Monday, June 28, 2010

Blast from the past

NDP 1995: Mobile Column participants and their armoured vehicles emerge after a tropical downpour to rehearse for NDP 1995.

Participants of yesteryear put in long hours of rehearsals - rain or shine - just for 10 minutes or so passing by the Padang in disciplined formations. But the men and women all took it in the right spirit.

Leading the rehearsal are SM1 light tanks, armed with a 75mm gun which was modelled after the deadly Kwk 42 7.5cm gun mounted on German Panther medium tanks. The Singapore Army and Singaporean defence engineers enhanced the lethality of the SM1's main gun with a cannister round, packed with 400 ball bearings for clearing vegetation, as well as a sabot round.

NDP 1995: Singapore Army Bv206s mass along Nicoll Highway. Notice how all three lanes were used for the Mobile Column to form up in review order. Behind the Bv206s are Combat Engineer Tractors, followed by M-728 Combat Engineer Vehicles and a pair of M-60 Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridges (AVLBs).

NDP 2000: In the millennium year's parade, Mobile Column vehicles used the eastbound lanes to get to the Padang. Seen here after a thunderstorm are M-728 Combat Engineer Vehicles, each fitted with a Pearson Engineering Track Width Mine Plough (TWMP), followed by a pair of AVLBs.

NDP 2005: Singapore-made Bionix 1 infantry fighting vehicles roll down Nicoll Highway on their way to the Padang. The Mobile Column in 2005 was the last time SM1 light tanks appeared during a National Day Parade.  

NDP 2010 CR2: The same view five years later, with Singapore Army Terrex infantry fighting vehicles rolling down the same city-bound lanes. This part of Nicoll Highway now has a right turn leading to Middle Road.
NDP 2000: Police officers from the crack Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) team seen along Nicoll Highway before mounting up for the National Day Parade 2000. There's a story behind this picture. The STAR team was amused to see me show up every weekend for the NDP 2000 Combined Rehearsals. The team's only ground rule was no face shots, which I respected. On the actual day of the parade, they allowed me past the cordon for a photo shoot.
In 2007, the STAR team apprehended Dave Teo, the full-time National Serviceman who ran away from camp with a SAR-21 assault rifle and 5.56mm bullets. Thanks to contact made at NDP 2000, arrangements were made and the Singapore Police Force granted me an exclusive interview with the STAR team.
The police officer on the right is the one who led the assault team that caught Dave Teo in the Orchard Cineleisure toilet.
I have the highest regard for Singapore's special forces community.

25 pounder gun drill. Battery Take Post!

Catch gunners from Charlie Battery, 20 SA, as they rehearse the 21-gun salute. Click here.

The first round is fired when the President begins inspecting the Guard-of-Honour contingents and the last round should be timed at the end of the review.

The stiff formality of the gun drills can be traced back to the days of black powder artillery when gun crews had to echo the battery commander's orders to ensure they could be heard over the battlefield noise.

Hand signals indicated which guns were primed and ready to fire. Before firing, the battery commander would indicate the type of rounds to be loaded and the firing sequence. In this case, blank rounds to be fired at his command.

Note how guns 4, 5 and 6 are unloaded at the end of the sequence. The 25-pdrs were kept loaded in case a gun failed to fire and a round needed to be discharged immediately.

The ceremonial 25-pdr field guns seen here are older than the gunners who man these artillery pieces.

Second Lieutenant Li Yong Rui and 2LT Ira Yong are the 20 SA officers who will command the six 25 pounders used for the Presidential Salute. (Can someone please provide the rank/name of the WOSE to the officer's left?)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Takeaways from NDP rehearsals

There's no time out for Singapore's citizen soldiers, even with National Day Parade (NDP) rehearsals in full swing every weekend till 9 August 2010.

Just ask the Singapore Army's Leopard 2 main battle tank (MBT) tank crew.

Last week, the 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR), brought their Leopard 2A4s outfield. After the exercise ended, 48 SAR had to prepare its big cats for a date with low loaders. A convoy brought the MBTs to their form-up point for the first National Day Parade Combined Rehearsal (CR1) on 19 June 2010. Sorry can't be more specific, but if you know, you know :-)

By the time the Leopards were unloaded and secured in the vehicle laager, it was early Saturday morning.

Along with other elements of the NDP 2010 Mobile Column, 48 SAR did one run past the Padang under blazing hot Saturday sunshine before preparing for the parade's full sequence later in the day. By the time the participants returned to their unit, Sunday morning was also upon them.

A look at the NDP 2010 rehearsal calendar may fuel the incorrect idea that parade participants have loads of time to get things right.

In practice, they only have two full rehearsals to get things squared away. The last full rehearsal ended a few hours ago. As I type this, Mobile Column participants have just sent their vehicles back to their parking lots and will send arms before bedding down for the night.

By CR3, the third Combined Rehearsal, parade participants will be performing in front of their parents and loved ones at a special closed door preview just for families of NDP participants.

CR4, 5 and 6 are National Education (NE) shows attended by thousands of primary school students - certainly not the place to goof up.

The Parade Preview will be attended by the Singaporean public and is the last full dress rehearsal before Singapore celebrates its 45th year of independence on 9 August.

For an accidental nation, the SAF's order of battle, firepower at its command and slew of defence operations it undertakes everyday are all noteworthy achievements.

What the SAF protects, others covet. Which is why there's no let up in SAF ops.

Island defence and protection of installation operations spearheaded by the Island Defence HQ continue unabated, 24/7, with or without NDP.

The coastal defence screen put up by naval and Police Coast Guard patrols deters opportunistic sea robbers from landing on our shores. It may sound incredible but in the 1980s, sea robbers from Indonesia were known to target sites on mainland Singapore as far apart as the East Coast Sailing Centre and fishermen off Tuas. The opportunists are still around and if one weakens the Maritime Security Task Force elements, they'll hit Singapore again within a month.

The SAF's war games calendar, so vital for honing integrated operations between land, air, sea and intelligence forces, remains as packed as ever. Indeed, the SAF is one of the few Asian nations for whom the sun never sets on its military training. This is because SAF training takes place round the clock and round the world, thanks to training detachments in  places including, but not limited to, Australia, Brunei, Thailand, India, Sweden, France and across the continental United States.

Coming back to NDP, the rehearsals are among the SAF's largest peacetime operations.

The two hours or so of NDP pomp and ceremony, the massed displays and sing-alongs, capped by the oh-so-expensive fireworks, demand an army (no pun intended) of logistics and communications specialists to get things right.

Each NDP demands and practices many other skill sets too.

During NDP, Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes and helicopters fly racetrack orbits in holding areas, waiting for their cue to wow NDP spectators. That holding pattern takes into account weather patterns, the height of the cloud base and has secondary and tertiary holding areas built in. When the ground controller (callsign: Mothergoose) whistles the birds in, the flying participants make an entrance timed to the second - give or take several seconds or so.

The same skill sets are used during close air support missions when a ground forward air controller (GFAC) cues the heavy hitters onto their targets.

The thousands of NDP participants need to be fed and watered and the amount of food that caters to people with different dietary requirements is mind boggling.

This goes along with a medical preparedness plan that can handle medical situations from people who faint while on parade to large-scale evacuations due to natural or man-made situations like an attack by terrorists.

If the two situations above sound faintly similar to non-combatant evacuation operations, it's because they demand the same core skills and attention to detail.

As for my personal favourite, the Mobile Column, the effort needed to deploy hundreds of vehicles and track their subsequent dispersal across the island is a complex operation that many tend to overlook.

To be sure, many countries have fielded their own Mobile Columns during military parades. But few do so in a city state with an urban density like Singapore's. If road closures are ineptly handled, the tailback of traffic and knock-on effect this will have on arterial roads could result in massive traffic jams across the island.

To avoid traffic snarls, each Mobile Column must deploy in proper march order and stick to a pre-scouted route and movement schedule. That said, it takes the dedication of the Military Police Command to ensure march discipline at various traffic control points.

Similar skill sets for convoy management and routing would be used should the Singapore Army need to deploy its full force potential.

If you think about it, get the privilege to tour the NDP's back-of-house operations or hear about the NDP experience from people in the know, you will quickly realise the enormity of the tasks that each NDP Executive Committee has to bear.

At a more basic level of addressing commitment to defence, it should be obvious even to folks who are not defence watchers to realise that a citizen's army succeeds or fails based on the support from its people.

Each NDP therefore represents an ideal platform for the SAF to touch base with Singaporeans.

And if one takes the morale, attitude and turnout of Mobile Column participants as a reflection of how NDP participants feel about their burnt weekends, I am hopeful the vast majority will take these CRs in the right spirit.

To be fair, I'm sure some NDP participants do occasionally feel they'd rather be elsewhere. And it's no fun being yelled at by your Captains in public for not getting the gun salute timing right. My PRIDE Day suggestion to these young officers: Next time, ask the drivers to switch off the engine of their vehicle before you talk to your men. Practise the drill, then switch the engines back on after that. Your voice can never match that of a dozen idling vehicles and I don't think the Singapore Army trains its soldiers to lip read.

At times, one might naturally feel frustrated practising the same confounded sequence over and over again, in stifling heat and with a roaring engine inches away from your face.

But up and down the Mobile Column during last week's CR1 and Saturday's CR2, Mobile Column participants seemed in high spirits.

It should be obvious to all Mobile Column participants - vehicle commanders, drivers, crew and assorted road marshals  - that thousands of Singaporean will line the roads during rehearsals to watch your vehicles roll by. They do so because the Mobile Column appears once every five years and is a thrill to watch.

I'm sure some of those eyeballs belong to foreign observers who will take their cue on the SAF's modernisation drive from things they observe.

At an NDP years past, a foreign military officer wasn't interested in the song and dance items but kept his eyes peeled for the manner in which the show timing and sequences were managed. He walked away impressed and told a friend of mine assigned as his liaison officer that the SAF knew its job. This was pre-Operation Flying Eagle and the SAF's performance during that demanding post-tsunami relief mission in two theatres (Indonesia and Thailand), plus the round-the-clock coordination of international relief in Singapore, validated the foreign officer's takeaway from NDP.

I am quietly confident that you will all get your sequences right and vehicle alignments right.

In time, I'm sure you will also eventually understand that the Mobile Column is more than just a 12-minute sequence past City Hall.

This show of force, this rolling arsenal, all that firepower on the move, is a palpable and visible reminder to all of how far our country's defence and security forces have evolved since the last Mobile Column rolled by in 2005.

Lastly, it's about nation-building and our Army connecting with the people.

Years after NDP 2010 when you grow up, I bet some of you will burn your own Saturday afternoons to watch future generations of SAF personnel strut their stuff in war machines we dare not even imagine today.

When that day comes, you will realise the bigger impact the long hours of rehearsals has had on your life.

See you next week at CR3.

Acknowledgements: I'm grateful to the NDP 2010 EXCO for sharing Mobile Column rehearsal timings and for tolerating stalkers. : )

Saturday, June 26, 2010

National Day Parade 2010: 2nd Combined Rehearsal

This afternoon, the Mobile Column held its second practice in Singapore's City Centre.

Here're some images of CR2. A commentary on NDP rehearsals will follow shortly.

Achtung Panzer! Singapore Army Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks in march order trundle down Nicoll Highway on their way to the Padang. Evident here are the improvements made to the armour protection of the Leopards, seen on the third tank onwards.

Made in Singapore: The Terrex infantry fighting vehicle, made by Singapore Technologies Kinetics, will make its debut at this year's National Day Parade. The Singapore Army packs a hefty punch with armoured fighting vehicles and combat service support vehicles tailor made to excel in the kind of terrain the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) expects to fight in, should deterrence fail.

Reach out and touch someone: A Singapore Army company marksman broods over his PGM 338 Mini Hecate .338 sniper rifle. Precision fire, matched with precision information and precision manoeuvre ensures SAF infantry battalions will make hostile units pay for every yard of aggression. 

View to a kill: A Singapore-made SAR-21 5.56mm carbine with all the bells and whistles attached is a lethal weapon in close-quarter urban shootouts. But the big stick comes from the communications gear carried by this infantryman kitted up with the Advanced Combatman System (ACMS), which displays information on his eyepiece. The battlefield computer carried in his fullpack links him with the SAF's battlefield management network, allowing him to call for fire and alert nearby units of the sources of hostile fire in realtime.

Worth reading up on: M-346 Master

The Aermacchi M-346 Master, click here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Court verdict on the death of 2LT Nicholas Chan in the Land Rover incident

The court case has ended on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) death that started this this blog.

On Tuesday, Singapore Army Private Muhammad Abdul Qaiyuum Muhammed Iskander was fined $5,000 and barred from driving any vehicle for four years. The sentence was passed after PTE Qaiyuum, 19, pleaded guilty to causing the death of 21-year-old Second Lieutenant Nicholas Chan Wei Kit on 3 July last year after the Land Rover he was driving backed into the young officer. The tragedy took place just two days after SAF Day.

In owning up, PTE Qaiyuum showed a sense of responsibility way beyond his years.

The SAF’s death record has been clean thus far and this fact both worries and reassures me.

I fret over the clean record because training death statistics indicate that we’re just about due to chalk up a training fatality - if past year trends are indicators of things to come.

The last time a death-free period lasted till June was in 2006. In that year, the SAF had a clean spell until 20 June when 2LT Lionel Lin Shi Guan, 24, drowned while undergoing training at the Hendon Camp swimming pool.

Before the close of 2006, two more SAF servicemen would die on duty. These were NSF Private Ambrose Yeo Chang Wen, 20, who died on 18 Sept 2006 and Second Warrant Officer Tan Boon Toon, 45, who died on 17 November 2006.

We’re now into mid-June 2010 and the SAF has not reported any training deaths.

Past is not prologue. We should still strive for the ideal of zero fatal accidents. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) have enjoyed fatality-free years in the past while running at a high operational tempo.

Even as we aim for the ideal, we must be realistic that fate sometimes intervenes and throws us out of step. SAF personnel must harden themselves to life's harsh realities.

I am reassured that the SAF and Army leadership have reinforced the training safety message with much vigour.

Time and again, SAF regulars and full-time National Servicemen are reminded to think and act safely.

The SAF comes down hard on non-compliance with training safety regulations. These are lessons paid in blood in tragedies of past years when a moment’s neglect resulted in training deaths and casualties.

The move to raise training standards must be complemented by continued transparency when it comes to reporting SAF training incidents.

In the past year, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) has learned the hard way that commitment to defence is hurt whenever Singaporeans are unhappy over perceived foot-dragging, or misconceptions that MINDEF is aloof or has shown dilatoriness over training incident reporting.

Public anger over the shotgun incident in Thailand is a timely reminder that Singaporeans expect to be informed when sons or daughters are injured while serving the SAF.

It is not their privilege to know. It is their right to be informed.

The tens of thousands of SAF Regulars, NSFs and Operationally-Ready NSmen who report for duty every day to defend Singapore against terrorist threats and deter aggression make a strong statement of their personal commitment to defence. We must not take such commitment for granted.

To those who know 2LT Chan personally – his family, loved ones and friends – it may be cold comfort knowing that his loss was not due to system failure where weak processes or procedures contributed to the tragedy.

I have covered several training deaths as a journalist and remember every wake I attended. I have seen the pain that SAF training deaths cause. In many cases, the distress is exacerbated by the loved ones' search for answers.

Many of you do not know this but after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, a Land Rover relief convoy that I helped organise to Krabi, Thailand, ended up as the only Singaporean-led mission to record a death. I was away covering the tsunami relief mission in Indonesia and only met the dead volunteer's family weeks later. The pain of having to explain to his 13-year-old son that his father died while doing good is not something I could do with dry eyes.

That painful episode showed me the value of a strong family support network, which the Land Rover group thankfully enjoyed as the drivers closed ranks with the family, as well as timely updates.

I hate the term “freak accident” beloved of newspapermen because it conjures the idea that there’s such a thing as a planned accident.

I can well understand how PTE Qaiyuum reversed into 2LT Chan. The reverse gear and first gear on a Land Rover are located very close to one another and it is very easy to allow the vehicle to slip into the wrong gear when shifting the gear stick forward.

In my case, I have seen vehicle inspectors put my Land Rover into the wrong gear on numerous occasions while on the vehicle inspection lane. No mishaps occurred as experienced inspectors usually tap the accelerator gently to nudge the vehicle onto the brake inspection rollers – the first station during the vehicle inspection test. Land Rover drivers usually move off in second gear. This involves pulling back the gear stick, so there's no chance of putting the vehicle into reverse by accident.

The Land Rover death case may have ended but the drive to ensure Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) stays true to its mission statement continues.

To that end, I am encouraged by the fact that the system is taking steps to introduce a new Director Public Affairs.

My friends and I are quietly confident that a better tomorrow awaits MINDEF PAFF, because now that they’re in the cellar, the only way is up.

RIP 2LT Nicholas Chan.

Land Rover death update

Will pen my thoughts later.

The Straits Times
Jun 23, 2010

Army driver fined $5,000

By Khushwant Singh

AN ARMY driver accidentally reversed a Land Rover into an officer, killing him in July last year.

Private Muhammad Abdul Qaiyuum Muhammed Iskander pleaded guilty on Tuesday to causing the death of Second Lieutenant Nicholas Chan Wei Kit, 21, by driving negligently. The 19-year-old was fined $5,000 and disqualified from driving all vehicles for four years.

He could also have been jailed for up to two years but District Judge Jill Tan said that while his negligence certainly caused a tragic result, she felt that the circumstances did not make a jail term necessary.

Both were full-time national servicemen and the court heard that on July 3 last year Muhammad Abdul Qaiyuum was with 2nd Lt Chan, who was the Motor-Transport Officer (MTO) of the Infantry Training Institute in Jurong West.

They had gone with two other drivers to retrieve two military Land Rovers from the motor workshop of Seletar Camp. When Muhammad Abdul Qaiyuum started the engine of one of the vehicles at 11.50am, he noticed 2nd Lt Chan standing behind the vehicle through the rear-view mirror.

After changing gear, he stepped on the accelerator to move forward. To his shock, the Land Rover lurched backwards and smashed into a fence. 2nd Lt Chan was found pinned under a wheel.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

National Day Parade 2010 Mobile Column, Combined Rehearsal 1

Here's a short clip of the Mobile Column drivepast. It isn't complete. Memory card ran out of space before the column ended.

Click: Mobile Column CR1

Monday, June 21, 2010

NDP 2010 Mobile Column Trivia

* The Pegasus and FH-2000 155mm heavy artillery guns that will be towed past City Hall can actually be driven by Singapore Artillery gunners. Each 155mm gun, designed and built in Singapore, has an auxiliary power unit (APU) that gunners use to get the guns in/out of action rapidly. In emergencies, the guns can also be driven some distance.

* Singapore-made tracked armoured vehicles outnumber foreign-made ones 7:2. The Singapore-made ones are the Bionix 2 with 30mm cannon (BX2MT), BX1 40/50, Bionix Launched Bridge (BLB), Bronco all-terrain tracked carrier, Primus 155mm Singapore self-propelled howitzer, Terrex infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), Trailblazer mine-clearing vehicle.
Foreign ones are the Leopard 2A4 main battle tank and the faithful M-113. This shows the amount of progress Singapore's land systems arm, Singapore Technologies Kinetics, has made in armoured fighting vehicle development.

* Crews aboard the Singapore Army's armoured vehicles can track the position of friendly vehicles using Blue Force Tracking and can talk to one another using SMS chat. They can send secure voice, data and text files in realtime. This is part of the 3rd Gen Army's Battlefield Management System.

* The Bionix Launched Bridge is a Bionix1 chassis in reverse.

* The Trailblazer crew can drive their vehicle in either direction.

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

* The 40mm automatic grenade launcher aboard some of the Terrex IFVs can programme 40mm air burst munitions to explode at a specified distance from the gunner. This makes it lethal against enemy trench lines or troops taking cover behind windows or in bunkers.

* The V-200s and M-113s are older than the full-time National Servicemen who drive these vehicles.

* The RBS-70 laser-guided surface-to-air missiles aboard the V-200s is an old system but is considered effective as the laser beam-riding missile is difficult to jam. The mix of low-level air defence systems fielded by Singapore complicates countermeasures by hostile aerial intruders as enemy aircraft have to contend with a bewildering range of guidance systems from radar to laser beam to IR terminal homing - and of course the good old Mark 1 eyeball (see next trivia entry).

* The Republic of Singapore Air Force operates more types of low level air defence SAMs than many other air forces and armies. This is because of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) specific operational requirements that calls for an air defence umbrella over urban and forested areas. :-)

* The industry name for one of the armoured vehicles is a girl's name.  :-)

* SAF vehicles can drive past City Hall in pitch darkness in review order and engage hostile forces accurately using night-fighting aids paired with their weapons and sensors.

* The first tanks to drive past City Hall were Imperial Japanese Army light tanks. The drivepast took place during the Japanese Occupation in 1942. The Japanese tanks were, incidentally, the only ones to follow the right traffic flow. All Mobile Columns since 1969 (when AMX-13 light tanks made a surprise appearance) have gone against the flow of traffic.

* Young men and women from the SAF and Home Team make up the Mobile Column. So do at least two Explosives Ordnance Detection Dogs with the Singapore Combat Engineers Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives (CBRE) Defence Group.

* The Singapore Civil Defence Force's Rescue Dog Tender has air-conditioned kennels.

* A Tempest is part of the Mobile Column for the first time. It's not what you think it is. The SCDF Tempest is a powerful fan that can be used to ventilate expressway tunnels. It gives a blow job to remember...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eight things to note about the NDP 2010 Mobile Column

The Mobile Column that is practising for the National Day Parade 2010 is the most powerfully-armed and capable ever.

Come 9 August 2010, after the Mobile Column presents its compliments to the Singapore President at the Padang, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines will fan out to five heartland National Day celebration venues across the island.

Many Military defence elements in the NDP 2010 Mobile Column are parade virgins.

Here are some jottings from my notebook after the first Combined Rehearsal (CR1) held on a sun-baked Padang in Singapore's city centre.

Home Team elements will be addressed in a separate post.

1. Leopard 2A4 Main Battle Tanks. They serve with the 48th Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment. Two types were seen during the Mobile Column's first Combined Rehearsal (CR1), the vanilla Leo2s in German warpaint alongside an up-armoured version with enhanced frontal and rear aspect protection. What you don't see is the defence electronics that links each Leo2 MBT with the SAF's battlefield command network which gives each tank commander a clearer idea his battlespace.

I hope the Mobile Column keeps the mix of vanilla Leo2s and zhnged Leopards (zhng is a local slang for "enhanced") so people can see the difference.

2. Terrex AV8 infantry fighting vehicles. Developed by Singapore Technologies Kinetics, three variants of the Terrex will drive past City Hall for the first time. These include the Terrex Command Post, Terrex OWS with a 40mm CIS 40 automatic grenade launcher and 7.62mm GPMG and a variant with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun paired with a 7.62mm GPMG. All the infantry weapons were made by STK.

3. Singapore Artillery contingent. The pair of Man five-tonner trucks that took part in CR1 right behind the MB240GD command jeep are unlikely to appear during the actual parade. Look out for the war machine that will appear in its place... : )

4. The Bronco all-terrain tracked carrier (i.e. known as the Warthog in British Army service) fitted for the STrike ObseRver Mission (STORM) battlefield surveillance and target designation role is another Mobile Column debutant.

5. The Singapore Combat Engineers M3 amphibious bridge layer is a new entrant to the Mobile Column attendance list. Singaporeans may remember the M3 as the platform for the Presidential Salute gun battery during last year's parade.

6. The Combat Service Support elements such as the field kitchen, field shower and washing machines are elements responsible for sustaining the Singapore Army's defence readiness during prolonged outfield operations. CSS elements kill bad morale. That's why they're so vital.

7. The Republic of Singapore Navy's Protector unmanned surface vessel will make its parade debut mounted on a trailer. This is another milestone for the Mobile Column. 

8. Assorted odds and ends:
* The Military Intelligence contingent will parade for the first time with a hand-held unmanned aerial vehicle and a Bronco signals vehicle.
* The BX2s with turret-mounted 30mm Bushmaster cannon and 7.62mm co-axial GPMG are Mobile Column virgins.
* LARC-V amphibious vehicles will be seen for the first time armed.
* The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Medical Corps' mobile field hospital is new.
* The Packbot robot that serves the SAF Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives (CBRE) Defence Group is another first timer to the Mobile Column.

A weekend in June

Yesterday's sneak preview of the first Combined Rehearsal (CR1) for the National Day Parade 2010 was special to me because our action station at the Green zone seats was close to where I stood on duty during NDP 1990.

Twenty years have since passed and the Mobile Column that filed past City Hall during CR1 packs the most firepower and capabilities compared to all other Mobile Columns I've seen.

NDP 2010's Mobile Column is more than a collection of hard-hitting war machines and Home Team vehicles. The inclusion for the first time of peace support operations vehicles and teams Singapore has sent for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions abroad acknowledges the part Singaporeans have served in helping the international community.

Since 1990, I've made it a point to spend several weekends in June watching NDP rehearsals as they underline the progress made by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as it modernises and sharpens its deterrent edge.

Many of the full-time National Servicemen at NDP 2010's CR1 were three-year-old boys when the picture above was taken at NDP 1995. The Mobile Column in 1995 was impactful because of the sheer weight of armour shown and new platforms that Singaporeans could photograph for the first time.

Fifteen years on at NDP 2010's CR1: the trees have grown and so have the three-year-olds. The platforms in this image show platforms Singaporeans could only dream about in 1995. These include main battle tanks and locally-developed Terrex infantry fighting vehicles (seen ahead of the Spike ATGM light strike vehicle conducting a Commander's brief).

Here's a recap of Mobile Column milestones over the years.

NDP 1990
The Milan 2 anti-tank guided weapon mounted on Mercedes Benz MB240GD jeeps were shown for the first time.

My duty station was under a light tower close to the Supreme Court. As a full-time National Serviceman with MINDEF's Public Affairs Department, I helped press photographers stay within the footprint of the light tower and made sure they did not wander about. It was an isolated position in full view of spectators and we could not cross the road nor go to the washroom for around three hours. There were no seats, so we all stood and I had to be careful about standing on one leg as that was a pet peeve of my director - whom the PAFF staff respected greatly.

The parade in 1990 marked Singapore's 25th year of independence.

That year's Mobile Column saw the parade debut for the Singapore Army's SM1 light tanks. Incidentally the 22nd anniversary of its unveiling passed a couple of days ago on 15 June 2010.

Armoured infantry aboard M-113 Armoured Personnel Carriers carried out debussing and embarkation drills in front of City Hall. Many of those NSFs have since completed their NS obligations.

NDP 1995
New systems acquired in the SAF 2000 modernisation programme were shown for the first time.

These included a large contingent of Bv206 all-terrain carriers, Combat Engineer Tractors, FH-2000 155mm field howitzer, Leguan bridge layer and the first M-113s upgraded to Ultra standard.

The main armament of Ultras shown during NDP 1995 comprised a 40mm automatic grenade launcher and 12.7mm heavy machine gun mounted on the locally-made Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK) 40/50 cupola.

The Singapore Police Force Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) unit showed it operated Land Rovers Defender 110s fitted with assault ladders.

NDP 2000
Singapore's 40th birthday saw the inclusion of more homegrown weapons in the Mobile Column.

The line up for the millennium year include the SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle and Bionix armoured fighting vehicles in two variants. These were the BX40/50 (STK 40/50 cupola) and BX25 armed with a 25mm Bushmaster cannon.

A new variant of the Ultra armed with 25mm Bushmaster cannon and 7.62mm GPMG in an overhead weapon system also trundled past the Padang for the first time.

The SM1 launched bridge, developed by Singapore's defence industry, showcased how Singaporean defence engineers and the Singapore Combat Engineers had modified AMX-13 light tanks as assault bridge carriers.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force's Igla surface to air missiles mounted on M-113s and twin Igla launchers mounted on MB290GD wheeled vehicles were also shown for the first time.

Interestingly, the Mobile Column for NDP 2000 used the east-bound Nicoll Highway lanes during the drive towards the Padang. In previous years and during NDP 2005, Mobile Column vehicles have traditionally used the west-bound lanes for their move towards the Padang.

NDP 2005
With the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) transformation into a Third Generation fighting force underway, the Mobile Column at NDP 2005 toasted some 3rd Gen platforms and capabilities.

The wraps came off the Singapore Combat Engineers Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives (CBRE) Defence Group after several years as a low profile unit. The CBRE elements have since been visible at public events such as the Singapore Air Show, Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore F1 Grand Prix night race and major international events such as the International Olympic Committee meetings and APEC talks held in Singapore.

An early variant of the Singapore Army's command post vehicle appeared during NDP 2005, pointing to the importance of information superiority during operations.

That year's Mobile Column featured the locally-made STK Primus 155mm self-propelled howtizer and a number of Bronco all-terrain tracked carriers.

 Other notable hardware include the RSAF's mechanized Igla armed with a quad-mounted launcher and a variant that carried a dust bin radar.

NDP 2010
This deserves a separate post which will appear shortly.

Presenting: The Singapore Army's new Armoured Recovery Vehicle

As the saying goes, a picture says it all.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold: the Leopard 2 Bergepanzer III Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV), also known as the Buffel (Buffalo).

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) watchers will have a field day updating themselves on developments in the Lion City's defence forces come 9 August 2010 at this year's 45th National Day Parade.

From the sneak preview of the first Combined Rehearsal (CR1) at the Padang on Saturday 19 June 2010, it was clear that the SAF is keen on highlighting more than a handful of new capabilities and war machines.

Interestingly, some new additions like the Bergepanzer III ARV will make their debut as part of the supporting cast to the military hardware that will trundle or roll past City Hall for the first time.

You know an excursion has hit the sweet spot when a bus load of militarynuts go wild over the first public sighting of the Buffel ARV in Singapore's city centre. The Buffel ARV was tucked away in a quiet corner off the parade ground, waiting for a call for its muscle should one of the Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks need a helping hand.

The combat weight of each Leopard 2A4 main battle tank demands an ARV with the heft and engine power to tow the German-built warhorse out of a sticky situation.

The acquisition of the Buffel ARV speaks volumes of the way the SAF builds its defence capabilities.

Just as it would be silly to acquire submarines without concurrently building and supporting a submarine rescue capability, it makes little sense buying main battle tanks when you have nothing in your inventory to tow these monsters should they break down in the field or on the road.

The SAF's growth trajectory is guided by a capabilities-based and not a threat-based approach.

And building capabilities entails a thorough understanding of the whole chain of systems, processes and manpower requirements needed to ensure war machines work as advertised.

Put simply: SAF war machines are more than parade trophies.

The appearance of the Singapore Army's Buffel ARV makes a compelling statement that the Army's Leopard 2A4s were not a standalone purchase but a capability development that was well-thought through and balanced.

The story of how quickly the SAF managed to make the capability jump from SM1 light tanks to MBTs is one that cannot be told in full without running afoul of the Republic's tight info security regulations.

But those who know, will know and draw comfort from the fact that the SAF Armour's promise of delivering a Swift and Decisive knockout punch against the aggressor(s) is more than an empty promise.

Friday, June 18, 2010

National Day Parade CR1

The National Day Parade Mobile Column rehearsals move to the city tomorrow for the first Combined Rehearsal (CR1).

It's been five years since Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team vehicles rumbled through Singapore's city centre en masse.

Stayed tuned for a special field report.

Show stoppers: Singapore Army M-113s form up along Nicoll Highway during a Combined Rehearsal for NDP 1995. The opportunity to see massed armour and B vehicles formed up in march order prior to the drive past is gone. At NDP 2005, each Mobile Column "wave" representing a particular Formation (example: Armour, Artillery etc) drove towards the Padang according to their individual driving lanes.

Mobile Column vehicles formed up bumper to bumper in one lane and merged to form neat rows across multiple lanes only when they got closer to the reviewing platform. In NDP 1990, 1995 and 2000, the entire Mobile Column moved towards the Padang in review order.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action!

The Lights, Camera, Action! attraction at the theme park I work at is immensely popular with visitors because it whisks them to a world of alternate reality.

You can step into a boathouse on New York City's waterfront to watch an F5 hurricane tear the place apart. Flames, smashed window panes and a cargo ship that comes crashing into the boathouse amid flashes of lightning and torrential rain cap 6-minutes of movie magic. At the end of the show, the wrecked place magically resets itself for the next performance (though few visitors stay around to watch this, darting out as soon as the doors open just as few Singaporeans stay to appreciate movie credits).

Alas, theme park magic is alive and well at a certain directorate!

People who argue that civil servants or uniformed personnel are an unimaginative lot must hear about how that particular directorate hosted their opposite numbers from another government ministry.

They took just days to set up an artificial Operations Room, fully staffed and wired up to impress their visitors.

It was scripted. Pure Hollywood. Throw in some fancy dancing and it could rank as pure Bollywood.

To use the local term "wayang" (stage play) would be a gross injustice to the amount of brain juice that went into theming the Ops Room so it would knock the socks off those wearing visitor passes.

I wish my best friend had shared his intentions with me, because I would have introduced him to my stateside colleagues who did the show Battlestar Galactica. Then, the Ops Room would've been something to shout about even louder.

Alas, the fake set would have worked if not for the too-good-to-be-true sentiments that stirred among some of the seasoned visitors. You know, that same feeling when you watch a movie and the special effects are a tad over the top.

Discrete enquiries were made and word got out. In no time, The System became aware that they had a theme park attraction on the doorstep of a heavily guarded facility that even paint-wielding Swiss artisans haven't attempted to penetrate.

As a tax-payer, I'm thrilled to bits that the spirit of creativity and movie magic has spread beyond Sentosa's shores.

The wet blankets who aren't amused should learn to loosen up and enjoy the show. People pay good money to indulge in theme park fantasies. Here, they've got one for free and the narrative that accompanied the tour would make any Hollywood or Bollywood producer blush with pride.

The staff officers who dragged their feet to be part of the performance should also lighten up. We're a buzzing, First World society which loves and indulges in world-class artistic performances.

Granted, being part of the smokescreen isn't what some of them signed up for. But human resource practitioners celebrate versatility and a can-do mentality, and that was exactly what we saw in the Ops Room.

People in The System who fret about the waste of tax-payers moolah, or that wrong ideas might be propogated in this sideshow have nothing to sweat about. The Ops Room was picture perfect and probably framed what could be an ideal case scenario.

I certainly hope the esteemed visitors walked away with the "right" lessons and will implement the proper ones when they sit at their work stations. I dare not imagine what would happen years from today if bad practices were exported...

Because should disaster strike on the public relations front, they can't reset the wreckage as easily as the theme park's hurricane-ravaged boathouse.

Argued from that perspective, I can well and truely understand why some people in The System don't have a sense of humour like my best friend and I both share. Do you?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Our Best Units

In the run-up to Singapore Armed Forces Day on 1 July, the Defence Ministy will cast the spotlight on SAF units that performed well in the past work year.

Later this month, the Singaporean media will trot out winners of the SAF's Best Unit competition.

The stories due to appear in the print, broadcast and online media are likely to carry the same soundbytes - how the men and women worked hard to achieve success, why the respective Commanding Officers (COs) feel proud of their achievement, who the COs credit for the win and what were some of the key challenges overcome this past year.

Throw in the photo opportunities and one has a nicely packaged series of stories on the 41st Best Unit competition. The winning air force squadron will almost certainly pose with a banner proclaiming the prize the squadron bagged. The Navy's best ship will muster all hands on deck for a photo call. And the Singapore Army's best warfighters will strike a pose that emphasizes their operational prowess.

Even as COs of winning units polish their media lines and fuss over upcoming photo opportunities, more than a handful of SAF officers, Military Experts and Specialists know they will be bench warmers at the SAF Day Parade on 1 July 2010.

They are out of the game not because they failed to make the cut. They weren't even in the running because of the units they serve, the missions they perform or the war machines they operate.

In my opinion, the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Air Force and Republic of Singapore Navy are likely to possess closed units in their order of battle.

In the not-so-recent past, the RSAF's orbat added two squadrons that operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) virtually overnight. This took place on 25 May 2007 after the air force's UAV Command was inaugurated.

While the RSAF's 116 SQN and 119 SQN finally saw the light of day, several more have not...

In 2003, when I first wrote about the Singapore Army's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives (CBRE) Defence Group, the pioneer batch of officers spoke of how their then-unnamed capabilities were kept low key. These warfighters knew they existed as mail continued to arrive at their desks courtesy of an Armed Forces Post Number that routed all snail mail to their closed unit.

Even their spouses could not be let in on what they did.

For a city state that anchors its defence strategy on deterrence, Singapore's approach in arming its defence forces with resources that can catch the aggressor(s) wrong-footed - whether it is a one-front or two-front conventional war, or an undeclared war waged by a non-state actor - is a prudent one.

The tricky part comes with balancing defence secrets with the spirit of transparency that defence diplomacy forums such as the Shangri-La Dialogue aim to foster.

Transparency in defence is touted as a confidence-building measure. In a region dogged by historical baggage, frank dialogue and sincere exchanges among neighbours are certainly preferable to situations where mistrust and misunderstandings rule the day.

But to ditch operational advantages in the defence sphere in the name of transparency is not only naive, but a strategic cop out.

In the United States - long upheld as the bastion of diplomacy and free speech - American citizens were kept in the dark when the F-117 stealth fighter and B-2 bomber were under development. Not until the F-117 was commissioned into operational service did the covers come off one of the free world's most closely-guarded military secrets.

I don't have a ready answer on how one should calibrate transparency. While I welcome more transparency when it comes to issues on training safety - because the lack of it damages commitment to defence and the SAF - it is unwise for defence planners to tell all when it comes to defence capabilities.

Keeping secret some parts of our defence inventory does not mean that we are hamstrung from making known the intent of our defence strategy. Inventory and Intentions are two different things.

Indeed, deterrence is enhanced when foreign observers are clear what the mission of the SAF is. We strengthen our case when foreigners know that everything they think they know about the SAF obscures aspects which they can only guess about. These unknown elements are factors that could throw their calculations off balance should deterrence fail.

Transparency and good neighbourliness aside, the other tricky part when it comes to black diamonds lies with ensuring a steady stream of funding for these capabilities, as well as individuals with the right stuff for the assorted roles.

How do you recruit when you can't tell the job candidate how he will earn his pay or where he will be based? We can't expect everyone to see above and beyond the standard recruitment pitch and realise there's a more exciting way to build a career than what's stated on SAF recruitment brochures.

Therein lies the danger of the Best Unit media blitz: As the SAF trumpets success, it must not do so at the cost of COs, MEs and Specialists who serve in SAF units that cannot be mentioned.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Best Friend

Despite chalking up a string of corporate achievements, my best friend will leave his job in the coming months.

As news of his departure spreads afar, his staff officers lament the impending loss of a wonderful leader, peerless mentor and outstanding visionary. Indeed, his reign has no parallel because he has raised the bar to new heights. Whoever comes along with have big shoes to fill.

Rest assured! My best friend will leave his successor with a world-class organisation at the top of its game, staffed by highly-motivated staff officers who will walk over landmines for their boss because they all love and adore him. His NSFs bemoan their short tour of duty and wish it could stretch longer, for years even. It's no surprise because my best friend effortlessly exudes a charismatic pull on these boys. His peer group officers gush with pride whenever my best friend chairs meetings, avidly picking up every morsel of guidance and wise counsel. He engenders an almost homo-erotic loyalty among his officer peers that some will name their next born sons after him in his honour.

Indeed, my best friend has been a cheer leader in recent weeks, coaxing all his SOs to stay with the organisation and give their best. He is due to leave but is still very much on the ball and has had praise heaped on him by his superiors. He wants to make sure his successor inherits a tight ship with all systems and processes in place so his rock solid legacy can continue.

Under his stellar leadership, my best friend has built unbreakable bonds with stakeholders within his organisation as well as national typists. These typists sit at the edge of their seats in rapt attention when he speaks because the golden words of wisdom that leave his lips are the first draft of history. Scribes would jot down his quotes in their own blood if their pens ran dry as his wise counsel is sought after by the nation's heartlanders, who lap up every word that graces the pages they are written on.

Such is the privilege of working under his watch! His departure will be a great loss to the organisation and our dear nation. This corporate titan, leader of men, mentor to the young, faithful shepherd to the media, opinion leader, maker of history, master wordsmith, peerless wonder. I am proud to call him my best friend!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Air warfare exercise codenamed Garuda

Our stealth warplanes have gone off to a stealthy air warfare exercise, this time in France.

The New Indian Express ran this story on 8 June 2010 but there's still no word from the world's favourite Public Affairs Directorate.

The Indian Air Force will have their own reasons for publicising this exercise strongly. If their Sukhois end up beating their exercise partners, especially the advanced F-16s used by Singapore, this will be a feather in the cap for their air force.

The implicit message lies with the boast that the IAF can also beat their neighbour's early model F-16s.

The fact that India's PR coup will dent the confidence some Singaporean tax payers will have with their own air force goes without saying. This is why Singapore should have been more proactive in informing Singaporeans about this long-range deployment and some of the likely takeaways from the war games and deploying at such long distances.

There's a typo at the end of the Indian Express story - Rafael (as in the Israeli weapon maker) should be spelt Rafale (the French warplane).

IAF contingent off to France for air combat drills
By Gautam Datt

08 Jun 2010 03:26:19 AM IST

IAF contingent off to France for air combat drills NEW DELHI: A group of India's top of the line combat jet - Sukhoi Su30 MKI - was flagged off from the Bareilly air base in Uttar Pradesh on Monday for France where it would spend around a week to practice various air combat drills involving combat jets from French and Singapore Air Forces.

The supersonic fighters are accompanied by three airtoair refuellers that would keep them airborne for long durations limiting the need for stopovers. The IAF has already accumulated substantial experience of deploying its fighter jets to far flung regions of the world.

This is not the first time that the Su30s, one of the most eagerly watched fighter jets in the world, would be flying in the European skies. The IAF has a regular schedule of conducting exercises with friendly countries.

The last overseas assignment for IAF pilots was to Oman where the deep penetration strike aircraft, Jaguars, performed in a desert environment of the Gulf for the very first time.

The exercise with France known as 'Garuda', is entering its third edition this year. The 230 member IAF team flying in six Su30 MKIs, three IL78 refuellers and an IL76 transporter will be hosted at the Istres air base in France. It also includes IAF's commando force 'Garud.' This is the first time the air commandos are taking part in an overseas exercise.

The IAF combat jets will get an opportunity to fly along with some of the best known fighter aircraft operating in the world today. These include Mirage 2000s and Rafael. The IAF also flies a variant of Mirage 2000 and has also tried Rafael as a possible choice for its new multirole combat jet fleet.

IAF to participate in Exercise Garuda in France
NetIndian News Network
New Delhi, June 7, 2010

An Indian Air Force (IAF) contingent of 230 Air Warriors will take part in Exercise Garuda that will be held from June 14-25 at the Istres Air Base in France.

The contingent was formally flagged off from the Air Force Station in Bareilly today by Air Marshal S Varthaman, Senior Air Staff Officer, Central Air Command.

An official press release said the IAF assets participating in the exercise included six Sukhoi 30 MKI air dominance fighter aircraft, three Ilyushin 79 flight refueller aircraft and 1 Ilyushin 76 heavy lift transport aircraft.

The SU-30 MKIs would be taking part in an exercise in France for the first time. Earlier, SU-30 KAs had participated. Also a team of Garud Special Forces would be taking part in Exercise Garuda for the first time, the release said.

"We have prepared well for last 6 to 8 months and I am sure you will excel with your professionalism. So fly safe, fly well, make friends, win hearts and touch the sky with glory," Air Marshal Varthaman said.

The French Air Force will be participating in the exercise with their Mirage 2000s and Rafael aircraft. Singapore Air Force will also be participating in the exercise with its F-16 Block 52 aircraft.

The IAF team will led by Group Captain J Mishra, while Group Captain N N Sinha will be the exercise director.

According to the release, a joint exercise of this nature enhances mutual operational understanding. It also refines the procedural aspects and provides for tremendous learning experience for all the participating air forces. It also enables the operators to understand each other’s capability.

The exercise is also aimed at enhancing and further cementing the close military ties between the Indian and French air forces, the release added.

The Navy Family starts them young

When five-year-old Marcus Quek shared his ambition to be "an aircraft carrier caption" with Singapore's Chief of Navy (CNV), he never expected the two-star admiral to reply.

The correspondence between the two has made waves among netizens as news of the heart-warming episode snowballed in cyberspace.

Read Marcus' hand-written letter here.

For his trouble, Master Quek received an invitation to bring his parents and little brother to the recent Navy Open House, organised by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The reply from CNV included tickets for a sea cruise aboard a Bedok-class mine countermeasure vessel which brought the Queks out to the Singapore Strait to give them a taste of shipboard life. Their radiant smiles showed that the family outing was a happy one.

Here's CNV's reply:

I'm not sure if RADM Chew's letter will open the floodgates to similar appeals from aspiring sailors, or whether it will springboard Marcus' naval career once he reaches enlistment age. Even if CNV's mailbox gets crammed with snail mail, it will definitely be a plus as the silent Service raises its profile among Singapore's dwindling pool of future enlistees.

We can hem and haw about Civil-Military Relations (CMR) and debate till our faces turn blue about CMR's terms of reference, but what matters is whether we walk the talk.

As noted in an earlier post about how the Navy Family rallied together when the RSN lost one of its young naval officers, the Navy Family is more than an catchy advertising slogan. The Navy Family starts them young too. And this episode should stand as an emblem of pride for the RSN.

I find this episode touching because it shows that the RSN has its pulse on public opinion and actively engages Singaporeans, whatever their age.

Our Navy may be the smallest of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) three Services, but it certainly punches above its weight class.

So once again, the RSN deserves a Bravo Zulu.

Read the blog entry here.

RSAF Flypast Rehearsal

The flypast segment is still coming together but what was practised seems to lack the wow factor from previous displays.

In my view, the 1990 National Day Parade (NDP) flypast is best remembered for its 25-ship Skyhawk formation that formed the number "25", 1990 being Singapore's 25th year of independence.

The 1984 NDP flypast was a head turner because it had three flights of 15 F-5 Tigers, 15 Hawker Hunters and 15 Skyhawks that formed three V formations, not counting the contribution from the choppers. That year toasted Singapore's 25th year of nation building.

The amount of airspace management and coordination needed to assemble those large fighter aircraft formations (we're talking about 1980s C2 systems) and synchronise it with an equally impressive Mobile Column that saw systems such as the I-HAWK and Rapier make their NDP debut is commendable.

In my opinion, those two flypasts have not been surpassed in terms of wow factor and crowd appeal.

Bearing in mind financial prudence, what should the NDP 2010 flypast be remembered for in years to come?

Will people remember the "firsts" such as the NDP debut for the F-15SG and G550? Heartlanders are unlikely to appreciate what the G550 can do as its belly silhouette resembles a regular business jet. Indeed, the E-2C which appeared at the 2005 outing is likely to have turned more heads as it is a unique-looking aircraft with that frisbee-like structure on its fuselage.

And with just five F-15SGs on home ground, the number of display permutations is limited. That said, all five should be included in one formation - these are big warplanes - perhaps representing the five stars on the Singapore flag. If they could perform a twinkle roll directly over the Padang, that would be the icing on the cake which would be a crowd pleaser.

The five F-15SGs could represent a flying representation of the NDP 2010 logo. Which looks like this:

The framework for the NDP 2010 flypast is more or less there.

But more effort is needed to lift the current routine from a so-so performance that burns tax dollars to something people will talk about in years to come.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thunder Run: RSAF soars over Singapore City

A free display of Singapore's air power takes place over Singapore's city centre around noon today.

It will be a case of something old, something new as the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) parades its cutting edge in the lead up to Singapore's 45th National Day celebrations.

The last time the RSAF flew in such strength over the city was at the National Day Parade 2005.

Five years on, Singapore's air force has much to show as its G550 airborne early warning aircraft and F-15SG Strike Eagle fighter jets participate in the NDP flypast for the first time.

The flying arsenal reflects only part of the RSAF's transformation into a powerful and hard-hitting air force.

What people don't see are the landmark changes to the RSAF's command structure and organisation which has led to a battle-ready air force with a higher degree of defence readiness. These changes are borne out in the various commands such as the Air Power Generation Command and Air Combat Command - without whose support, professional expertise and dedication nothing flies.

The noontime flypast will be a practice session for the real thing on 9 August 2010 - Singapore's independence day.

The second RSAF Internal Rehearsal builds on lessons learnt from the first practice on 2 June 2010. The third and last weekday practice is due to be held next Wednesday 16 June 2010.

For plane spotters, these weekday rehearsals are valuable photo opportunities because they are held in daylight, which should lead to better images.

Flypast practices held when the entire parade contingent forms up will be held close to the actual parade timing. This means the aircraft and helicopters will fly in the fading light of dusk.

Tune in later today for a sighting report.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NDP 2010 Mobile Column Internal Rehearsal

Taking place today at Tuas. Many thanks to xtemujin who filmed them this morning.

Combat Service Support and Singapore Combat Engineers elements at the forming up point: Video 1

Home Team, Signals and SAF Medical Corps, SAF Ammunition Command: Video 2

It's funny that they bunched the Signals vehicles towards the rear of the column.

If the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces wants to showcase that it directs precision fires and precision manoeuvre with timely and precise information, shouldn't the Signals contingent go right up behind the Armour?

More on this after I watch CR1.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kindered spirits

"The trainspotters' activities include 'camping' at train stations and recording the trains on each line and the advertisements on the carriages, among other things.

"Their findings are posted and discussed on an online forum." - The Straits Times, 5 June 2010.

Singapore's small community of bus, plane and train spotters are a goldmine of trivia for the island's land transport and aviation sector.

Raw data they amass points to the amount of information skilled operatives can collect from the open domain just by investing the time and passion to the task.

Spotters and militarynuts contributed greatly during my days as a journalist. Many want to remain anonymous, but I nonetheless thank them for the tipoffs and sighting reports which helped the 90 cents newspaper publish impactful defence-related scoops.

Admittedly, their criticisms and constructive comments on how a published story could've been written better also helped me up my game.

News of the air intrusion by a Cessna seaplane was contributed by a team of plane spotters. One of them was outside WSSS and thought it frightfully odd when peak hour airliner traffic came to a standstill while two F-16D+s thundered off the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Changi Air Base (East) runway, armed and clearly in a hurry, eastbound for the South China Sea on full reheat.

I received the tipoff that evening and the story made it to the Prime News page in time for the next morning's paper.

The last flight by the RSAF A-4 Skyhawks over Singapore was another timely contribution.

In recent days, the story of how a Singaporean train spotter was the first to upload a video of an SMRT train with an unusual paint job is yet another example of how closely spotters watch their quarry.

An 18-year-old student/train enthusiast, Mr Ong You Yuan, waited an hour to catch a train that caught his eye. His Youtube contribution was the first to show an SMRT train sporting the non-company sanctioned livery. Catch You Yuan's video here.

The saga emphasizes the contribution that eagle-eyed citizens can play in alerting authorities when something is not quite right or appears out of the norm.

The community of spotters is a small one. It is somewhat competitive as enthusiasts jostle to keep prime observation spots to themselves or try to be the first to break a fresh sighting report.

But hobbyists tend to know one another. Indeed, some of the militarynuts I've met on jaunts have become new friends.

Plane spotters can, for example, serve as a tripwire when outsiders lurk around RSAF air base fencelines. Their eyes and ears add to the security bubble around key installations, enhancing the physical security measures on MINDEF real estate.

When the outreach embraces people with a passion for the military, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will find that netizens can help the SAF's outreach in cyberspace, 24/7.

To this end, I am glad initiatives are being taken to address this. This is especially important at a time when SAF combat formations have gradually become aware how a certain individual has run down his directorate. We see it in the rotten advice given to higher management and the back stabbing of peer group officers, including but not limited to interfering with the social calendar of general-ranked officers.

As I said before, the system isn't stupid. So let's just leave it at that.

Going forward, people who get a kick seeing military vehicles on the road will welcome the start of the National Day Parade 2010 first Combined Rehearsal (CR1).

I bet I'll see the usual suspects stalk roads in the city centre to catch the Mobile Column as SAF A and B vehicles trundle past City Hall, not forgeting the Home Team's hardware.

Throw in the plane spotters who will be there to see the flypast rehearsals and we'll have the makings of another group outing.

Who's in?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010