Saturday, March 17, 2018

Singapore Army restructures to stay ready, relevant and decisive

Photo: Singapore Army

Although one hardly hears about the Singapore Army's efforts to transform itself into a Third Generation fighting force nowadays, rest assured the army has not kept idle.

News that the 3rd Singapore Division attained Initial Operational Capability (IOC) status last August as the Singapore Army's first 3G Combined Arms Division points to more exciting developments on the transformation front.

Given that FOC follows IOC, one naturally assumes that the other army divisions - the largest organised fighting units capable of independent land warfare operations - are likely to follow suit in due course.

One might even surmise radical changes to the Singapore Army's structure and organisation might be on the cards. Such changes must be explained clearly to stakeholders so that people do not confuse any revisions to the orbat as a sign of weakness.

If and when legacy units are rebranded, defence watchers whose job it is to make sense of developments such as force structure revisions must be convinced that the Singapore Army restructured its combat units to enhance the operational readiness and lethality of its component divisions.

There is a risk that superficial analysis might prevail. For instance, defence watchers might count the number of legacy units and compare this with the new force structure and end up with the misconception that more in the past and fewer in future means less hitting power. In short, a streamlined army with less punch.

Such a train of thought could not be more erroneous or wishful.

How does one explain all this without a free coffee? It is, undoubtedly, a tricky line to thread. But let's try.

The Singapore Army's order of battle has always been a source of intense speculation. Bar-talk and armchair analysis aside, a hard look at numbers points unambiguously to the fact that the Singapore Army has more to show than many people appreciate.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Armour Formation is a prime example. In the 1990s, when my university mentor, Dr Tim Huxley, and I compared SAR numberplates in his attic like stamp collectors at a swap meet, one discovered that the operationally-ready National Service (i.e. reservist) SARs were numbered in the 400-series. As of 1995, the NS SARs were clustered around the low 400s.

Today, there are indications that the Armour family has grown. However, even when one strips away SARs that have been stood down (example: 452 SAR), one finds it difficult reconciling the number of NS SARs thought to be active with the number of existing armoured brigades.

This conundrum lends itself to two possibilities:
First, the SAF Armour brigades are larger than the tradition model of three battalions per brigade. Second, we have more armoured brigades in the Singapore Army.

It is interesting to speculate on the second possibility. This is because the number of battalion-strength NS SARs which are still active, when paired with the existing Singapore Armoured Brigade (SAB) thought to reside outside the orbit of divisional command, gives you enough SABs to form an armoured division.

This hypothesis is, to me at least, a "wow" moment.

So if and when legacy units are reshaped and reformed, one must factor in the possibility that the baseline comparison (i.e. how many units exist on paper) might be on the low side and that there might be other unassigned units that one must reckon with.

Singapore Army force planners who earn their pay working out such numbers have my highest respect for the work they do and I look forward to learning more in due course.

6 comments:

AJ said...

Singapore buy 12 leopard 2A7?

(Sipri)

Locust said...

Singapore does buy stuffs in batches. Local media already reported 2 batch purchases. It could be like the F15SG and F16 batch purchases. Sipri reports ard 180 plus Leo2 tanks delivered sp far excluding the above 12 tanks.

sepecatgr1a said...

With the proliferation of highly effective modern ATGMs, MBTs including M1A2s & our own L2SGs etc are highly vulnerable to these ATGMS which are also fielded in the region.

Therefore I assume that the SAF has already incorporated passive and active defence systems into ( at least ) our key armored assets most likely to be exposed to these type of threats in a shooting war.
Also, never discussed or advertised are the fire control systems and 120 mm ammunition used in our L2SGs. The new programmable multipurpose rounds are both very versatile and effective.

From the open source material such as SIPRI the SAF seems to possess an enormous amount of modern armor.

tragickingdom said...

The number of units may not translate into actual combat-ready vehicles. The SAF is likely buying units to serve as future spares. Even the Bundeswehr is having issues with spares. Reportedly half of their Leopards are not fit for service.

Shawn Chung said...

Jane’s just posted a report: http://www.janes.com/article/78705/singapore-denies-leopard-2a7-acquisition-but-questions-remain-over-anomalies

BTW, in the 3 Div pic there’s a V-200 parked at the back right of picture. Should be as old as the RSAF...

Locust said...

It is noteworthy that the official statement by Mindef shared that no other variant of leopard has entered SAF service -Since then, the refurnished Leopard tanks have entered service and no other variants of the Leopard has [sic] been acquired by the SAF.”

Meanwhile, the German government reports that Singapore continues to receive Leopard 2 tanks but the variant is not specified.

Spare parts and upgrades for Leo 2 continue to be made if you check online and Singapore ordered some from Germany. And why not since the Leo 2 is the second most heavily western utilized tank in the world i.e. the market is large. There is more to this then meets the eye and SAF never really disclosed what spares truly mean.

The increase in the number of Leos is probably due to the general proliferation of MBTs in the region and particularly around Singapore to be specific.