100 to V-200 and then to the smaller V-150 (and not sequentially, 100, 150, 200).

1G Republic of Singapore Navy missile craft live up to their name
On the naval front, our Navy's Sea Wolf-class Missile Gunboats (MGBs) went through a series of upgrades before they were retired early this century after some 30 years of distinguished service.

One upgrade, developed by Singaporean defence engineers, armed MGBs with a combo of Gabriel anti-ship missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The missile craft were fitted with four firing points for Gabriels and racks for up to eight Harpoons, though the full warload during operations was probably lower than the theoretical maximum of 12 missiles (four Gabriel and eight Harpoons).

This warload gave MGB commanders maximum tactical flexbility engaging Enemy surface combatants in congested waters. Military nuts familiar with the Gabriels would know this missile is a semi-active homing bird, which means it is guided on its flight out by the Signaal weapons sight on the open bridge. Gabriel missiles could be fired with friendly or neutral Alpha Mikes in the vicinity, which is a capability that earlier marques of the Harpoon could not achieve as the Harpoons were designed for open ocean warfare.

Missile Away! A Harpoon anti-ship missile speeds downrange, leaving its mothership RSS Sea Scorpion wreathed in a cloud of smoke. Within seconds, the solid rocket booster will breakaway, leaving the air-breathing missile to cruise towards the target barge with a near smokeless trail.

With the Enemy in sight, an MGB could proceed to initiate the engagement using Gabriel missiles knowing full well the missile strike was less likely to harm surface vessels. This is because guiding the missiles optically reduced the risk of wayward munitions.

Till today, our MGBs rank as the only missile craft armed with two types of anti-ship missiles - a capability unmatched even by the Republic of Singapore Navy's Formidable-class stealth frigates.

Our 1G MGBs truly lived up to their name as missile boats for strike warfare.

1G RSAF Bloodhound SAMs unmatched range and supersonic speed
While we may be justifiably proud of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), the pioneer Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) still holds a commanding lead in air defence capability that today's 3G RSAF has not matched.

Scorpion's sting: Futuristic looking even in the 1970s and 1980s when they guarded Singapore skies, Bloodhound Mark2 SAMs, possibly deployed at Missile Site "Bravo", stand fully fuelled, armed and ready for launch. In terms of specifications, 170 SADA's Bloodhounds were the largest, fastest and longest ranged SAM ever operated by the RSAF. 

The 1G air force's Bloodhound Mark 2 surface to air missiles (SAMs), which Singapore inherited from Britain's Royal Air Force, were and still are the SAM with the longest range and fastest speed ever deployed on this island. Clocked at more than twice the speed of sound during firing trials, Bloodhounds posed a credible threat to large bombers and massed aircraft formations.

With a published range of over 80km, the Bloodhounds outrange the 3G RSAF's I-HAWK missile fire units which can hit targets some 40km away. In their time, the Bloodhound's ramjet main engines and solid fuel rocket boosters were the state of the military art. Even with such technology in our hands for several decades, we may have failed to appreciate the design philosophy and reliability of these ramjets in powering guided missiles. Today's ultra long range missiles that we see emerging from Russia owe their long range and high speed to ramjet technology.

There are other factors that a capable, integrated air defence network should be measured against besides the range of its guided missiles. But the bragging rights of RSAF personnel from 170 SADA who manned Missile Sites Alpha, Bravo and Charlie during the heyday of the Bloodhound SAM stands unmatched even by the 3G RSAF.

There are many more examples from our military history that underscore the lethality of early generations of SAF war machines. Some army, navy and air force examples would be obvious to all. Some remain classified to this day even though they were potential battle-winners in their time.

On a broader scale, it indicates the danger of highlighting a new platform or weapon system's advantages over an older system in terms of certain attributes, while ignoring or glossing over a more holistic comparison.

James Fallows in his essay, Managers, wrote:"The failing of managerial defense is usually described as its inability to distinguish between efficiency, in the economic or technological sense, and effectiveness on the battlefield. That covers the point, but too crudely. The real problem is the use of an oversimplified, one-dimensional form of analysis, often based on simulations and hypothesis, in place of more complicated judgments, based on data from combat or realistic tests, that take into account the eight or ten qualities that must be combined to make a weapon effective. The worst kind of management seeks a single optimum, a one-scale index of efficiency, like the mindless scales of 1 to 10 for grading a woman's beauty or one or four stars for a movie's appeal."

With this in mind, go through some of our collaterals describing 3G military technology to see if they hold true to the argument above.

There are several takeways worth pondering over:
1. Never downplay or belittle the early generation of SAF warfighters or defence engineers in an attempt to puff up the 3G SAF.

2. Old soldiers have something to teach young ones too, in terms of concept of operations, tactical employment of 1G weapon systems and platforms and the specific operational requirements that defined what was delivered.

3. The 3G SAF is not doing enough to engage and preserve the institutional memory of its pioneers for reasons mentioned in point 2 above. These pioneers will eventually die and take their stories with them, so better work fast.

4. With 900,000 Singaporeans having gone through National Service, thousands of NSmen represent a valuable resource pool for 3G SAF servicemen and servicewomen to learn from.

5. It will be clear to mischievious minds that from an information management standpoint, one could write or argue a rather persuasive case that chips away at the 3G SAF by highlighting blind alleys and lost opportunities in weapons development. : )

The counter to point 5 lies with nurturing well informed and motivated 3G warfighters, thinking soldiers who know their past and know where the SAF they inherited is headed. Are we there yet? I am not sure, having seen how some of our young servicemen behave.

These younger ones - the Generation Ys and Strawberry generation - should also make it a point remembering the old adage, that he who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.

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Time to ditch the template reporting for the Shangri-La Dialogue

Although military types and bureaucrats are known to love crunching long names into acronyms, it would take a brave soul indeed to contract Asia Security Summit into a three-letter term and use this liberally in his/her contact reports.

Yes, the annual Asia Security Summit, better known as The Shangri-La Dialogue, is back in Singapore for its 11th edition.

The event, organised by London-based think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), owes its success to the name list of delegates who make time from fighting wars, deterring aggression or handling in-country security issues to sit down and meet their counterparts in the Lion City for three days of intense deliberations.

Increased security island-wide
Residents in Singapore who live around key Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) air bases may note higher air activity this weekend. And people who happen to be in the vicinity of the Shangri-La hotel, which lends its name to the summit which ends tomorrow, will find the heightened security presence in the area hard to miss.

The same cannot be said of media coverage by Singaporean papers.

A landmark speech by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looks almost like a filler though it occupies prime space on pages 2 and 3. No picture. Straight reporting, cut and paste paras with no space for nutgraphs that give the reader value-added background to the event. It was a speech readers could have lapped up the night before on the Internet, for free.

This is the Indonesian President's first showing at the event as head of state of the world's fifth most populous nation and the Southeast Asian nation that sits astride major sea shipping lanes such as the Malacca Strait and Sunda Strait. Through these sea lanes pass some two thirds of the world's cargo and half its oil and a large volume of its natural gas. President Susilo is here because he accepted an invitation from Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to deliver the keynote speech to an audience which counts the world's most powerfully-armed nations.

And the fact that the presence of heads of state, defence ministers and military chiefs contributes to valuable bilateral meetings is lost when this isn't pointed out to readers. For example, the Page 2/3 story on the Indonesian President's speech could have informed readers of a related story on Home B20 on closer defence relations (CDR) between Australia and Singapore. Done this way, it would underline the fact that the Shangri-La Dialogue's agenda goes above and beyond official interactions in and around the Island Ballroom. Readers can be shown that defence officials from all countries - not just Singapore as we are merely the venue host - do maximise the rare opportunity when dialogue partners are in the same city to meet and do business.

By doing so, such interactions contribute to regional and international stability as they foster a climate where insecurities, doubts or simmering tensions can be discussed/defused between stakeholders rather than having scenario planners speculate and arm themselves for the worst.

Shangri-La Dialogue media coverage
As Day 2 of the Shangri-La Dialogue unfolds, one would hope that coverage of the event befits its status as a venue where security planners can meet and talk in an informal, non-government yet quasi official setting fostered by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

It is a key part of what security thinkers call the Regional Security Architecture, which as its building-related term suggests is made up of building blocks ranging from simple bilateral visits, exchanges of personnel, to joint exercises and multinational engagements of defence and security forces. Such meet-and-greet sessions foster better understanding and enrich personal ties between military planners who might have burning questions to ask about another country's military weapons inventory and the intentions for its possible use.

It has also paved the way for concrete examples of regional cooperation. This was seen after Indonesia and Singapore supported the Malaysian idea behind joint, tri-nation anti-piracy patrols flown by maritime surveillance planes from the three countries.

To call it a talkshop would dumb down a key confidence and security-building measure in Asia. Singaporeans may not appreciate its significance, going by the token coverage in today's mainstream paper of record, but other nations do. Australia is said to have lobbied quietly to have the Asia Security Summit moved to Canberra. Likewise, Japan is said to have harboured intentions to have Tokyo as the new home for the event.

Hosting the talks in Singapore helps our tiny city state punch above its weight class by making us a key enabler in global security dialogue. The annual event represents defence diplomacy at its best and participants have much to learn from one another as some foreign participants are clearly more seasoned in this arena.

To get the most out of these sessions, scribes should ditch the template reportage readers have seen for the past couple of years. Spare us the gossipy colour story of what defence ministers had for lunch and give us real value-add by going behind the scenes to find out the morsels of information which were actually traded over the meal.

In the days of the Soviet Union, some Kremlin watchers specialised in studying who stood where during those great military spectacles in Red Square. The same could be done for the Defence Minister's luncheon and one doesn't envy the lot of protocol officers tasked with seating arrangements as an inept seating plan might scupper rather than strengthen CDRs.

Did the Chinese and Americans talk over lunch or was it the most cursory of contacts? What was the banter like? Any veiled threats or coercion as forks and knives went into action? Unless the defence heavyweights dined on Haggis or puked over their sushi, I think the story on their lunch menu should be given a rest this year. It is done to death already.

Another template report surrounds the press interview usually granted by the United States Secretary of Defense (Secdef). News reports on the words that fall from the lips of Secdef of world's most powerful nation should not be done at the expense of regional players whose impact on the geo-strategic environment also count.

Yes, it would take some legwork to get such nuggets of information. But cultivating a staff officer from the assorted official entourages to give a non-attributable yet credible account of the state of play should be the end goal of defence correspondents assigned to watch the ASS Asia Security Summit.

Just compare the copy filed by the bevy of Pentagon correspondents who trail in Secdef Leon Panetta's wake to get an idea of how it should be done.