Monday, February 25, 2013

Singapore raises defence spending to S$12.3 billion

The Republic of Singapore has set aside a record S$12.3 billion for the Ministry of Defence/Singapore Armed Forces, according to the Budget Statement released this afternoon.

Defence spending for the 2013 financial year, which starts on 1 April, rose some 4.2 per cent compared to the S$11.8 billion budgeted for FY2012.

MINDEF's war chest of S$12,335 million comprises S$11,895 million for operating expenditure and S$440 million for development expenditure.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is due to receive S$3.9 billion, up 11.4 per cent from last year's S$3.5 billion.

For more Singapore Budget FY 2013 highlights, click here

US$1 = S$1.24

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Time to evaluate need for Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Space Command

Watch this space: Height-finder (left) and surveillance radars of the First Generation Republic of Singapore Air Force scanned airspace around Singapore island from Bukit Gombak, Singapore's second highest hill.

For a country that can requisition civilian assets like trucks and even factories during a national emergency, the earth observation satellite that government-linked ST Electronics said it is developing will literally shoot Singapore's Requisition of Resources Act (RORA) into a new orbit.

To stay ahead of the curve, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) should consider acquiring the subject matter expertise needed to understand, appreciate and leverage on the advantages of space-based assets.

Grouped under a notional Space Command organisation, the organisation will be best placed to guide and provide the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with accurate, relevant and timely advice on all space-related matters.

At present, folks at the SAF Joint Services organisation called the Imagery Support Group (ISG) are the ones to talk to for all matters related to remote sensing imagery. But there is a big difference from being a consumer of satellite images captured by other platforms and being able to directly influence satellite activity with one of your own birds.

Singapore's remote sensing bird
The ST Electronics remote sensing satellite, TeLEOS-1, packs the potential to change the way the RSAF keeps Singapore's skies clear of aerial intruders 24/7.

A ST Electronics news release on TeLEOS-1, couched in civilian language that domesticated its capabilities, described what it can do:"TeLEOS-1 is designed to orbit around the equator, at an orbital height of about 550km, and with an update rate of 90 minutes, it will provide satellite images of 1 metre ground sampling distance from an electro-optics camera.

"The satellite images can be used for disaster monitoring and management, mineral exploration, precision farming, environmental monitoring, climate change studies, agriculture resource studies and management, maritime and coastal observation, urban planning and homeland security."

It should be obvious that the key advantage is not the 1 metre resolution - this is already available from commercial remote sensing companies - but the update rate of 90 minutes.

But its game-changing attributes can be exploited only if the RSAF has a core group of professionals trained to think and look beyond the obvious in order to fully exploit such advantages.

Going Beyond the Obvious
A core group of Space-oriented RSAF officers and Military Experts would place the SAF on a firmer footing when the time comes to decide how Singapore could benefit from satellite technology.

At a baseline level of knowledge, exposure to Space-oriented military organisations in other countries would help build local expertise needed to answer the basic question of whether such an organisation is needed in the first place.

In a way, it parallels the SAF's experience with diesel-electric submarines: We bought a batch of Swedish SSKs to evaluate if the Republic of Singapore Navy would need such capabilities. As a test of logic, this boggles the mind. But the RSN's submariner force should thank pioneers who tinkered with the Challenger-class boats in local waters for shaping 171 Squadron's SSK force into what it is today.

Until and unless we learn from the best, our understanding of space will have to be an extension of what the RSAF's Air Defence and Operations Command (ADOC) can tell us. However, operations in low earth orbit may be different from air ops which employ air breathing platforms, weapons and sensors.

With Singaporean universities and research houses powering ahead to acquire know-how of space, the RSAF should do likewise. Space is the new frontier. Really.

From an organisational development perspective, the RSAF's upcoming leadership renewal puts the air force in a commanding position to understand how air surveillance can or should move up the value chain to embrace space-based assets.

Our incoming Chief of Air Force (CAF), Brigadier-General Hoo Cher Mou does not wear wings. But he does have a deeper understanding of the complex task of air surveillance and a firsthand experience of what units like 2(deleted)(deleted) Squadron do daily than most pilots. This is because he grew up in the complex air defence and surveillance environment criss-crossed by air lanes fed by Southeast Asia's busiest airport, which can log as many as 62 air movements per hour during its peak load.[Note: This does not degrade the value of pilots posted to that squadron as they bring an airman's perspective to the air situation picture. The point is BG Hoo's subject matter expertise was honed in the air surveillance realm from the start, which means his perspective of sensors may be different from a flier's.]

If anyone can understand how complex space surveillance is, BG Hoo can.

The Singapore air force's tentative step into maturing into a space force may come sooner than you think. This could take place when one of its oldest weapon systems, the (deleted), is said to be due for replacement by the (deleted) - not a military secret because logically it cannot continue to go on forever.

That changing of the guard - in our view one of the world's most asymmetrical yet interesting weapon replacement projects - provides the opportunity for the RSAF to up its game.

We can already exploit advantages above and beyond the fenceline. If you know what this means, no elaboration is necessary.

We have the means to read situations that are beyond the obvious.

Future opportunity is there. It is left to RSAF officers and specialist to take up the challenge.

Space cadets, please step forward.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Near miss: Singapore Armed Forces medical team successfully revives soldier who suffered a heart attack

SINGAPORE — A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) NSman on reservist suffered a cardiac arrest during training yesterday, said the Ministry of Defense.

In a statement, MINDEF said that Operationally-Ready National Serviceman, Lance Corporal (LCP) (NS) Chew Koh Leong, 32, suffered a cardiac arrest yesterday at 7.25pm while performing his IPPT Preparatory Training in Maju Camp. LCP(NS) Chew had no known prior history of heart disease.

MINDEF said that LCP(NS) Chew was successfully resuscitated by an SAF medical doctor and medic and sent to the National University Hospital (NUH) at 7.55 pm. He is being treated in the intensive care unit and the cause of his cardiac arrest investigated by NUH specialists.

The SAF is providing assistance to LCP(NS) Chew’s family.

Source: Todayonline, 22 Feb 2013


SD comments:
A 32-year-old Operationally-Ready National Serviceman, Lance Corporal Chew Koh Leong, is recovering at the National University Hospital after suffering a heart attack during a PT session yesterday.

The story was posted this evening on the online edition of the Singaporean tabloid, Today. A print version is expected to be published in Saturday's edition of the paper.

The Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) posted information on the incident on its website at 11pm tonight. (An earlier version of this post, which checked the website at 11:10pm found nothing. Have updated the comments below accordingly.)

* MINDEF has a practice of reporting fatal accidents or cases of grievious hurt involving firearms or machinery. The defence ministry did so dutifully for past incidents like the one involving Republic of Singapore Navy serviceman, ME2 Jason Chee.

* The vast majority of near misses that were classed as such, thanks to quick and successful intervention, have thus far gone unreported. The ministry had mentioned in past discussions on evacuation protocols that there have been instances of successful resuscitation. This story supports that claim.

* This is believed to be the first "near miss" news release logged for a heart attack case in recent memory.

* In the larger scheme of things, would this mean all near misses involving SAF personnel would be similarly reported? If so, for what class of incidents?
* As the PT session was witnessed by LCP Chew's fellow citizen soldiers, it is likely someone in the camp tipped off the media. This cause-effect dynamic has a precedent. This brings us to the next point.

* In previous years, MINDEF exercised even greater latitude in deciding what sort of fatalities merited a news release. Please read circumstances relating to the death of Republic of Singapore Air Force regular, Corporal Ricky Liu, which was discussed in an earlier post. Here's an extract from the post:

"CPL Ricky died serving Singapore. He reportedly crawled the last 20 metres to the finish line of the 2.4km run but collapsed before reaching it.

If PAFF had issued a news release the day he died, that would have done much to comfort CPL Ricky's family and friends. Instead, we heard nothing from PAFF. Not a squeak until MINDEF's spin doctors were queried by Today.

The journalist who broke the story, Leong Wee Keat, Senior Reporter at Today, shares how he got the story: “Yes, there was no news release issued. A member of the public called us regarding the death, which we confirmed with someone we knew from the air base. MINDEF did not issue a statement till we contacted them on the incident. When we spoke to the family, the sister was relatively calm (compared to other grieving families we tried before). They also sought answers but MINDEF said the incident was under investigation.”

* We wish LCP Chew a speedy recovery.



Coming up tomorrow:
Time to evaluate need for an RSAF Space Command

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Citizen soldiers receive rifles at War Memorial Park as Singapore marks Total Defence Day

Citizen soldier: Recruit Mirza Abdul Martin (left) receives his SAR-21 assault rifle from Commanding Officer of 1st Guards Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Fairoz bin Hassan, at the War Memorial Park on the 71st anniversary of the Fall of Singapore. (Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)



As we debate the future of National Service (NS) years from now, our present-day Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) remains unwavering in its focus on the tasks at hand as our country's gatekeeper.

And Singaporeans continue their rite of passage as full-time National Servicemen (NSF), backed by their families just as NS has always been for the past 45 years.

Yesterday's rifle presentation ceremony for 402 recruits from the 1st Guards Battalion (1 GDS) at the War Memorial Park was not just an SAF event.

Held in the heart of the city, 1 GDS recruits were joined by family and friends who turned up in droves - on a weekday afternoon - and braved the rain to witness how the Singapore Army formally presents its newest soldiers with their rifles. Past batches of NSFs had been symbolically armed at WW2 battle sites around our island nation or in twilight ceremonies in their Basic Military Training camps.

The venue as well as the date and time for yesterday's event were laden with meaning. The War Memorial Park - fondly known as the chopsticks because of its four 61-metre tall concrete pillers - remembers civilians who died during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore during WW2.

And the rifle presentation at 6:20pm marked the precise moment that British forces surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. The date marks Total Defence Day and is used to keep warm the message that Singaporeans alone defend their destiny.

In a cyberpioneer story, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Neo Kian Hong commented on the significance of the venue: "This is a sacred place of remembrance of our forefathers who lost their lives during World War II."

CDF added: "Remember always that strong security underpins Singapore's survival and success. Ultimately, if we are not prepared to defend ourselves, no one else will. That is why we commemorate Total Defence Day."

According to cyberpioneer, LG Neo joined Chief of Army Major-General Ravinder Singh, senior SAF officers and warrant officers, students from the Singapore National Cadet Corps, and family and friends of the recruits as the ceremony unfolded.

Addressing his troops, 1 GDS Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Fairoz bin Hassan, spoke of their initiation into Basic Military Training, which would eventually lead them to becoming Guardsmen, or heliborne infantry.

Show of support: Despite the rain, family and well wishers of the 1 GDS recruits turned up to witness the 5.56mm SAR-21 assault rifle presentation ceremony. Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

"In front of this memorial, you will affirm your commitment to the defence of Singapore. You will stand with me, and all the others before you, in making this promise. You will pledge to take care of your weapons and dedicate yourself to the brotherhood of arms in 1 Guards."

The 5.56mm SAR-21 assault rifle was designed and manufactured in Singapore for the SAF's specific operational requirements. Its optical sight takes away the need to calibrate the rifle for each soldier, unlike the M-16 it replaced which needed to have iron sights zeroed for its owner. During a mobilisation, ground forces armed with SAR-21 rifles can therefore turn mission-ready in a shorter time.

"Soldiers of 1 Guards, receive your weapons knowing that your country gives it to you with the trust that you will put it to good use," said LTC Fairoz.

"You will follow the footsteps of many before you, and mark that symbolic first step to becoming soldiers of the Singapore Armed Forces. Take care of your weapon, and it will take care of you. With it comes the responsibility of being a citizen soldier of Singapore. Use it to fulfil the promise that we have made on the day of our enlistment - that we will protect and honour and independence of Singapore with our lives."

Economic Defence: Entitled mentality of Linksters pose challenges for Singapore teachers

The advice from well-meaning teachers was as sincere as it was serious: Not more than five consecutive Powerpoint slides with words or the audience might lose interest. And make the job sound "fun".

Anyone who has ever had to speak to Singaporean young adults would recognise the challenge of keeping them engaged. And we're not talking about an audience of juveniles but IHL students - our future managers and industry leaders from institutions of higher learning.

To call them Gen Ys indicates you're behind the curve. Linksters is a moniker bandied about by lecturers who can see that today's tech-savvy youngters, linked almost 24/7 to the online world (hence the term), are cut from a different template from students of the pre-Internet era.

The different audience profile is obvious the moment your eye sweeps across the terraced seats in the lecture theatre. Laptops and mobile devices propped up in front of students outclass one's company-issued laptop. You are shy to bring out your mobilephone because it is the previous year's model that Linksters discarded several semesters ago.

Even as you mentally rehearse your presentation, online competitors like Facebook, blogshops, twitter feeds vie for the Linksters' time and attention. iPhone SMS chimes echo around the room, stealing yet more of your face time.

And so a different engagement gameplan is needed.

Revised pedagogy

Singaporean teachers are struggling to keep up, trying their best to make our youngsters work-ready and globally competitive. This in itself is a lofty ideal.

For most teachers, the challenges are more basic: Making sure the student attends school and can pass his/her exam.

To get these basic needs met, teachers have turned creative. The classroom need not be a physical space in school. Excursions disguised as "learning journeys" are common.

Many learning journeys are funded by the Edusave grants from the Singapore Government. But the Linkster probably doesn't care where the money comes from as long as it keeps coming.

That their Singapore dollar gives them more bang for buck while overseas is another point taken for granted as students set free overseas help prop up the tourism sector there.

Even with the best intentions, learning outcomes can be easily upset.

Companies that have hosted school visits would probably recognise that time-keeping is a perennial problem for certain IHLs. And these industry representatives would have heard the litany of excuses why the learning journey could not get moving on time: Traffic jam. Bus came late. Couldn't find the meeting place and so on.

And when the learning journey (finally) gets going, the disconnect between what the average Linkster wants from his/her work day and what the real world can offer is often an eye-opener.

What students want

Students these days do not want to be chained to a desk. They want mobility. They expect "fun". A good starting pay is a given but can be overlooked by the Linkster if the career path leads to their self-actualisation. And woe betide the company if the Linkster is not promoted to "manager" in a couple of years.

In short, it is all about them.

Whether this Entitled Mentality mindset stems from immediate self-gratification from the online world (games, e-commerce etc) is a point that many teachers have pondered.

During our parent's generation, Singaporean students who entered the working world were greeted by a 5.5 day work week. Work was work. There was no MSN messenger, no SMS, no twitter to eat into one's work hours, as is the case in many Singaporean offices these days (look for the tell tale flashing orange icons at the foot of the computer screen). If one was lucky, the office would be air-conditioned.

With their entitled mentality, today's youngsters would probably recoil in horror at the privations suffered by their parent's generation. Many Linksters would not be able to take the heat.

This is probably why students willing to work hard and are willing to learn outshine their peers at scholarship selection interviews. They are that hard to find.

Add in a candidate who can articulate his/her thoughts sensibly, write well, have a sense of humility tempered with wit, an above average EQ so he/she knows when to speak up and when not to, and you have a winner. It is a joy to discover such candidates and this is one reason why those involved in education or industrial attachments continue to power on.

Reality check

But while many Singaporean students take things for granted, the world is moving fast.

It may surprise you to know that graduates from as far away as Europe and the Americas write regularly to certain companies in Singapore asking for jobs. Some effort has gone into these cold calls. Cover letters are tailored for the company. Resumes are more crisply written than some of the sloppy CVs that Singaporean graduates use for job applications.

Global companies have many options to set up shop elsewhere and give jobs to people more hungry for work and with a better work ethic than sheltered Singaporean students.

In terms of tenacity, it is not uncommon to find Malaysians who live in Johor commute daily to report for work on time at SMEs and MNC companies here. They do so every work day, knowing the Singapore dollar gets them more bang for buck when coverted to the Malaysian Ringgit.

In short, we have become more replaceable as new economies mimic Singapore's growth spurt during our post-Independence period.

And then we have Singaporean students for whom a stint at a workplace on Sentosa is "too far". Tick them off for misconduct and they want to quit. Every management directive has to be sugarcoated, less brittle egos are hurt.

The entitled mentality of Singaporean Linksters can give their teachers hell while they are in school.[If you have friends who are teachers, ask them what their work day is like.]

The reality check will come, inevitably and painfully for some, once final examinations are over and it is time to emerge into the real world.

For these students, the clock is ticking.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

From Fighting Fit to Slim Fit: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 2030

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will face its biggest restructuring challenges over the next two decades as declining intakes of full-time National Servicemen (NSF) put our armed Services on a crash diet.

For the slim fit SAF to continue to pack a punch, urgent and proactive attention aimed at preparing the order of battle for fluctuations in NSF intakes need to kick in now. Hardware revisions must be backstopped by attention to heartware - Commitment to Defence in SAF-speak - because this is all-important for a citizens army which realises its main fighting strength only after citizen soldiers respond to a mobilisation order.

Change is needed because the SAF will face a degree of change unprecedented in size, pace and extent since Singapore's independence in 1965.

If our neighbourhood stays quiet (and that's a big "if") and even with 100 per cent of Singaporeans backing the SAF without hesitation (an even bigger "if"), SAF 2030 will come dangerously close to being undermanned for the mission of defending the Lion City.

Double whammy

The double whammy of a more urbanised Singapore mainland and smaller NSF cohorts will pose challenges to defence planners in our Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF.

As SAF 2030 could be some 30 per cent smaller, logic tells us today's concept of operations need to be reviewed, revised and revamped for the downsized SAF.

Even if defence technology and better processes help the SAF trim estab levels, there is a bare minimum threshold that MINDEF/SAF manpower planners cannot cross without risking operations.

For example, the rule of thumb of a 3:1 advantage over the defender would still apply in many tactical situations unless combat robotics and unmanned combat vehicles are developed to an extent unimaginable in today's context. It may indeed happen because who knows what the future holds. But prudent defence planners assemble their fighting forces based on the kind of war machines they have and not wish they had.

As fighting unfolds, a minimum strength of ground forces will be needed to hold the ground regardless whether the scenarios apply to SAF 2012 or SAF 2030. If force levels fall below this threshold, one would risk operational overstretch. Such situations are dicey because the SAF would have bitten off more than it can chew.

Lean manning levels may indicate that the SAF will lack reserves to exploit breakthroughs or serve as a buffer against enemy action.

In the field of military medicine, a bare minimum of doctors and combat medics will still be required to treat and rehabilitate wounded SAF servicemen. Once NSFs and Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) sense that medical support is stretched to breaking point, it is likely that morale would be hurt as soldiers dither about whether it is worth risking their lives in combat with medical support either non-existent or unable to triage war wounded properly.

Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) warships would also require a minimum level of manpower for fire fighting and damage control duties.

One could cite more examples just by thinking through how the present day SAF does its job.

Looking ahead to 2030 - the far post of the planning parameter cited in the Singapore Population White Paper - it becomes apparent that a downsized SAF will need to do a lot more to influence or command every citizen soldier to do his duty.

This is because the SAF's paper strength assumes every citizen soldier will be there, ready and willing to do what's needed, when the button is pressed. How strong is this assumption when applied in the real world?

Challenges to full mobilisation

These are the touchpoints that could decide fast and how well the SAF mobilises for operations:

First, every NSF and NSman must keep himself in fine fettle. There is little point in achieving 100 per cent support for Commitment to Defence (C2D) if citizens soldiers are not in physical shape to get the job done.

Second, citizens soldiers must respond to the mobilisation order. There may be leakage from citizen soldiers who have perfectly valid reasons for not responding to the mobex due to personal health (i.e. the soldier is sick), family or work-related reasons. In peacetime, when the price of not reporting outweighs the inconvenience for doing so, MINDEF/SAF will see soldiers who lack commitment report for duty.

During a Period of Tension (POT) when war games look like they will turn into the real thing, defence manpower may be lost due to soldiers who reason that the price of not reporting for duty (jail term or a fine) is better than risking one's life during operations. So even more risk of manpower leakage.

Third, the citizen soldier will have to be armed and deployed for operations.

Last, the Singapore soldier must be prepared to act in accordance with military orders on the battlefield.

In wars past, we have seen instances of armies deployed in the field scatter and run at the first sign of trouble. In such cases, the warfighters passed through all touchpoints - keeping themselves fit for action, responding, arming and deploying - only to be tripped up by their inability to take the strain of battle.

The reasons cited above explain why misgivings from Singaporeans have expressed over National Service after the White Paper was released have to be addressed squarely. Such unhappiness from our citizen soldiers should not be allowed to fester because it eats away at C2D. Worse yet, when fathers cascade such messages to their sons, the negativity lingers and is passed down to the next genertion.


Data in the White Paper which revealed that the Singaporean Core would make up just over half of residents on the island whipped up a storm of comments in Singaporean heartlands and in cyberspace.

What do you think today's NSman fathers will tell their children - the NSFs of SAF 2030 - when they are old enough to understand what kind of country they will protect?
There are two ways of reacting to such feedback:
1) Blast dissenters for being unable to see the big picture. Belittle them by claiming they took things out of context.
2) Invest time and effort to coax Singaporeans to understand the issues that Singapore faces in the mid- to long-term.

As we approach the Committee of Supply debates that will scrutinise budgeted items, MINDEF/SAF must redouble efforts to rebuild trust among NSmen and convince them the future Singapore is well worth defending.

Yes, we believe that trust has been rattled even without any of our neighbours rattling their sabres.

The comfort zone that a strong SAF 2012 now engenders - because the orbat suggests superiority in numbers and war machines in various mission scenarios - will start turning into a danger zone as Singapore marches towards 2030.

Historically-aware netizens, this means you as many who visit this site know your history, will know that British and Imperial forces who surrendered to the Japanese in February 1942 outnumbered their enemy but lacked the will to fight when they were corralled on an island where they could barely manoeuvre.

The end result was the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 - a dark day in Singapore's history which we commemorate tomorrow.

If we outnumbered the Enemy but still surrendered, how would an outnumbered SAF 2030 convince Singaporeans and investors its deterrent edge is still lethal?

If MINDEF/SAF have the answers, it is high-time they consider sharing them with Singaporeans.


You may also like:
Military land use in 2030. Click here
Singapore's Land Use Plan 2030: Building a target rich environment. Click here
Uparming the SAF during a Period of Tension. Click here


Coming soon:SAF 2030: Hardware matters

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

SAF Confessions: Citizen soldiers from the Singapore Armed Forces speak up

With more than 900,000 Singaporeans having served National Service (NS), it's natural to expect that someone, somewhere would have a terrific yarn or two to share.

The newly-launched Facebook (FB) site for netizens to share experiences in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), SAF Confessions (click here), gives traction to this point of view.

Since its launch last Sunday (10 Feb'13), SAF Confessions has exceeded even the expectations of the site's anonymous "Admin team". The 9,700+ "Likes" it pulled in as of this evening eclipses the team's modest target of 300 "Likes" by the end of this month.

Even if one factors in the likelihood that some stories are made up, the possibility that ample amounts of salt and pepper have been added to spice up an NS recollection, the story-telling from anonymous authors - bad grammar and all - are curiously seductive in their effect.

If you're a Singaporean NSman who has yet to visit the site, book yourself ample idle time before you do. You read one story and scroll down for more. Writing style, extent of expressiveness is all different except for the subject matter. It's hell of a hoot.

Perhaps this is why it has gone viral.

Mirror to Army days

In stories told of cocky SAF officers or sadistic superiors or monumental cockups in the SAF, Singaporeans see a type specimen of characters they themselves encountered during their NS days and identify with situations that are forever embedded in their memory.

With the Admin team's light touch, the (uncensored?) stories are tales told from the heart, one NSman to another.

We relate to these anecdotes because many of them are timeless: The real or perceived divide between full-time National Service (NSF) officers and Specialists. Tales by NSmen who dodged their way out of tough training. The SAF war games that never turned out right or equipment snafus you would never read about in Pioneer magazine or the mainstream media.

There are also heart-warming stories that showcase bright moments in NS that made an impact on the life of the story-teller.

These stories transcend time and space because many of the characters, situations or experiences described are recognisable by NSmen from the First, Second and Third Generation SAF ever since compulsory conscription was launched 45 years ago.

What's more, every one of the 900,000 Singaporeans quite possibily has their own story to share, just waiting for some trigger point to let their creative juices fly. So there appears ample room yet for SAF Confessions to continue on its explosive growth trajectory.

The watchers
There is a high possibility the site has given the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF much food for thought. One can safely assume it's on the watch list of certain MINDEF departments, including the one at "I" Block 5 SIR.

To their credit, the SAF Confessions Admin team appear to have their heads screwed on tight. They are under no illusions that Internet forensics of some kind may be launched to uncover who they are.

In a note on their Facebook page, the team said:"Finally, to the friendly strangers who have given us countless of warnings about the MSD, don't worry! We have thankfully been blessed with common sense, and will definitely not post entries revealing military-confidential information, or containing racially-sensitive material. We understand that freedom of expression and speech should not override the social stability of our community, or compromise our country's ability to defend ourselves." [MSD refers to the Military Security Department.]

Time will tell whether SAF Confessions will be able to raise and sustain interest from netizens or whether the recent surge of confessional FB pages is just a passing fad.

Fast and furious

For now, the SAF Confessions creator(s) have hit a gusher. The Admin team said it was swamped with a new submission every three minutes or so at some points and is barely able to unwrap all the presents.

Alas, it is a matter of time before trolls - perhaps quasi officially sanctioned? - invade SAF Confessions by posting yarns so far-fetched they poison the credibility of the site or overtax the Admin team's ability to sift fact from fiction.

While it lasts, SAF Confessions gives SAF watchers an invaluable look inside the hearts and minds of Singapore's citizens army. What they glean from SAF Confessions will not tell them anything that Singaporeans familiar with the 45 year NS legacy don't already know.

However, in their excitement to tell a taller tale or in their desire to puff up their ego by seeing their anonymous contribution attract more "Likes", Singapore's citizen soldiers may send a wrong signal to foreign observers.

The tenor of NS stories sent to SAF Confessions may inadvertently lure foreign elements into concluding that the SAF is an army of city boys or out-of-shape NSmen who can't wait to Serve and Forget.

True or not, you decide.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in the Year 2030 (Part 1): Heartware matters



In the Year 2030, we will find out if table tennis star Ms Li Jia Wei has honoured her promise to send her precious first born son for National Service (NS) in Singapore.

Whoever is still alive in 17 years, please log this name and check with authorities if he has served/is serving as a full-time National Serviceman (NSF): Terry Li Tianrui. Date of Birth: 18 October 2009.

Terry Li, who will turn 21 in 2030, should have completed his NS by then if his school going journey unfolds like those of other Singaporean boys.

If and when he joins the ranks of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) or Home Team as an Operationally-Ready NSman (i.e. reservist), his contribution to defence manpower will be much-needed by our future
Army due to the manpower crunch. [I personally doubt he will ever carry an SAF 11B.]

SAF downsized more than 30 per cent 

The SAF in 2030 could be 30+ per cent smaller than the 300,000-strong force of 2012's order of battle.

This is not a figure plucked from the air. The conservative guesstimate is based on projecting live birth statistics from the past decade to work out the rough number of 18-year-old NSFs in 2030 and the number of NSmen in service 17 years from now. It compares current day SAF Full Force Potential with future force potential using published live birth statistics as a baseline comparison.

Key assumptions that led to the forecast for a downsized SAF are:
1) That full-time conscription stays at two years, or 22 months for fitter enlistees.

2) That the 10-year NS cycle for NSmen is not extended to make up for the shortfall in defence manpower. NSmen from certain units may have to be persuaded to extend their NS commitment to stem the manpower shortage. From a legal standpoint, the system is on firm ground. Officers can be called up till 50 and other ranks are bound to serve till the age of 40.

3) That NS is not extended to women. A political hot potato, but one Singapore may be compelled to mull over to fill the ranks.

4) That the estab for SAF teeth and support arms remains at 2012's manpower manning levels.

5) That infant and childhood mortality and emigration levels remain at steady state.

6) That manpower apportioned to the SAF and Home Team, principally the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Police Force, remain at about the same ratio as today. The SAF could get an instant boost if SCDF and SPF NS intakes are cut back.

7) That there is no change in the exemption of first generation Permanent Residents (PR) from NS.

8) That there is no social engineering that will suddenly infuse Singapore with young NS-liable manpower.

Unless you're a military force like the 300 Spartans, any organised military that loses 30 per cent of its manpower can be considered operationally ineffective.

Fight current, fight future

We are convinced SAF 2030 cannot have the same orbat as SAF 2012. We had difficulty staffing every 200-series SA unit, 300-series SCE battalion and 400-series SAR battalion, the infantry and Guards units, medical, combat service, CMR units, Military Police etc using the 2030 manpower numbers. It could not be done.

Adjustments in force structure are needed because defence planners in the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF will not have the bodies to flesh out combat and combat support units under the present-day orbat.

In addition, MINDEF/SAF will always have a need for units that will never win a Best Unit Competition trophy. We treasure such capabilities and defence professionals today because of the edge they give us. We will value them even more in 2030. Defence manpower needs to be always set aside for these groups and squadrons, now and in the future.


In operational terms, SAF 2030 could lose more than a division's worth of fighting potential. The loss could prompt a rethink of its ability to execute certain operational scenarios. Our forecast involved a worst-case scenario that ordered the SAF's Full Force Potential to push towards an objective, with Army divisions tasked with specific geographical references to be achieved by D+XX.
The good news? MINDEF/SAF have a 17-year headstart to fix this problem.
Singapore's shrinking military will have to contend with a larger challenge in the area of hearts and minds - assuming for the sake of discussion the Singapore Government's self-declared planning parameter of a 6.9 million resident population is realised.

Impact on Commitment to Defence (C2D) in 2030

In this worst-case scenario, the NSF and NSman of the future will find himself safeguarding a Lion City where just 55 per cent of the resident population (3.8 million people out of 6.9 million) are Singapore Citizens.

It will be interesting to watch how MINDEF/SAF intends to sell the NS story as we approach 2030.

At the present time, there is no National Service army, no citizens army in the world that defends a country where the proportion of citizens is as small as the one projected in the Singapore Population White Paper.

Whether you look at Israel, Sweden, Switzerland or Taiwan, conscripts in these countries who answer the call to arms do so with the assurance their service to their respective countries is to safeguard the safety and security of their fellow citizens.

That message will be hard to sell to the Singaporean NSF in 2030, not when nearly half of the population are not part of what the government deems as the Singaporean Core.
  • Who will the NSF and NSmen defend?
  • Why should they do so?
  • What better alternative(s) do we have to NS in 2030? An all-professional military force supported by the larger population?
To be fair to Singaporeans, the average NSF and NSman will do his duty despite the grouses and unhappiness. But it would be improper for the system to take such a sense of duty for granted when social engineering will place question marks on the raison d'Etat for Singapore to raise, train and sustain a citizen's armed forces.

As our citizens age and as our neighbourhood stays peaceful, questions will asked whether the Little Red
Dot should continue spending the largest slice of its annual budget on war machines.

Defence diplomacy 

Our friends in the defence arena and countries to which we have made defence arrangements, like the Five Power Defence Arrangement signatories (Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore) deserve to know if a downsized SAF will lead to a corresponding dropoff in Singapore's defence and security activity.

Now that the Population White Paper is out of the bag, MINDEF/SAF should prepare itself to deal with such queries. It should make clear what the changing population make up would mean for the SAF's mission readiness, for Singapore's contributions to defence diplomacy, to international security arrangements like the PSI and UN-led missions, personnel exchanges, visits and exercises.

It would be preferable for MINDEF/SAF to help observers punch out the numbers rather than for defence observers to do it themselves and risk arriving at conclusions which are not in sync with planning parameters (i.e. taken out of context).

The impact on Commitment to Defence (C2D) from the sizeable Non Singaporean Core cannot be ignored or belittled.

Even in present years, rumours abound that immigration authorities may clamp down on the outflow of NSmen during a Period of Tension (POT). It is thought that NSmen may be prevented from leaving during a POT in an effort to prevent NS units from disintegrating through the leakage of citizens who fly the coop.

Should Singapore face a POT in 2030, NSFs and NSmen will have to contend with seeing the Non Singaporean Core flee our shores in anticipation of rough times ahead. Imagine the impact on morale when our transient fellow citizens show their true colours by not sticking around when it matters.

To be sure, MINDEF/SAF should have more than a handful of citizens in the Singaporean Core with Ramboesque ambitions to showcase in Pioneer magazine and frighten our Enemy.

But when you look at the bigger population landscape in 2030, the NSFs and NSmen left holding the fort (excuse the pun) in the emaciated SAF will largely be offspring of Singaporeans who are outnumbered statistically and under represented in society thanks to the sheer size of the Non Singaporean Core.

The shrinking size of the average Singaporean family spells further trouble challenges for C2D. Smaller families mean that the NSF may be the only son or only child left to carry on the family name.

MINDEF/SAF better come up with a convincing sales pitch to convince Singaporeans the sacrifice is worth it.

Even today, there is the impression Singaporeans are getting a raw deal by foreign talent who come here with no NS obligations. By the time the second generation of Singaporean Permanent Residents (PR) grow up, how many of them will still be around to serve.

Statistically, PRs have proven to be an unreliable source of defence manpower - About two thirds of NS defaulters are PRs.

Characters like convicted draft-dodger, Melvyn Tan, do not help MINDEF/SAF's messaging that there is a hefty price to pay for turning one's back on NS. Pay the fine and authorities will allow the draft dodger unimpeded access to our island nation. In Melvyn's case, the mainstream media will even forgive past transgressions and trumpet his career success everytime he times his appearance here around Chinese New Year.

Transplant this sentiment to 2030 and you can well imagine how morale can be butchered by the complexion of the Singapore population.

Elements unfriendly towards Singapore will have ample opportunity to hurt the morale of our NSmen even before they are mobilised for action, thanks to own goals scored by the system.

Realising that the SAF in 2030 has lost one in three warfighters compared to the current year orbat, MINDEF/SAF must also properly manage its deterrence posture. The dwindling Singaporean Core will also rob MINDEF/SAF of quality manpower needed as air force pilots and for SAFspecial forces.

Remember always that 17 years is a blink of an eye in a country's destiny. During the 19th century, German military strategists were convinced a future war would pit Germany against France and Russia and worked towards meeting this two front threat. This mindset was sowed years before the Schlieffen Plan was drawn up, with the plan itself hatched nearly a decade before the First World War. German staff planning thereby reinforced a toxic sense of neighbourliness and drove Germany towards a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Defence analysts may equate smaller numbers with a weaker force. When they do so, Singapore's strategy of deterrence will be blunted.

Roadmap for the future

This implies that effort and attention must be paid to managing this perceptions as the Population White Paper has already been released.

We must sense a readiness by MINDEF/SAF to guide citizen soldiers and defence observers on reading the population roadmap properly. And this effort must start today.

Thus far, since the Population White Paper was released, we have not heard a word on what this means for our citizens armed forces.

MINDEF either feels Singaporeans understand the situation fully - Do you? I don't - or that time and effort helping us understand what will unfold is simply not worth it.

Either way, MINDEF/SAF call the shots - as they always have.


Coming up:
Part 2 of this discussion will look at SAF 2030: Hardware matters

You may also like:
SAF versus cynics and critics. Click here
Decisive victors: A primer on the 3G SAF. Click here
PAP MP Alex Yam Ziming vs Internet noise. Click here

Monday, February 11, 2013

Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) specific operational requirements should aim to plug capability shortfall

If you had to design ships for duty in troubled waters, what specific operational requirements would you spell out?

World-class maritime security forces that maintain a presence in disputed waters pack capabilities that our Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Police Coast Guard (PCG) sorely lack. For now, no plans are on the horizon to plug that capability gap. This begs the question: Why?

The Icelandic Coast Guard and Britain's Royal Navy sharpened their skills the hard way during the three Cod Wars in frigid Atlantic waters from the late 1950s to mid 1970s.

Pissed off: Japanese and Taiwanese coast guard vessels celebrate the Songkran water festival at sea. What's next? VBSS boarding teams with Nerf guns?

Closer home and in today's context, maritime security forces from China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have all realised that the capabilities that count are not found in warship reference books such as Jane's Fighting Ships.

Capabilities that have been brought into action include powerful water cannon, the ability to ram and the robustness of their ships to absorb punishment from a deliberate collision.

The action played out in recent months on disputed Asian seas bring to mind the tussle between Britain and Iceland during the Cod Wars during which time aggressive intent was exercised not through the barrel of naval guns but by manoeuvering ships like bumper cars.

Singapore's maritime forces cannot withstand this sort of pressure on the high seas.

RSN's warfighting capabilities
The Singapore Navy's focus on sinking ships and in landing a brigade-size force in one wave has given the RSN admirable warfighting capabilities. It can execute and fend off naval action in the aerial, surface, sub surface and electronic warfare domains using warships, submarines and naval aviation tailored to support the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) SORs.

The PCG's revamped fleet of fast craft represent an economical way of ensuring one of the world's busiest ports is keep safe 24/7. PCG has shown creativity in introducing fast craft based on Australian lobster boats. These have performed well, giving PCG first responders the ability to be on site quickly just as the Aussie lobster boats could get their catch to market rapidly to ensure freshness.

Singapore should be thankful the dispute over Pedra Branca was resolved in a gentlemanly manner between claimants Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

This is because our warships and coast guard vessels cannot take the punishment from Incidents At Sea that involve ramming. In addition, RSN men-of-war and PCG vessels do not have water monitors that can give an appropriate reply to a watery greeting.

Limitations of Fleet RSN
The RSN's fast craft are simply too small for this sort of work, which is a literal application of Admiral Nelson's last flag signal to "Engage the Enemy More Closely".

The 55-metre Fearless-class Patrol Vessels (PV) and 62-metre Victory-class Missile Corvettes (MCV) are nimble and quick footed at sea, but are handicapped by their low freeboard which makes vulnerable to ramming. It would be foolhardy for a Singaporean PV or MCV to reply in kind by ramming because their slender hulls and delicate electronics are likely to suffer more damage from such action than they can deliver.

We understand there may be a new fast craft, possibly a semi-submersible, already in service. But this wild guess, this shot in the dark - if true - would be better suited for what the Naval Diving Unit requires and is not the sort of thing you want to use for bumping around in maritime disputes. Again, this is pure speculation.

Moving up the value chain, we come to the 114-metre Formidable-class stealth frigates. Tonne for tonne, each RSN stealth frigate can embark a heavier warload of anti-ship missiles than any other frigate or destroyer-class float. The FDs have an impressive menu of capabilities in all domains and recently demonstrated the ability to embed, deploy and sustain naval special forces while chasing pirate skiffs in the Gulf of Aden.

However, this is one ship that should avoid ramming action at all costs.

Why?
Taking it green: The thin hull and sensitive electronics aboard Formidable-class stealth frigates (lead ship seen here) make them unsuitable for constabulary duties on the high seas. But these are precisely the sort of duties naval forces are increasingly shouldering as regional powers assert their claims on the high seas. 

Because our stealth frigates are fragile. Designed with thin hulls and a shortened hullform to reduce the weight penalty and save cost, the FDs take a green sea over the bow even in moderate seas (see above). Look at publicity pictures for these warships to better understand what we mean. The crenellated hulls show just how the thin steel plates that hold the ship together have endured the stresses of their time at sea.
Battle scarred: Royal Navy Leander-class frigate Diomede showing the results of close contact with an Icelandic gunboat during the Cod War in the mid-70s.

Stealth frigates cannot absorb punishment from ramming attacks like the ones waged between Icelandic gunboats and RN warships decades ago. Neither is the stealth frigate in a position to ram an opponent without the Commanding Officer risking a serious hull rupture and having the (expensive) warship sink beneath his feet. With only six hulls, the stealth frigate force should be deployed judiciously.

The RSN could of course requisition merchant ships for such rough and tough work. Resupply ships used by the oil and gas industry are possible candidates. Ditto salvage tugs that have multiple water cannon for fire fighting at sea. Both types of vessel are designed with tough hulls and lavishly protected by rubber fenders or dolphins to protect the hull from damage when coming alongise an oil rig in heavy seas.

However, these commercial vessels lack the speed and manoeuvrability and the rate of knots needed to make them devastating quarterbacks at sea.

New RSN Patrol Vessels
One hopes that the eight new Patrol Vessels that are being designed and built by Singapore Technologies Marine will position the RSN in a stronger position to undertake non-combatant missions against the threat matix that ranges from Known-Knowns to Unknown-Unknown future challenges, situations and threats.

Designing from a clean sheet of paper gives the RSN an ideal opportunity to develop a new platform that can fulfil the RSN's present-day SORs and future-proof the Navy.

It would show the world that naval design teams in Singapore can design, deliver and phase through ICIT a unique one-of-a-kind platform and not merely churn out concepts that are facsimiles of what established yards have been doing for years.

Why did HMS Dreadnought stun the world early last century? Because the all big-gun design, slaved to a centralised fire control tower and built in record time gave Royal Navy a commanding lead in the naval arena. Dreadnought's designers did so by breaking away from established concepts of what a fighting ship might need or should look like. And when they matched their new design with shipbuilding capabilities that put it all together more quickly than ships of the line at the time, Britain telegraphed its determination and ability to hold onto its supremacy at sea without breaking the bank, wrecking its economy or overstretching its manufacturing muscle.

Singapore needs its own Dreadnought change agent.

Our defence ecosystem needs to show that its intepretation of the RSN's SORs can be realised creatively, perhaps with a upsized supersized version of that semi-sub that will be untouchable by all known classes of SSMs when under missile attack, yet make it a greyhound of the sea when rigged for surface action.

Thus far, the Singaporean Ministry of Defence, RSN and ST Marine have kept mum on the design, size and tonnage of the new Patrol Vessels.

That's Singaporean transparency for you.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Singapore's Population White Paper aftermath: Keep calm and speak clearly



If you speak to journalists who used to cover Singapore's Old Guard ministers, some will tell you that press secretaries for certain ministers used to routinely hand out speeches with key paragraphs underlined.

You may laugh, but this straightforward approach ensured the newsmaker got his message across. This is a practice worth considering, looking at how some newspapers miss newspoints.

The 90 cents newspaper's headline for its 1 January 2013 story that reported the Republic of Singapore Navy's second Archer-class submarine had arrived in Singapore is a case in point.

It said:"2nd S'pore Sub Berths at Changi".

What a pity that the paper of record opened the new year with a report that gave the impression there are only two subs at Changi Naval Base. Regulars to this site would know there are more. No elaboration necessary.

Exhibit Two: If a statesman pledges to defend his/her country's territorial integrity, is this worthy of a headline? Wouldn't every state leader do the same?

Or would the kicker that this would be done "at all costs" make people sit up and take notice?

Referring to the island dispute between China and Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged on 2 February 2013 in Okinawa:"I am determined to stand at the forefront ahead of you all and stand up against the crisis that is there and resolutely protect at all costs our people's lives and assets, as well as our country's territorial land, air and sea."

When Japan's premier says words to that effect, there should be no doubt of Japan's determination to hold onto the islands.

But here in Singapore, the reader has to plough past the headline - "Abe vows to defend disputed islands" - standfirst and three chunky paragraphs before that "at all cost" quote appears in the mainsteam media.

The place where PM Abe delivered his speech is historically significant in Japanese military history. Okinawa was the battleground for the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific War (Operation Iceberg). The Allied landing on the island triggered a furious response from Japan, which unleashed kamikaze airborne and seaborne attacks - including the ill-fated sortie by their super battleship Yamato - against Allied forces.

The phrase "protect at all costs" coming from a Japanese leader conjures images of kamikaze attacks and Banzai charges, whose bravery outweighed their actual tactical value.(An infantry charge across open ground against dug-in opponents 50 to 100m away armed with belt-fed automatic weapons firing on cyclic will not get you more than 15 to 20 paces before the sheer volume of gunfire cuts the attack to pieces. Three steps per second would see a single defending MG firing at 600 rpm spew out 10 bullets for every second the soldier is left standing. Simple mathematics would reveal the futility of such a Banzai charge. There are exceptions, as seen during the human wave attacks during the Iran-Iraq War but let's discuss this another time.)

The Japanese PM's press sec ought to have underlined the sentence as follows:"I am determined to stand at the forefront ahead of you all and stand up against the crisis that is there and resolutely protect at all costs our people's lives and assets, as well as our country's territorial land, air and sea."

See the difference?

We understand Singapore's former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Dr Tony Tan, had a knack for underlining parts of his speech.

At the time, some journalists used to take offence at this practice as they felt it impunged their editorial judgement. However, Dr Tan did so with a light touch. The highlighted portion typically amounted to no more than one or two key pars and these were indeed quote worthy. So journalists would have used it anyway and the newsmaker probably wanted to be doubly sure the message was not lost.

Exhibit Three: We get a report churned out by contributions from no less than 12 Singapore government ministeries and seven government bodies including the Prime Minister's Office.

Mainstream media dutifully does its job. News reaches the masses. When Singaporeans hiss disapproval, we are told that newspoint was taken "out of context".

Now to say something was taken out of context suggests that the information was shared in good faith but the telephone line was somehow broken along the way. [If you are a guy who is dating or married, I would not suggest using this defence next time she is cross with you.]

The inference is usually negative:
1) That the recipient of the information (us) was not paying attention
2) The listener/reader/viewer was reading too much into things, or
3) The writing was crisp, clear and concise but the recipient was stupid

Sounds familiar?

This is the aftermath of the ill-starred government communications plan that led to Singaporeans remembering the Population White Paper the way we do.

If the White Paper was intended as a conversation starter, it has certainly succeeded in stirring passions.

If there is a rewrite, the authors could perhaps learn a lesson from Dr Tan's stylebook by underlining key portions and, above all, leaving no doubt about the intended message in the first place.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Singapore's Population White Paper in review (Part 3): Mending the credibility gap in Government communications



If snap elections were called today, who would you vote for?

With Singapore abuzz over that now infamous 6.9 million figure, it's a safe bet many voters will give the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) a drubbing the likes of which they have never seen before.

We did not need a week's worth of Parliamentary debate on the Population White Paper (click here for your copy) to conclude that the House would eventually give it the thumbs up. The PAP's overwhelming majority guaranteed the 76-page review would be endorsed. So it was a foregone conclusion they would win this battle.

Outside the House, ground sentiments are strikingly different. Hearts and minds have not been won in the real world and in cyberspace.

Public relations shortcomings
With the Government's enormous public relations (PR) machinery at their disposal, with union leaders and grassroots organisations as their allies, with a compliant mainstream media waiting for them to call the shots, why did PAP spin doctors see their PR campaign die a painful death?

The short answer: The White Paper was the lightning rod for island-wide unhappiness over the party's refusal to listen and its inability to win credibility with Singaporeans.

Damage control would entail getting to the heart of why the party's messaging fails to resonate with Singaporeans.

Erosion of credibility
Party strategists should recognise that of the two failings, the gradual erosion of credibility is more damaging than one's inability to listen.

This is simply because if the party's credibility is in shambles, it would fail to connect with the people even if it is prepared to listen and act on heartlanders' feedback.

Why is Warren Buffet so popular among stock market punters? It is because his investment record has earned him immense credibility as a stock picker par excellence. Many Singaporean punters will happily lap up and trust his investment advice, never mind that they will probably never meet the man in their lifetime.

Why are some polyclinic doctors more popular with heartlanders? The queue outside their door is longer than newbie doctors because word would have gone round among heartlanders that the wait is well worth it. These doctors earned their trust with their patients with their track record in making sick people better.

Why are some casino tables more crowded than others? Those tables probably have some gambler with luck on his side. When one bet after another results in successful winnings, it will not take long for other gamblers to take notice of this winning streak. The crowd is there because punters want to ride on the good fortune and many will place their bet on the same outcome that this lucky person has predicted.

So why did the Population White Paper turn out the way it did?

Because credibility was eroded long before the first copy was printed.

Stealth immigration
The PAP's after-action review must recognise and accept that the finely-calibrated messages in the population review were compromised by lifestyle inconveniences brought on by stealth immigration some years ago. These were own goals.

The PAP government failed to tell Singaporeans that one million-plus immigrants would descend on their Little Red Dot from around 2005 onwards. Even businesses were caught wrong-footed by the stealth immigration and the intense (or unintended?) secrecy robbed transport planners of the lead-time needed to revise MRT train schedules and bus timings.

Our housing sector went haywire with prices of some HDB flats skyrocketing past the million-dollar level. Fresh graduates saw jobs stolen by foreign talent. Marriages were wrecked by smooth-talking FTs. Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (i.e. reservists) were seen as a liability by some companies who preferred to employ cheaper FTs with no NS liability.

Paying for miscomms
Thanks to the PAP's failure to communicate its intent to the same people who voted it into power, the common Singaporean was made to pay the price.

Fast forward to 2013. That same political party now wants to right past wrongs. They are trying to fight the last war by fixing every pain point from the last wave of immigration. The White Paper is supposed to convince us things will get better and is trumpeted as an example of transparency.

And when Singaporeans learn about its contents, all hell breaks loose.

The ground isn't sweet because various points in the White Paper are compromised by past failures that chipped away at the PAP's credibility.

For transport: Can one seriously expect Singaporeans to be cheered by news of a massive increase in the MRT network when a brand new MRT line cannot even run properly? The string of service disruptions that beset the Circle Line compromised credibility because these problems do not reassure people that upcoming train lines will be free from defects. Coupled with the fact that we have no definitive reason behind the SMRT's high-profile December 2011 breakdowns, the message that new MRT lines will solve congestion problems naturally fails to convince skeptics.

For immigrant management: There is an ominous silence on how immigrants actually come to this island. By this I don't mean by airplane, passenger ship or by bus from Malaysia. Singaporeans deserve to know how their future neighbours will come here as new citizens. Do they apply online? Are they picked by lucky draw? Does a foreign talent family simply pack their bags and arrive with all worldly belongings and then what?

The calibration of immigrant numbers is also a mystery. Who decides how many we need and on what basis?

Are we to be assured by news that the ratio of Malays in Singapore will "remain the same"? Does this mean if our Malay brethren heed the call to produce more children, some mysterious mechanism will kick in to import more PRCs to balance the racial makeup of Singapore so the ratio will "remain the same"?

For government preparedness: The White Paper reveals next to nothing about why planners failed to plan for the immigrant crush. This lack of planning is a major reason why Singaporeans look at their PAP government differently.

The population paper makes grudging reference to this lack of foresight in the Executive Summary: "By planning our infrastructure developments well in advance, and implementing them in a timely and effective way, we can overcome our current strains and congestion, and accommodate a larger population." PWP, Page 5

The reader has to wait till the last chapter before more is revealed. And here it is:"Major infrastructure planning requires long lead times and far-sighted planning and investment. To avoid falling behind in our infrastructure again, we will plan in advance etc etc...." PWP, Page 56

The White Paper's authors failed to use this opportunity to tell Singaporeans what went wrong. If there was a rewrite, this point should be expanded and brought right up front. Government communications was a let down. It was too academic in character - lofty, out of touch, cold and calculative - and lacked the warmth and sincerity one expects from their political leaders sharing messages on our country's future.

To be sure, most Singaporeans are not looking for a scapegoat. They just want to run their lives and need assurance that the same system that dropped the ball because of poor or inadequate planning isn't going to make the same mistake again.

First we had stealth immigration. Now we have a change of tactics where the White Paper appears to keep people informed on immigration matters. And just as a street flasher who exposes more than we are prepared to see, Singaporeans recoiled in horror at the vision of Singapore's future.

The PAP's publicists must think us mad: Say nothing and they get flak for trying to sneak in immigrants. Tell people in advance and they get flak for their vision of the future.

Unless its PR machinery plugs the credibility gap, assurances from party big wigs will amount to hot air people can do without.

Role of the private sector
The White Paper gives people the impression all bases are covered. But no one can tell if the government's sudden realisation it needs more and better infrastructure will be matched by the private's sectors ability to deliver the same within the same planning horizon.

What is the point of being able to get from A to B on some spanking new expressway/MRT line when food courts are packed because the private developer did not build in advance or had no funds to do so?

Better housing will be tripped up if residents who need to shop and entertain themselves end up seeing enormous queues at the NTUC, at the cinema and must time pee breaks judiciously because the shopping centre did not build enough toilets for the 6.9 million.

You and I may get the picture, but what about our long-term planners?

It is heartening to hear Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicate that a population review will kick in nearer to 2020. It signals nothing in the White Paper is carved in stone.

But before PM gets to 2020, he has to first cross 2016.

Gong Hei Fatt Choy.



You may also like:
Population White Paper: Getting the message and medium right. Click here
Population White Paper: Assessing the Commitment to Defence dimension. Click here
How not to manage irritating blog postings. Click here
Mastering social media comms. Click here

Coming soon:
SAF 2030

Friday, February 8, 2013

Singapore's Land Use Plan 2030: Building a target rich environment

Although the 6.9 million target planning parameter for Singapore's population in the year 2030 now looks iffy, items mapped out under the Singapore Government's Land Use Plan appear more definitive.

As Singapore redevelops to meet population changes, land use planners should guard against urbanising mainland Singapore to the extent that the island becomes no longer defensible.

The Singapore we could see in 2030 comes pretty close to depriving the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) of the space it needs to mobilise, deploy and manoeuvre for action.

If the SAF cannot flex its muscle, Singapore will become nothing more than a target rich environment packed with more military assets per square kilometre than any other country on earth.

One is grimly reminded of the fate of Roman legions during the 9 A.D. Battle of Teutoburg Forest when a large and powerfully-armed Roman force found itself unable to respond to relentless attacks as its infantry and cavalry could not deploy into battle formation in the tight confines of the German forest. As the Romans marched through Teutoburg Forest, they found their combat potential slowly bled white by well-planned ambushes and ferocious hit-and-run attacks.

Singapore should not assume the SAF's extensive order of battle alone will translate into military strength. If SAF units are caught unprepared during the crucial transition between mobilising citizen soldiers for action and deploying them for operations, the result could be a debacle.

During a simulation of potential military crisis scenarios by this blog, it was found that the SAF could do its job only if land was reserved for mobilised units to mass and then spring into battle formation quickly (defined as M+24).

The old Turf Club site in the heart of Bukit Timah, with its large open green spaces, was role played as one possible area. It was simulated for use by the SAF as an equipment marshalling area (EMA) for a large Singapore Army unit to ready itself for action.

Sites like this are rare on mainland Singapore. In years to come, they will become rarer still as the Land Use Plan gobbles up vacant space for urban renewal.

This is a red flag defence watchers should be aware of.

All those impressive war games that the SAF publicises regularly assumes an area of operations depleted of civilians and the ability for a Manoeuvre Force to move freely at every compass point. Who on earth can guarantee this in land-scare Singapore?

Here's what happened when we tried that on mainland Singapore: The lack of space for SAF to deploy its firepower tactically became immediately obvious as more active Operationally-Ready National Service (i.e. reservist) units were activated for action.

As alluded to in an earlier post on the Singapore Artillery, the comfortingly large margin in 155mm heavy artillery tubes the SAF enjoys means land force commanders have to find and secure a large land footprint to emplace the Singapore Artillery's xx-plus NS battalions.

The trick was finding that land in present-day Singapore.

The situation was eased somewhat once the surge into the AO began. Anything before that left Army divisions with war material fully armed, fuelled and manned, possibly in march order when a Manoeuvre Force is at its most vulnerable.

As Singapore urbanises further as we march towards 2030, we should realise that open land reserves like the old Turf Club may no longer be available to the SAF.

After the Full Force Potential of the SAF was activated, Singapore quickly ran out of room to accommodate the SAF's activated NS battalions and active full-time National Service (NSF) units as the clock ticked past M+6. It was thought that there would be gridlock if every armoured vehicle, artillery piece and motorised transport with an MID-numberplate was ordered into action simultaneously.

Anyone who has been caught in a traffic jam on Singapore's expressways would realise how quickly traffic builds up should just one lane on a heavily used thoroughfare become obstructed due to a fender bender.

The Singapore Army's Military Police Command was expected to keep certain highways clear of civilian traffic. This was mentioned as an untried mission during peacetime and a difficult one during a build-up to hostilities as civilians may ignore or be too panicky to obey instructions from MPs.

One key assumption underpinned the successful transition from peace to war: Singapore must enjoy full control of the skies. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) was envisaged to perform a key role in safeguarding Singapore as full mobilisation got underway.

This was a delicate assumption for reasons which we would rather not sketch in detail.

Strenuous and relentless interference should be expected should this country ever face a military crisis. These could be executed on our highways, directed against EMAs packed solid with citizen soldiers or military material, or around the EOR of our precious air bases.

It suffices to say that only an idiot of an Enemy would allow the SAF to unilaterally mobilise, arm and deploy for action.

In peace and troubled peace, no plan survives first contact with the Enemy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Singapore Navy Open House 2013: Pre-publicity

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is due to hold its Navy Open House (NOH) from 18 to 19 May 2013 at Changi Naval Base (CNB).

This year's NOH will be a treat for naval enthusiasts as the line up of warships, submarines and naval technology they can see is expected to be boosted by foreign warships who will join the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) naval show (14 to 16 May'13).

Previous NOH editions have been crowd magnets.

Indeed, pre-event publicity for past NOHs have proven to be victims of their own success as RSN duty personnel struggled to deal with long queue lines and visitors short on patience.

With proper planning, expectations of visitors can be properly managed. This is why the NOH pre-publicity is so important.

First touchpoint
As the first touchpoint to potential visitors, pre-publicity sets the stage by calibrating what visitors can expect to see and experience at the show. Many would be veterans to assorted Singapore Armed Forces open house events and would, naturally, expect to see, learn and do more.

With the bar set high, the NOH 2013 organising committee would be well aware they cannot disappoint.

With some months yet to the open house, we are intrigued by the idea that the open press conference may be held at VivoCity, just opposite Sentosa island. Previous press conferences were held in a briefing room at the Fleet Headquarters at CNB: Powerpoint presentation followed by some kind of demo or ship tour for the photographers.

Staging the pre-event publicity at VivoCity would give NOH publicists ample room to generate excitement and anticipation for this event, which takes place every two years or so.

If they manage to berth a warship alongside VivoCity, the hull is likely to be one of the RSN's larger warships as Victory-class Missile Corvettes and Fearless-class Patrol Vessels are too small to accommodate media personnel.

So this logically points to the Endurance-class tank landing ships or the Formidable-class stealth frigates.

We would choose one of the FDs, purely from the standpoint of creating a buzz among visitors in the area as the stealth frigate design is sexier than the largely functional design of the LSTs.

An LST would look very sexy indeed and might even knock off some socks if the RSN displayed the man-of-war with max load FCUs/FCEPs and pontoons - which is unlikely as it has never done so.

And if one chooses a stealth frigate, the warship that clocked operational experience in the Gulf of Aden chasing pirates would probably be a good candidate. The GOA operation codenamed Operation Blue Sapphire (Maritime) involved RSS Intrepid.

Next comes the possible date: The prelude to the March school holidays would be ideal. It is early enough to give visitors a heads-up and can catch the weekend holiday crowd in the area

So the guesstimate is as follows: 15/16 March 2013 (TBC), RSN stealth frigate Intrepid (TBC) alongside VivoCity. That should make a nice photo op.

Milnuts, you know what to do. :-)


You may also like:Navy Open House 2010 Report Card. Click here

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Singapore Artillery's Pegasus 155mm guns should wing their way to the museum


With weapons that allow Singapore Artillery gunners to hammer their targets with a bigger bang, more often and with lethal precision, it may be time for the artillery to review its stable of guns.

If one had a free hand to shake up its gun inventory, the 155mm Pegasus Singapore Light Weight Howitzer (SLWH) should be a candidate consigned to the Singapore Army Museum.

This suggestion stems from a review of defence manpower available to Headquarters Singapore Artillery (HQ SA) as well as a review by this blog on how the Singapore-made Pegasus could be used in various simulated operational scenarios.

Make no mistake: Pegasus is a technological marvel.

It is the world's first heli-portable 155mm artillery piece that can emplace and move on its own. Its development cycle was slightly ahead of the M777 155mm artillery gun used by American gunners and has the added advantage of being more mobile that the M777.

Made by Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK), the guns were first fielded by the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery (23 SA), back in 2005.

Pegasus is the second heli-portable gun used by Singapore Army artillery batteries. Development of the gun follows experience HQ SA gained from using French-made Giat Industries 105mm LG1 light guns back in the 1990s.

The Singapore Artillery is now served by gun batteries that have standardised their tubes to 155mm calibre weapons. This makes resupply during fire missions more streamlined as ammo stocks comprising projectiles, charges and fuzes are interchangeable between HQ SA's towed pieces like the FH-2000 heavy artillery guns and Primus self-propelled guns.

Tubes fielded by HQ SA's 10,000+ full-time National Service (NSF) and Operationally-Ready National Serviceman (i.e. reservist) gunners make the Singapore Army's artillery force one to be reckoned with. This is further suggested by a count of NSF and reserve 200-series SA battalions known to be active.

Looking at the density of SAF tube artillery pieces, one could estimate the maximum achievable weight of fire from gunfire alone, assuming a rate of fire of six rounds per minute per gun for all emplaced tube 155mm heavy artillery pieces spread over the xx-plus SA battalions. In any language, this is a massive volume of heavy artillery fire during the opening minutes of a military operation. And one is not even counting the ability of HIMARS rocket artillery to reach out and touch targets further back from the FEBA.

SAF artillery battalions could lay down a devastating volume of artillery fire on targets, up to 40km away, that were charted during a Period of Tension. These fire missions could augment the attention that Singapore air force warplanes and attack helicopters can give to the list of battlefield and strategic targets.

There was one underlying assumption that the study was uneasy about: That the SAF's full force potential will be allowed to mobilise unmolested, without enemy interference. 

Though an award-winning tech wonder, shortcomings of the Pegasus became apparent during the scenario generation exercise.

Pegasus in battle
Airmobility was identified as a constraint to mission planning. This stems not from the weapon's deadweight but from the limited number of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinook heavy-lift choppers that HQ SA could call upon to move its guns.

The first 24-hour push by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) into its projected area of operations is likely to result in mission demands that are longer than what the RSAF's Chinook squadron can handle.

When likely demand by SAF heliborne Guards units and Commandos during the first 24-hour surge was factored in, it soon became evident we lack the muscle to do everything at the same time. We simply have too few Chinooks and insufficient aircrews to serve the laundry list of operational taskings.

The assessment also factored in projected loss rates as some landing areas in the AO could be predicted beforehand by a smart opponent and defended by MANPADS or light AAA.

Assuming Pegasus is successfully inserted, what next?

The 155mm guns can move on their own, powered by a 28 hp Lombardini engine designed for use by farm tractors. Anyone who has seen a Pegasus puttering about would realise the engine is a howler. In an operational setting, the noise from this engine will attract fast-moving opposing forces whose sole mission is to intercept and destroy airmobile units inserted into their AO.

The inability of a Pegasus battery to move ammunition along with the guns was also a handicap that became obvious.

This means that once a Pegasus is set up and ready to fire, the artillery piece is largely immobile.

There is also a question mark over the RSAF's ability to withdraw the guns after the fire mission. For maximum effect and surprise, the 155mm guns are likely to be inserted in places where their 30km range ring can inflict the most damage. Being airmobile, the SAF is likely to deploy Pegasus batteries in places where the opponent least expects a 155mm artillery gun - this puts them beyond help of friendly units.

So Pegasus gunners once inserted are largely on their own.

The gun's widely advertised air and ground mobility is therefore suspect as the gun's limited ability to crawl about on its own powered by a loud, puttering engine must be tempered with the reality that the ammo pallets are not as mobile.


You don't need a weapon locating radar to find the Pegasus guns. A Chinook with Pegasus underslung makes a distinctive package. All that an enemy scout needs to do is mark the point where the guns were observed to have been dropped off.

If Pegasus guns cannot be moved about at will, due more to lack of Chinooks than enemy interference, you may as well write-off guns that are in battery because it is only a matter of time before someone finds and finishes off this isolated force.

Impact of dwindling defence manpower
From a defence manpower standpoint, incoming batches of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) will be smaller in the decade to come.

This indicates that HQ SA should deploy NSFs to crew-served weapons that the SAF can better support during operations.

Weapon platforms like Pegasus should therefore be last on the list of staffing priorities in view of the anticipated crunch in defence manpower.

With no gunners available to man all guns, HQ SA needs to prioritise and allocate manpower prudently.

This could entail ceasing the training of NSF gunners on the Pegasus as tube and rocket artillery weapons in HQ SA's order of battle will allow gunners to do the job more effectively.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sounding the wrong note: Bygones are bygones as Singapore welcomes NS defaulter Melvyn Tan (again)

"NS-liable PRs who fail to register or enlist for NS will be treated as NS defaulters. PRs who renounce their PR status without serving NS will also face adverse consequences. Their failure to serve NS will be taken into account when they subsequently apply to study or work in Singapore, or when they try to have their PR status reinstated." - Colonel Kenneth Liow, Director Public Affairs, Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), May 2012


Everytime convicted National Service (NS) defaulter Melvyn Tan flies into town, his presence here takes the bite out of the promise by Singaporean authorities that Permanent Residents (PR) who dodge compulsory military conscription would face "adverse consequences".

Tough talk by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to come down hard on PRs apparently does not apply to Singapore citizens after fines have been paid as past sins would be forgiven. How sweet and reassuring for citizens.

Melvyn Tan, the poster boy for the high-profile Republic of Singapore versus National Service (NS) defaulter case nearly eight years ago, is a living example of how quickly bygones can be bygones.

Ahhh... what a warm-hearted and forgiving society Singaporeans live in.

Yes, Melvyn will be coming again for another piano recital. And he's made the news in Singapore's paper of record in rather different circumstances from years ago.

Positive press coverage
A story on his upcoming concert graces the pages of the 90 cents newspaper's Life! section today. Melvyn must be mighty pleased with the pre-publicity as the report omits totally the small price he paid for evading full-time NS in the 1970s.

You won't find even a paragraph that summarises in a nutshell - known as a nutgraf in newsroom speak - Melvyn's his brush with the law that ignited debate among heartlanders over the price of freedom NS.

Netizens with long memories will recall that Melvyn was fined S$3,000 by a Singaporean civil court in 2005 for evading NS 28 years ago. His parents, who bankrolled his flight to London to study music before he served NS, also forfeited the S$30,000 security deposit. Mind you, in those days, 30k was a huge sum of cash.

When you spread this money over a 10-year training cycle that most NSmen undergo and with the 2.5 years of full-time NS that Melvyn avoided serving, the price that the Tan family paid to Singapore is in my opinion a small price to pay for the opportunity for their precious son of Singapore to chase his dreams and enjoy his youth without risking life and limb in uniform.

It works out to a sum of S$2,640 a year for every year of NS Melvyn avoided, or just S$220 a month (which is about 2.2 Casino levies if you love flirting with lady luck).

"Adverse consequences"?
Apart from fines for evading NS, anecdotal accounts of NS defaulters who somehow re-enter Singapore's workforce and settle down in society make one wonder if MINDEF's "adverse consequences" threat is all pomp and bluster.

Afterall, didn't the mighty MINDEF caricature NS defaulters as society pariahs (my choice of words) who would pay a price for deciding not to close ranks and defend the Lion City?

What signal is Singapore telegraphing to all those calculative draft dodgers out there when it welcomes NS defaulters back into mainstream society just like that?

To wealthy families, the fine is something they can well afford and would probably gladly pay as membership fees to the exclusive club of NS defaulters. The risk of having junior sent to jail is troubling. But this remains an existential threat so long as Singaporeans do not see MINDEF pursuing draft dodgers to the ends of the earth.

According to MINDEF, a total of 1,900 Singaporeans and Singapore PRs defaulted NS from 2006 to 2011. The 1,900 defaulter cases (click here) translate to defence manpower worth about three infantry battalions that the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team has lost.

Do any of you recall reading about 1,900 court cases where NS evaders were sent to jail? Can anyone even list a handful of high profile ones?

So some may call MINDEF's bluff.

What MINDEF cannot calculate is the damage done to Commitment to Defence (C2D) when Singaporeans see, hear about and remember the kid gloove treatment that convicted NS defaulters receive.

When would-be NS evaders learn about Melvyn's success in being rehabilitated into Singapore society, his success in attracting positive press from the mainstream media, they would probably build a mental picture that the downside risks of cheating the system are not as dire as MINDEF paints it.

One of the "adverse consequences" MINDEF should mete out on price draft dodgers is the absolute certainty they will be declared persona non grata should they wish to return to this blooming island to 1) see their ageing parents 2) enhance their career 3) enjoy Singaporean food or other lifestyle pursuits NSmen have earned the right to claim because they served their country.


When NS defaulters who paid their fines are turned away by immigration at the point of entry, you can bet people will see that MINDEF means business.[If Dr Goh Keng Swee was still in charge as DM, am sure he would know what to do.]

To be sure, Melvyn will suffer his just desserts as he will not enjoy free SAFRA membership (For one year. Terms and conditions apply). Neither will he receive up to $100 in vouchers as part of the Government's Thank You to all NSmen and full-time National Servicemen as part of celebrations that marked 45 Years of NS in 2012.

Pity the Singaporean families who heeded the call to arms. Every Singaporean son who served NS must be wondering how different their future might be had they met the girl of their dreams, furthered their studies, started work or started a family with a two-year headstart and no reservist obligations to fulfil.

One can say with full and undiminished confidence that families who paid the ultimate price for their freedom would gladly trade $220 a month for the chance to see their loved ones alive and well again.

What do you say to these families about people like Melvyn?

Sure, he had his day in court and has long since paid his fine.

And Singapore society must not be so petty, hard-hearted and unforgiving as to nitpick on a lifestyle choice Melvyn made in his youth.

Or should we?


You may also like:
National Service: Permanent Residents who don't serve will face adverse consequences. Click here

45 Years of NS: NS defaulter's homecoming for National Museum concert. Click here