Saturday, February 27, 2016

US dashes Singapore's hopes for breakthrough in comprehensive awareness

These two flying machines look similar because they come from the same design house: an American company called Scaled Composites LLC.

Based in the Mojave desert in California, Scaled Composites lent its creative touch to the LALEE concept that was pursued by Singapore at the turn of the century.

The LALEE was conceptualised as more than a replacement for Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning planes - three of which remained on strength at the point of retirement.

LALEE is short for Low-Altitude Long Enduring Endurance. The platform was intended to be part of a system of terrestrial, airborne and space-based assets that would enable the RSAF to compile a comprehensive air situation picture of the air and sea space around Singapore, 24/365.

As a military asset, LALEE was neither chicken or fish. Some observers called it a high-altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle. But LALEE was designed to be optionally-piloted because Singapore's civil aviation authorities had yet to develop SOPs for drones flying race track circuits amid some of Asia's most congested airways.

The  LALEE's sensor payload gave her the ability to scan the skies and seas for air and surface contacts. But she was a lot more than a radar platform. LALEE could also be equipped to sniff the electromagnetic spectrum, rebro comms at long range and so could have evolved into an Aries, Compass Call, Growler, Hawkeye, Poseidon and Rivet Joint rolled into one slender and seemingly fragile airframe .

The low-altitude referred to in her name was a reference to her operational height, which was below that of satellites.

So ground-based gap-filler radars such as the RSAF's Giraffe Agile Multi Beam (AMB) would complement air surveillance radars by covering blind spots masked by terrain. Herakles radars on Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class stealth frigates would extend the radar range rings out to sea (i.e. a kind of sea-based air defence).

Orbits flown by LALEE would extend the radar horizon even further with sensors operating at around 50,000 feet.

Finally, reconnaissance satellites would take up the high-altitude duty station and provide updates once every 90 minutes or so.

What's amazing about this concept, sketched out by defence planners from the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and RSAF under its 1990s era transformation effort, is that apart from LALEE, every piece of the puzzle is in place as of February 2016.

So what happened to LALEE?

It never got off  the ground as the United States (US) was uncomfortable with Singapore's development plans for this ground-breaking concept.

At least on paper, it offered superior economics over manned AEW platforms and HALE UAVs which were sold by American military giants. The LALEE's capacity to generate power for sensors in the fuselage offered the end-user many payload options for aerial surveillance for an extended period of time.

In short, LALEE could have ushered a breakthrough in air defence surveillance that was born of necessity for Singapore's defence planners who had to work hard to surmount the city-state's lack of strategic depth, congested airways and a need to stretch every defence dollar.

At this point, we come to the proverbial takeaway from this project. The United States is a reliable defence partner. While Singapore is a close friend of the United States but not quite an ally, the reality is that Washington may not always be ready for tiny Singapore to punch above its weight.

Despite the smiles and handshakes, don't count on the Americans always being there for you. This is real politik between nation states that one needs to wake up to.

When Washington's legendary bureaucracy cranks into action, such unease results in export restrictions, With that clamp down, there was no way LALEE would fly.

And so, a Singaporean idea that could have counted as a revolution in military affairs has remained just a pipe dream.

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Airbus Defence & Space satellite images of Singapore Airshow 2016

European defence giant, Airbus Defence & Space, has released images captured by its Pleiades satellites of the Singapore Airshow 2016.

The images show the airshow's static display area filling up with aircraft and visitors, from the pre-show day on 14 Feb 2016 and the first day of the show on 16 Feb 2016.

The Pleiades satellites are capable of delivering sharper pictures that the images below, with a resolution of 50cm cited on its online GeoStore.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tidbits on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) cont'd

A Singapore Artillery gunner inspects results of the special long-range anti-tank munition live-fire trial. The hole in the tank turret (red arrow) marks the entry hole from the shaped charge round fired from long distance (i.e. double digit km). The tank target is a derelict Centurion tank.

An unnecessary inconvenience: Singapore Airshow 2016 transport woes

Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew once wanted weekly reports on the state of cleanliness of the toilets in Changi Airport from then Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore Director-General Wong Woon Liong.
“Since (Mr Lee) wanted a weekly one, Mr Wong wanted a daily report. And since he wanted a daily report, the Director of Operations, guess what, wanted an hourly report. So that’s why we have clean toilets at Changi Airport,” said Permanent Secretary in the Public Service Division Yong Ying-I yesterday (16 September2013), as she spoke on the lasting impact of Mr Lee’s personal values on the civil service.
“This whole attention to detail by the boss matters … when the boss cares, everybody up and down the line cares. If the boss doesn’t care, standards will begin to slip,” said Ms Yong. Quoted in the Today newspaper article titled "LKY's attention to detail helped ensure clean toilets at Changi Airport", 17 September 2013.

For people at the Singapore Airshow early this week, a transport matter of a non-aviation kind became a talking point.

Local or foreign, exhibitor or visitor, military or civilian without the precious SA2016 car label, the conversation centred on the fastest (and cheapest) way in/out of the venue for the world's third largest airshow.

Much of the conversation on sinuous queues for shuttle buses and even longer ones for stealth taxis was unflattering to Singapore's reputation for efficiency and good planning.

Singapore's mainstream print and broadcast media chimed in too. In the past few days, we have seen at least one television report on the evening news and two articles by Singapore's newspaper of record.

The dozens of public relations consultants vying to have their news releases carried by the local media must have been flabbergasted when their pitch was bested by the Singapore Airshow's transport woes.

What a pity.

Same venue, new problems
The transport woes forced upon airshow exhibitors and visitors are an unnecessary inconvenience.

The venue for the biennial event has stayed at the same site at Changi since 2008. This means the organiser, Experia Events Pte Ltd, did not get off from a standing start. It had years of experience managing the situation for the airshow in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 to learn from. So where did all those years of institutional knowledge and customer feedback go to?

For exhibitors who set up shop at the Changi Exhibition Centre over the past week, the sour experience with transport arrangements on Tuesday - the airshow's first Trade Day - must have put them off going to work at the show venue for the rest of the week. But they had no choice, did they?

For airshow visitors, the wait for taxis - reportedly 2.5 hours long at its peak - must have tested the patience of more than a handful of people.

These wretched experiences are takeaways that Singapore could do without.

Every year, when Singapore stages its National Day celebrations, the way the National Day Parade (NDP) unfolds with clockwork efficiency (key events on the NDP timetable are timed to the second) is a point of pride. The NDP reflects all things positive: Thorough planning, close coordination between stakeholders and effective leadership at all levels that results in a good show.

Could airshow visitors caught in the immobile queue line for taxis which are more elusive than the stealth fighter say the same?

An airshow venue that bursts into life every two years must run the extra mile to court taxi drivers, many of whom may not have been behind the wheel of a taxi at the last show. And when you have a cab rank in a remote part of Singapore, the effort to build mindshare among taxi drivers becomes even more critical. If this is not done, do not expect cab drivers to show up at the airshow site magically.

Experia may put on a brave front by saying airshow visitor numbers (which it has not disclosed, and which are unaudited anyway even if it did...) exceeded expectations. Is that such a big surprise that caught planners blindsided, particularly since airshow season has chalked up good visitorship numbers since the Asian Aerospace series took off in the early 1980s?

If you were Experia, would you not up your game plan for growth? Rocket science it is not.

When the Singapore Airshow 2016 draws to a close tomorrow, it is likely Experia will publicise the take-up rate for the 2018 edition and the amount of space already committed.

Success not guaranteed
While the airshow's continued success is good for Singapore, one should never assume visitors will automatically flock to such events like migrating birds. The airshow's success hinges upon gaining continued support, and therefore critical mass, from foreign exhibitors who make it worth the while for the aviation community to fly here to talk shop.

Singapore is not a cheap destination. And there are rival airshows waiting to pounce and steal our lunch.

And by the way, that junior or mid-level executive who wasted his or her time in the queue line is tomorrow's decision-maker whom the Singapore Airshow needs to count on for its success. When budgets are cut and tough decisions need to be made on which airshows to support, one hopes budget-conscious planners will continue to see value in coming to Singapore.

Even if the exhibitors and visitors continue to support the event, Experia must do better to improve its customer service mindset to avoid a repeat of the Singapore Airshow 2016 transport debacle.

It took years for Singapore to establish itself on the airshow circuit.

It will take hardwork and a sincere commitment to serve customers even better to keep it there.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Qatar Airways steals a march on Singapore Airlines in its own backyard

(Source: Kidzania Singapore Facebook)

Small country in a turbulent dynamic region goes on to develop an award-winning airline with one of the youngest, fastest growing and most advanced fleets in the world.

Singapore and the Singapore Airlines story?

No. It's Qatar and Qatar Airways.

While many Singaporeans probably cannot point out Qatar on the map to save their lives, the Qataris have their sights on not just replicating but surpassing Singapore's success story.

Their determination is showcased on the shores of the resort island of Sentosa (of all places). At a yet-to-be-opened theme park for children called KidZania Singapore, you will find a mock airliner in Qatar Airways colours. You can't miss it as the nose of the aircraft pokes out of the side of the building.

(Source: Kidzania Singapore Facebook)

When KidZania opens for business this April, children will be able to run around the aisles of the mock airliner to role play passengers or crew.

The staging of mock jobs in an airline and other businesses at KidZania Singapore transplants the theme park's business model that has proven successful in delighting thousands of children and their caregivers around the globe.

The interesting tidbit about Qatar Airways is this: Singapore Airlines was the first carrier that KidZania approached. Alas, nothing materialised from these overtures.

By planting their flag on Sentosa, Qatar Airways is taking a brave leap away from the guiding principles of corporate branding. Few luxe brands would leave their brand identity in the hands of a third party. The use of corporate colours is also rigorously controlled by marketing types who fret over fine details like the pantone code, typeface, the prominence and positioning of one's corporate logo etc etc.

Qatar Airways does it differently.

Qatar Airways has basically paid to have the nose of a mock airplane poke out of a garishly-painted building on Sentosa, with the Qatar Airways paint scheme exposed to the elements. Will it fade and degrade over time and position QR's flightless bird in a sorry state? Who knows?

In the meantime, the Qataris are only too pleased with their presence at KidZania Singapore.

Qatar Airways group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Akbar Al Baker, told TTG Asia:"We are delighted to be here, to showcase our brand and be part of the growth of the vision of our kids. We are here to help KidZania educate children, especially in the field of aviation. The brand of Qatar present in the backyard of Singapore Airlines is also very important to us."

The determination to forge ahead of the pack in the cut-throat airlines business is plainly evident from the QR CEO's interview with The Straits Times on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow 2016.

"You previously said Qatar is better than Singapore Airlines? Do you think the gap has closed or widened?" asked the ST scribe.

The reply:"We will never allow the gap to close. They (SQ) will have to (play catch-up). Qatar Airways is constantly raising the bar by far, in a big way."

To be sure, the money QR invested in the children's theme park is probably just one arm of its multi-year multi-project effort at being primus inter pares.

By moving quickly to fill the void at KidZania while SQ dilly-dallied, Qatar Airways has demonstrated some of the attributes that has enabled Singapore Inc. to blossom on the world stage: Boldness. Vision. Ambition to settle for nothing less than being the world's best.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) takes back seat as SG skyline is destroyed in Independence Day 2 movie trailer

Independence Day 2 movie trailer apparently shows the Singapore skyline being blown to smithereens (watch the trailer from the 24 to 27 second mark).

Guess this is one doomsday scenario even the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can't prepare for. :-)

Tidbits on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)

Enjoying your long weekend?

Here are some tidbits on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for you to mull over the holiday season:

The stealthiest asset in Fleet RSN is also its oldest: the former Royal Swedish Navy diesel-electric submarines.

Missile Gun Boats (above) were armed with two types of anti-ship missiles, which is a more diverse anti-ship warload than any other class of RSN man-of-war.

The aerials for Singapore's longest range experimental radar, developed by researchers from Singapore's Defence Science & Technology Agency and the Nanyang Technological University and ONERA from France, were mounted on the east breakwater pier at the RSN's Changi Naval Base. The 100-metre long aerials were used by the experimental HFSW long-range radar.

When the Singapore Armed Forces replaced the V-200 with the M-113 in the early 1970s, it gave up an armoured fighting vehicle with a turret-mounted 20mm Oerlikon cannon and 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and a roof-mounted GPMG for a 12.7mm heavy machine gun in an open cupola. It took SAF Armour more than 20 years to close the firepower and protection deficit. The gap was closed when M-113s were upgraded to Ultra standard and some vehicles were armed with the Rafael 25mm overhead weapon station.

The Singapore Army operates more Bronco variants than you have fingers and toes.

When the Commando Special Operations Force (SOF) ended the hijacking of Singapore Airlines Flight SQ117 on 26 March 1991, the unit's identity was secret. It took six more years before the SOF name was declassified on 20 February 1997 - which was some 13 years after SOF was formed in 1984.

The hitting power of the Army's Soltam 160mm Very Heavy Mortars was unmatched until the Bronco 120mm Super Rapid Advanced Mortar System entered service.

Two SAF weapons trace their genealogy to the Second World War: these are the 75mm gun on the AMX-13 (which the French adapted from the Krupp 7.5cm gun on the Panther tank) and the 30mm ADEN gun on RSAF Hawker Hunters (which was based on the Mauser MG213 cannon developed for the Luftwaffe to engage Allied heavy bombers).

The SAF operated the most powerful variants of these weapons:

  • Hawker Hunter
  • AMX-13 light tank
  • F-5E/F Tiger II

The anti-tank weapon with the longest range was not operated by the Armour or Infantry, but by the Singapore Artillery. That weapon system has now been retired as the SAF has other ways to kill MBTs at long-range.

With a max range of 80km, the RSAF Bloodhound had the longest reach among all former and existing RSAF SAMs.

The grass fields around Bloodhound surface to air missile batteries at Ang Mo Kio, Missile Site Bravo, were maintained as a buffer for the Bloodhound missile rocket boosters. The retirement of the Bloodhounds in 1990 freed this stretch of land for redevelopment. Nanyang Polytechnic and ITE Central now sit on this land.

If the control towers at RSAF air bases are put out of action, the business continuity plan will kick into action. Air base and flying activities can be monitored and controlled from where the sun doesn't shine, giving RSAF air bases a measure of resilience.

The RSAF's 160 Squadron retired its 35mm Oerlikons without saying what replaced the anti-aircraft gun. But the unit remains as an active air defence squadron. Guess what 160 SQN is armed with.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Malaysian airpower set to demonstrate technological edge at Singapore Airshow 2016

When the Royal Malaysian Air Force (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia, TUDM) attends the Singapore Airshow 2016, Malaysian airpower on display will be the most advanced and most capable ever seen in the Lion City.

Military aviation fans may also note another interesting milestone to TUDM's upcoming display alongside the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF): TUDM as a guest air force will demonstrate technological superiority over the RSAF on its own turf for the first time.

The Su-30MKM fighter and A400M transport in TUDM warpaint stem from aircraft technology that is newer and more advanced than that seen on RSAF warplanes and transport aircraft at the Singapore Airshow.



Armchair critics will no doubt have a field day debating till the cows come home whether the Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagle or Sukhoi Su-30MKM is a more capable aircraft. In terms of the genealogy for both fighter types, however, the F-15 design (first flight 1972) is more dated than the Su-27 (first flight 1977) that eventually morphed into the Su-30.

And while the first flight comparison makes an interesting point to mull over - some would say it is irrelevant as later marque F-15s have far more advanced avionics that the 1970s-vintage birds - it is the Su-27's moniker as an Eagle-killer that is hard to sweep under the carpet.

As for trash haulers, the Airbus A400M Atlas is years ahead of the vintage Lockheed C-130B/H model Hercules transports in RSAF service.

Is there a saving grace? Possibly this fact: RSAF C-130s upgraded by Singapore Technologies Aerospace have been modernised to the state-of-the-art in terms of avionics, RWR and self-protection measures.

But RSAF C-130s, which are older than some of their aircrew, are from another generation compared to the A400M in terms of flying characteristics.

The lesson here is that technological advantages are never guaranteed.

Even for a country with a weak defence science and engineering sector, such gaps can be filled as quickly as off-the-shelf purchases are delivered.

Technological superior in single platforms is just one aspect of the larger matrix of factors used for assessments of military firepower and combat potential.

Whether the technology fights as a system is another point to consider. An air force's ability to generate and sustain airpower - with airborne early warning, with resilient air base infrastructure, the ability to fight as an integrated air defence network - should also be considered.

But for now, TUDM Kuat.

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