Sunday, April 23, 2017

Flight of the intruder: Q&A with pilot who beat Singapore's RSAF air defence network in April 1975

If you were to choose an aircraft to penetrate Singapore's air defence network, a lumbering C-130 Hercules would probably not top that list.

But 42 years ago this month, a C-130 from South Vietnam (serial HCF 460) did just that.

Then Defence Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee told MINDEF and HQ RSAF that this would not happen again. It led to a review of CONOPS for air surveillance and interceptions. The incident also seeded awareness of the need to detect aerial intruders as early as possible to give RSAF the early warning required to scramble fighters.

At the time of the intrusion, the subsonic Hawker Hunter was the main RSAF interceptor. It wasn't till 1979 that the RSAF could fly supersonic. This followed the delivery of the first F-5s acquired under Project Peace O.

Incidentally, the C-130 intrusion took place just two days after the RSAF was formed. From a public relations standpoint, the incident was not good for the RSAF's image. The unfortunate timing is an example of how von Moltke's advice, No plan survives first contact with the enemy, applies to info ops.

Here is Senang Diri's interview with former Vietnam Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Pham Quang Khiem. He described the flight that beat our air defence system. We hope you find the Q&A interesting.

1. How many passengers did you have aboard? How many were military personnel?
There were 56 total on board. All the civilians were family. Six of us were in the air force consisting of four crew members and my two brothers who were VNAF officers.  Two were Army Officers.

2. Describe the flight profile en route to Singapore.
From the time we took off from Long-Thanh Airfield , we kept at our low level for about two hours. We then climbed to 15 thousand feet until we got to Singapore. 

The altitude we maintained was extremely low - only about 5 to 10 feet above sea level (ground effect).  It was so low that the passenger compartment had fog so thick that my family members told me they couldn’t see each other. 

I plotted the chart to Singapore using onboard radar doppler. Our speed was around 250 knots.

3. What model of C-130 was 460? What happened to the aircraft in Singapore?It was C-130A Model. The US Embassy at Singapore claimed it. The aircraft then flew to Korea for service with US Air Force for a while then flew back to US for service with the National Guard. In 1987 this aircraft was selected by Smithsonian in Washington DC to be put on display at the Smithsonian Air Museum. The aircraft now is in storage there. It’s future is unknown.  I am hoping that it gets moved to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum here in Dayton, OH (where I am at) however the cost of transporting it is too much.

4. Did you have weapons onboard?
 Yes we did carry our personal revolver as part of our uniform when on duty.  Total revolvers were 4.

5. Why didn't you try landing in Kuantan, Malaysia, or Butterworth, near Penang? Did you make up your mind on destination Singapore before you took off?
I did make up my mind for Singapore well before we took off.  For me, there was no other alternative. I heard Singapore was in need of pilots and thought they may need to use us.

6. What was your approach to Singapore like?We had an approach chart to Singapore. We flew directly southeast from Vietnam, to the south west of the airport was runway 02. 

We were at 15 thousand feet when we contacted Singapore.

Approaching from about 80 Miles out I called Singapore. However, the radio had a lot of static so I skipped approach control and directly contacted the Singapore Tower. It was never a thought of mine that I may be intercepted by Singapore Air Force.

7. What happened after you landed at Paya Lebar Airport?
We arrived in Singapore around 7 PM. It was dark and raining when I called Approach Control for instructions. I couldn't understand their reply, so I just changed to Tower Frequency, and called, "Singapore Tower, Herky 460. Request landing instruction." They replied, "Herky 460, cleared to land Runway 02.” They gave me the wind and altimeter setting, but didn't ask, "Who are you?" or "What the hell are you doing here?" So we just went in and landed on 02!

This was the civilian international airport and I thought that they would get excited when a military aircraft landed there. But when we parked on the ramp, the ground personnel came and hooked up an auxiliary power cart when the engines were shut down, then left. I told my people that they were now in a free country, but that no one was allowed to leave the aircraft until we had surrendered to the proper authorities.

My friend, my brother and I all changed into our civilian clothes, got off the airplane, and headed for the terminal building. It took us a half hour to find the airport office. When I explained to the guard on duty that we were a group of Vietnamese who had just gotten out of the country, and that we wanted to talk to his boss, he said, "Well, the airport office closes at 5 PM. Why don't you guys come back at eight tomorrow morning?" We finally convinced him that we had entered his country illegally, and that he had to do something about it. Well, he couldn't find his boss, who was out partying somewhere. We wandered around the airport until midnight, then went back out to the airplane. I found that my people were well taken care of. Some of the ground crew from the airlines had become curious, and had come over to our airplane. When they found 56 refugees from the war, they brought food and drink from the airline service area.

Finally, at about 1 AM, twenty trucks filled with police surrounded our airplane, and we surrendered to the Chief of Police. We explained that we would like political asylum in Singapore, but that if they could not take us, we would like the gas to get to Australia or New Zealand. They called the Vietnamese counsel, and he came down to the airport. We told him that we did not want to go back to Vietnam, and that we wanted asylum. He left without commenting, and we never heard from him again. The local officials could not make up their minds what to do with us. It was obvious that we had created a problem that they did not want to deal with. (It was a problem they had not had before.) 

As I first stepped off the aircraft onto Singapore land, I warned them to stay on the aircraft since we were entering Singapore illegally.  We were all full of mix emotions since we had no idea what would happen next.  As you well know, we are safe and happy we found freedom.

8. Describe your family please. How old were your children or siblings when you did your escape?

The oldest member was the mother in law of my oldest sister who was 86.  My son was the youngest at five months.  My son now has three kids and my daughter, who was two when we left, has two children.  In 1976, we had another daughter born in Dayton, OH. She now is also married with one child. Our family has been very blessed. Our perseverance, strength and trust in the Lord made us strong. (All onboard were Christian protestant)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Singapore's homeland security forces on high alert amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula

In the coming days, we will know if all that talk about growing or crimping North Korea's nuclear weapons capability is all bluff and bluster.

One side wants to set off a nuclear device. The other has threatened pre-emptive strikes to stop it.

Should war break out between North Korea and the United States, Singapore may have to rely on more than deft diplomacy to stay out of the fight.

It will be hard to stay neutral, not when US air and naval units routinely use facilities here to refuel warplanes and warships, and as a rest and recreation stopover.

Make no mistake: Pyongyang knows this.

The US Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, that is now an irritant to Pyongyang, cut short her visit here earlier this month to set course for the seas around Korea.

If and when the shooting starts, our island nation's homeland security forces will need to stay on their guard should North Korea expand its sphere of operations against American military units stationed in the region. US military personnel who use facilities in Singapore could be hit, along with Singaporeans in the vicinity of any attack who could end up as collateral damage.

American forces in the Lion City may be outside the range rings of North Korean missiles, but Pyongyang has other options to make its presence felt.

This is the price Singapore pays for helping the US military sustain its presence in the Asia-Pacific.

While it may sound alarmist, the record of direct action initiated against perceived threats or enemies of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) - as North Korea is formally known - serves as a reminder to the type of security situations our security forces could face.

The poisoning of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of DPRK ruler Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur, is a case in point. Creatively executed by proxies and shrugged off by North Korea due to the lack of credible evidence, the assassination is yet another example of an operation staged far from the Korean peninsula.

In 1983, the bombing of the Martyr's Mausoleum in Rangoon, Burma, pointed to a plot hatched by Pyongyang. Four South Korean ministers were killed along with more than a dozen people after a bomb rigged for visiting South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan exploded minutes before he was due to pay his respects at the mausoleum. Individuals said to be from North Korea were captured and implicated in the plot, which the DPRK denied.

While US military forces in Singapore are far from the Korean peninsula and are hard to target, we need to stay vigilant. These units are located within protected areas - key installations in military parlance - which are guarded round-the-clock by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) units.

Our vanguards: The SAF's Island Defence Task Force and the SPF's Protective Security Command.

Their nemesis: Individuals or groups operating out of uniform and wielding tactics that do not discriminate between military or civilian targets. Their concept of operations involves scenarios that can be plausibly denied. Oblivious to established laws and norms of civilised warfare, these operatives are likely to be highly-motivated and well-trained in the use of firearms, explosives and close combat tactics and techniques. They would also have been indoctrinated in the art of escape and evasion. Man for man, it would be like pitting special forces against citizen soldiers in the midst of serving out their full-time national service.

That's the good news.

A worst-case scenario could involve a device like a dirty bomb - an explosive device laced with radioactive material to maximise its lethality - to knock out high-value assets like visiting US Navy warships. A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier could represent an important enough strategic target where the end justifies the means.

To redress this imbalance, Singapore's intelligence services under various ministries must work together to give SAF and SPF units early warning of impending threats. Truth be told, such warning may not be ample. This means we may get wind of the plot only after it is underway.

If the worst happens, we will need to rely on intelligence services to piece together how the attack unfolded and to identify its authors.

As tension escalates on the Korean peninsula, defence observers fear the toll that could be exacted on both sides of the 38th parallel should deterrence fail will be enormous.

The fallout for the rest of the region will likely be devastating.

North Koreans killing South Koreans would be like brother killing brother.

And that notion hasn't stopped hostile action before, has it?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Upgraded Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF Apache shows off new bumps

Seen on a training flight over Singapore, this Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) AH-64D Apache attack helicopter is thought to have undergone a capability-enhancing mid-life upgrade.

Visible on the portside stub wing is a dome-like protrusion which resembles the one seen on Israeli Longbow Apaches. A similar protrusion is believed to adorn the upper surface of the starboard wing stub on Singapore's upgraded Apache.

The upgraded RSAF Apache is thought to be the rebuilt machine (Redhawk 01-2069) that made an emergency landing in an open field in Woodlands on 30 September 2010. The prang severed the tail rotor though both pilots walked away unhurt.

The RSAF's first Apaches were delivered under the Peace Vanguard programme in 2002.

The AH's are Singapore's third armed helos tasked to support the Singapore Army's manoeuvre forces.

The first generation gunships were Bell UH-1 Hueys armed with the Emerson Electric MAMEE armament subsystem comprising 7.62mm miniguns and rocket pods. These were supplanted by the Eurocopter AS.550A2 Fennec light observation helicopter armed with a Giat 20mm cannon and CRV-7 rockets and the more powerfully-armed AS.550C2 light attack helicopter armed with the Helitow TOW-2A wire-guided anti-tank missiles.

The RSAF is progressively upgrading its stable of rotary-wing machines.

Future capabilities may include the wider fielding of a non-line of sight missile, a specialised munition that certain land forces units are not unfamiliar with. See Tidbits on the SAF. Click here

A  CH-47 Chinook  featured in a Feb'17 MINDEF advertorial showed off lumps and bumps from an ongoing upgrade that enhances the Chinook's ability to link up with satellites and detect hostile emitters/beams from all quadrants.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


The Tomahawk is a wonderfully versatile weapon.

It comes in a number of variants, as its striking edge can be adapted for different roles.

Lightweight, durable and easy to handle, the Tomahawk is deadly at close range.

In the hands of a skilled operator, a Tomahawk can also project its killing potential beyond targets close at hand. Train well with the Tomahawk and one can disarm an opponent with precise, well-placed hits.

Fast, accurate strikes by a Tomahawk can swiftly and decisively defeat an opponent - even better armoured ones.

You may lose a Tomahawk in water. But on dry land, a Tomahawk is optimised for agile strikes that can hit the enemy from different threat vectors, by day or by night.

Combining a Tomahawk with other weapons in one's armoury accentuates its combat potential, with each weapon making up for the other's shortcomings.

Tomahawks have been known to be multi purpose. Peace pipe or weapon of war, depending on the situation.

The more one learns about the Tomahawk, the greater one's respect for this weapon.

I 💗 Tomahawk.

Do you?

You may also like:
Urban legends about the SAF's true combat capabilities. Click here

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Commentary on MINDEF/SAF Defence Cyber Organisation: Bytes are bullets for SAF's cyber defenders

The establishment of the Defence Cyber Organisation (DCO) by the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) aims to strengthen Singapore's defences against current and anticipated threats in cyberspace.
The move is timely, given the recent incident in which the Mindef network was hacked by perpetrators of unknown origin.
While no sensitive military information was lost apart from the theft of personal data on some 850 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Mindef staff, the February attack is a sign of things to come.
New cyber defence vocations have also been created, and soldiers are expected to be deployed in these roles from August this year. Both full-time national servicemen and operationally ready national servicemen with the requisite academic or work backgrounds can be tapped to join these vocations.
Among all the SAF vocations, SAF cyber defenders can expect to come under "attack" more often and more intensely during peacetime than any other SAF personnel, with their battles waged in cyberspace. Their mettle will be tested against state and non-state actors, who will continuously probe and test our cyber defences for weaknesses that can be exploited.
They will have to be on their toes as Singapore is one of the world's most digitally connected nations in the world. This means that DCO's cyber defenders need to be made of sterner stuff than your average keyboard warrior and be equipped with the professional know-how and warfighting techniques, tactics and procedures to fight and prevail in cyber warfare.
The high stakes and likelihood of future attacks make it imperative that our cyber defenders operate under clear and well-defined rules of engagement for cyber engagements.
The Cyber Security Strategy that Singapore released last year sketched out the high stakes. The document forecast that cyber attacks on the Republic's critical information infrastructure (CII) "may have spillover effects regionally and globally".
It added: "As an international financial, shipping and aviation hub, Singapore also houses critical systems that transcend national borders, such as global payment systems, port operations systems and air traffic control systems. Successful attacks on these supra-national CIIs can have disproportionate effects on the trade and banking systems beyond Singapore's shores."
The recent attack drives home the clear and present danger posed by cyber warfare and why vigilance must be backed by a round-the- clock capability to act against such threats.
But when does a cyber attack become an act of war - if at all - especially if it targets mission-critical infrastructure?
All over the world, governments are grappling with defining the threshold above which a cyber attack would justify the use of military force. Singapore, too, will have to figure this out and develop new rules of engagement for such attacks.
Britain's National Cyber Security Strategy indicates that the "full spectrum of our capabilities will be used to deter adversaries and to deny them opportunities to attack us".
The Cyber Strategy articulated by the United States Department of Defence (DoD) mentions the "full range of tools" and added: "To ensure unity of effort, DoD will enable combatant commands to plan and synchronise cyber operations with kinetic operations across all domains of military operations."
While cyber attacks don't involve firepower in the traditional sense of bullets, bombs, rockets or guided munitions, their impact can be just as devastating.
Attacks on, say, computer networks that control infrastructure such as ports, power or water supply, or a country's banking system, can disrupt or destroy such infrastructure as effectively as a conventional military attack - perhaps even more so.
Cyber warfare is a relatively new battlespace, so new that international agreement on what constitutes proportionate response or jus ad bellum (right to war) in a cyberwar has not been mapped out definitively.
International law and military experts consulted for the Tallinn Manual 2.0 were divided on the level of military force that a country could exert in response to, or in anticipation of, a cyber attack. The manual, released last month, is said to be the most comprehensive analysis of how international law applies to cyber operations.
In the US military, the information battlespace is regarded as the fifth dimension of war. The other four dimensions are land, sea, air and space. The Tallinn Manual 2.0 attempts to harmonise international law and military tactics, techniques and procedures with threats in the fifth dimension.
Singapore is well aware that much work is needed on this front. Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen told Parliament last Friday: "In the steady state, the DCO will have about 2,600 soldiers, supported by scientists and engineers in Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and DSO, and this is a significant build-up from the current numbers and reflects the importance of this new battlefront."
To put things in perspective, the headcount of 2,600 soldiers that will serve DCO in about 10 years' time is roughly four battalions strong. This is almost half the number of soldiers in the Singapore Army's nine active infantry battalions. Amid the birth dearth that has led to smaller cohorts of full-time national servicemen, the commitment of such a sizeable number of cyber defenders underscores the severity of fifth-dimension threats envisaged by our defence planners.
Apart from clarifying rules of engagement in a cyber attack, DCO needs to reassure our citizen soldiers that computer networks fielded by the tech-heavy new-generation SAF will be protected in peacetime and during operations by astute cyber defenders fighting in the fifth domain.
Mindef/SAF defence planners also need to be vigilant to tell when a cyber attack, say, on a telco system, crosses the threshold from an inconvenience to the public to one with a more sinister endgame aimed at knocking out vital infrastructure as a prelude to a conventional attack.
Like other defence forces, those in Singapore will have to think through the end-state of cyber warfare. Once cyber defenders swing into action by wielding bytes as "bullets" in a cyberwar, when and how would one achieve conflict termination? What are the success factors for achieving victory? Would a cyberwar presage a period of tension that could spiral into the use of real-world military firepower?
Just as Total Defence enlisted the whole nation to underpin the SAF's approach to conventional defence, there's a part for everyone as Mindef/SAF takes on cyberthreats from state or non-state players.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Singapore's DSO National Laboratories releases new books on defence science and engineering capabilities: Download here

Two new books commemorating 50 years of Singapore's defence R&D in aviation engineering and weapon systems projects were released by DSO National Laboratories this week. Download your copy from the DSO website here.

These books complete the four-volume series written for the Defence Technology Community's 50th anniversary, which was celebrated in November 2016.

DTC50 Aviation Engineering and DTC50 System of Systems profiles lesser-known projects, such as Singapore's evaluation of the Russian Mil-26 heavy-lift helicopter as a rival to the Boeing CH-47D Chinook from the United States and having the American Stinger MANPADS square off against the Swedish RBS-70.

Enjoy the stories in these ebooks.

You may also like:
Defence Technology Community 50th anniversary book. Click here

Saturday, February 11, 2017

An albatross we need to nix: History weighs down appreciation of Singapore's naval forces

The loss of British capital ships to airpower during the Battle for Malaya is the proverbial albatross round the neck of anyone tasked to discuss the value of naval forces in the defence of Singapore.

One cannot ignore naval history but one should examine the loss of the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Prince of Wales, and battlecruiser, HMS Repulse, which formed the heart of Force Z from a broader perspective.

Royal Navy strategists had long recognised the need for, and importance of, a balanced navy operating from and supported by Sembawang Naval Base.

In Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) parlance, this full spectrum force comprised submarines from its 4th Flotilla, the aircraft carriers HMS Eagle and HMS Hermes and specialised vessels such as the 15-inch gun monitor, HMS Terror - in her time a sort of littoral mission vessel tailored for operations close to shore.

Naval units were to be supported by fighter aircraft from RAF Sembawang. with 453 Squadron the designated Fleet Defence Squadron. Squadron CO Tim Vigors wrote about how he had worked out a plan to keep at least six Buffalos over the fleet during all daylight hours as long as they stayed within 60 miles of the Malayan coast.[POW and Repulse were sunk about 50 miles off Kuantan]

In the 1930s, Singapore's defences were not short of accolades:
  • Sembawang Naval Base was Britain's largest and best-protected naval base in the Far East.
  • RAF Seletar was described as one of the empire's finest seaplane bases, from which Sunderland and Catalina flying boats - the eyes of the fleet - flew long-range maritime reconnaissance missions.
  • The coastal defences that guarded the Singapore Strait could deny the strait to shipping and the 15-inch guns of the Buona Vista and Johor batteries were the largest of their kind outside Britain.
So what went wrong?

Before dismissing the value of naval forces, one must remember that war had raged in Europe for two years before the Pacific War erupted.

As Britain fought for her survival, naval units based in Singapore were retasked to serve in the Mediterranean theatre. This strategic pivot - to use contemporary language -  saw the deployment of Singapore's submarines, HMS Eagle and HMS Terror westward to the Mediterranean. All served with distinction there. Sunderland seaplanes also left Singapore for new operational taskings in the Med.

While the RN's bench strength in Singapore was diluted, there were ample reasons for strategists to feel that the forces at hand were adequate to deal with the Japanese threat. Consider these points:
  • The Brewster Buffalo fighters, then the mainstay of RAF fighters squadrons based in Singapore, had acquitted itself well in Finland's Winter War against Soviet fighters. Many Finnish pilots emerged as aces flying Buffalos, a fighter type that was the United States Navy's first monoplane carrier fighter.
  • The Vildebeest biplane torpedo bombers were an anachronism. But Swordfish biplanes - similarly as slow and antiquated - had earned distinction during the Bismarck hunt and more recently during the attack on the Italian naval base at Taranto.
  • The Blenheim bombers operating from Malaya were some of the fastest twin-engined light bombers. When introduced in the 1930s, Blenheims could fly faster than pursuing fighters.
  • British warships deployed in the South China Sea would be fighting with the advantage of friendly coastlines in Peninsular Malaya and Borneo. Britain could also count on support from American, Dutch and Australian warships under a sort of coalition operation.
  • In the two years prior to the sinking of Force Z on 10 December 1941, no British capital ship had been lost to air attack launched by Germany's Luftwaffe and Italy's Regia Aeronautica in the Med. In that theatre, British ships had to run the gauntlet of shipping lanes with hostile coastlines in southern Europe and North Africa. The fact that capital ships survived against the combined might of two European air arms gave Royal Navy officers confidence that such warships could prevail against Japanese warplanes - then prejudiced as being inferior to European models.

Deployed in the SCS without a submarine screen, no aircraft carrier for fleet air defence, no air cover from shore-based units, the odds were stacked against Force Z.

Force Z sailed in defiance of the principle of Mass. American, British, Dutch and Australian warships sunk later during the Battle of the Java Sea, could have turned the tide in December 1941 had they been deployed with Hermes (then in the Indian Ocean theatre. She was also in Cape Town as POW made a port visit en route to Singapore) as part of an upsized Force Z.

In addition, the Prince of Wales and Repulse encountered unfortunate stoppages when QF 2-pounder pom-pom gun crews (the 8-barrelled guns were the CIWS of their day) discovered (belatedly) that the ammunition was defective. As a result, shell and cartridge would separate, causing a stoppage. The lack of tracer for pom-poms weakened their value for warding off air attacks compared to the Bofors 40mm and Oerlikon 20mms that did fire tracer.

Add to Force Z a weak destroyer screen with poor anti-aircraft armament and one would realise why the naval operation gave British Prime Minister his greatest shock during WW2.

Churchill wrote in his memoirs: "In all the war I never received a more direct shock. The reader of these pages will realise how many efforts, hopes, and plans foundered with these two ships. As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbour, who were hastening back to California. Over all this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked."

In the Malayan theatre, the Royal Navy proved that ably-led warships properly equipped for duty in the tropics could engage and sink hostile units of superior strength. 

In May 1945, the RN scored its last victory by destroyers against a capital ship when the Japanese heavy cruiser, Haguro, was sunk during a night attack off Penang. The British victory, which was the last major naval gun and torpedo engagement during WW2, owed its success to close coordination between maritime air surveillance and the use of radar to track and target the Haguro. It's a success often overshadowed by the tragic loss of POW and Repulse.

Fast forward from WW2 to the SAF's formative years. With the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) regarded as the defence advisor nonpareil, it is perhaps clear why the SAF's force development loci has (and still is?) anchored upon the use of airpower and the development of Armour as the arm of decision.

Alas, the WW2 albatross had extended its wings. 

The IDF's experience with warfare at sea has been marginalised by the application of airpower during the 1967 Six Day War (the same year National Service began in Singapore) and the success of the IDF's armoured manoeuvre forces in saving Israel from Arab armies during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Furthermore, the loss of the IDF warship Eilat to Egyptian missile boats in 1967 may have contributed to a poor appreciation of the value of naval forces vis-a-vis airpower, which could be one reason why Singapore's early defence planners placed less emphasis on naval forces as defence dollars were lean.

In subsequent decades, the IDF's use of naval forces has been less than illuminating. The damage inflicted upon the Saar V corvette, Hanit, by a shore-based missile in 2006 off Lebanon is a painful relearning of the value of sensors that can warn of impending attack by guided munitions.[That Hanit survived is a tribute to the importance of fire-fighting & damage control and the robustness of naval construction. Till today, however, not one picture of the damage inflicted has been released by the IDF.] 

In this jubilee year, as the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) gears up to mark its 50th year, it would be a mistake to let the albatross from the past blinker one's assessment of the role and importance of the Navy.

Thanks to a better appreciation of the need to defend our access to SLOCs, the RSN successfully fielded MCVs in the 1980s - a project that represented a springboard for the RSN to uplift its operational capabilities to include ASW and point defence missiles for the first time.  

A balanced Fleet, accurate, relevant and timely intelligence, the ability to plan and deploy naval units for joint operations, the superior application of defence technology are just some of the critical elements one needs to bear in mind for the future fighting fleet.

Never make the mistake of discounting the fleet.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thoughts on the Royal Malaysian Navy's RMN 15 to 5 transformation effort

A pledge to streamline naval procurements, crackdown on corruption and "ill practices" while tightening fiscal management under an innovative approach to transform the way warfighters go about their business.

Sound bites from Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) speech writers?

No, it's the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN's) modernisation effort under its "15 to 5" transformation programme.

If you've not heard of it, sit up and take notice because it marks the most high-profile, ambitious and most importantly, achievable, renewal effort pursued by Malaysian naval forces in decades.

If successfully pushed through, Malaysia's "15 to 5" programme will streamline Fleet RMN from 15 classes warship types from seven countries to just five main hull types, viz:
1. Kedah-class New Generation Patrol Vessels
2. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) based on the French Gowind-class
3. A Chinese-made Littoral Mission Ship (LMS), a sort of LCS-lite able to do 80% of its missions but at 20% of its cost
4. A New Multirole Support Ship (MRSS)
5. Scorpene-class SSKs

More importantly, it would allow the slim-fit RMN to maximise defence funds allocated to the Service even as the number, scope and geographical reach of operational taskings increase. 

Many people overlook the reality that while the RMN has to secure the SLOCs between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak, the RMN has also been active in faraway seas like the Gulf of Aden, protecting Malaysian and international merchant shipping under Ops Fajar (Dawn). The training and coordination required to raise and sustain the RMN for long and distant service is likely to reward its surface fleet, naval aviation and PASKAL commandos with precisely the mindset and experience needed to push through efforts like "15 to 5". These Fajar operatives are no paper warriors.

Hatched by Malaysian Chief of Navy, Admiral (ADM) Dato' Seri Panglima Ahmad Kamarulzaman bin Haji Ahmad Badaruddin, the programme marks a sea change in the way the RMN will reshape, rearm and renew itself for the future.

The "15 to 5" programme is a moniker that is ideally suited for the internet age. It even has its own hashtag. Easy to remember, its brevity belies its ability to capture the strategic essence for moving from 15 decades-old hull types to five platforms. Even if RMN officers cannot remember the specific reasons for doing so, the call for the Fleet to be prepared to do more with less is crystal clear.

Not quite Mahan or Roskill in its strategic depth, "15 to 5" sounds more like vintage Goh Keng Swee by making a clarion call for maximising bang for buck while pushing the frontier tenaciously and innovatively to stay ahead of current and projected maritime threats.

There's nothing like it this south of the causeway and perhaps the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) needs a catchy tagline to highlight the inroads it is making to raise, train and sustain naval forces for the 21st century.

To be fair, the RSN is not short of cutting edge defence projects that pack the ability to transform the RSN.

At the current state of play, the RSN appears likely to be the first ASEAN navy to deploy unmanned surface vessels in sizeable numbers as MCMVs. Tasked to clear shipping lanes in Singapore Roads, these unmanned (actually optionally-manned as they will have wheelhouses for people on board to steer the craft to satisfy MPA requirements) MCMVs look set to replace the Swedish-made Bedok-class MCMVs and SAM mine-hunting platforms, both now long in the tooth.

The Joint Multi-Mission Ship (JMMS), destined to be the largest RSN hull, is another project that could be used to show how MINDEF and the RSN can set the bar high. 

Little has been shared on this project ever since Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen revealed that the Endurance-class LSTs (more accurately, LPDs, but we'll save that for another time) will be superceded by the JMMS.

Naval observers have (correctly) surmised how the longer flight deck on the JMMS will raise the ability of the RSN to support naval operations from the sea. Some have speculated if and when the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters will grace the deck of the JMMS. 

The more interesting and overlooked potential of the JMMS rests with how the compact flat top could potentially support future UAV operations, particularly small, armed UAVs optimised to fly and fight together in substantial numbers.

At the current developmental trajectory, one should not write off the likelihood of the JMMS mixed deck air group comprising manned and unmanned platforms.

With the RSN set to mark its 50th year this year, it is perhaps timely for Singapore to reflect how best to articulate the Navy's roadmap for the future.

We may be late in the game in coining a tagline similar to Malaysia's "15 to 5".

But what we lack in marketing pizzaz, we should make up in a convincing and credible articulation that the RSN of the future will have what it takes to get the job done.

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Thoughts on RMAF Airpower. Click here
Innovations in defence: Malaysia Boleh. Click here
ATM 80th Anniversary Parade: A finely calibrated show of force. Click here
RMAF displays new Russian missiles. Click here
Malaysia's Operasi Piramid: Civil resources in reaction. Click here
Malaysia's defence information ecosystem. Click here

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Takeaways from the visit to the RSAF Flaming Arrow Challenge 2017

Some observations from yesterday's interaction at the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) Flaming Arrow Challenge, an annual inter-unit competition for RSAF air defence units.

Same but different
Missiles used by the RBS-70 very short range air defence system have a better performance compared to the variant fielded in the 1980s by the Singapore Air Defence Artillery (SADA, the forerunner to today's Air Defence & Operations Command Group).

Able to reach out and touch enemy fliers with more deadly effect, the one enduring constraint is the skill of the operator in slewing the missile to the threat axis and controlling the missile in flight with a thumb joy stick. This is done from launch till warhead detonation.

At maximum effective range, it is not possible to see the insignia on the aircraft even with optical aids such as binoculars. During operations, the RBS-70 fire unit's mission in defending Singapore is made more challenging by the fact that war machines flown by the RSAF such as the Apache, Chinook and Super Puma family are not unique to this island.

How best to deploy the improved RBS-70 missile when it is difficult to establish whether a contact seen at a distance is friend or foe? Instantaneous and error-free IFF is vital.

Better technology, tigher coordination between sensors and shooters and superior tactical planning by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) manoeuvre units to create firing lanes are essential for maximising the reach of the RBS-70.

Such factors, especially better defence technology, need funding from somewhere.

Ground visits help one develop a deeper understanding of the value of defence technology in keeping our combat forces ahead of the threats.

In addition, seeing how RBS-70 units have sharpened their combat edge allows one to appreciate the results of investments by MINDEF/SAF to increase the survivability of our fighting forces.

Above all, it is the professionalism of the men and women assigned such weaponry that will ultimately decide if the missile finds its mark.

So while in-camp training continues to be vital in keeping the RBS-70 operator's skill sharp, one must always remember the burdens borne not just by NSmen but also their families and employers during their absence from civvie street. Such observations are best discerned firsthand.

Sensors and shooters
No emitters were seen during the ground visit to the RSAF Flaming Arrow Challenge 2017 deployment site.

And yet, the RBS-70 VSHORAD, I-HAWK and Spyder SAMs were fully capable of detecting, identifying, tracking and engaging aerial threats within their respective range rings. The radars associated with these SAMs are located elsewhere to reduce the vulnerability of the RSAF multi-ring integrated air defence network to adversary tactics.

Spyder is relatively new. The RBS-70 and I-HAWK have been listed as part of the RSAF's orbat for decades. The discerning observer will, however, realise a world of difference in hitting power before and after the RBS-70 and I-HAWK SAMs were upgraded.

For example, there was a paradigm shift made when I-HAWK fire units shifted from the American or Swedish IAFU configuration to a uniquely Singaporean model that dispersed sensors and shooters and used infrastructure like fibre optic cables to reduce the electromagnetic signature of SAM batteries.

Ground visits are useful as one cannot pick up such nuggets from books or internet sites.

Should the need arise, one would be better placed to inform and update stakeholders on the need for steady yet properly paced investments in defence.

From time to time, warfighters from all SAF Services too may need convincing of continued efforts to give every serviceman and servicewoman that special edge in combat.

Once again, the value that Singapore's defence eco-system brings to the SAF can be inferred from what one sees during ground visits. This underlines the value of such engagements.

Closed units
It was noted that not every air defence squadron in the RSAF is represented in the Flaming Arrow Challenge 2017. That much was clear from the powerpoint slide that listed this year's participants.

While we trumpet the camaraderie fostered by the annual RSAF Command Challenges, there is a certain unit who will sit this out. The men and women who serve this unit are more than bench warmers. Their squadron's capabilities and their professional competencies represent the secret edge needed for the SAF to prevail in battle.

Briefings during ground visits allow one to join the dots and infer from what's not mentioned. You won't learn this from reading cyberPioneer or AF News. Oftentimes, what's not said can be quite telling.

Such inferences, in turn, serve as timely reminders that the well-being of units kept below the radar should never be neglected nor taken for granted. Their efforts must be appreciated too, albeit in non-public and suitably low-key engagements that will not make the news.

Maximising training time
Defence buffs would probably know what a tactical flight profile entails.

With Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, Dr Maliki Osman, aboard the Super Puma VIP flight, one did not think the RSAF would carry out helicopter evasive manoeuvres at high speed and at low level.

But the trio of Super Pumas tasked to ferry ACCORD members from Sembawang Air Base (SBAB) to the SAFTI Live Firing Area did just that, skimming the hills and reservoirs at the Western Catchment Area in an attempt to use terrain masking to deny simulated adversary VSHORAD teams their "kill".

The experience drove home the point that with activity-based budgeting where every minute of flight time must be properly justified, the flight maximised the training value of that sortie by allowing helicopter crews to practice evasive manoeuvres. At the same time, National Servicemen practised engaging fleeting targets and had the session recorded to hone their combat proficiency in using the RBS-70 missile system.

The realisation that RSAF helicopter pilots and aircrew specialists train periodically to execute evasive manoeuvres at night drove home the point of the rigors of such training and the risks taken by our regulars and National Servicemen during peacetime training.

It also highlighted the extensive efforts the RSAF has made in tightening safety at all levels.

I was a full-time National Serviceman in PAFF when a Super P lost a tail rotor and crashed in SBAB, killing all aboard. I hand delivered the missive to The New Paper editor that indicated the newspaper had breached the OSA. Some 26 years later, I recall that trip from Gombak to Kim Seng Road like it took place yesterday. I mourned their loss decades ago eventhough I did not know them personally.

Before the overwater flight aboard Super Puma 268, the two ACS who escorted us aboard 268 were observed with HEED bottles. I was still in PAFF serving my NS when we lost a Super P in Poyan reservoir after it was thought to have made a controlled flight into terrain.

I typed the news release on the deaths of the two pilots and read the incident report that recounted how the ACS was found on the belly of the upturned chopper. It was the second Super P lost in that same year.

Over the years, I have followed RSAF helicopter training as an interested observer. Am acutely aware of improvements in chopper training, which has included a HUET segment for many years.

Strangely, the incidents sprang to mind yesterday during the preflight brief at SBAB. I did not realise till yesterday how much the memory of those incidents had been etched in my mind.

These episodes were uppermost in my mind when I boarded Super Puma 268 yesterday morning for my first flight in such a helicopter (have flown on a US Navy Seahawk, Sea Knight and Sea King, a Russian Hip in East Timor and RSAF Chinooks but never in a Super P).

When I flew aboard 268, I did so with confidence, reassured that the RSAF has done much over the past decades to keep its men and women safe.

Alas, such confidence is best engendered firsthand.

You may also like:
Visit to the RSN Naval Logistics Command. Click here
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Friday, January 13, 2017

Visit to the NYK Maritime Museum and Hikawa Maru museum in Yokosuka

NYK Hikawa Maru is a ship that caught my eye decades ago when I chanced upon a 1/700 scale model of the passenger ship at a department store. My meagre allowance being what it was, one could only look at but not buy the kit.

When the Internet came along and I learned that she was still afloat, I made it a point to visit Hikawa Maru.... eventually.

That visit was made on a rainy November morning in 2015 when we made our first visit to Japan. We made a stop first at the NYK Maritime Museum before heading to the Hikawa Maru.

During World War 2, five Japanese shipping lines operated in Syonan (昭南, Light of the South). These were located along the Singapore waterfront along Collyer Quay, near the present-day Clifford Pier and the Fullerton Hotel. NYK was here, along with Japanese shipping lines ISK, OSK, KKK and MBK. This WW2-era map of Syonan harbour shows their locations.

The Japanese-administered Syonan was a major port of call not just for Japanese marus. Almost every major surface combatant in the Imperial Fleet made port calls in Singapore, particularly their aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers.

The NYK Maritime Museum lists all NYK marus sunk during WW2 and their last reported locations.

The tally of lost NYK marus shows that submarines were the predominant killer, which indicates the effective of subs in the relatively shallow waters of the South China Sea when ASW assets are lacking or ineffective.

During your visit, do note that there is no souvenir shop aboard Hikawa Maru. The shop pierside of the Hikawa Maru has a much smaller selection of items than what the NYK Museum offers. 

If you're into marus, the info boards and exhibits at the NYK Maritime Museum should claim a few hours of your time. I personally found the exhibits fascinating. Hold on to your wallet while viewing the completed ship models on sale at the souvenir shop.

We spent a couple of hours aboard Hikawa Maru before taking the metro back to Tokyo ahead of the evening rush hour.

Wide selection of completed models of ships and marus on sale at the NYK Museum.

The colouration of wooden decks is a hot topic among the folks who build scale models. Look at the different shades seen in unpolished teak and painted decks (above), and polished teak (below). 

Forecastle, with the green painted deck somewhat worst for wear after exposure to the elements.

Starboard bridge wing.

Hikawa Maru wheelhouse.

Passenger lounge and suite (below) lovingly restored to their 1930s glory.

Portside lifeboat davits looking aft. Note the support columns beneath the lifeboats.

You may also like:
Yushukan Museum: Exhibits on Japan's road to war in WW2. Click here
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Worth reading about: Perdix UAVs demonstrate swarm capabilities

Look forward to the day when Singapore's defence technology community can share more, possibly at a future Defence Technology Prize event. 😉
Worth reading about

United States Department of Defense Announces Successful Micro-Drone Demonstration

Press Operations
Release No: NR-008-17
Jan. 9, 2017

In one of the most significant tests of autonomous systems under development by the Department of Defense, the Strategic Capabilities Office, partnering with Naval Air Systems Command, successfully demonstrated one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms at China Lake, California. 

The test, conducted in October 2016 and documented on Sunday’s CBS News program “60 Minutes”, consisted of 103 Perdix drones launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets. The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.  

“I congratulate the Strategic Capabilities Office for this successful demonstration,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who created SCO in 2012. “This is the kind of cutting-edge innovation that will keep us a step ahead of our adversaries. This demonstration will advance our development of autonomous systems.”

“Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” said SCO Director William Roper. “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

The demonstration is one of the first examples of the Pentagon using teams of small, inexpensive, autonomous systems to perform missions once achieved only by large, expensive ones. Roper stressed the department’s conception of the future battle network is one where humans will always be in the loop. Machines and the autonomous systems being developed by the DoD, such as the micro-drones, will empower humans to make better decisions faster.

Originally designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering students, the Perdix drone was modified for military use by the scientists and engineers of MIT Lincoln Laboratory starting in 2013. Drawing inspiration from the commercial smartphone industry, Perdix software and hardware has been continually updated in successive design generations. Now in its sixth generation, October's test confirmed the reliability of the current all-commercial-component design under potential deployment conditions—speeds of Mach 0.6, temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius, and large shocks—encountered during ejection from fighter flare dispensers.

The “60 Minutes” segment also featured other new technology from across the Department of Defense such as the Navy’s unmanned ocean-going vessel, the Sea Hunter, and the Marine Corps’ Unmanned Tactical Control and Collaboration program.

As SCO works with the military Services to transition Perdix into existing programs of record, it is also partnering with the Defense Industrial Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, to find companies capable of accurately replicating Perdix using the MIT Lincoln Laboratory design. Its goal is to produce Perdix at scale in batches of up to 1,000.


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Monday, January 2, 2017

Yushukan Museum Japanese kamikaze suicide weapon exhibits at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine

"The Yushukan is a museum that stores and exhibits precious letters of testament and relics that belonged to the deities symbolically enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine, a variety of historical records which tell of the soldiers' faith and hand down their accomplishments to posterity. Over 100,000 items include (sic) drawings, other art works, armor, and weapons are displayed here" - Description of the Yushukan at the Yasukuni Shrine.

Numerous exhibits showcasing the bravery of Japanese sailors, soldiers and airmen can be found at the Yushukan Museum on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine in the heart of Tokyo.

These appear to demonstrate the ultimate sacrifice made by Imperial units in defence of Japan, fighting in the Pacific War that was "forced" upon Japan.

Depicted here are the war machines fielded by the Special Attack Corps (Tokko 特攻 or Special Attack Unit) that are revered by the Yushukan as their enshrine the warrior spirit of self-sacrifice and fearlessness in the face of overwhelming odds (bordering on futility). What's described by museum information placards as "Special Attack" is more usually referred to as Kamikaze suicide weapons in Western military literature.

These images were taken during a visit to Tokyo in November 2015. Exhibits and descriptions are known to change from time to time. Set aside about three to four hours to fully appreciate all the exhibits.
The main exhibition hall of the Yushukan Museum has a heavy leaning towards war machines used by the Tokko Special Attack Units. Visitors to the hall are greeted by the sight of a Kaiten human torpedo (foreground) topped by a Ohka Model 11 glide bomb and a Suisei dive bomber, a type which flew more suicide missions than conventional aerial bombing attacks.

 Kaiten Type 1 (回天; literally "Return to Heaven") one-man suicide torpedo.

Model of a Kairyu-class (海龍; "Sea Dragon") midget submarine. Operated by two sailors, the boat was armed with two torpedoes and carried an 600kg explosive charge for a one-way mission.

Artwork showing Shinyo-class (震洋; "Sea Tremor") speedboats attempting to penetrate an Allied destroyer screen. The boats were designed to be used en masse during night attacks to overwhelm defenders.

Shinyo-class speedboat that formed the maritime arm of Japan's special attack corps.

Fukuryu Tokko Taiinzo ("Crouching Dragon" Special Attack) was intended for use in shallow water. Fukuryu frogmen would aim explosive-tipped bamboo poles at the hulls of invading landing craft, knowing full well they would die in the ensuing blast. According to Yushukan literature, "many Imperial Navy sailors perished as a result of the unsuccessful experiments of this new suicide attack weapon".

Ohka ("Cherry Blossom") Navy Special Attacker (museum's description) used in the defence of Okinawa.

Yokosuka DY4 Suisei ("Comet"), Allied reporting name Judy, was the last of the Imperial Japanese Navy's dive bombers. Many Suisei dive bombers were pressed into service as part of the Special Attack Corps.

Part of a large 3-metre long diorama depicting the Imperial Navy's Jinrai ("Divine Thunderbolt") unit of the Special Attack Corps flying out to meet Allied units at Okinawa.

Copper tooling showing Special Attack Corps pilots bidding a final farewell to their comrades and a picture of actual Special Attack Corps pilots (below).

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Yushukan exhibits on Japan's road to war in WW2. Click here