Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Red Dye Incident - November 2007

This essay illustrates that the job of building goodwill with the community is a long-term process. Returns from Civil Military Relations cannot be expected overnight, nor are these easily quantified. The same applies to goodwill banked with the media.

It was a case of paying it forward. The goodwill dividend built up with the Singaporean community over more than 20 years that helped the Air Force avert a public relations disaster.

In November 2007, residents around Tengah Airbase in Singapore were alarmed to find their property dusted with mysterious red spots.

Cars, farm produce like herbs, fruit and leafy vegetables - even someone's white pet cat - were peppered with the red spots.

Investigations traced the source of the dye to Tengah Airbase, where an F-16 had been conducting ground tests with a red dye mixture sprayed into the hot exhaust plume of the single engine warplane.

The botched trials were part of preparations by the crack Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights precision aerobatics display team. The six-plane team was preparing for its curtain call at the Singapore Air Show 2008.

The rich red plume that emerged from the hot engine nozzle was carried by prevailing winds as far away as Bukit Timah and caused red faces in the RSAF.

But the RSAF worked decisively.

Air Force staff officers and WOSEs wasted no time reaching out to the community around their sprawling base.

The people who live and work around Singapore's largest fighter aircraft base are no strangers to WSAT.

Decades ago, the airbase started building ties with communities around Tengah to seek the understanding of its neighbours whenever noise levels went a tad too high.

Rather than sit around, passively waiting for noise complaints to pile up, the RSAF took active steps to inform and educate residents on activities on and above the base that could result in high noise levels. In addition, schools were asked for their examination calendar - so that RSAF warplanes could avoid engine ground runs or low flying activities during school examinations.

Even as fully-armed and battle-ready pilots and aircrew stood guard at WSAT alert pads, the sound of freedom went silent for the benefit of thousands of Singaporean school children during the school exam season.

This outreach was ramped up before the first ever Emergency Runway Exercise in the 1980s and has continued on a regular basis ever since. This was no flash-in-the-pan PR exercise. The RSAF thinks long-term.

RSAF warfighters reached out to thousands of households in this pioneering effort in civil-military relations, with one generation of RSAF personnel handing over the skill sets to the next generation of servicemen and servicewomen and so on. The baton has been passed on for more than 20 years, with successive generations of warfighters finding better and more creative ways of communicating with WSAT's neighbours.

The trust and confidence fostered through years of community outreach efforts paid dividends in November 2007. As RSAF officers went door-to-door explaining the situation, they met an understanding and sympathetic audience who trusted that the Air Force would set things right.

The RSAF honoured that trust.

A multi-agency effort spearheaded by the RSAF, Tengah Airbase and agencies such as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) left no stone unturned as it worked to generate and sustain damage control measures.

After thorough investigations, the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) paid $370,000 to people and businesses affected by the red dye incident.
Of this sum, $332,000 was paid to six farm owners to compensate them for vegetables and farm produce destroyed. The remaining amount was compensation for car, building and home owners affected by the dye.

AVA Spokesman Goh Shih Yong tells how AVA worked with the RSAF to contain the situation.

I am grateful to AVA for its openness.

1. How closely did AVA work with MINDEF on during this episode?
Very closely. In fact AVA met up with MINDEF daily.

2. How much latitude did MINDEF allow AVA in communicating with the affected farmers?
We met up with the farmers together.

3. What areas were deemed sensitive and how did AVA work around these constraints. In hindsight two years on, were the sensitivities really touchy issues?
AVA did not see any sensitivity in the episode. We were upfront with the farms and shared with them their concerns.

4. How unhappy were the farmers? Were they vocal? What do you remember of their feelings?
They are worried about their crops being destroyed. However, we assured them that they will be fairly compensated.

5. What learning points did AVA take away from this incident? How could the situation have been managed better?
Keep communication lines with the media and the farms open. We showed compassion, sincerity, integrity and that we care. ie We will be there for you !

6. Was there any gag order on information released or moves to try to minimise publicity?
No gag order was issued. I could recall ST, Zaobao, TV and the evening papers were present most of the time, almost daily. My principle has always been this - say what has happened and what is happening.

Defence Info Management: Newspaper Jargon

Military professionals tasked with defence info management must quickly come to grips with jargon and trade terms used by the media.

For example, a grasp of newspaper trade terms will help one navigate and understand the work flow that governs how a newspaper is put together.

The following image is a useful starter kit for warfighters who oversee info ops.

My friends and I will help you.

Invest time to learn this new battlespace. Preferably away from that noisy bar staffed by that PRC waitress from Zhejiang Province with a 21" waistline. Distracting. :-)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Iceland volcano

The ash cloud from that hard-to-pronounce Icelandic volcano has affected more than just Singapore Airlines flights to European cities.

Singapore's detachment of TA-4SU Super Skyhawks deployed in Cazaux, in southwest France, is likely to have been grounded too as a precautionary measure.

Please see the article below on restricted flight ops for European air arms.

DATE: 22/04/10


ASH CLOUD: RAF suspends Typhoon flights after finding ash deposits

By Craig Hoyle

Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons are the latest military aircraft to have been confirmed as having sustained possible damage during Europe’s volcanic ash crisis.

"A small number of Typhoon fast jets were found yesterday [21 April] to have volcanic ash deposits on them following routine post-flight inspections," the Ministry of Defence confirms. "As a precautionary measure, non-essential flying has been temporarily suspended, pending the outcome of further checks and analysis.” Operational tasks, such as quick reaction alert cover, "have not been affected and continue", it adds.

The service had previously restricted flight activities with the type to only QRA cover during a six-day period while non-restricted airspace was closed across much of Europe. However, training sorties resumed yesterday with the Typhoon, which is powered by two Eurojet EJ200 turbofan engines.

Finland’s air force has already released images of the effects of ash ingestion on the engines of one of its Boeing F-18 fighters which had been airborne on 15 March. Lockheed Martin F-16s from a NATO operator, believed to have been the US Air Force, were also affected, according to comments attributed to a senior US diplomat.

Flightglobal’s MiliCAS database says the RAF has now taken delivery of 62 Typhoons from the UK’s Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 production orders for the type. The fleet is based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, with several aircraft also currently deployed to the Falkland Islands.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Institutional memory

A lot of ink has been spilled by newspaper commentators on last Monday's rugby match dust-up between teenaged Singaporean students.

As one commentator after another rolls out calls for fair play, sportsmanship and match safety, we tend to forget that the worst fears of parents, educators and media commentators - that a student will die if match violence is not stopped - has already happened.

Years ago, the 90 cents newspaper published a Page 1 story on a schoolboy from St Joseph's Institution (writing from memory, I think it's SJI) who died after being headbutted during a rugby match. He died young from internal injuries to his abdomen.

His death provoked intense soul-searching on the state of play of rugby in Singaporean schools. Questions were raised on match safety and the values that young Singaporeans carried to the sports field.

Years later, no one seems to remember that sports tragedy. The loss of institutional memory in our school system and the media has an immediate parallel with the loss of long-serving expertise in our armed Services. But more on that in awhile.

The boys involved in the sports tragedy are young adults today. Many will probably follow media coverage on the fracas between St Andrew's Secondary and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and recall the sense of loss they felt during their school days.

The final whistle that sealed ACS(I)'s win against arch rival SAS on Monday 12 April 2010 triggered a pitch invasion by rival school suppporters, parents and teachers.

An SAS student is said to have slugged a ACS(I) player half his size, after taunts were allegedly made against the SAS boy.

The unruly melee that ensued cast the media spotlight on a secondary school rugby match, which in and by itself was an unremarkable event on Singapore's sporting calendar. You can bet the media will turn up in full force the next time these schools face one another on the rugby pitch.

And so the soul-searching began: in letters to the press, through social media and from one newspaper commentary after another.

I am waiting for the first intrepid journalist to track down the dead boy's parents to hear their views on the current situation.

That interview would be the proverbial "wake up call" for school boys from both sides of the pitch too immature to control their thoughts, emotions and actions. It would be doubly tragic for so educated a society like Singapore's for people to bury the hatchet only after they attend the funeral of a schoolboy killed by match violence.

The lack of institutional memory has an important lesson for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as it cleans house amid a dynamic transformation effort.

The old Enciks (Warrant Officers) and old officers who are outranked by younger scholar types are repositories of the SAF's institutional memory.

Granted, the SAF scholar officers and young, fresh-from-polytechnic Specialists with their newly-minted diplomas outgun the old soldiers in terms of career end point. They may be able to rig up a flashy Powerpoint presentation with all the bells and whistles, know how to compile an impressive Excel spreadsheet and speak and write better than the old birds. But their knowledge base in poorer.

I welcome the SAF's move to retain its officers and WOSE (Warrant Officer and Specialists) Corps through the Military Domain Experts Scheme. By adhering to the longer career use by date, these officers and WOSEs can strengthen the armed Services with their institutional memory.

Those of us familiar with the information-gathering cycle would know this hierarchy: Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom. It may take a lifetime serving an organisation to progress to the top of the ladder and mere vocational skills cannot grant one wisdom overnight.

For example, you have to pay anything between $5,000 and $7,000 to enrol yourself for a "casino course". These courses teach you how casino games are played. They are also an utter waste of money, unrecognised by the IR I work for. The wisdom that old casino hands possess which allows them to advise Management on the type and number of table games a casino should be fitted for (some games are more profitable than others, but you can't pack a casino with too many of these or players won't come because they keep losing), gaming promotions and market segments the casino should target go beyond what these "casino courses" can teach. You and I can learn how to play Blackjack or Bacarrat from the net.

As the SAF's transformation rolls along, one should not forget the value of wisdom that Singapore's huge base of veterans possess. More than 700,000 Singaporean men have gone through National Service or served the SAF at one point or another. The experiences they lived through and stories they can tell all contain valuable learning points for the currrent Third Generation SAF warfighters.

I am grateful to the many old warfighters from the army, navy, air force and defence eco-system who have been my mentors, guiding me along and giving a novice an unclassified (repeat: unclassified) understanding of the intricacies of the profession of arms.

Thank you all for the lessons, the guidance and advice. I hope I have been an attentive student and the essays on this blog attest to the value of our many informal coffee-stirring sessions. I have enjoyed every moment hearing your old yarns. : )

One should not underestimate the value that old war stories bring to the table.

During operations, a slip or glitch by SAF planners won't result in a one-death scenario like that ill-fated rugby match eons ago.

At stake: the lives of thousands and the security of the Lion City. Think about that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Advertisement: Attention Divers

Our Marine Life Park will be operational by end 2011.

We will need divers to work in the world's largest and deepest tank, unique night diving experience, mini sub, world's largest glass span tank etc.

Do look out for the job outreach in the coming months.

This is my humble payback for the mahjong story.

If you know, you know. :-)

Own time, own target

Productivity is enjoying a renaissance in Singapore after years of neglect.

Recent initiatives to boost productivity in Singapore bring to mind how a certain individual made a name for himself for being a stickler for punctuality. No, it's not who you think it is...

Mr Punctual was known for making sure none of his subordinates left the premises before the official book out time. He would plant himself strategically at the ferry boarding point along Bravo Whiskey around 16:30 Hotel as a visible deterrent to personnel who tried to book out early.

No one tried whenever he was there, such was his command presence.

When Mr Punctual held a post on the hilltop later in his career, he insisted that his staff officers turn up at least 15 minutes before any meeting he chaired. Late comers were penalized and staff officers known for their tardiness learned the hard way that Mr Punctual ran a tight ship.

That mindset isn’t prevalent in the same organisation today.

Certain individuals show up habitually (and irritatingly) late for internal meetings. To be sure, high fliers do get held up for some reason or other, sometimes by circumstances beyond their control. But to proclaim that it is one's privilege as a Commander to do so is unbecoming, downright rude even.

This means his unfortunate underlings – sorry, I mean staff officers - are made to wait as the clock creeps past the meeting’s start time. They fritter away precious time and tax-payers’ money, a drain on productivity as his lordship sweeps into the meeting room behind time, as usual.

Then, it’s showtime as the person starts his theatrics. He demolishes morale with flaming invectives that would make a street urchin blush and berates his staff with such gusto that it would make great reality TV. Or a Youtube clip.

Legend has it that he would walk off to eat “my kuay teow mee” while his underlings slave away on a position paper for the higher ups. Never mind they haven’t been properly fed or watered or taken care of. It is his privilege as a Commander to do so. Yesiree.

His poor judgement on issues of the day makes staff officers cringe at his lack of helicopter vision and analytical prowess. Paired with a chronic inability to string words together as nice sounding prose without a staff officer by his side and we have a lame duck Commander who is the butt of office jokes.

His sense of imagination is the stuff of legend. He sees shadows where there are none. He watches, on high alert, ever vigilant for any signs of dissenting voices that could dent his public image or stature in the eyes of his bosses.

Because his public image counts as his vital interest, he filters, massages and nuances reports to make sure they make him look good. Sad to say, this means his bosses are sometimes robbed of the full situation picture.

If he feels he has been wronged, he will take punitive action against that individual. He would put the transgressor on his blacklist and start his character assassination.

He follows the same playbook for underlings who quit on him. All have some character flaw or malady that made them poor team players or lousy performers. He is infallible as a boss, Commander and character referee.

And because he lacks a sense of reality, his directorate cannot put a lid on its staff attrition rate. People quit on him during the recession and more will do so as the bullish job market returns. He has done more damage to staff morale during his reign of terror than a Astros rocket artillery bombardment or PT-91 tank attack ever will.

His (mis)management style is unbelievably, how to say, childish and amateurish. A case in point is his facile tendency to hammer down dissent, brown nose his bosses and take punitive action against any entity who crosses his path.

His tendency for politicking and mind games irks even his peer group officers, especially those who have become aware of the goings-on in his dysfunctional command.

His reign as Commander ranks as intellectual terrorism in its finest form, in my honest opinion.

Indeed, if he wasn’t fighting on Singapore’s side, I’m almost certain his antics would get him billed as a threat to humanity and part of the Axis of Evil.

It comes as no surprise that his support base is shrinking more quickly than the Aral Sea.

When that certain someone is tasked to uphold and strengthen the image and stature of the organisation, then such uncouth mannerisms and uninspiring leadership are clearly a misfit.

His behaviour disgusts his long-serving staff officers, disenchants his younger subordinates and adds to the misery of rank-and-file who reflect wistfully on their karma under his watch.

Some have made discrete enquiries, ferreting out job opportunities but ever ready to grab any opportunity that comes by as a drowning person would grab onto anything that floats.

The undying optimists point to the economic upswing as salvation. They flip through the 90 cents newspaper’s job ads and polish up their CVs as they prepare to jump ship.

Many have already done so... some in recent weeks.

Those outside the toxic work environment wonder how much longer the insane spectacle can last before a decisive leader puts a stop to it.

From the outside, things look great. Business as usual.

That’s because the staff officers who have stayed – and they are an endangered species, dwindling in number and soon to be listed on CITES – take pride in their work and try to keep things on an even keel.

Alas, many haven’t bothered to do so and the resignation numbers and poor housekeeping on the website speak volumes of problems within.

You must look beyond the obvious, go above and beyond his platitudes, to realise how the directorate is being run into the ground.

My heart bleeds for the directorate.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blue on Blue: Part 23

Fairy Tales

My young niece, Sarah, has reached the age when she can appreciate and demand stories, so it's time for Uncle David to trawl out a stash of yarns for little Sarah.

One of the first fairy tales I will share with Sarah is called the Emperor's New Clothes. It's a story by Hans Christian Anderson that has been handed down for generations, possibly because adult story tellers realise that life can sometimes imitate art.

Most of us would heard the story of how scoundrels prey on an Emperor's vanity and his court officials' obsequiousness to con a fortune from the Emperor.

The story makes a delightful tale for kids. And like most children's stories, it carries a message that alerts young minds of pitfalls they might face in adulthood.

The Emperor's New Clothes tells children that when they grow up, they must be careful whom they surround themselves with. The quality of the advice, timeliness and soundness of the counsel they receive will only be as good as the intentions of the person(s) who shared them.

As in the evergreen story, there are some officials in real life who knowingly withhold information from higher ups.

Some of these officials may indeed rank highly in the Table of Precedence (TOP), which makes it even more baffling why they choose to censor news from their bosses' eyes. Okay, maybe not "some". Shall we say a handful? Or at least one official? But don't let facts get in the way of a good story.

If his objective is to deceive, then the intent is nefarious.

If the practice is deliberate, then it has also been futile.

If his actions have been widespread, then it is alarming for someone entrusted with a position so high up the TOP.

Children love fairy tales because just as the plot teethers on the brink of disaster (Big Bad Wolf appears, Evil Witch, scheming officials etc), the plot steers towards a happy ending.

Sarah can take comfort from the fact that in modern times, people in positions of authority also grew up hearing the same fairy tales.

This accounts for the multiple tiers of redundancy that a well-grounded bureaucracy can rely on. Multiple sources of information help circumvent any attempt by less-than-well-meaning court officials to hide the truth from their bosses' eyes.

My niece will be relieved to hear that it is not so easy to hoodwink your boss these days. Yup.

Say for example: when daily summaries leave out certain bits of gossip which has set tongues wagging, the big bosses will - I repeat for emphasis, "will" - eventually find out. People will soon come to realise that the daily summary isn't worth the paper it is printed on because the so-called analysis and situation reports are self-serving. Some staff officers might argue, even deceptive.

Then questions will be asked on the character and temperament of the court official under the spotlight.

Had Hans Christian Anderson lived in this day and age, I can tell you he would have a heap of tales to spin from the shenanigans of a certain toxic, morale damaged directorate.

Will he give these modern-day fairy tales a happy ending?

I believe he will... because the system isn't stupid.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

WikiLeaks and defence info management

Leaked video shows civilian killings in Iraq, signifies growing power of independent Web journalism
Tue Apr 6, 2010, 4:09 pm ET

From Yahoo News

When a nonprofit group this week released video footage, leaked via a source in the Pentagon, showing a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack on a group of civilians in Baghdad, the clip unleashed a viral online sensation and ignited an intense debate about the conduct of U.S. forces in Iraq.

But the simple fact of the video's release also reflects the ongoing revolution in how news gets produced and published.

The group, called WikiLeaks, released the Pentagon video on Monday. Less than 24 hours later, the clip had netted more than 1.3 million viewers on YouTube alone.

The transmission of information, in and out of regularly authorized channels, has become much more immediate — and far more viral — than at any point in history. Virtually anyone with a browser and a DSL connection can now bring news to light in dramatic and instantaneous fashion. All these trends converged with the WikiLeaks video.

Seven noncombatants were killed in the Baghdad attack — among them a driver (Saeed Chmagh) and photographer (Namir Noor-Eldeen) employed by the Reuters news service. Reuters, indeed, had been seeking to obtain internal Pentagon materials pertaining to the attack — including the footage that went online yesterday — for the past three years, using the Freedom of Information Act. The agency's efforts had so far proved fruitless.

And that's where WikiLeaks came in. The nonprofit website launched in 2006 as an online clearinghouse for whistleblowers seeking to publicize leaked government documents across the world. But prior to posting the video footage, the site had functioned as repository of information; with this latest scoop, which it says came from "a courageous source" within the U.S. military, it has morphed into an investigative news source in its own right. (The full 18-minute video can be viewed — albeit with the clear warning that the material is quite disturbing — at the special project URL that WikiLeaks established for it, under the incendiary name of

"The material was encrypted with a code, and we broke the code," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told "In terms of journalism efficiency, I think we discovered a lot with a small amount of resources."

But this was much more than a question of cracking an encryption code from a renegade PC. WikiLeaks also reported the story the old-fashioned way — by sending two reporters to Baghdad to research the 2007 incident. The group says its correspondents verified the story by interviewing witnesses and family members of people killed and injured in the attack. These accounts helped to flesh out the gaps in the official account of the incident; as the materials at explain, the "military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured." And now that silence is starting to abate: In response to the release of the WikiLeaks video, the Pentagon has circulated some documents relating to the incident, and MSNBC reported this morning that American soldiers mistook a camera held by one of the fallen journalists for a weapon.

Still, the release of the video has also drawn criticism — not so much for the broader WikiLeaks mission of promoting government transparency, but for the site's failure to supply a fuller context to help viewers better understand what they're seeing. A former helicopter pilot and photographer named A.J. Martinez, for example, has dissected the footage on his blog, and attacked the site's packaging of the footage as misleading — and making it seem like the Apache unit was acting out of cold-blooded malice rather than genuine confusion about a possible ground attack taking shape below.

"There are many veterans with thousands of hours experience in both analyzing aerial video and understanding the oft-garbled radio transmissions between units," he writes, adding that it would not be unreasonable for the WikiLeaks staff to solicit such interpretive input for concerned vets. "Promoting truth with gross errors is just as shameful as unnecessary engagement" on the field of battle, Martinez concludes.

Yahoo! News contacted Reuters for comment, and a Reuters spokeswoman directed us to their story on the episode, in addition to providing us with the following statement:

"The deaths of Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh three years ago were tragic and emblematic of the extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones. We continue to work for journalist safety and call on all involved parties to recognise the important work that journalists do and the extreme danger that photographers and video journalists face in particular," said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters news. "The video released today via WikiLeaks is graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result."

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks appears to be far from done. The group is openly soliciting donations to defray the expenses involved in the upcoming release of another video that allegedly documents other civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. military, this time in Afghanistan.

(Update: Greg Sargent, at the Washington Post's Plumline, reports that the Pentagon is preparing to issue an official response in the wake of the leaked video, perhaps as early as today.)

—Brett Michael Dykes is a national affairs writer for Yahoo! News.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Stealth fighters

You know you have a problem with defence media relations when the arrival of Singapore's most powerful warplanes doesn't merit one nano second of coverage on state television news.

I plonked myself in front of the idiot box in time for the 21:30 Hotel English bulletin this evening, hoping to catch television footage of the Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagles that arrived recently in Singapore.

Zilch. Nothing on Singapore's Prime Time news bulletin on the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) most lethal warplanes. That the F-15SGs are aircraft killer's with an unrivaled combat record failed to attract the Singaporean TV media. Ditto the twin-seat warplane's bragging rights as the RSAF's most pricey fast jet.

Perhaps there was a TV news blackout? If that was the case, it was a bad call.

Singaporean tax payers need to know how their defence dollars are spent.

Potential hostiles need to be told how the Third Generation RSAF has sharpened its combat edge. The Air Combat Command's 149 Squadron at Paya Lebar Airbase has swapped its F-5 Tiger IIs for a far more capable, all-weather warplane. Does anyone care?

Our friends in the region - and this includes many countries in Singapore's neighbourhood - need to be assured that tiny Singapore will not be the weak link in the region's security architecture.

If TV editors couldn't be coaxed to send down a film crew, then it's the job of the Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) to show strong leadership by educating journalists on the new fighters that defend Singaporean skies.

If the TV news blackout was initiated by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) itself (this is unlikely), then PAFF must point out to Level 5 why 149 SQN's new warbirds deserve media coverage.

When I was a full-time National Serviceman at PAFF, one of the media events we helped organise with HQ RSAF was the arrival of F-16A/B Fighting Falcons from CONUS (yes, with refuelling stops in between).

We briefed journalists on the new fighter jets days before the event in such simple language that defence novices who didn't know the difference between an M-16 and F-16 could write a credible piece on the then-new fighter jets.

PAFF was asked to give the event a soft touch. PAFF's media officers worked with HQ RSAF and 140 SQN to ensure the Peace Carvin 1 loved ones were on hand to receive the pilots. Air force wives smoothered the flyboys with hugs and kisses.

The photo of detachment commander LTC Looi Han Seng being received by his wife and two young sons made a touching family portrait. Standing like a silent sentinel in the background - the RSAF's first F-16 Fighting Falcons. It made a powerful image of the air force might that stands ready, day and night, to protect those whom we love.

What would you defend? One look and one could tell what LTC Looi, his pilots and groundcrew would fight to protect.

The F-16s were soon regular participants in Five Power Defence Arrangements war games and flew alongside warplanes from Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Malaysia.

Fast forward 20 years. What of the F-15SGs?

They are the RSAF's latest "stealth fighters", having succeeded in evading TV coverage on the day their existence in the Lion City was acknowledged by the sparse MINDEF news release.

How would I describe the entity in PAFF who has rundown the directorate so badly?

I would use one word: I won't tell you what it is as students read this blog.

But it rhymes with the aircraft maker whose planes replaced Colosa.

F-15SG in Singapore

Please welcome the latest addition to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

The Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagle.

Eagles' nest: Speed brake deployed and wall-to-wall tanks, a RSAF Air Combat Command F-15SG recovers at Paya Lebar Airbase after returning home from Mountain Home AB in the American state of Idaho. Note the luggage pod visible just above the portside main wheel. Photo credit: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

Adler Tag


Eyeball on SGs at WSAP. Count four birds.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Adler Tag

TA-4SU Super Skyhawks perform a flypast over WSAT from south to north for the last time on 31 March 2005. The 90 cents newspaper story that appeared on 1 April 2005 prompted some readers and netizens to ask if it was an April Fools' joke. Photo by Mike Yeo

Singaporean aircraft enthusiasts shed blood to get you the pictures of the last flight of the Super Skyhawk warplanes - but we savoured every minute watching history unfold.

Hours spent feeding mosquitoes in a graveyard outside the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) main fighter aircraft base, Tengah Airbase, rewarded my friends and I with a sight we'll remember for a long time.

Though the 1 April 2005 article published by the 90 cents newspaper credited only Albert Lee (the photographer) and your's truly for the work, truth be told, it was an integrated information-gathering effort.

I thank all of you who were involved. The same network won me another scoop years later when I wrote about the shutdown of Singapore's airspace due to the Cessna floatplane intrusion.

The passion for plane spotting, meticulous record keeping and eye for detail has made some of you walking directories of the RSAF's order of battle. You folks are an asset I valued greatly during my career as a journalist. We didn't always get it right, but our AARs sought to improve our processes and we have indeed come a long way.

Those of you who were with me will recall the restless moments hours before the takeoff, when we debated whether or not our morning in the graveyard was a fruitless outing.

We deployed ourselves so we could catch flight activity on an west-east axis (Albert Lee and his bazooka lens) and a south-north flight path (militarynuts). We also had someone in Tuas eyeball the flight, calling feet dry when the warplane formation turned due north towards TAB.

After hours listening to crickets mating, we finally heard a fast jet engine spool up from the direction of TAB.

We all stood up, like prairie dogs, looking longingly towards the airbase.

From engine idle, the powerplant screeched to life and we had a mental picture of a (then unknown) RSAF warplane taxiing to the runway. Full military power, brake release and a thunderous roar rocked the TAB neighbourhood. It was a twin-seat F-16D, Osprey, taking off on full reheat. She was the photo ship for the TA-4SU Super Skyhawk standdown.

We did not have long to wait before the distinctive high-pitched whine of General-Electric F404-100D turbofans warming up got our adrenaline pumping even further. We hear the massed takeoff went off schedule as it took awhile to strap in one of the bigger VIPs *chuckles*. But wild horses couldn't drag us away from our vantage points.

The F404 engines that powered the Super Skyhawks are not known to be friendly to anyone's ears. And when 12 Super Skyhawks raced off WSAT in quick succession, the sight and sound of Scooters on full military power is something to behold.

One after another, the Super Skyhawks lofted themselves into the humid tropical air, their distinctive delta wings mere tiny triangles as the pilots banked hard left and traced the live-firing area on the western coast of Singapore, flying south towards Tuas. There, our spotter watched them close up in diamond formation.

The Super Skyhawks were grouped into three flights each named after an RSAF Super Skyhawk squadron. These were Gryphon (142 SQN), Phoenix (143 SQN) and Hornet (145 SQN) flights.

There's a good reason why Singapore kept so many of her twin-seat Super Skyhawks active till 31 March 2005. Including the 10 we have in Cazaux, France, for advanced jet training, the RSAF had no less than 22 flight worthy twin-seat Super Skyhawks on the day the Lion City retired her Skyhawks in Singapore.

That's because they served as more than trainers and had a little-publicised combat role - I'll just leave it at that. To all the Skyhawk pilots, armourers and groundcrew who trained hard for this mission, thank you for keeping our skies safe. To the RSAF air warfare planners and Singaporean defence engineers who gave the TA-4SUs an unprecedented ability to reach out and touch the enemy, thank you. Today, an even more lethal warbird has filled that role - the F-16D/D+.

Now back to the formation. The Scooters looked like little tiny sunbirds darting in the distance, skimming the green hills over Pasir Laba - three quartets on an west-east heading as they executed the first of two flybys over WSAT.

We waited hours since dawn for that flyby, the first of which took less than 30 seconds for the flight to cross our field of view. Camera settings had to be adjusted way beforehand. There was no time to change lenses. Hands had to be kept steady as powerful zoom lenses tracked the warplanes crossing our hill top position from left to right.

Even for seasoned plane spotters, there's always that nagging feeling that the images would be ruined by a wrong lens selection, botched camera setting or shaky hands. Aperture setting? What speed? Is the camera on single frame or cyclic?

On that day, we had a second chance. We tracked the Super Skyhawks fly south to north and watched them soar over WSAT for the final time before peeling off for their landing pattern.

I remember plane spotter Mike Yeo saying "Well, this is it" as the last TA-4SU lined up for her landing, stalky undercarriage deployed, flaps down and landing light on.

It was a sight never to be repeated over Singapore's skies. We savoured the moment watching the TA-4SU on short finals before she finally disappeared behind the fenceline.

Last flights are key markers in the RSAF's short yet exciting history.

As Singapore's airpower sharpens its claws, there's another historical milestone coming very, very soon.

This time, a "first": Adler Tag.