Saturday, April 27, 2013

Singapore police manhunt nabs suspect three days after war memorial is vandalised

In the arms of the law: Police caught up with the suspected vandal (centre) three days after the Cenotaph war memorial in Singapore (below) was defaced with paint. The ensuing manhunt was a good dress rehearsal which validated SOPs for tracking and apprehending a person of interest.

The phrase "this is no drill" could aptly describe the manhunt for the person(s) who defaced the Cenotaph war memorial in the heart of Singapore city with red spray paint.

After just three days, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) paid a visit to the suspected vandal, a 32-year-old man. The look on his smug face when that knock on the door came would be a work of art. There he is in the picture (above) released by the SPF.

The SPF said today that officers from Central Police Division nabbed the suspect at about 11:30am this morning.

"Extensive investigations and round the clock enquiries were conducted," an SPF spokesman told The Straits Times. "Among the exhibits seized are a long-sleeved T-shirt, a pair of denim jeans, a pair of shoes, a 'tote' bag, and a pair of headphones for investigation."

An eyewitness reported seeing a man spray paint the word "democracy" onto the war memorial to World War I dead on Tuesday evening.

The man fled when confronted by the the eyewitness.

Launched in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, it was inevitable that the manhunt by the Singapore police would come under close scrutiny by Singaporeans.

That Singapore's law enforcers have successfully delivered a suspect within three days indicates that security protocols for tracking a person of interest works - and works reassuringly well indeed.

Police may not always get who they want to find all the time. And some cases may take awhile longer to crack while the trail may run cold for complex cases.

But every crime scene investigation challenges crime busters to see if their training, their investigative tools and protocols and their police instincts will pay dividends.

It did for the Cenotaph case. If one views this case as a dress rehearsal for a manhunt after a terrorist incident, it is probable that the same SOPs would be adopted to track down and apprehend the person(s) of interest.

The SPF is unlikely to say how it found the man but it is no secret that Singapore's city centre has a dense network of surveillance cameras keeping an eye on the place.

Running from the scene of crime would have been futile as investigators would only have to draw range rings around the Cenotaph to zoom in on cameras that would have captured the person's escape route.

It would have entailed painstaking police work putting together a jigsaw puzzle from footage captured hither and thither. But the police did it and this blog is not alone in cheering the result of all their hardwork and long nights.

After all the publicity linked to the "sticker lady" incident, one would have thought would-be vandals wouldn't be so stupid to test the system again, so soon. Well, someone did.

It is now over to the Singapore justice system.

Well done SPF.

Round the clock and round the world: Good defence relations pave the way for Singapore Armed Forces war games overseas

In ASEAN armed forces, incident-free war games would hardly be rated newsworthy.

The one exception is the armed forces of Singapore, which makes headlines not from what the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) does during combat manoeuvres but where these war games are staged.

In touch, outfield: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meets Singapore Army soldiers training in Brunei on Thursday 25 April 2013. A day earlier on another continent, Singapore's Defence Minister and his German counterpart watched SAF Armour conduct live-fire manoeuvres with Leopard 2A6s from a German panzer unit. (Photo: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)

This past week, reports in Singapore about military exercises in Brunei and Germany underlined the global mindset that Singapore's citizens' armed forces have embraced in overcoming land constraints.

The determination to keep the SAF's combat edge sharp is seen in the often overlooked fact that Singapore sends more soldiers overseas for war games and has more detachments overseas than all other ASEAN countries combined.

The sun literally doesn't set on SAF training. Singapore's military preparedness takes place round the clock and round the world, thanks to strong defence relations forged between our city-state and friends abroad.

SAF trains worldwide
In Asia, the SAF has conducts war games on home ground year-round. Arrangements with Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Thailand have allowed the SAF to flex its combat strength on foreign soil. The SAF has also been to South Africa for live-fire exercises involving field artillery and air defence missiles.

When its lights out in Asia, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) detachment in Cazaux, France, gets to work teaching pilots about air combat and ground attack mission profiles. We also have RSAF pilots who have trained in Italy.

Achtung Panzer!: Germany's State Secretary for Defence Rudiger Wolf (in beige trench coat) and Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen (second from right) briefed on the bilateral live-fire exercise executed by a German panzer unit and Singaporean tank forces. (Photo: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)

The Singapore Army flies its flag in Europe too. This past week, the NATO-Bergen training area in Germany was the focus of media attention when Defence Ministers from Germany and Singapore reaffirmed close ties and revealed that the SAF would be allowed to conduct armour training in Germany twice a year with immediate effect.

As Europe beds down for the night, a new work day dawns for multiple RSAF detachments and training arrangements in CONUS. Such activities stretch the breadth of the United States and range from pilot training in Florida to the F-15SG detachment in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Once a year, the SAF works with the US military to bring everything together at an Air-Land exercise codenamed Forging Saber. Previous editions of Forging Saber allowed the SAF to raise the bar incrementally when concentrating the firepower of SAF war machines on land (like HIMARS satellite-guided rocket batteries) and in the air (Apache attack helicopters, F-15 and F-16 warplanes) with unmanned assets like UAVs. This year, Forging Saber is expected to lift the threshold even higher.

It will be clear from this snapshot of the world that the SAF trains with subject matter experts in all parts of the globe, many of whom have amassed years of combat experience.

To be sure, our ASEAN neighbours in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have ample space in their countryside, air and sea space for their respective armed forces to stretch their legs. So there's really no need for these countries to invest in training arrangements elsewhere.

Overcoming land constraints
Singapore's land constraints make military training a constant challenge. Simulators for war machines do help, but only to the extent needed to get a full-time national serviceman competent in knowing how to operate the weapon platform or weapon system, which buttons to press.

To step up the proficiency ladder means experiencing the full combat potential of the war machine when it reaches out and touches the target kilometres away. Such live-fire training can only be accommodated overseas because the maximum range for live-fire army training in Singapore is a fraction of the effective range of key weapons like Leopard tanks (it can kill a tank more than 2km away; our artillery can rain shells on targets up to 42km away and guided rockets much further than that).

The next level of combat proficiency comes when the citizen soldier, sailor or airman realises how each war machine integrates itself in the whole mission plan. Such know-how cannot be acquired in the two years of full-time National Service.

This is why the Operationally-Ready NS battalions which have completed their first tranches of high key in-camp training are, in my view, the best trained NS units. These soldiers would have graduated from section, platoon, company, battalion to brigade-level live-fire training and may have been exposed to the rigours and fast-paced at which integrated live-fire exercises take place when Army units train alongside the RSAF.

Our overseas commitments cost money. For MINDEF/SAF to scour the world for training arrangements underscores Singapore's determination to build strong and meaningful defence relations with partners worldwide. Multiple training opportunities also ensure we do not have all our eggs in one basket.

Payoff from training worldwide
The payoff is the signal Singapore sends that the SAF will not be a paper force. No effort will be spared maintaining the defence preparedness of its citizen soldiers, even while keeping within the constraint on defence spending capped at 6 per cent of our GDP.

Another payoff is the fact that the thousands of Singaporeans who train overseas will open the eyes of Singaporeans and our foreign friends to one another. Each is an "ambassador" for his/her country who can bridge ties in his/her own special way.

It is a safe bet that a good number of the 1,300 soldiers sent for Exercise Panzer Strike in Bergen, Germany, could not point out the place (or country!) on a map of the world. Having been there, done that, they would (hopefully) have broadened their appreciation of geography.

Such learning is a two-way street. Ausralians in remote Rockhampton, Bruneians in Temburong and citizens in training areas where the SAF has step foot would have learnt a little something about our little red dot. One hopes our soldier-diplomats do a good job at building positive mindshare.

The payoff isn't just one way: What Singapore lacks in land, we give back in other ways.

The numerous exercises and opportunities for interaction hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy's Command and Control Centre at Changi Naval Base have brought together maritime security professionals from around the globe as they set about securing transnational maritime trade.

As the situation when a merchant vessel is owned by a company from one country, registered under a foreign flag, carries cargo made in Country A for a customer in Country B and has crew members from Countries A to Z is an everyday occurrence, Singapore has helped maritime security experts pool their expertise to safeguard seaborne commerce.

Next month's Shangri-La Dialogue security conference is another way the Lion City gives back to the international community. The event organised by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies will see defence ministers from the world's most powerful nations gather in the same ballroom to talk about weighty world affairs.

Singapore's contribution comes the security presence, seen and unseen, that will allow the talks to unfold incident-free.

Deft diplomacy and a thorough understanding of foreign partners is what keeps defence relations in fine fettle. This is a road Singapore appears to know how to navigate astutely.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Republic of Singapore Navy's Navy Open House to feature Sea-Air Integration demo?

"Like" the official Republic of Singapore Navy Open House Facebook page:

Three more weeks to the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Navy Open House (NOH) and defence enthusiasts have started guessing about the capability demos that visitors will be able to see.

Sea-Air Integration involving the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) could be a likely theme at NOH 2013. The open house at Changi Naval Base (CNB) from Saturday 18 May to Sunday 19 May will be the first one since the S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters (above) returned home from CONUS,which makes the Seahawk a likely show-and-tell candidate.

Each of the RSN's six Formidable-class stealth frigates can embark one Seahawk. The helos extend the reach of the frigate's underwater and surface warfare capabilities and sharpen the warship's situational awareness beyond the horizon.

The display could involve a RSAF S-70B Seahawk from 123 Squadron demonstrating how it deploys and recovers its dunking sonar from a low hover. This anti-submarine capability demo was last seen during the National Day Parade in 2011.

Another item could see a Chinook heavy-lift chopper from 127 Squadron swooping in low over CNB basin to deploy combat divers from the elite Naval Diving Unit.

If this script is to be executed safely and with panache, a rehearsal is likely.

Bear in mind that CNB will be a busy place in the week preceeding the open house as foreign warships steam into the base for the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) naval show. This takes place from 14 to 16 May 2013. Pencil in the media day on Monday 13 May and the fact that foreign warships are expected from the weekend before the show.

This timetable suggests that the RSAF could fly in anytime before the weekend.

We put our money on Thursday 9 May as staging it on a Friday leaves no room to manoeuvre if Thursday's outing is scrubbed by bad weather.

Having the event on Thursday 9 May would deconflict NOH 2013 pre-publicity with the curtain raisers for IMDEX, with TV coverage on 9 May evening and print news the following morning.

Stay tuned for more as we continue our wild speculation on NOH 2013 highlights!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reactions to Coroner's Inquiry into the death of Private Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron

A soldier in the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces (3G SAF) is said to be able to carry the firepower of the SAF in his backpack* when connected by wireless to its command and control network.

But the SAF combat medic cannot claim to be able to carry an SAF medical centre outfield. Pity.

Lack of proper equipment can be partly compensated by competent immediate response skills which can rapidly come to grips with a medical emergency.

A competent medic can either administer life-saving treatment on the spot or alert the next level of medical intervention of the type of emergency situation they should brace themselves for.

When your medic lacks both equipment and training, this is indeed a sorry state of affairs and a tragedy waiting to unfold.

A year after full-time National Serviceman Private Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron died during urban assault training, his family sat in for the Coroner's Inquiry today to hear how the young soldier spent his last moments on earth.

Earlier this month, they marked his birthday in quiet reflection.

Last week, they marked his first death anniversary.

His fellow soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (3 SIR), who served alongside PTE Dominique, paid for a newspaper obituary last Wednesday to mark the first year of his passing.

Having interviewed many next-of-kin of SAF servicemen who died during training, I can tell you the heartbreak never leaves some families, even years after the fateful incident.

For PTE Dominique's loved ones to listen to his officers' version of events today must have opened painful wounds and unearthed memories that his family cherish and treasure deeply.

As someone with more than a passing interest in the SAF and what it stands for, it came as a surprise to learn from the television news that the SAF medic on the scene was neither trained nor equipped to handle asthmatic cases. I am hoping I got it wrong.

That revelation was all the more stunning, considering that the SAF medical professionals (regulars and NSF) I accompanied on four overseas operations to Taiwan, Timor Leste, the Northern Arabian Gulf and to post-tsunami Indonesia, accomplished their mission under austere conditions admirably.

To be sure, a person can die of more causes than most laypersons can imagine.

But are there not certain causal factors that medical science, forensics records and past tragedies would have red-flagged as areas to watch out for?

Sudden cardiac death is one. Uncontrolled bleeding from penetrating or non-penetrating trauma is another.

We lost a number of SAF personnel to lightning strikes in the 1970s and 1980s before the Cat 1 weather warning regime finally took root.

Then there is heat exhaustion to watch out for and allergic reactions attributable to assorted causes.

One wonders why asthma, which is somewhat commonplace among our young today, apparently failed to register as something our combat medics should be trained and equipped to handle.

If the answer doesn't surface during the Coroner's Inquiry, one would expect the Ministry of Defence and SAF to have the smarts and moral courage to do what it takes to restore public confidence.

My thoughts and prayers go out to PTE Dominique's family.

* The phrase was coined by me in a commentary published by the 90 cents newspaper. It was picked up by DM's speech writers who used it during an SAF Day interview. At the time, I felt it was a well-earned moniker after the SAF showed what it could do with its battlefield management system during one of its war games.

Coroner's inquiry into death of full-time National Serviceman Private Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron

What's even more surprising is the TV news report that said the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) medic at the scene of the incident was not trained or equipped to respond to asthma cases.

Coroner's inquiry into death of NSF starts

Source: Channel News Asia, Singapore 22 April 2013
SINGAPORE: The coroner's inquiry into the death of SAF Private Dominique Sarron Lee started on Monday with his family present in court.

The 21-year-old serviceman died last April during an urban obstacle training exercise involving hand grenades.

The defence ministry's own committee of inquiry had found clear breaches of training safety regulations.

A platoon commander threw six smoke grenades even though regulations specified no more than two grenades were allowed.

On Monday, the state coroner heard that the number of smoke grenades thrown is debatable.

The court heard that the purpose of the grenade was to create a smoke screen to simulate attack under foggy conditions.

Captain Chia Thye Siong, who was then the Chief Safety Officer, said from a tactical view point, the more smoke there is, the better it would be to mask a troop's movement.

The court heard that if a platoon commander decides that the throwing of two smoke grenades does not create that effect, he could throw more.

Captain Chia told the court that the Training Safety Regulations did not prohibit the throwing of more than two smoke grenades.

Captain Najib, who was the Platoon Commander for the exercise, said he threw the extra grenades because there was no wind that day to create the required smoke screen effect.

He also told the court that the troop which Private Lee was in had been handed extra grenades.

The usual number issued to a platoon commander was three but six in total were issued.

This was because another troop had not taken part in the exercise and the commander decided to take their grenades.

Captain Chia also told the court that soldiers with medical conditions wore wrist tags.

This was to allow officers in charge to identify and pay more attention to these soldiers.

Private Lee was asthmatic and had worn a blue tag to indicate his medical history.

But Captain Chia told the court that the Commanding Officers were not trained to identify or predict possible factors that would trigger an asthma attack.

Captain Chia said Private Lee was the first soldier to pop his head out of the window of a smoking room.

Captain Chia then activated a safety vehicle after Private Lee climbed out of the window.

He told the court Private Lee was coughing and took short, shallow breaths and complained of chest pains.

He added that apart from CPR, which he administered on Private Lee, there was nothing else he could have done.

The inquiry continues.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston Marathon bombing aftermath: What it means for Singapore

Race against time: The first blast at the Boston Marathon finish line triggered a race to find the people behind the attack before the trail went cold. Boston police found their suspects after just four days.

Four days. That's the time to beat for law enforcement officials tasked to investigate future Boston Marathon urban terror scenarios.

The swift and decisive manner in which authorities in the United States assessed, singled out and made contact with Suspects Number 1 and 2 inevitably sets a benchmark which people may use to compare future investigations.

The relevance for Singapore is clear: Expectations of Singaporeans need to be closely monitored and managed in the event of urban terrorism in our city-state, which we have been cautioned repeatedly to guard against but has yet to take place this century.

Managing public expectations
Singapore may well need more than four days to bring into police custody any suspects. Indeed, a complicated case file may be left open for a significant period of time as investigators sift through tell-tale clues in an effort to trace the author(s) of the crime.

That first blast, first shot or first kill by whatever means will set into motion drawer plans developed and refined from the police doctrine practised during the Confrontation era when Singapore weathered an urban bombing campaign by Indonesian saboteurs.

Plans, programmes and procedures to mitigate the impact of an urban terror attack are complemented by investments in infrastructure that have given authorities eyes on public buses in the form of CCTV cameras, at mass rapid transit stations and sensitive and vulnerable places.

These are complemented by regular ground deployment exercises that help various agencies come together to test out assorted scenarios.

At the same time, the ability of authorities to react quickly has been addressed with the formation of police Anti-Swarming Teams (ASTs) trained, organised, equipped and supported to engage in close quarter defence.

Manpower demands
Boston's search for Suspects No. 1 and 2 is said to have resulted in the deployment of some 4,000 well-armed police officers. If a nationwide security situation outstrips manpower that the Singapore Police Force Special Operations Command can provide, we may need to call on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Special Operations Task Force to join the party.

We saw a real-world deployment between SPF and SAF forces during the hunt for armed fugitives on Tekong island in March 2004 when it was 700 versus 3.

The obvious lesson here is that urban terror situations will sap security manpower immensely for cordon and search operations. As it has taken decades for SAF special forces to be grouped under SOTF, one hopes that elite police officers grouped under STAR, SPEAR, CNB and Gurkha Contingent special units can similarly cooperate and coordinate their efforts should the balloon go up.

Anonymous attackers
Alas, in urban terror situations, nobody can forecast the time, manner or intensity of attacks or even the identity or strategic intent of the attacker(s). Unlike the urban terror campaign waged by PIRA against British authorities during the Troubles, today's terror cells strike without warning, are indiscriminate in their quest for death and destruction and are unlikely to claim their kills.

Attackers that choose to remain nameless mean only one thing: These are elements that cannot be negotiated with because there is no one to talk to. And if no negotiations are possible, there can be no peace talks guided under the law of armed conflict. This means conflict termination can only be effected through force of arms and should we face this sort of threat, we better be mentally and operationally prepared for a tough fight.

It is therefore more important for mitigation efforts to be capability-based rather than threat-specific. This is because the nature of the urban terror threat is nowadays ill-defined, amorphous and may involve clean skin individuals with no prior record of anti-social inclinations.

H+1 of an urban attack
Within the first hour of an attack in Singapore, social media will go crazy. People in the vicinity of the incident site or sites (in the case of simultaneous attacks like in Mumbai) will post accounts of the incident first chance they get. Istagram traffic will spike as pictures are shared in cyberspace.

Having grown up in a terror-free state, some Singaporeans have no sense of danger or self-preservation. We saw during a recent MRT fire that some idiot commuters lingered to take pictures of the situation rather than evacuate immediately, putting themselves at risk if the situation flared out of control (it didn't). Can we expect a replay during a terror situation as gawkers and rubber neckers crowd the area for ringside seats of the action?

If the intent was to sow fear, having images of the terror attack go viral would have accomplished that goal.

In this regard, the blood lust of Singaporeans with no social conscience will work against society as netizens try to outdo one another with pictures and captions which they find amusing. Witness what happened when the two young boys were killed by a cement mixer while cycling home not too long ago.

Will the same happen during a terror attack or will we act responsibly?

During that confused H+1, authorities are likely to shut down mobilephone base stations in the vicinity of the attack or even island-wide to guard against the possibility that IEDs may be detonated by mobilephone signals.

The Singaporean commuter, wedded to his or her mobile device during regular commutes, may feel lost as wireless access is lost. Even if base stations are kept operational, the surge in traffic as panicky Singaporeans call or SMS their family and friends will overwhelm the capacity of the telcos to cope with this spike in demand. The mobile network will thus go offline.

That first hour is crucial.

Authorities must quickly decide if land, air and sea embarkation points should be closed to prevent the escape of the perpetrators.

Trophy target
When Boston city was locked down, the American economy powered on. When you lock down a city-state like Singapore, our economy will go into a tailspin.

An urban attack on Singapore could potentially extract an economic price out of all proportion to the deadliness of the attack if and when it succeeds in shutting down vital economic sectors.

The world will be watching as foreign media chase the story. The irony is that the longer Singapore stays terror-free, the greater the impact of a terror situation and the more newsworthy the story becomes. Success of the attack cannot be measured merely in terms of actual dead or injured or the cost of property damaged because a terror attack will have wider and long-term strategic ramifications.

This is why Singapore has been described as a trophy target.

The shutdown of vital economic sectors is more than a theoretical construct. In January 2008, a wayward Cessna 208 Caravan float plane that ventured towards Singaporean airspace caused a security alert that saw the launch of two Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16D warplanes on QRA. This incident closed Changi Airport for some 50 minutes during the airport's evening peak period. You may well imagine the economic cost of the airspace lockdown, which was done to clear airspace for RSAF fighters to do their work.

Replicate the Boston Marathon lockdown in the heart of Singapore's Central Business District or indeed island-wide and the cost from loss business will shoot up into the millions of dollars, perhaps even past the billion-dollar mark.

More than the casualty count and monetary cost is the potential loss of confidence should that first strike take place.

Singaporeans will demand answers. Having seen how crime scene investigations progressed in Boston, the vocal, the unreasonable and the ignorant may expect things to be wrapped up magically within days. This may not be the case as every crime scene investigation is unique.

Are the bellyaches able to understand and accept this fact of life or will toxic and unhelpful comments continue to litter cyberspace?

In the aftermath of an attack, it is critical that confidence is stabilised among residents and investors. Authorities must have crisis communications protocols and instruments that can reach out to people whether by real world means (print, broadcast media), in cyberspace or face to face comms.

More importantly, that voice must be viewed by people as a credible one. The onset of an emergency is not the time to build trust and credibility. Emotional credit must be won and banked with the people way in advance, on a regular basis, so that people will look to the Spokesman for leadership and for assurance. This is hearts and minds 101.

Whatever is communicated, there will be elements in society who hatch conspiracy theories or refuse to accept the version of events presented by authorities. Events in Boston this past week mirror the experience of information managers who studied what happened after London's 7/7 attacks and the September 11 attacks in the US. There will be people who articulate alternative scenarios, in so doing unwittingly planting seeds of doubt and damaging society's trust and confidence in authorities and in one another.

In a city-state, the deleterious effect of such theories is magnified by our urban density, our high Internet penetration and fragility of race relations. So officialdom will need to watch out for toxic comments from the usual suspects and act against them if need be.

As the island nation is kept on tenterhooks, Singaporeans must watch out for fault lines in society fracturing. The record of urban terror situations from 9/11, the Madrid bombings, London bombings, assorted blasts in Jakarta and Bali and further afield in Pakistan - the list goes on - may prompt some Singaporeans to stereotype their mental model of the face of terror.

Should the probe into a Singapore attack result in pictures of suspects that fit that stereotype, there is a real risk that faultline will rupture.

If trouble flares, an unsettled Singaporean population that tears this country apart would be one of the intended after-effects of the urban terror attack. This is an own goal we should prevent.

Proactive, timely and relentless intervention by society is therefore needed to keep the peace, not if but when the storm breaks.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Singapore police cyber sleuths arrest 34-year-old man for alleged online bomb threat after Boston marathon blasts

Nothing seems sacred on the Internet as almost every topic under the sun has been lambasted by bellyaches.

Nothing is secret either as your keystrokes and page views can be traced back to your side of the screen, doubtless with some difficulty but not with absolute impossibility.

The 34-year-old man arrested in Singapore on Thursday (18 April'13) for allegedly posting bomb threats online has learned firsthand about the fragility of anonymity in cyberspace.

He was traced and arrested by the Singapore Police Force 24 hours after a police report was lodged about his alleged postings.

A Straits Times report on the arrest quoted Deputy Assistant Commissioner Keok Tong San from the Singapore police saying:"Police will take swift and firm action against those who threaten the sense of safety and security in Singapore by making such irresponsible remarks while hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet."

People found guilty of making false threats of terrorist acts can be fined up to S$100,000, imprisoned for up to five years, or both.

It is likely this will be a lesson the 34-year-old will (hopefully) be smart enough to register and never forget.

Defence-related postings that had the police knocking on the front door of certain netizens include the hoax posting that a Singapore air force F-16 had crashed. That comment was also said to have been posted anonymously.

The modus operandi (MO) of our cyber sleuths has never been revealed publicly - and for good reason as this is a trade secret best kept under wraps.

Other countries probably have such a capability too, as we witnessed recently when cyber attacks were traced back to their point of origin.

Electronic order of battle
Such awareness could, theoretically, be used to amass a wealth of information on the identity (as in the person or persons), source (as in the country they hail from) and intensity of postings (which are the pet peeves) to unmask the intent and MO behind these anonymous posters.

This "electronic order of battle" would betray the identity of netizens who repeatedly post comments using multiple nicknames and point out from whence the came.

The noise in cyberspace, however sarcastic and hurtful, is not why an EOB should be compiled.

Stripping aside snide and snarky remarks from nameless netizens, the ones that matter are remarks that may signal a larger, well-organised intent to shake, rattle and roll over the morale and well-being of Singaporeans. It is probably not without good grounds that Singaporeans have been cautioned not to take all comments in cyberspace at face value. Some may be flame bait posted by trolls outside this country with not so good intentions or in-country individuals with a divisive mindset.

With comments in cyberspace penned anonymously, you and I are none the wiser - unless you have strings to pull for this sort of intel.

It is nonetheless comforting to know that the sheriff can police cyberspace for those occasions when netizens step out of bounds, either from sheer stupidity, malice or mischievious intent.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Gunboat diplomacy: USS Freedom arrives in Singapore

Media scrum: United States Navy Commander Timothy Wilke, commanding officer of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1), attracts keen interest from local and foreign media shortly after the warship berthed at Changi Naval Base. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh

Story Number: NNS130417-22
Release Date: 4/17/2013 11:01:00 PM

From Commander, Logistics Group, Western Pacific Public Affairs

SINGAPORE (NNS) -- The Navy's first littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrived in Singapore April 18, highlighting the next phase of her deployment to Southeast Asia.

"Freedom has met every milestone of this deployment on time and with the professionalism you would expect of U.S. Navy Sailors," said Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, commanding officer, USS Freedom. "I'm proud of Freedom's accomplishments to date, but I'm also looking forward to putting the ship through its paces over the next several months while deployed more than 8,000 miles from homeport."

Announced at the 2011 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Freedom's maiden overseas deployment began with a departure from homeport San Diego, March 1, 2013. The first-in-class ship has since transited the Pacific Ocean, entered the 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), and made port visits in Hawaii, Guam and most recently in Manila. Additional port visits will occur throughout the deployment.

As with other parts of this deployment, lessons learned from logistics and maintenance support during the transit and port visits will inform follow-on rotational deployments as well as the overall LCS program.

Next month, Freedom will participate in the upcoming International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEX) in Singapore. In the months following IMDEX, Freedom will join regional navies and other 7th Fleet units as a participant in select phases of exercises Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT). Occurring throughout Southeast Asia, both exercises provide Freedom opportunities to train extensively with comparable-sized ships.

"We plan on spending most of our time here in Southeast Asia - this will be Freedom's neighborhood for the next eight months," said Wilke. "We are eager to get out and about, work with other regional navies and share best practices during exercises, port visits and maritime security operations."

Fast, agile, and mission-focused, LCS platforms are designed to employ modular mission packages that can be configured for three separate purposes: surface warfare, mine countermeasures, or anti-submarine warfare. Freedom will be initially manned by her "Gold" crew of 91 Sailors to include mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate an embarked MH-60 helicopter.

Freedom will remain homeported in San Diego throughout this rotational deployment to Southeast Asia. Midway through Freedom's deployment, a crew-swap will be conducted with her "Blue" crew, commanded by Cmdr. Patrick C. Thien.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) adds "safety" as its 8th core value

As Singapore's military adds "safety" as the eighth core value that soldiers should guide their actions by, the city-state's mainstream press should do itself a favour by not adding more salt and pepper than necessary to spice up this newspoint.

In its standfirst that claims the move by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) follows efforts to make training safer "after a string of fatal accidents", the Straits Times newspaper paints an inaccurate picture of the SAF's safety record which is alarmist, misleading and ill-informed.

Singapore's paper of record introduces the story as follows:"Soldiers in the Singapore military will have to pledge to uphold 'safety' as one of their core values in a move introduced following a spate of deadly training accidents."

By spicing things up with stock phrases like "string of fatal accidents" and "spate of deadly training accidents", readers might reasonably build a mental picture that citizen soldiers are falling like ninepins. If Singaporeans can nurse such suspicions, what more foreign readers who happen to surf to that story in cyberspace?

Apart from one near-miss on 8 March 2013 (grenade throwing snafu by a recruit), this blog is unaware of any fatal accidents in 2013.

The adjectives bandied by the 90 cents newspaper do a disservice to ongoing efforts by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF to reinforce and sustain safety awareness because readers might wrongly assume defence authorities have yet to get things under control.

It is only in the third leg of the story (i.e. the story's third column) that the reader discovers that the "spate of fatal accidents" took place, ahem, "last year". Several pars of backgrounders are then thrown in to bring the story to its desired length with an obligatory quote to wrap up the story with a kicker.
In 2012, six of our fellow citizen soldiers died serving this island nation. They are:
  1. Corporal (NS) Li Hongyang, 28, on 10 January 2012
  2. Private Amirul Syahmi bin Kamal, 20, on 15 March 2012
  3. Private Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron, 21, on 17 April 2012
  4. Third Sergeant Tan Mou Sheng, 20, on 11 May 2012
  5. Lance-Corporal Muhammad Fahrurrazi bin Salim, 20, on 12 August 2012
  6. Lance-Corporal (NS) Tan Tai Seng, 23, on 27 September 2012
Compare and contrast, if you will, the SAF's safety record for 2012 with three deaths in the whole of 2011 and none in 2010 - the SAF's safest year on record since compulsory National Service (NS) began in 1967.

And if six deaths a year is regarded as a "spate", the 90 cents paper would have had to cough out another suitable adjective for the 10 SAF deaths in 2009 - the SAF's darkest year for training safety.

Missed newspoints
If the 90 cents newspaper wanted a punchy, human interest intro, it could perhaps have noticed that the "safety" core value comes about nearly a year to the day after the late PTE Dominique Lee's family were left heart-broken by his death. His death anniversary, by the way, is tomorrow. Does the newspaper even care, one wonders?

Dominique's birthday was marked last week, quite possibly with *sensationalist reportage alert* rivers of tears from those who cherish his loss a year after he died serving his country.

A quote from his family on whether the "safety" core value makes a difference would drive home the importance of safety to commanders and men, as the late PTE Dominique's family and friends can almost surely be counted on to furnish the 90 cents newspaper with more quotable quotes than it has the balls to print.

If the 90 cents newspaper wanted a factual intro, it could have pointed out that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) have had "safety" as their core values for several years already.

Was the RSAF ahead of the curve when it added "safety" and "team excellence" to the SAF's seven core values: Loyalty to country, Leadership, Discipline, Professionalism, Ethics, Fighting Spirit and Care for Soldiers?

Is the SAF then, ipso facto, behind the proverbial curve and should "team excellence" also be added for good measure to the expanded list of core values?

There's a part for Everyone
Safety awareness in the Singaporean military embraces more than just giving citizen soldiers a tipsheet of values to recite.

It is an all of government, all of country effort to make sure checks and balances are in place, at the right place and the right time, all the time.

Part of that balance lies in calibrating newspaper reports that inform and educate its readership with credible and accurate reportage.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Guessing game continues over Singapore's plans for F-35 fighter

Feet wet over the Singapore Strait, the Republic of Singapore Navy S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter had a VVIP passenger aboard for his final helo flight before changing name cards. Outgoing Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chief of Air Force (CAF), Major-General Ng Chee Meng, made his last flight aboard the Seahawk in his capacity as CAF.

The flight was symbolic of the progress the RSAF had made in expanding its operational envelope from land to sea, now that Seahawks acquired under CAF's watch as part of Project Peace Triton are ready for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.

As the general prepared to step up to the role of Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Forces, one final flight awaited him in his capacity as CAF. This time, in a fixed wing fighter.

Many people love to play guessing games, which is why Singapore Pools is doing so well.

The latest buzz among military buffs centres on the type and number of warplane Singapore might will eventually buy for our air force. In this guessing game, the payoff isn't cold hard cash but bragging rights to (supposedly) knowing more and being better informed than fellow netizens.

The stakes were opened by a 25 March 2013 online article with a headline that screamed "Singapore Poised to Announce Purchase of 12 F-35Bs". Click here for the full story.

Definitive intro
The AOL Defense story's intro reads:"Singapore is expected to announce sometime in the next 10 days that it plans to buy its first squadron --12 planes -- of some 75 of Lockheed Martin's F-35Bs, further bolstering what had been the flagging fortunes of the world's most expensive conventional weapon system."

That definitive-sounding opener got the tribe uber excited.

The story reignited dormant discussion threads on the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes.

It stoked numerous theories on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of spending money on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet when the American warplane had generated and continues to sustain mixed reviews from the United States military aviation community.

It triggered countless Google searches on the F-35 from netizens eager to polish their familiarity with a new generation stealth fighter marketed by Lockheed as the next big thing.

Well, those 10 days have come and gone. We have yet to hear the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) say anything and there's no official word from the defense community in CONUS either. Not a squeak.

Saying a lot without saying anything
Scroll back to early March and one would find MINDEF's longest statement on the F-35 in recent years - a statement that could have led observers to think there is no smoke without fire.

Wrapping up the debate on the defence budget, Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen said:"Investing steadily over the long-term allows MINDEF to keep a constant lookout for platforms with cutting-edge capabilities that can provide Singapore with that strategic advantage. For this reason, we joined the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Programme as a Security Cooperation Participant (SCP) back in 2004. The JSF, as some members know, now the F-35, has the potential to be the most advanced multi-role fighter aircraft for decades to come.

"Though the F-35 aircraft is still in development, we are nonetheless interested in the platform for our future needs. The F-35 will be the vanguard of next generation fighter aircraft when operational. Our F-5s are nearing the end of their operational life and our F-16s are at their mid-way mark. For the longer term, the RSAF has identified the F-35 as a suitable aircraft to further modernise our fighter fleet. We are now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35. So in the interest of transparency, I'm telling you we're now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35. MINDEF will have to be satisfied that this state-of-the-art multi-role fighter meets our long-term needs, is on track to be operationally capable and, most importantly, is a cost-effective platform. I've given many necessary caveats before we make a final decision, but we are evaluating the platform."

Whether you're for or against the F-35, Dr Ng's carefully calibrated lines appear to indicate that it is only a matter of time before a deal is struck. And then again, perhaps not as you'll notice that the statement gives MINDEF wriggle room to back out of any decision without losing face.

It would not be the first time Singov has come out openly to discuss fighter purchases.

S'pore's 1st fighter purchase
In the late 1960s, Britain offered to sell English Electric Lightning F.6 fighter jets to the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC). The 12 Lightnings that Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) based at RAF Tengah were then regarded as the fastest fighter interceptors in the region. The twin-engined warplanes served with the RAF's Number 74 "Tiger" Squadron.

The supersonic Lightnings - in their time the Royal Air Force's most capable interceptor - were rejected in favour of subsonic Hawker Hunter fighter/ground attack aircraft. RAF Hunters operated out of RAF Tengah with Number 20 Squadron.

The idea was for the Lightnings to serve as day interceptors for air defence while Hawker Hunters were described with the innocuous term as "trainers". *rolls eyeballs*

At the time of acquisition, the Hunters were combat proven, adored by pilots who flew them and respected by those who flew against these warbirds. So the then Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC, forerunner to today's RSAF) had few sceptics to contend with. In the end, the plan to introduce two advanced jet fighters to the fledgling air force was judged overly ambitious and Lightnings were quietly axed from the air force's wish-list.

Singaporean fighter pilots had to wait a full decade before Northrop F-5 warplanes capable of flying supersonic were added to RSAF flightline under Project Peace "O" (full project name deleted).

Lightning strikes twice
Having once rejected a Lightning warplane (the English Electric Lightning F.6), will the Lightning name (this time the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II) also be shown the door by Singapore's air defence planners?

The claims and counter-claims from both F-35 camps aren't all bad.

It serves to promote awareness of RSAF airpower. It gives Singapore's air force free publicity in cyberspace as netizens speculate, theorise and argue over its future order of battle.

It prods people to ask why Singapore has built up its air power the way it is.

But the presence of sceptics, particularly those from the US aviation community whose professional credentials cannot be scoffed at, signals that any F-35 decision ought to be accompanied by a public relations game plan that explains our case.

In other words, we do not want to be seen as having bought a lemon if a deal is struck.

And if all bets are off, Singaporeans deserve assurance that the RSAF will continue to maintain its capability edge while fielding other types of manned and unmanned air assets.

Among the RSAF's stable of high performance warplanes, Maj-Gen Ng picked the twin-seater F-5T Tiger II as his choice for his last flight as CAF. The F-5T - the oldest jet trainer in the RSAF's stable - was chosen over twin-seater F-16D, F-16D+ and F-15SGs and this choice did not go unnoticed by airmen who had worked with and seen Maj-Gen Ng's career earn him top spot in the RSAF's command tree.

This flight was rich in symbolism too. The slender F-5 was the fighter jet that CAF was trained to fly and fight as a pilot trainee. He climbed through the ranks to command the RSAF's 144 Squadron - the air force's first squadron to fly supersonic F-5s - as his first squadron command. [Incidentally, the command tour of RSAF F-5 unit, 149 Squadron, was cherished by Maj-Gen Ng's elder brother, Maj-Gen Ng Chee Khern so much that it was no coincidence that 149 SQN was chosen to operate the Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagles - Singapore's most advanced warplane.]

As the F-5T soared off the runway for the flight to Tengah Air Base, the landscape observed by the outgoing CAF had changed much from the time he first strapped on an F-5E. Still, the constraints of being a tiny island city-state, the urban density and Singapore's position astride one of the world's most important shipping lanes were plainly obvious beneath his fighter jet. 

As Chief of Defence Force, the general would likely preside over the drawdown of the RSAF's F-5 community.

This CDF - who is only the second air force officer to hold that title - will likely preside over a paradigm shift in RSAF air power as the decision over a new warplane type and unveiling of a replacement for the 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns are likely to take place during his watch. Exciting times await us.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Korean crisis may test Singapore's National Emergency System (NEST)

Job done for the day, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) sergeant glanced at his work station one last time. What he saw on plasma screen displays would tell him the fastest way to get home on his motorbike because the multiple screens indicated the traffic situation all across Singapore island in real-time.

With his route home plotted out in his mind, the sergeant waved goodbye to his relief shift before making his way past the vault-like steel doors, then up tens of metres by stairs and elevator to surface level where he emerged in an ordinary looking parking lot.

What it concealed deep beneath ground level was far from ordinary.

This was Basement 3 of one of the SCDF's most prized facilities: an underground command complex that is at the heart of the city-state's National Emergency System (NEST).

If things get hot on the Korean peninsula, Singaporeans entrusted with NEST are under no illusions the Lion City's national emergency drawer plans may be put to the test.

Trouble in North Asia may disrupt or delay trade movements by air and ship, and may catch import-dependent economies wrong-footed unless they have stockpiles of essential items.

The NEST checklist reads like a doomsday survivalist's manifest, but upsized enormously to protect and save Singapore's population of more than 5 million should the worst happen, whether due to natural or man-made calamities.

Food security, energy security and the continued running of essential services such as fresh water, electricity and transport are among items addressed under NEST. And these are more than just paper plans.

Several times a year, key building blocks of NEST are put to the test under a nationwide initiative titled (somewhat unimaginatively) MONOC. It stands for Maintenance Of Nest Operational Capability. These emergency preparedness exercises bring together professionals from Home Team agencies like civil defence, police and immigration, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as well as companies that manage essential services to test out emergency plans.

What may have sounded paranoid during peaceful times now look like sensible precautions that toughen up our island nation during uncertain times.

The security of rice - a food staple for Singaporeans of all races - is an example of the extent that the Singapore government is prepared to go to protect the wellbeing of its people. Warehouses at several locations around Singapore ensure that Singaporeans will have more than two months' supply of the grain, even if food ships cannot reach our shores. If rationing is imposed, that rice stockpile should stretch several weeks longer.

The energy stockpile, sufficient to keep our island's generators humming for a double-digit duration in days, is insurance against any disruptions in fuel supply for our power stations.

In the SCDF's Basement 3, each peacetime shift of around 10 operators is kept busy with or without the crisis in Korea or (name your regional hotspot).

Over a span of 24 hours, Basement 3 would have answered around 1,000 phone calls for emergency services. For all their effort, about 5 per cent of the calls turn out to be false alarms.

Every call is logged, tracked and assessed to ensure the service standard of getting a fire appliance out on the road within one minute and to the scene of emergency around eight minutes later can be maintained, round the clock, all year round.

Here's where the traffic monitoring desk pays dividends. It allows SCDF despatchers to activate the fire station or smaller fire post closest to the scene of incident. It also indicates every fire hydrant in the vicinity and is smart enough to alert despatchers when multiple calls for the same emergency, observed by different people, flood the 995 emergency number.

The command and control system was developed by Singaporean defence engineers from Singapore Technologies Electronics more than 10 years ago under Project Cubicon.

It gives SCDF crisis managers an island-wide view of Singaporens in trouble, day and night, with the help of multiple wall and desk mounted screens.

Cubicon dutifuly logs and displays every request to put out a fire, every call for an ambulance crew, all reported road traffic accidents and displays movements of all SCDF emergency vehicles as these life-savers are tracked by satellite.

Basement 3 is built for peace, troubled peace and war. The hardened facility, encased underground in reinforced concrete and steel to protect it from air attack, has more office space than is required for peacetime situations.

Another part of the room is responsible for more than 250 sirens that form Singapore's Public Warning System (PWS) to alert Singaporeans to tune in for emergency broadcasts, warn of impending air/missile attack or sound the all-clear.

One the first day of every month at precisely 12 noon, every siren sounds a 20-second melody. To the uninitiated, this melody may not mean anything. But civil defence engineers at strategic parts of the island use the chime to test if sirens are ready for duty.

The PWS also has a long genesis. It was commissioned more than two decades ago in 1991 and builds on plans laid in the mid-1980s that recommended several measures to harden Singapore against air raids.

To keep the network running 24/7, engineers are rostered to service around seven PWS sirens every day. Crisis planners have also built in several fail-safes to ensure that the sirens will blare when they have to. Each siren is powered by electricity from the national grid and has a back-up battery. The system to sound the siren comprises landlines and radio back-up.

This long-term approach to national emergency preparedness planning could be better appreciated by the average Singaporean as we live in a country better prepared than most for crisis situations.

It is a wake-up call one hopes Singaporeans will not be forced to heed.

When that wake-up call arrives, NEST will be ready. What about you?