Monday, August 9, 2010

NDP 2010 Mobile Column: Command and Control

With 14* successful drivepast rehearsals on the score sheet, one would think the National Day Parade (NDP) 2010 Mobile Column Committee has said everything there is to say about the drivepast.

But the last group briefings held this morning took more than an hour to complete because they sprung last minute route changes as surprises.

Hours before the show hit the road on Singapore's 45th Birthday today, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team participants were updated on changes to the Mobile Column's route.

A night reconnaissance last Saturday (7 Aug'10) erased parts of the looks-good-on-paper driving route through the city and the route to the western part of the island. This meant that drivers, vehicle commanders and safety officers had to change their mindmap of the route they would ply. And they had mere hours to rehearse this in the minds because no rehearsal was possible.

So this morning's sitrep was a blend of safety brief, rah-rah session (to get participants in the mood to perform) and a don't-say-I-didn't-tell-you session all rolled into one that kept drivers and vehicles commanders in rapt attention.

As is typical when the SAF rolls out its action plan, the centralised planning process was reassuringly thorough and gave fresh meaning to the phrase "left no stone unturned".

Recce teams from Headquarters Armour had counted the number of road junctions the vehicles would have to pass (total: 136 junctions), scrutinised road widths and made sure vehicles could safely pass under overhead bridges and flyovers without snapping off whip antennae or other expensive bits that adorn SAF war machines and Home Team vehicles. Turning radii of the vehicles were committed to memory and tested out on Singapore's streets - sometimes in the dead of the night when traffic was light.

Primary and secondary locations for loading the vehicles onto low loaders at the end point were charted and timetables drawn up for sending these vehicles back to camp. A dry weather plan, wet weather plan, flash flood plan and other drawer plans that factored in nasty situations like terror attacks were also part of HQ Armour's planning process. Indeed, short of an asteroid hitting Singapore, the Mobile Column would get its job done. Yup.

Paper wall charts of Singapore's road network traced the routes that the Mobile Column vehicles would take after the 210 tracked and wheeled vehicles split up into three separate convoys to visit the heartlands - housing estates in the west, north and northeastern parts of Singapore island. The 42-km long by 24-km wide city state is so tiny that a map the size of a ping pong table (above) was all that was needed to show a bird's eye view of all arterial roads and expressways.

Backing up the paper charts were powerpoint presentations that used overhead imagery to illustrate the driving routes.

For all that forward planning, Mobile Column participants had to adapt to changes. And they didn't have the luxury of time to slowly ease into their comfort zone as the 7 Aug'10 recce uncovered a better way of doing things and a command decision was made to change things. And adapt they did - from seasoned regulars to teenage full-time National Servicemen.

And while planning was centralised and thorough, the execution of the Mobile Column's war plan was largely decentralised. This is a line inspired by Field Manual 100-5 "Operations".

Sitting through the briefings before H Hour, it was apparent that the SAF ran the Mobile Column as a military operation and the success of this operation depended heavily upon smooth, decentralised execution of orders. The initiative rested with the drivers and vehicle commanders and ground commanders. Each vehicle was a self-contained, self-aware unit that had to take the initiative to make snap decisions as events unfolded.

Captain Jay Chan sketched out scenarios where impatient (and foolhardy) pedestrians were seen dashing in between gaps in vehicles during prior rehearsals, risking an encounter with an SAF armoured vehicle whose end result did not require a rocket scientist to figure out.

Major Lim Han Yong reminded formation liaison officers, who were tasked to cascade the message to participants under their care:"Drivers should focus on the task at hand and watch out for pedestrians."

Scene setter: Major Lim Han Yong from the Singapore Army's Armour Formation addresses drivers and vehicle commanders from the SAF and Home Team. Sessions like these establish the commander's intent and strengthen rapport with the troops, which is vitally important as face-to-face briefings augment the instantaneous and wide reach of plasma devices. The briefing was held in a disused car park at Kallang after the Mobile Column committee recognised that it needed a weather-proof area as a command post for the weekly rehearsals.

Taking the initiative, it seemed, did not include blundering into housing estates after dark in armoured vehicles when drivers came across an unfamiliar road junction and the lead vehicle had shot out of sight.

So drivers were urged by Major Lim Kah Keng to stick to the 30km/h speed limit and leave a gap between vehicles lest a pedestrian flirted with the idea of becoming a traffic statistic.

"Speed and distance are the only assurances we have,'' said MAJ Lim, the deputy chairman of the Mobile Column and Celebrations Committee. He noted that the convoy's movement out of the Padang would push the Mobile Column into terra incognito.

As time was short, MAJ Lim crunched down his talking points into the four "S"

Standards: "Your alignment, spacing and actions on the move must be sharp." (They were, from what I saw on TV)

Serviceability: The emphasis was on 100% readiness. "The maintenance officer must be the most free guy today." (Last seen merrily shopping at Kallang Leisure Park)

The last two points covered the security sweeps and safety.

That nightmare scenarios weren't played out tonight is a credit to the 600-plus SAF road marshals mobilised to shepherd the thundering convoys on their assigned routes. Some 200 traffic police motorcycle outriders kept the three convoys moving with progressive closures of road junctions, which is by no means an easy feat in a city state with Singapore's urban density. Executed at dinnertime on a public holiday, these road closures could potentially result in traffic chaos if ineptly planned, clumsily executed and blithely ignored by road users. Alas, everyone played their part.

That nothing of that sort has occurred at time of writing is a credit to the SAF tankees, clerks, storemen and personnel from other assorted roles whose job descriptions do not include traffic marshal duty. These traffic marshals literally had to think on their feet as the convoys to the heartlands were not something the SAF had rehearsed.

To be sure, technology in the form of vehicle navigation systems probably played a part in keeping the Mobile Column on track, if you excuse the pun. The new generation of SAF and Home Team vehicles are known to have moving map displays and GPS way finders that help the vehicle crew find their way around unfamiliar territory.

Thankfully, today's route was on friendly ground and the only shots the vehicles attracted during their adventure to the heartlands came from untold number of camera flashes that went off as the vehicles came within camera range.

The NDP 2010 Mobile Column that Colonel Lam Pei Sien, chairman of the parade's Mobile Column and Celebrations Committee, had earlier pledged would showcase the Lion City's "Ready and Relevant" defence and security muscle had evidently impressed the citizens.

* Practice sessions count Combined Rehearsal 1 on 19 Jun'10, CR2 26 Jun'10, CR3 3 Jul'10, the 1st National Education show 10 Jul'10, NE2 17 Jul'10, NE3 24 Jul'10 and the Parade Preview 31 Jul'10. The Mobile Column made two runs during each rehearsal for a total of 14 runs on National Day morning. With the exception of CR1 and CR2, all other rehearsals were done in front of a live audience.

Acknowledgements: The NDP 2010 Executive Committee kindly granted access to the briefings this morning and I found these sessions very educational. I thank all Mobile Column participants for their courtesy. I guess showing up this morning finally let you put a face to a name. :-)

The group shots - Armour, AIs, Combat Engineers, Guards, Infantry and Peacekeepers - taken today will be handed to HQ Armour.

I'd like to record my appreciation to CPT Clarence from HQ Armour, who was the liaison officer assigned to this blog project from CR1.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating and insightful write-up, Mr. Boey.

Not to negate, downplay or redefine PAFF's role, but I feel that not every publicity effort or informational piece has to come from MINDEF.

Engaged and informed citizens, with an eye for opsec considerations, offer a credible resource pool in building public defence communication.


Ben Choong said...

The willingness of the army to host and permit such visits has been a victory for civil-military relations. Its my sincere hope that the Army and MINDEF can continue building such good rapport with citizens who care.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this very eye-opening and in-depth report. Through reading this post, I have come to appreciate the drivepast is every bit as challenging as a military operation and there are so many people working behind the scenes, whom we'll never see or meet.

Anonymous said...

We know SAF SM is the one who organize NDP Guard of Honor, Marching Contingent.

Then which NCO group train this Mobile Column?
The "Encik" must be a Division level right? it had been well organize and receive these good comments from various internet posting.

Solid Tanks photo, whoever wants to touch Spore, must think carefully : >

Well Done, David Boey!

Anonymous said...

They not call NCO any more,you are NSman?

Most of us enjoy two things in NDP 2010 - Firework and Mobile Column.
congratulation to those had take part in Mobile Column,it seen only this blog will mention you're.
No other forum,blog,book will remember your contribution in do treasure these memory and cut all the news about you're to show your children in 2015,2020,2025...and so on when these big machine drive pass padang again.

David,Good Articles.

arshad said...
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