When a battalion mobilised for
The response rate for mobilisation exercises is a crucial readiness indicator for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as it draws upon citizen soldiers to form the core of its full force potential.
That 90 per cent response rate tells defence observers that the battalion has essentially lost 10 per cent of its manpower even before the first shot is fired. When you factor in lessons from years of defence operations research, which tell us that a military unit becomes combat ineffective when it loses about 40 per cent of its fighting strength, such awareness amplifies the significance of the 10 per cent absentee rate.[There are exceptions to the rule. Elite units with a high level of training and esprit have fought ferociously even with their numbers whittled down significantly. Example: the German Fallschirmjager during WW2]
With this in mind, defence planners who sketch out future force structures should pencil in allowance for NS units who may show up for operations with less than full strength. That notional 10 per cent shortfall can be made up in various ways, from having the NSmen present work a little harder or through the use of technology that can compensate for the shortfall. [Note: All this assumes the missing 10 per cent is spread out evenly throughout the unit because if the missing manpower is lumped all in one Company, then that understrength Company cannot be considered fit for operations.]
Regular Army versus Citizens Army
In peacetime, defence planners can forecast manning levels (we use this term in a gender neutral sense, as the battalion could comprise men and women) for an all regular force with a fair degree of certainty.
This is because leave for an all regular force can be curtailed or cancelled, thus keeping your defence manpower within camp. Training courses and non essential war games can be cut or postponed with the same result. The net effect would be to raise the estab strength of the unit to close to full strength in anticipation of deployment for immediate operations.
Defence planners in charge of conscript armies would struggle to hit that magic number. When fighting a short war scenario with little or no war warning, the speed at which the SAF can shift from a peace to war footing is a strategic centre of gravity that outsiders may attempt to disrupt, degrade, destroy or destabilise during the lead up to hostilities.
Without the six months notice required by the SAF 100 call up notice for in-camp training, leave entitlements for citizen soldiers are out of reach of defence planners. In civilian life, citizen soldiers from the rifleman to key appointment holders can attend courses, join business meetings or run their lives as they wish.
The legal requirement for Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen, which is what other armies call reservists) to inform MINDEF/SAF and the Home Team (police and civil defence) when they leave Singapore for more than 24 hours but less than six months (anything more requires an Exit Permit) is therefore an important one as it gives MINDEF/SAF a big picture view of the defence manpower situation at any given time.
Four imperatives during a mobilisation
When the button is pressed, Singapore must trust that her citizen soldiers will be ready and willing to carry through the following four phases of a military mobilisation.
First, they must respond to mobilise. Implicit in having codewords flashed via broadcast media (TV and radio as well as cinemas) during an Open Mobilisation and the activation codes shared discretely during a Silent Mobilisation is the trust that citizen soldiers will uphold their part of the transaction.
Second, they must mobilise to deploy. Having NSmen in uniform and in camp is a step towards getting them to make the transition from citizen to soldier. This involves organising and equipping NSmen into organised parts of a complex military structure known as an order of battle. The unit also needs to be supported in battle with food, munitions, POL and information. The last component is a new addition to the digital battlespace as the opposing force(s) can be expected to interfere with the morale of NSmen during a period of tension.
We should remember that there's a difference between grouping 100 strangers in a hierarchical structure with a chain of command and fielding 100 individuals who have trained on war games together as a cohesive fighting unit. During WW2, the Germans routinely formed emergency units (called Alarmeinheiten) on the Eastern Front from servicemen on leave or drawn from understrength units to form a new unit. Accounts by German veterans indicate that Alarmeinheiten had woeful military value. Fighting as strangers without the benefit of unit cohesion, such units had less value that a unit of comparable (or even weaker) manpower strength as the bonds that held soldiers together during combat was non-existent in the units scratched together from odds and ends.
This explains why the Singapore Army moved towards mono intake units decades ago, and why the esprit forged during ICTs is something commanders value.
Third, citizen soldiers must deploy to fight. Open Mobilisation exercises look good when staged for the media because of the sheer amount of activity that takes place in camp. Weapons are issued, ammunition checked, the noise from range practice and force preparation make wonderful kodak moments. When NSmen know they have to do it for real, citizen soldiers must have the mental frame of mind to follow-through all the way to the covering force area (CFA).
Last, NSmen must fight to win. Citizen soldiers be convinced of the cause they are fighting for. When the go order is issued, the time for deep personal reflection is over. The CFA is no place for a focus group discussion on the whys and wherefores of national defence, theories on nationhood and what it means to be a Singaporean. Decision paralysis could occur if NS units indicate some philosophical inertia when it dawns on them this time, it is for real.
While all this is going on, defence diplomacy needs to swing into action to convince the other party that full mobilisation leading to deployment is not a predetermined or inevitable outcome. At any point in time, SAF combat forces can be demobilised, scaled back and relations reset, perhaps from two sides of a conference table where jaw jaw takes the place of war war.
It should be clear to defence-minded individuals that 100 per cent commitment to defence (C2D), while desired, can be neither assumed nor guaranteed.
At the same time, enemy interference can be expected to sow self-doubt or whittle down the effectiveness of the mobilisation process. Such interference could take the form of soft kill options like Psychological Warfare (eg anonymous postings on the Net purportedly from Singaporeans questioning the need to fight) or hard kill, direct action against a manpower mobilisation node (eg deploying special forces to shoot up a mobilisation area).
The effort to foster C2D must therefore be evergreen. It will never be completed within one's staff tour or work year, no matter how strongly supportive respondents may appear to be at a certain period of time.
At the same time, C2D comms must rise above the level of white noise by listening to and acting upon feedback from Singaporeans.
One should also think strategically to forecast possible pain points downstream. In doing so, the objective should be to explain, in clear language, why taking a certain course of action is to their ultimate benefit. More to the point, the downside risks of not taking a certain course of action needs to be communicated. This will forestall situations when people learn about the price of inaction when it is too late and scramble to compensate - a fool's errand for certain long lead time defence items. Once certain capabilities are lost, it may take years to reintroduce the lost capability which people did not appreciate.
Above all, our citizens army needs a strong air defence shield under which our island nation can transform itself during an emergency when it moves from peace to
That shield comes in the form of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
The four phases of a mobilisation would count for nothing if command of the air cannot be safeguarded by the RSAF.
Our Air Force should continue keeping its combat readiness high and weapons proficiency proven during realistic, intense live-fire exercises that underscore how it will keep us out of harm's way.