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.

You may also like:
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
RSAF I-HAWKs mark 30 years of operations. Click here

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
Yushukan Museum kamikaze suicide weapon exhibits. Click here

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.


You may also like:
Urban legends abound about the SAF's true capabilities. Click here
A primer on the 3G SAF. Click here
On UCAV alternatives to manned a/c (read: F-35B). Click here

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).

You may also like:
Yushukan exhibits on Japan's road to war in WW2. Click here

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Singapore Armed Forces SAF ends 2016 with New Year's Eve death

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) ended 2016 with the death of an unnamed full-time National Serviceman (NSF) at Pasir Ris Camp, closing the year with two reported deaths - the same tally reported for 2015.

Yesterday's incident marked the first SAF death on New Year's Eve on this blog's record of SAF training deaths, which date back to July 1968.

The latest fatality was an NSF who was on guard duty at the camp. According to a Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) statement, he was pronounced dead by Singapore Civil Defence Force paramedics at 11:32H. The two paragraph statement was issued at 18:30H the same day.

On 30 November 2016, MINDEF reported that an unnamed SAF regular was found unconscious at the foot of a building at Chong Pang Camp, which is predominantly occupied by Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) air defence units. The regular was rushed to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital where he was pronounced dead after resuscitative efforts failed.

Senang Diri has noted the MINDEF practice of not naming the two SAF personnel who died in 2016. The two individuals who died in 2015 were both named in MINDEF news releases.

Overall, the year for SAF full-time national servicemen, operationally-ready NSmen and regulars was a relatively safe one, despite the high tempo of SAF operations in Singapore and the intensity of war games staged on homeground and abroad.

Even so, every death is one too many. The SAF must continue sustaining the changes in systems, processes and culture that will minimise risks at the workplace, during training and operations.

Stay safe in 2017.

You may also like:
SAF training deaths in 2015. Click here
SAF training deaths in 2014. Click here
SAF training deaths: Views from a father of one of the fallen. Click here
SAF training safety in 2012. Click here
SAF training safety in 2011. Click here