Friday, March 29, 2013

USS Freedom's port call in Guam puts her five sailing days from Singapore

The United States Navy's Singapore-bound Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), USS Freedom, is due to make a port call in Guam on Good Friday today.

Indications are that the LCS will remain in Guam till at least Tuesday (2 April'13).

Freedom is within five to six sailing days from Singapore. You can do the math for a guesstimate of her arrival in Singapore. :-)


USS Freedom Visits Guam FRIDAY; Crew Will Volunteer in Community

Source: Pacific News Center. Click here

Guam - The Navy’s first littoral combat ship, USS Freedom (LCS 1), is scheduled to arrive in Apra Harbor, Guam, FRIDAY, March 29 for a port call.

While on island, dozens of Sailors will volunteer their time to support several community service projects:

• Saint Dominic’s Senior Care Home -- Sailors will help organize Easter Day events at the center and help clean the facilities March 30, 9-11:45 a.m.

• John F. Kennedy High School -- Volunteers will discuss with students the various Navy careers and the importance of an education, and participate in physical fitness activities April 1, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

• Guam Animals In Need (GAIN) -- Sailors will clean up kennels and care for animals April 2, 8 a.m.- noon.

Freedom departed her homeport of San Diego March 1 for a deployment to the Asia-Pacific region for approximately eight months. Marking the first of many planned rotational deployments to the Western Pacific for the new LCS platform, Freedom will conduct maritime security operations with regional partners and allies.

Fast, agile and mission-focused, LCS platforms are designed to employ modular mission packages that can be configured for three separate purposes: surface warfare, mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.

Freedom will be initially manned by her “Gold” crew of 91 Sailors to include mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate an embarked MH-60 helicopter. The ship will remain home ported in San Diego throughout this rotational deployment.

Freedom is the third ship in the Navy to be named for the concept of freedom. Freedom was commissioned Nov. 8, 2008, in Milwaukee’s Veterans Park.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Land use planning: When MINDEF had to do "National Service"




In land scarce Singapore, even the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) performs "national service" when it gives up defence land that can be put to better uses.

One example is the yet-to-be-opened ITE College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio. It sits on real estate once protected by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) sentries, high fences and barbed wire but is now an open campus whose sport facilities, NTUC Fairprice supermarket and restaurants have added much value to Ang Mo Kio residents just across the road.

More than just four walls and a ceiling, the air-conditioned Internet-enabled classrooms, well-equipped teaching facilities - you can find a Boeing 737 airliner inside, used as a teaching aid for aeronautical engineering students - matched with an open concept design that encourages residents to enliven the campus represents a new paradigm for school facilities that were once dormant after school hours, dead on weekends behind locked gates.

The decision to shape ITE College Central the way it is underlines more than just our government's commitment to, and support for, nurturing the next generation of industry professionals.

The very existence of the campus on former MINDEF land indicates that space can be reallocated for different national needs within our lifetime, provided we invest in good planning that ensures concurrent and competing demands for living space are weighed carefully.

Colourful past
The roughly 10.6 hectares of land taken from the SAF's Amoy Quee Camp to build the ITE has a colourful past.

The land formed part of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) launch site for Bloodhound Mark II surface-to-air missiles and was once part of Singapore's largest pineapple plantation - run by the SAF. Amoy Quee Camp is still here, just downsized after some defence land was allocated for education purposes.

The Bloodhound launch site in Ang Mo Kio, known as Missile Site Bravo, was one of three air force sites armed with missiles that could shoot down hostile aircraft up to 80 km away.

Missile Site Bravo was developed in 1972 when defence planners at the then Ministry of Interior and Defence (now MINDEF) recommended that Bloodhounds be deployed to two other launch sites apart from original Bloodhound base in Seletar.

Defence planners reasoned that Singapore should avoid putting all its eggs in one basket at Missile Site Alpha in Seletar, so land was set aside for Missile Sites Bravo in Ang Mo Kio and Charlie in Lim Chu Kang (next to Nanyang Technological University) for our air force to operate and launch some 60 Bloodhound missiles. Seletar was the place where Britain's Royal Air Force deployed all its Bloodhounds before British forces withdrew from Singapore.

Bloodhound missile launchers were surrounded by open land several hundred metres from the fenceline. The generous footprint around each missile site was there for a purpose. When launched, each 8.5 metre long Bloodhound was propelled into the air by a pair of ramjet motors and four powerful boost rocket motors which pushed it to twice the speed of sound.

The boosters were designed to break away from the missile once their job of getting the missile airborne was done. Vacant land ringed Bloodhound launch pads as you would not want missile boosters, each several metres long, falling onto populated areas.

Singapore has always been a small place and it did not take long for someone to suggest better use of that vacant land in the 1970s.

SAF farmers
Enter Dr Goh Keng Swee, who as Minister of Defence in 1974, suggested that pineapples be grown in SAF camps. Dr Goh's plan was two-fold: the pineapples could be harvested to feed SAF soldiers and the prickly plants could also act as a barrier against intruders. Although Dr Goh is credited for many innovative ideas in post-independent Singapore's formative years, this wasn't one of them.

Some 6.5 hectares of Missile Site Bravo was transformed into Singapore's largest pineapple plantation with more than 102,000 Emas Merah and Sarawak pineapple suckers grown there by citizen soldiers who doubled as farmers. Ang Mo Kio continued to be pineapple country till 1981 when manpower difficulties saw the project phased out.

Bloodhound missiles served Singapore for 20 years till they were phased out on 1 April 1990. Thanks to astute planning two decades back, the landscape in this corner of Ang Mo Kio has been transformed beyond recognition with Nanyang Polytechnic and now ITE College Central built on part of the RSAF missile base.

This year, as more than 10,000 ITE students and more than 1,000 staff move into their advanced learning venue at ITE College Central, few may realise how the campus may not have reached fruition if government departments clung onto historical land use parameters.

The seed for the growth of ITE teaching facilities was planted 20 years ago when government planners set their eyes on the future, which is our today.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

United States Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom due to commence deployment to Southeast Asia



The United States Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), USS Freedom (LCS-1), seen here in her new warpaint. The four-colour splinter camouflage harks back to camouflage measure schemes (MS) seen on US Navy combatants during the Second World War.

Now in Guam, Freedom is due to cast off for the final leg of her journey from San Diego to Singapore soon.

Her deployment to Southeast Asian waters, said to stretch about eight months, will be anchored on sorties staged from Singapore.

Stay sharp everyone. If you see her inbound, please ping.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Striking the right note with Singaporeans on National Service



A strange coincidence took place on the day our elected representatives gathered to debate why the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) should command the lion's share of Singapore's Budget.

On 11 March, the Minister for Defence and Singapore's most famous draft dodger were newsmakers in the mainstream media, but one got more positive coverage than the other. Guess which one?

Dubbed "King of keyboards", convicted draft dodger Melvyn Tan is living proof that time can heal most ills. In Melvyn's case, the severe public backlash he earned for failing to serve full-time National Service (NS) in 2005 seems to have been forgiven, indeed forgotten.

Brand ambassador
From social pariah, the Singapore-born British pianist is now acclaimed for the musical talent that saw him put career before serving his country in the 1970s. From headline to the last full stop, there was no mention of Melvyn's his brush with the law that ignited debate among heartlanders over the price of NS in 2005.

In that year, 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. The court case saw Melvyn bear the brunt of Singaporeans unhappy over the apparent ease with which NS can be evaded.

Fast forward to 2013. the 90 cents newspaper's concert review praised the pianist with lofty catch phrases which Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen would quite possibly have appreciated during when he stood in Parliament arguing the need for, and importance of, a credible defence posture.

If NS draft dodgers ever needed a poster boy, Melvyn would be it.

The uncanny coincidence where a convicted draft dodger basked in positive press on the same day our Defence Minister had to mount a vigorous defence for MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) against naysayers brings us to the heart of the Defence budget debate - the citizen soldier.

Rhetoric versus reality
Just as Singaporeans have been reminded time and again never to take peace and security for granted, neither should MINDEF/SAF take the commitment of its NSmen for granted.

With an overwhelming majority in the House, it was clear from the start that the debate on defence spending was one MINDEF/SAF would win decisively.

But it cannot be assumed that MINDEF/SAF can win the hearts and minds of Singaporeans on defence matters just as easily. In recent months, Singapore's NS system has suffered collateral damage from unhappiness over immigration, assorted population issues and *please fill in your pet peeve*.

The fact that the ground is not sweet is not helped by apparent own goals in defence public relations.

When people who evaded NS prove that they can emerge successful in their chosen field, right here in the Lion City, MINDEF has to show that its sabre-rattling against draft dodgers is more than hollow rhetoric.

Dr Ng sounded just such a note of caution when he spoke to the media on the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore. He said:"If you are not prepared to do national service, do not become a PR."

He added:"It is a very clear message. Because in our system, if you do not fulfil your NS liabilities, you cannot just pay a fine. The penalties are very severe, and it is way beyond monetary penalties."

Remember that when Melvyn left for Britain, he wasn't a world-class talent. Just a talented teen whose musical potential blossomed decades later.

Enter Singov and its statements to the contrary, which indicate that defaulters cannot simply pay a fine, which hint that they may not be able to work in Singapore and warnings of severe penalties.

Melvyn's case exposes the difference between rhetoric and reality. If one makes good in one's chosen field and becomes world-class, then the possibility of re-acceptance by society is always there. (This begs the question what would happen to Joe Ordinary who defaults and pays the penalty but never made it big in anything.)

Am certain Singaporeans have chanced upon real-life examples of individuals who cheated the NS system, and were not whalloped with penalties as severe as those Dr Ng spoke of. If their fears are unwarranted, MINDEF/SAF needs to debunk these with a credible defence.

If critics are barking up the wrong tree, then a reasoned, rationale response that puts both outspoken minority and silent minority at ease on NS matters is something Singaporeans are waiting to hear. Afterall, parents who entrust their sons to Singapore hail from both camps.

The ease with which Melvyn has been accepted by Singaporean society and is now a media darling may embolden more draft dodger to conclude that the shock and awe promised by the DM isn't that bad afterall.

Just look at how the 90 cents newspaper wrapped up its gushing review of Melvyn's performance:"In response to sustained applause from the deeply appreciative audience, Tan obliged an encore of Debussy's Clair De Lune. The contrasts and similarities with the earlier lunar-inspired work by Beethovan were not lost, and Tan showed why he continues to be so greatly admired and loved by audiences around the world."

Admiration and love won by Melvyn King-of-keyboards Tan is precisely what National Service in Singapore needs to ensure long-term commitment to defence.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Navy@Vivo: Magic moments aboard RSS Intrepid as special modifications go on show for the first time

Updated with data on the LRAD Corporation 500X Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD)

Same but different: It is impossible to tell from the outside what magic the Republic of Singapore Navy naval staff have given to the Formidable-class stealth frigates (Intrepid seen here at VivoCity). Each warship may look underarmed for her size, but the real punch lies behind angled bulwarks amidships which could conceal racks for up to 24 Harpoon missiles - the heaviest anti-ship missile warload for all known frigate types and possibly destroyers too. 

The fast pace of defence modernisation in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) means that you can see the same war machine every now and again, yet spot something different.

Those who toured the Singapore navy's stealth frigate, RSS Intrepid (69), with an open mind and a sense of curiosity may have walked away with fresh insights into the Republic of Singapore Navy's largest strike warship.

Navy@Vivo exhibition
The Intrepid, berthed alongside the Promenade at VivoCity shopping mall, was centrepiece for the RSN's three-day Navy@Vivo exhibition which started on Friday. Supporting the Intrepid was an exhibition that recounted the RSN's experience in assorted overseas missions and a display of small arms used for compliant and non-compliant ship boardings.


The booth punched above its weight, drawing enthusiastic support from weekend shopping crowds and school children cut loose on the first weekend of the March school holidays. Bravo Zulu to those on duty for making the day special for thousands of visitors.

The 114-metre long stealth frigate, the second in the six-ship Formidable class and the first built in Singapore, displayed modifications that configured the warship for anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. The other RSN stealth frigate configured this way is RSS Tenacious.

Among the three new things I saw was the decoy launcher from the front perspective (see below). This was a first for me and one of three "wow" moments during the visit last Friday, made possible by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Public Affairs Directorate. The other two "wow" moments will remain offline for now until such time they appear in the open domain :-)

Uncovered: Unknown 22-tube (?) decoy launcher fitted onto some of the Formidable-class frigates. This ship is the Intrepid.

The launcher seen above appears to be a 22-tube array of a different arrangement from the 12-tube EADS New Generation Dagaie System (NGDS) launcher the warships were originally fitted with.

To passers-by who had the chance to see the Intrepid at close range, the front decoys seemed structurally different from two structures aft which are fitted atop the hangar. The latter appear to be launchers of an undetermined type for eight tubes shrouded by angular coverings designed to reduce the radar signature of the device. It is possible that the device can be used to project anti-torpedo decoys to protect the stealth warship from underwater attack.

And so with a vacuum cleaner SOP - suck up every bit of data, nothing too small to disregard - we went aboard and made mental comparisons with the last time we set foot on a Formidable-class warship. And there were differences aplenty.

Call centre: The LRAD 500X on the portside, aft of Intrepid's NBC-protected bridge, can project verbal intentions over 2,000 metres away. A second LRAD is fitted on the same position to starboard.

The portable hailing and warning system supplied by US company, LRAD Corporation, called the Long Range Acoustic Device 500 Xtreme (LRAD 500X) was a new piece of kit for Intrepid. The LRAD 500X is said to offer "highly intelligible speech transmissions over 2,000 metres".

During anti-piracy sweeps, this device allowed RSN personnel to project verbal intentions while keeping the warship out of range of small arms fire and RPG attack. The ship could therefore broadcast verbal comms to another party at standoff distance even if the other party had no radio communications or was deliberately non-communicative.[When all else fails, a burst of tracer is one of the best hailing devices at sea.]

Healthy respect: Guided by optronics with day/night capability, the high rate of fire and accuracy of the Typhoon gun is designed to keep small craft at bay. Experience from previous missions in the Persian Gulf (aka Northern Arabian Gulf) has convinced Fleet RSN that the more guns the better. Some Endurance-class tank landing ships went into ops with no less than half a dozen GPMGs ringing the bow. Against the threat of massed attacks by small craft, Formidable-type ships can also count on 7.62mm Miniguns and other belt-fed fully automatic firearms to cover blind arcs that the Typhoon cannot reach.

The pair of Typhoon guns in stealth cupolas on the RAS deck port and starboard were also new. RAS stands for resupply-at-sea and is a procedure where thirsty ships are refuelled by sailing in company with a tanker - not an easy task as hydrodynamic forces can sometimes pull both ships uncomfortably close to one another. The RAS deck is so named because that's where the refuelling probe is plugged into the ship.

Outward appearances deceive because the two FMDs fitted for anti-piracy duties have the bulk of the structural chances hidden out of sight behind bulwarks in the Missile Deck amidships. This deck occupies about a fifth of the length of the ship.

Magic deck
The changes underline the versatility of the stealth warships as they were fitted with naval capabilities not seen when the warships were first built a decade ago. In a way, the Missile Deck should be renamed the Magic Deck because this part of the ship allows mission planners to plug and play new tools for new purposes with speed and ease of installation few other frigates can match.

The magic piece of deck stretches the full width of the ship, offers unobstructed firing arcs port and starboard and has a deck loading that allows Formidable-class ships to be fitted for but not with various types of hardware. Best of all, bulwarks screen the new tools from prying eyes and help the stealth ship retain her low-observable features despite all the gadgets that Fleet RSN may have crammed onto that space to magically give the warship new capabilities.

Tonne for tonne, the Singapore navy's Formidable-class stealth frigates quite possibly hold the world record for being the most heavily armed missile ships in the world. When fully kitted up for sea denial missions, a single Formidable-class warship can bring some 24 Harpoon missiles for anti-ship missions or a sizeable number of non-line of sight (NLOS) missiles into play.

Bag of tricks: RSS Intrepid's renovated Missile Deck amidships allows the warship to launch and recover naval special forces from the elite Naval Diving Unit while maintaining the ship's long reach with Harpoon missiles (foreground). The type and complexity of configurations is limited only by the imagination of RSN naval planners and the magic Singaporean defence engineers can deliver. Notice how the bulwarks shield all the gadgets inside from outside view at surface level.

Aboard Intrepid, the new 7,000-kg capacity crane for the Launch and Recovery System (LARS; does the SAF love acronyms or what??) was flanked by a pair of Harpoons on either side. The starboard half of the Missile Deck was occupied by two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) crewed by maritime security warfighters from the crack Naval Diving Unit (NDU).

They were among the 145 SAF personnel who called the Intrepid home during her three-month patrol in the Gulf of Aden codenamed Operation Blue Sapphire (Maritime).

The additions and alterations to Intrepid and her sister ship, Tenacious, point to the creativity of the RSN's Naval Staff and 1st Flotilla in rapidly role changing the ship for a new call of duty.

Such concepts would remain paper plans if not for the support and expertise of Singapore's defence eco-system, namely the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Marine, which were instrumental in renovating the Missile Deck to what it looks like today aboard the two modified warships.

There's another reason why the Magic Deck earned its nickname: If the warship ever went into action with its full warload of missiles and let go everything at once, it could make an enemy ship quite simply... disappear.


Acknowledgements:
Am grateful to staff officers from the Public Affairs Directorate, Singapore Ministry of Defence, for organising the visit and to RSN personnel on duty who were all smiles and courtesy. Having seen the Formidables built up from Benoi Basin to commissioning, it is always a pleasure to compare and contrast changes seen from one visit to the next.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Navy@Vivo 15 to 17 March 2013


All battleships are warships.

But all warships are not battleships.

Republic of Singapore Navy Open House 2013: 18 to 19 May 2013, Changi Naval Base


The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) stealth frigate RSS Intrepid goes on show this weekend to drum up awareness for the Navy Open House 2013. This blog had previously alluded to the visit in this post, click here

While her visit to VivoCity has proceeded as forecast, more public relations (PR) mileage could be won from this event as there is almost no visible indication of the forthcoming Navy Open House (NOH).

Is Navy@Vivo the key PR message or is this event a platform for the bigger intent of telling people about the Navy Open House? One could say the latter holds more weight.

An A3 poster, which can be easily done on a laptop and printed out, could indicate to passers-by that the Intrepid's visit to the shopping mall's promenade is a prelude to more exciting things that people can see and experience at the Navy Open House. This should be done quickly as visitors to the area tend to spike on weekends, more so today and Sunday as this is the first weekend of Singapore's March school vacation.

Almost all 7,000 tickets for free tours to the 114-metre long warship - the first stealth frigate made in Singapore - have been given out. But defence buffs can still use the Intepid's port call at the promenade at VivoCity shopping mall to take their cameras for a walk.

Having been in the hospitality business for the past five years, I would humbly suggest that a hotspot Intrepid should look out for is the crowd size. Having personnel stationed at fixed locations is good, provided the visitors cooperate by moving at a steady clip. Many will not. They will take their own sweet time gawking and snapping pictures and choke up narrow corridors and steep ladders. A better solution to keep the crowd line moving may be to group visitors in batches of 15 with one mobile guide accompanying the group from one station to another. You will need a despatcher at the shoreside to push off the next group the moment the first station (helo deck) is ready to take the fresh group of visitors.

Simple math will tell you the number of hours needed to push through all 7,000 pax through the ship, assuming the throughput of xx visitors per hour. This visit is a happy occasion for the RSN, so help visitors leave with a positive impression of the Navy and make them want to visit the Navy Open House by smoothing out potential kinks that could spoil their day.

Another safety hazard is the promenade itself. It is far from the main road and the last thing people expect when they are giving the warship a once over is to be hit by a blooming train (!).

Things to see
Don't miss the exhibition in the shopping mall on Level 1 which has pictures of RSN operations overseas and a selection of NDU firearms. Again, more prominent signage could indicate the upcoming NOH'13.

If you go before noon, the sun will be in the right direction for pictures taken from the Sentosa Boardwalk or from across the water at Resorts World Sentosa's seafront promenade.

Pirate busting mission
The Intrepid, which completed a 102-day counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, will display additions and alterations made to tailor the warship for its three-month long pirate busting mission codenamed Operation Blue Sapphire Maritime OBS(M).


Many of these mods are visible even without stepping aboard the vessel. A good vantage point is the roof deck on Levels 2 and 3 of VivoCity.

Changes made locally include modifying the missile deck amidships to take a pair of RSN Naval Diving Unit (NDU) rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and a 7,000-kg capacity crane which was used to launch and recover the RHIBs during in the area of operations. The NDU craft were lowered onto the water from the starboard side of the crane via the crane's extended boom.

The tradeoff for this was the loss of missile launching stations on the starboard side of the frigate. However, the Intrepid kept her port side Harpoon missile tubes, with two missiles flanking each side of the collapsible crane.

Inside the ship,  health and recreation facilities were upsized to accommodate the ship's company, an air group for her S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter and warfighters from the navy's crack diving unit who performed VBSS duties in the Gulf of Aden.

Washing machines for the crew to do their laundry, additional triple decker sleeping berths and even the dining schedules in the ship's mess were items that the OBS(M) project team looked at before the warship set sail on 4 September 2012 with 145 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel on board. This was more than twice her normal peacetime complement of 70 personnel.

Pre-departure modifications include the addition of composite armour plates to the RHIB's forward gun mount and control console as well as acoustic warning devices on either side aft of the enclosed, NBC-protected bridge. The armour panels, supplied by a European company, provide some measure of protection from small arms fire coming from dead ahead of the RHIB.

A pair of Typhoon guns with stealth features were fitted atop the hangar to address small boat threats.

Two RSN stealth frigates - Intrepid and Tenacious - have been modified to Blue Sapphire standard.

If you miss this opportunity to see the Intrepid at VivoCity, make time to see more of Fleet RSN at the Navy Open House 2013. This event, which is free, will take place from 18 to 19 May this year at Changi Naval Base (CNB).


This blog post below has been updated with what you just read:
Navy Open House 2013 Pre-publicity. Click here

Something for you folks to keep in view:
Alert Always: Israel's Iron Dome survives trial by fire. Click here

Radar-equipped aerostats to perform sentry duty. Click here

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Personal thoughts on body amour


Bullet-resistant: A 9mm round fired by a MP5 machine pistol defeated by a ballistic panel during an indoor trial.

I would like to welcome newcomers to this blog and the individuals who made time to pen their thoughts on body armour in the earlier post on the Malaysian security operations in Sabah, Operasi Daulat.

My first experience with body armour took place 14 years ago when I was assigned to write about Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) peace support operations in East Timor (now known as Timor Leste).

Ops Blue Heron 1: The Level 2A vest seen here was usually worn under the shirt. I wore this outside for the picture with the Singapore TV crew, Zainal (centre) and Suhaimi (right) in Timor Leste. Satellite phone technology has grown by leaps and bounds since 1999. 

The assignment to cover Operation Blue Heron 1 in East Timor marked one of four assignments spent embedded with operations conducted by the SAF or Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Two of these were HADR missions while the other two were in places which required what the newsroom admin girls casually referred to as additional insurance coverage. Body armour was worn during the two assignments in places classed by insurers as war zones.

Before flying to East Timor via Darwin, conversations with certain people that led to the recommendation of a Level 2A ballistic vest came about after careful consideration of some of the factors mentioned by netizens in the earlier thread. These factors include the weight of the vest (which affects mobility), impact of heat stress and whether the vest could be worn comfortably without drawing too much attention from other people.

All things considered, a Level 2A vest was considered an adequate baseline. I wore this under my work shirt in Dili and went everywhere with at least a day's supply of combat rations (mix of SAF and Australian rations), 2 litres of water and a kevlar helmet marked front and back with the letters "TV".

The longest time I kept it on was during trip to the border town of Suai, which was the farthest distance we travelled to on our own. We hitched a ride there aboard a World Food Program helicopter in the morning and arranged for the same chopper to pick us up in the arvo. The 40-minute journey to Suai would have taken us some six hours or more to cover by road.

The fact that 60kg rice sacks had to be offloaded from the chopper to accommodate two additional pax (photographer plus reporter) made an impression and we were determined to make the most of this trip. The article, "Signs of a massacre", that resulted from that trip with INTERFET forces in Suai can still be found in cyberspace.

New Zealander troops whom we were attached to in Suai had a higher level of ballistic protection than the concealed vest. The weather during October 1999, while not high summer, was not exactly perfect hiking weather with all that gear. Getting that story meant yomping through plantation areas. Lunch was what we brought along in our bug out bag.

We were in theatre for around 14 days - yes, a blink of an eye compared to months spent in theatre by professional soldiers - but it was a learning experience that brought me outside the classroom, so to speak, and I thank my editor for having sent me there.

In-theatre: The ballistic vest used by SAF troops in 1999 is modelled here. When this picture was taken, I was wearing two vests just for the picture: The concealable one under the shirt and the one borrowed from the SAF. Advancements in ballistic protection have since reduced the weight and bulk of the vest even as the level of protection against small arms fire and shell fragments is improved. There's a story to the Red Cross marking on the truck door: It was made from stickers of the red and white Singapore flag. When the SAF first deployed to Dili, feedback from INTERFET forces and local residents indicated that they thought the flag looked like the red and white Indonesian flag from afar. This caused some concern among people wary of the TNI. Hence the field modification. 

My interest in ballistic protection for individuals and vehicles developed from that East Timor experience.

I am grateful to the individuals who have helped me see and learn firsthand how improvements in ballistic protection unfolded since 1999. In 14 years, I have made the most of opportunities to learn about the subject and the pictures you see here are shown for the first time.

Show-and-tell: This is how ballistic material used for body armour is tested. Note the device in the foreground. The firer aims to shoot at the target through the hoops, which are used to measure the muzzle velocity of the rounds.

Few civilians get the chance of seeing destructive tests conducted on body armour to demonstrate the breaking point of the ballistic fibres.

Being there during certain events helped build up one's understanding of ballistic technology above and beyond what one would find on Internet websites or from books.

Point blank: Keeping the ballistic panel in his sights, a police officer takes careful aim at a numbered panel on the ballistic fabric. Note the collimeter in the foreground (also used during the oudoor shoot) which measured the speed of bullets fired through its metal hoops. 


Exposure to field trials provided a glimpse of what goes on when one talks about Ops-Tech integration. Having grown up reading stories from assorted Singaporean journalists like Felix Soh, whose hands-on approach to writing about defence subjects shows in their writing, I too aspired to walk in their shadow.

There is usually a tradeoff during Ops-Tech integration. Field trials which demonstrate what defence science can offer and what operatives require allow both parties to find some middle ground.

During such interaction, we get to know key differences between do not know (i.e. soldier is blissfully unaware of the technology available), do not have (either cannot afford to buy or was not equipped due to logistics cock-ups), do not want and do not need. There are clear and distinct differences between these four levels of awareness, which could translate to life-saving advantages to the combatman (or lack thereof).

In the bigger picture, Singapore is fortunate it has invested in a defence ecosystem that has the means and know-how to conduct its own trials in various areas of defence science. This enables Singapore to engage in meaningful conversations with military equipment suppliers as our defence scientists and engineers know what parameters to measure during field trials, rather than taking the manufacturer's specifications at face value.

If you suspect this personal experience is just the tip of the iceberg, you are right. But this is about the sum total of what I'm prepared to share on this subject. :-)



P.S. If there's one regret while I was with the 90 cents newspaper, it was my failure to banish the term "bullet-proof vest" from its stylebook. Having seen how ballistic fabrics are tested, one would know there is no such thing as a bullet-proof vest.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Near-miss: Full-time National Servicemen injured in grenade explosion

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

Posted: 08 Mar 2013, 2115 hours (GMT +8)
Grenade Incident During NS Training

At 10.45am today, two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), Safety Officer Second Lieutenant (2LT) Kamalasivam S/O Shanmuganathan and Recruit (REC) Abdul Hamid Bin Abdul Smad were injured while participating in a live hand grenade training at Pulau Tekong. The practice throw earlier the same morning had proceeded without incident. But for the actual throw, REC Abdul Hamid accidentally released the hand grenade lever while pulling out the safety pin. 2LT Kamalasivam, the Safety Officer, immediately instructed REC Abdul Hamid to throw the grenade towards the designated impact area. 2LT Kamalasivam then pulled REC Abdul Hamid down to take cover in the grenade throwing bay and shielded him. The grenade detonated in mid-air away from the bay.
REC Abdul Hamid sustained an injury to a finger on his right hand while 2LT Kamalasivam was injured on his left shoulder. Both servicemen were treated on site and subsequently sent to Changi General Hospital (CGH) at 11.45am. Both are stable and conscious, and currently under observation in the general ward in CGH.
Live hand grenade training has been suspended until investigations are completed. The alertness and quick action of 2LT Kamalasivam averted more serious injury to both the recruit and himself.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) versus Sulu gunmen in Sabah: Lessons for Singapore

Info Ops: Honed through experience from the Emergency fighting communist propaganda and military operations worldwide, the Malaysian Armed Forces are aware of the need to backstop military operations with an info security and psywar campaign plan.

A week ago, Malaysia's defence information officers were busy ramping up publicity for the Malaysian Army's 80th Anniversary celebrations - a happy occasion that culminated in a massive show of force by Tentera Darat Malaysia (Malaysian Army) in Port Dickson.

After a weekend on duty, their pace of work increased dramatically with real operations in the East Malaysian state of Sabah.

Ongoing operations by Malaysian security forces against Filipino gunmen in Lahad Datu, Sabah, mean that it will be sometime yet before IOs from Cawangan Perhubungan Awam (Public Relations Department) at Kementerian Pertahanan (KEMENTAH, the Malaysian Ministry of Defence) can enjoy a restful weekend.

Info warrior: A Malaysian soldier captures the action during a capability demonstration at Port Dickson on Sunday, 3 March 2013. The amphibious landing and special forces hostage rescue demo was staged as part of celebrations to mark the Malaysian Army's 80th anniversary.

The exposure to real ops in Sabah will reward Kementah's IOs with firsthand experience managing hearts and minds operations during an unfolding operation that has international dimensions. Add in the timing of the yet-unamed operasi, which was triggered during the run-up to the Malaysian General Elections, and the IOs entrusted to handle media ops will get a chance to learn invaluable lessons in calibrating domestic political considerations during an unfolding operation other than war (OOTW).

While it is early days yet before defence observers can compile a credible blow by blow account of the assault, here are some preliminary thoughts on the situation:

1. Malaysia's security operation in Sabah sorely needs a name - one would hope an inspiring one - that would rally Malaysians behind the Malaysian Armed Forces and Royal Malaysian Police. That single moniker, Operasi (name to come?), would serve as a through-driver that is far more effective than Bernama's (Malaysia's national news agency) cumbersome description of the operation in Sabah against Sulu gunmen.

Still on psywar: Malaysia's mainstream broadcast media, RTM, worked commendably fast in producing the clip with rousing martial music and TV footage aired at the end of tonight's news bulletin that cavassed support for Malaysia's Fallen Heroes. This is the type of psychological defence response that the Malaysians are good at, having picked up valuable lessons from the British during the Emergency years.


2.  The casual attitude to personal protection equipment by Malaysian soldiers and General Operations Force field police has been noted by defence observers. During the three-week long standoff against a force whose high end guesstimate claims has 200 gunmen and even after blood was shed, Malaysians deployed for security duty do not seem to care much for their personal protection.
* Body armour is rarely seen. When worn by some officers, the body armour appears to be of the soft body armour type (NIJ classification IIA/II or even lower) which is not designed to withstand full metal jacket projectiles discharged from firearms or mortar rounds.
* Headgear in the form of ballistic helmets is almost never worn. And let's not even go into protective eyewear like goggles.


This apparently cavalier attitude during live ops is baffling when measured against mountains of defence science literature which underline how lives can have been saved from ballistic protection.

If the officers are content to deploy for ops unaware of the life-saving potential of ballistic protection, then this indicates a failure of the curriculum in Malaysia's military education system.

If the officers are aware but sent their men into action ill-equipped, then the AAR should perhaps look at how to address the shortfall in such equipment.

Medical reports on the Malaysian security forces killed in action should indicate the cause of death, whether by penetrations from firearm projectiles (if so, the estimated calibre), shrapnel or non penetrating trauma caused by blast damage. A no-BS report would reveal the possible root causes of casualties during the Sabah operation and could suggest the type of protection needed to reduce wounded in action/KIAs during the next op.

3. Concomitant with the above observation is the poor quality of firearms used by the Police General Operations Force. Their M-16 5.56mm rifles are aimed using iron sights. There appears to be no option for optical sights (for example, a Picatinny rail) that can improve marksmanship or, more importantly, allow Malaysian police officers a rudimentary night-fighting capability.

4. Even after a deadly ambush, it is noteworthy that armoured vehicles appear to be in short supply in Sabah. Vehicle patrols by the police there continue to be mounted in unarmoured Land Rovers and trucks. Again, this begs the question what happened to lessons learned during the Emergency?

5. The tit-for-tat cyber attacks, said to have been the work of computer hackers from Manila and Kuala Lumpur, are a sign of things to come during a Period of Tension (POT) or OOTW (which is what the Sabah operation has evolved into). Singapore Inc must therefore prepare itself for such a virtual world onslaught as part of its business continuity plan. It should perhaps also study options to pay back with interests anyone who opens an account with Singapore Inc using cyber attacks.

6. At a more basic level of security preparedness, it would be ill-advised for the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to display the level of tolerance shown by the Malaysians during this episode. A three-week standoff against armed intruders said to have conducted active operations on home ground and shed blood is a trigger point Singov should never desensitise itself to.

Our circuit breaker must be designed to trip much faster so that a swift and decisive response can be unleashed.

Ta'at Setia!



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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Malaysian Army showcases new combat systems for its infantry

Ready to rock and roll: Malaysian Army mechanised infantry showed off their network-enabled capabilities like the Battlefield Management System (BMS) when the PARS eight-wheeled infantry carrier vehicle (background) went on public display for the first time.

Port Dickson, Malaysia: The Malaysian Army this morning underlined its determination to introduce network-enabled capabilities that will allow the Malaysian soldier to go to war carrying the full weight of the Army's firepower in his backpack.

Done at the Malaysian Army's 80th Anniversary parade, this capability shop window indicates to defence observe that the Army has formally ushered itself into the age of network-enabled warfare. It is early days yet before every Malaysian warfighter can plug into the battlefield network, but the Malaysian General Staff's (MARKAS ATM) determination to raise, train and sustain network-enabled fighting forces was a message heard loud and clear this morning.

The Malaysian Army's drive to signal that it is modernising its forces with the same network-enabled lexicon as modern armies is noteworthy.

It indicates that MARKAS ATM is aware of the battle-winning advantages that come with integrating units using a secure data sharing network that will allow Malaysian warfighters to exchange voice, data or video in realtime.

The focus on information warfare was underscored by the first ever participation of the Malaysian Army's new eight-wheeled PARS AV-8 infantry carrier vehicle, which made its public debut in Bandar Tenterat Darat (Army Town) amid a frenzy of interest from the Malaysian media. Reporters and cameramen swarmed round the Turkish-made 8x8 when it stopped briefly before the saluting platform graced by the Malaysian Defence Minister and top brass from MARKAS ATM.


PARS AV-8 with Malaysian Army numberplate ZB 2699 was given pride of place at the head of a mobile column that had more than 120 A and B-vehicles from all its combat and combat service support formations. The new war horse was followed by the Army's PT-91M Pendekar Main Battle Tank - the spearhead of Malaysian armoured battle groups.

This morning's firepower display included systems such as the TDA Dragon Fire 120mm mortar fitted to Adnan armoured fighting vehicles, which can lob 10 mortar bombs a minute, assault bridging vehicles and air-portable war machines fielded by Malaysia's Pasukan Aturgerak Cepat (PAC: rapid deployment force) formation.

Borrowing phrases that would be familiar to Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters, the capabilities of the PARS and its onboard infantry were explained using English terms which stood out in the Bahasa Malaysia commentary. These include terms like Battlefield Management System (BMS).

Mechanised infantry carried aboard the AV-8 were fully kitted out for night combat with a variety of hand-held devices for communicating with other fire teams, friendly vehicles and Malaysian Army units, night sights and body armour.

Particularly impressive were paratroopers from the Malaysian Army's 10th Brigade and special forces from the Grup Gerak Khas, who went on parade with seldom-seen war machines.

This blog will carry more reports from this special trip to Bandar Tentara Darat in coming weeks.

We are due to watch a GGK demo tomorrow morning.


Acknowledgements
The blog team thanks MARKAS ATM and the Public Affairs Department, Kementerian Pertahanan Malaysia, for opening doors. The march past and mobile column were impressive. We say this having seen how Singapore National Day Mobile Columns are put together. Gagah Setia.

Friday, March 1, 2013

First sighting: Malaysian Army's new 8x8



Port Dickson, Malaysia: The Malaysian Army's (Tentera Darat) new FNSS Pars AV-8 8x8 infantry carrier vehicle was spotted in Bandar Tentera Darat - Army Town - in Port Dickson this afternoon.

Here's a first picture of the Malaysian Army's new pride and joy, courtesy of Singaporean NSman "Foxtrout8".

An AV-8 with Malaysian Army numberplate ZB 2699 which emerged from 2 Armor's Kem Sungala, off Jalan Pantai (Beach Road), was observed and photographed by Singaporean military buffs who happened to be in the area.

ZB 2699 is fitted with a South African made Denel 30mm two-person a one-person 25mm turret for trials in Malaysia., which is one of several armament options for the 8x8.

It was interesting to note that ZB 2699 was driven open hatch by a foreign talent (see picture above), quite possibly a staff of armoured vehicle maker FNSS. The t roop compartment hatches were open during the transit around Port Dickson.

This indicates that the AV-8 may have arrived recently in the Malaysian Federation from its Turkish maker, FNSS.

The practice of displaying a new war machine before it turns fully operational is different from that of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which prefers low-key introductions of military capabilities. New SAF war machines are typically unveiled only after they have attained initial operational capability, which indicates that the forces who use the weapon platform or system are proficient in using it.

The Malaysian 8x8 will make its debut on Saturday morning when the Malaysian Army will hold a parade and mobile column. The show of force is part of activities to mark the Army's 80 Anniversary.

The Malaysian Chief of Army is due to hold a press conference after the parade to update the media and bloggers on developments in Malaysia's ground forces.

Pictures of ZB 2699 at the parade will follow soon.

Gagah Setia

Flash: Malaysian Army to unveil 8x8

The Malaysian Army's new 8x8 infantry carrier vehicle is due to make its public debut this weekend at a parade to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Malaysian Army.

The event in Port Dickson - fondly known as PD or Army Town to Malaysians - will launch year-long activities to celebrate the banner year for Malaysia's land forces.

Stayed tuned for more. :-)

Gagah Setia.