Sunday, June 26, 2011

23 SA gunners all fired up for the National Day Parade 2011; HIMARS rocket launchers to take part in NDP for the first time

All fired up: Singapore Artillery gunners Third Sergeant Joel Tan (left), 3SG Alson Tan and 3SG Guo Jun Guang (right), from the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery, at a photo call before taking part in the second Combined Rehearsal on Saturday 25 June'11. The gunners will show how a HIMARS rocket launcher prepares its rockets for a fire mission when HIMARS appears at NDP for the first time on 9 August 2011. The trio of 20-year-old gunners are taking part in NDP for the first time. 

You can probably guess where National Day Parade 2011 participant, Third Sergeant Joel Tan (left), will be spending the next few Saturdays.

Half of his weekends will be claimed by NDP rehearsals at Marina Bay, where hours of waiting and pre-show preparations will be rewarded with a defence display lasting less than two minutes. Watch 3SG Joel and his team in action in this YouTube clip:

His show item, called the Dynamic Defence Display, gives the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Home Team a chance to showcase some of its urban counter terrorism and conventional warfare capabilities.

The Singapore Artillery gunner at least gets a chance to show his face to NDP spectators as he stands in the top hatch of the M142 HIMARS vehicle.

NDP spectators will not get to see the other two gunners in the HIMARS firing team as 3SG Alson Tan and 3SG Guo Jun Guang will remain in the armoured cab of the vehicle as it demonstrates how the six-rocket pod prepares for a fire mission by aiming the rockets towards a mock target.

That said, the trio of 20-year-old full-time National Servicemen from Bravo Battery, 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery, feel the abbreviated weekends are worth it because the parade is meaningful and is something most Singaporeans look forward to. All are taking part in NDP for the first time and are eager to put on a good show.

The parade marking Singapore's 46th independence day on 9 August will be preceeded by a series of Combined Rehearsals and National Education shows for students and new citizens in the lead up to the actual day's parade.

3SG Joel, who was from Yishun Junior College, said on behalf of his rocket crew: "This new weapon can contribute a lot to the defence of Singapore. I feel a sense of pride and am very honoured to be chosen to take part in the National Day Parade."

Catch the HIMARS as it drives past the Singapore Flyer at 18:00 Hotel every Saturday till National Day.

A word of thanks to NDP 2011 EXCO for facilitating access to CR2.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Singapore National Day Parade 2011: Combined Rehearsal 2 - Getting it right

Every Saturday from now till National Day on 9 August, Singapore's warfighters will get a chance to practice cueing, coordinating and integrating moving parts from many organisations.

It is not easy and 3G or not, sometimes things do not pan out as the timesheets recommend.

Those of you who have seen how military operations are executed may realise that the skill sets involved in giving a datum call, say for a fly past, is very much the same as that required to whistle up an air strike and ensure the time over target is spot on.

Today's CR2 rehearsal had one such snafu - one which plane spotters would have noticed.

Our people do not always get things right at each Combined Rehearsal (CR), but you can bet the after-action review will be rigorous and lessons learned keyed into powerpoint notes ahead of the next pre-show briefing.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), tasked to lead the committee formed to plan, organise and stage Singapore's birthday parade, is afterall a learning organisation.

The value of Combined Rehearsals (CR) staged ahead of the National Day Parade (NDP) goes above and beyond moving a parade from concept to reality.

At every CR, thousands of NDP participants have to be marshalled and deployed to a show site on time and in a logical sequence.

With show centre at The Float in Marina Bay located in a city-state which is one of the most densely-populated places you can find in Asia, moving all those people, equipment, show props and uniforms is part military art, part logistical science with a fair bit of luck thrown into the matrix.

Participants also need to be fed and watered. School kids need to return home safe and sound and at a decent hour before bedtime. When things screw up, some unhappy parent will voice displeasure with an inevitable letter to the newspapers demanding an explanation from the NDP Executive Committee (EXCO). Despite our best efforts, things have gone awry in past years - just check the Straits Times archives for evidence of such letters.

This means communications management is also vital. The age of new media and net-savvy Gen Y participants means every NDP EXCO has its work cut out for it when trying to balance the need to preserve NDP surprises till the actual day and the reality that Gen Ys will tweet, MMS or blog about the CRs and quite possibly give the game away. It does not help that NDP rehearsals held outside the National Stadium since NDP 2006 are in public areas in the city - well within reach of telephoto lenses and digital zoom of uninvited guests. This presents an excellent lesson in opsec management.

In the same way, the medical plan in the post 9/11 era goes beyond having a stretcher party on standby. Evacuation plans need to cater for a packed gallery of 25,000 plus parade spectators as well as thousands more NDP participants.

Sentinel: NBC detector from the Singapore Combat Engineers Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives (CBRE) Defence Group temporarily installed on the roof of a building around Marina Bay as a tripwire to alert authorities of changes in the ambient air quality.

Wind sensors, building configurations and standby areas for immediate response units need to be scouted out and drawer plans rehearsed discretely. Computer modelling is also done to predict how chemical plumes may be dispersed by the wind.

The medical contingency plan puts SAF and Home Team units that are trained, organised, equipped and supported for urban terrorism through exactly the same routine prescribed in their ops manuals. Again, the CRs are no waste of time as staff officers walk through plans, policies and procedures and tweak outdated CONOPS for more effective incident management.

The CR may be a dress rehearsal for the actual parade, but for the ready response forces, the CR is no dress rehearsal as medical emergencies can strike anytime.

And with millions of eyeballs following the event every 9 August, parade snafus seldom go unnoticed.

Lessons from previous NDPs show that despite all the hard work and rehearsals, all that fancy communications gear and timesheets, it is the human factor that matters most.

Isn't this the same in war?

This humbling lesson is taught time and again, either during CRs or even at actual NDPs. From what I hear, officers at the receiving end usually emerge better and sharper as the NDP is such a high profile event that the learning point is not something one can evade easily.

So when cold fireworks were triggered earlier than expected at the Benjamin Sheares Bridge during NDP 2007, Commandos had to make the split second go/no go decision whether or not to rappel down the bridge with the blizzard of sparks uncomfortably close. The Commandos did so, bravely. And NDP spectators were none the wiser.

And when a parade commander mistimed the number of feu-de-joie (fire-of-joy) rifle volleys, the ensuing mix up among the guard of honour (GOH) contingent was a drill shambles the camera could not hide -not on live television. The solution in NDPs that followed was to place a soldier whose sole task was to mirror commands given by the parade commander. In previous years, the parade commander's orders were obeyed by the GOH standing behind him. The parade mimic thus gives the parade commander a better idea of the parade stance of the GOH by looking at the mimic.

Just as some errors are caused by the human factor, whether or not the right lessons are picked up and internalised depends very much on another human factor - the attitude of an NDP EXCO to learn and emerge as competent professionals and not to turn mistakes into a finger-pointing exercise or to slay a scape goat.

For one thing, rehearsal snafus should be celebrated as they give the EXCO time to iron out kinks before the actual event. Would you rather the mistake is made on 9 August?

And if Murphy's law strikes again, one can argue that it is far, far better for misunderstandings to take place on the parade ground than on the battleground.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Airspace intrusion: Views from both sides of the Causeway

Please take part in the latest poll on the airspace intrusion stories presented here. Thank you.

Malaysia's point of view

Singapore's point of view

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Malaysia and Singapore at odds over airspace intrusion claims

With Malaysia claiming Singaporean warplanes encroached into the Federation’s airspace and Singapore denying such talk, one side is clearly being economical with the truth.

Whichever side you choose to believe, the winners are hardliners in both countries who will use this episode as yet another excuse to arm themselves to the teeth. The hawks may also paint the other side as an unworthy neighbour.

The episode is a sobering reminder of how quickly defence relations between Malaysia and Singapore can spiral into a standoff between the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) if policy makers on both sides of the Causeway miscalculate.

Unless debunked decisively, such allegations could poison ties between the two neighbours by fuelling suspicions of sinister intent by the other side.

At a time when arsenals in both countries are amply stocked with lethal weapons, one hopes cool heads will prevail.

Malaysia and Singapore need to take stock of how the air intrusion census was done.

Figures cited by Kementerian Pertahanan (KEMENTAH), the Malaysian Defence Ministry, speak of repeated encroachments of Federation airspace since 2008.

The denial by Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) suggests otherwise. Who is right?

Both countries have put their credibility at stake with their respective positions on the matter of air intrusions. To break the impasse, both sides should sift through air movement data together to sort out the matter like good neighbours.

If, for example, airspace intrusions alleged by the Malaysians stem from a misinterpretation by Singapore over air routes around Federation airspace, then a clinical appraisal of air traffic data would sort out the issue.

The issue must be put to rest quickly, trust reclaimed and confidence restored.

If both sides stick resolutely to their guns and match claim with counter-claim, suspicions between the two sides will fester over this nasty business.

More troubling for defence observers is the possibility that one side is boldly hatching an enormous lie to discredit its neighbor. If one side is willing to advance a hidden agenda during peacetime, defence watchers may rightly ask what sort of sinister plots may be hatched in a lead-up to a period of tension (POT).

This sort of folly is the game of fools.

If airspace instrusion numbers can be dreamed up or denials manufactured to suit one’s agenda, one wonders what sort of creative storylines could someday surface to hurt relations between Malaysia and Singapore.

KEMENTAH’s defence planners must realize that certain unilateral acts will be regarded as a prelude to casus belli by tiny Singapore – even if such acts are executed on home ground. These include moving MAF tube or rocket artillery, armoured forces or troops south of a certain latitude. The POT could get very hot, very fast if the Lion City is pushed to the wall.

What keeps Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines muzzled is the knowledge that Malaysia’s word can be trusted and assurances are credible. But if MINDEF is baffled by the air encroachment claims, do you think they would take MAF's word that it would not initiate hostilities during a POT?

For MINDEF Singapore, it too must realize that Malaysia’s most populous state is sitting on the door step of a city-state armed to the teeth. Malaysians have to endure weekly live-fire manoeuvres across the Johor Strait by an armed force primed to mobilise and deploy at a moment’s notice – but against whom?

War games staged by the city-state convincingly demonstrate the Third Generation SAF’s combat readiness, reach and endurance, and such shows of armed force can be worrisome to Singapore’s neighbours.

The episode also points to the infowar that could ensue if deterrence fails and Astros missile batteries roar to life and JDAMs start to drop like hail.

Would stories of "civilian casualties" be similarly invented to reinforce one’s international position, with the other side issuing predictable (but less believable) denials which, in the fog of war, no one really believes?

The air intrusion stories also underline the importance of an intelligence apparatus that is one up against the other side. During ambiguous situations, the side that can substantiate and prove its point will shrug off any claims the other side may level against it.

The side that wins the infowar will be the one staffed, structured and committed to engage and defend the truth vigorously. The side hardwired to slink into no comment mode when challenged or is philosophically against an open, consultative culture, will not be up to this sort of gamesmanship.

Truth is afterall the first casualty of war.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Singapore National Day Parade 2011, Combined Rehearsal 1: First look at SAF HIMARS rocket artillery launcher

Heavy hitter: HIMARS launcher 1/1 from 23 SA takes part in the first Combined Rehearsal for the National Day Parade 2011 at Marina Bay. The rocket launcher is based on the 5-ton Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles made by US truck maker, Stewart & Stevenson. The Singapore Armed Forces HIMARS vehicles come with the Improved Crew Protection cab.

The Singapore Artillery's Lockheed Martin M142 HIMARS rocket launchers took part in the first Combined Rehearsal (CR1) for this year's National Day Parade (NDP) this afternoon.

HIMARS launchers 1/1 and 1/6 from the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery (23 SA), are part of the Dynamic Defence Display (D3) of the parade. The D3 showcases how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) deal with security threats to the Lion City.

Singapore's 46th National Day takes place on 9 August.

During the D3 show, the HIMARS launchers will elevate their six-rocket pod to simulate how 23SA gunners bombard hostile forces as far as 70 km away. The name of the American-made war machines is an acronym for HIgh Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

The M142 rocket launchers are part of a force of 18 HIMARS launchers that serve 23 SA. The former 155mm gun battalion is based at Khatib Camp in Sembawang.

Weapons such as the HIMARS and other 155mm heavy artillery guns are termed as shooters as these war machines delivery ordnance against targets detected, identified, prioritised and assigned by SAF battle managers who rely on sensors to cue their battle sense. These sensors include everything from satellite imagery to UAVs and reconnaissance troopers.

In the Third Generation SAF, battle managers rely heavily on sensors and battle management tools to reduce the time taken to detect, kill and assess damage inflicted on hostile forces. This kill chain is known as the sensor-to-shooter loop.

The team of three gunners in the M142 deploy, elevate and target their rockets from an armoured cab based on a Stewart & Stevenson truck. Local defence appeared absent - no GPMG mount or smoke dischargers were fitted to the vehicles.

The launchers also did not display the MLC tonnage symbol typically seen on SAF vehicles. This symbol indicates the vehicle's tonnage and is essential as a guide during amphibious, bridging and airlift operations.

Here are more views of 23 SA's HIMARS.

Top shot: This overhead view of a Lockheed Martin M142 HIMARS launcher, based on a Stewart & Stevenson 5-ton truck, shows the size of the top hatch which serves as an observation/escape hatch. The width of the hatch allows a gunner wearing LBV and body armour to exit the vehicle's armoured Improved Crew Protection cab rapidly. Note the slanted sides of the armoured cab immediately over the front wheel arches. This is designed to deflect the pressure wave from a landmine or IED blast upwards and away from the cab, thereby enhancing the survivability of the gunners riding inside. The stubs on the cab are believed to be applique armour mounting points.

Shooter: The M142 HIMARS is the weapon with the longest reach in the Singapore Artillery. Each rocket can hit targets some 70km away. Accuracy is enhanced with satellite guidance, reducing the CEP of each projectile during long-range engagements. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

National Day Parade 2011: Onward March rehearsal

One hundred and thirty two steps is not a fantastic distance to march.

But try doing it as part of a Company-size marching contingent, up a flight of stairs, within arm's reach of an unpredictable audience, in sync with music while singing out loud with the whole of Singapore and the Internet crowd watching and filming your every move and these 132 steps become a nightmare to choreograph.

This morning's rehearsal for the 132-step Onward March segment of the National Day Parade 2011, while hardly show-ready, was a showpiece for how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) gets the best from its people. This includes the hundreds of Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) personnel who practised alongside the SAF under the blazing morning sun at the Float at Marina Bay.

Even without the help of a public address system, the stentorian bellows from SAF enciks (regimental sergeant-majors or RSMs) barking out marching commands could be clearly heard across Marina Bay.

The contingents from the Singapore Army, navy, air force, SCDF and SPF seemed to have little problems marching onto show centre in neat, serried ranks.

But things became unhinged when they tried marching up the stairs in the spectator stands. Marching columns stretched out along the stairs with timing, spacing and rhythm out of sync with the music. It was, afterall, a rehearsal and such sessions are meant to iron out the kinks and polish the routine.

Show-and-tell: With all eyes focused on them, Master Warrant Officer Jennifer Tan and an unidentified SAF drill instructor (marching up the stairs) demonstrate how the Onward March segment should be performed to NDP participants about half their age. MWO Tan ordered the marching contingents to the red seats for a mid-action review and pep talk after watching the contingents snake their way up the seating gallery in a less-than-satisfactory performance.

It was heart-warming to see one of the enciks, presumably the parade RSM, Singapore Army Master Warrant Officer Jennifer Tan (we were too far to see who it was), take charge by ordering the participants to gather in the red seats for a quick mid-action review. She is the first female assigned the RSM's post at a National Day Parade.

MWO Tan drilled down to the basics and explained to her audience how they could get their act together. The RSM's tone was measured, the delivery direct and the guidance that was shared dissected the problem and offered solutions for getting the pace, timing, distance and march order all straightened out.

Time was running out, she said, as the NDP team would not have the luxury of umpteen rehearsals practising on the tiered gallery as the venue was unique.

That drove home the urgency of the rehearsals. The NDP 2011 team would have till Combined Rehearsal 2 to get things right as they will perform in front of spectators from the third combined rehearsal (CR3), which is the date when their families would be invited for a sneak preview of the parade. The pressure to get the Onward March routine done properly with just two CRs is thus quite intense, to say the least.

Instead of simply blasting the verbal tip sheet into the ears of the marching contingents, MWO Tan assured them that it could be done - because she had practised it yesterday.

As all eyes trained on MWO Tan and a couple of her RSMs, there they stood in show centre waiting for the music to start, which was their cue to demonstrate how the Onward March should be properly done.

The live demo was not without its risks. If the RSMs could not get things together, then goodness knows what the marching contingent personnel would think and say.

But MWO Tan and team got it right, showed what could be achieved with some effort, commitment and practice. It was a very public demonstration of leadership by example.

The MWO's handling of the situation - forceful and result-oriented, yet demonstrating her EQ in coaxing her men and women to give their all - underscored the fact that the NDP 2011 RSM is clearly on top of her game.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

RSAF Open House 2011: Post-event Review

The first weekend of the mid-year school holiday gave people in Singapore many leisure options and many banked their time with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Open House at Paya Lebar Air Base.

Full house: Spectators pack Paya Lebar Air Base on Sunday 29 May'11, waiting for the last Aerial Display of the two-day RSAF Open House.

The payoff was a chance to get a firsthand look at how the RSAF - the air force responsible for operating the world's most densely defended air defence operations zones - goes about defending our skies.

The crowd size on the open days (Saturday 28 May and Sunday 29 May'11) indicate strong support for the event. The footfall of around 45,000 visitors per day is noteworthy. This visitor attendance was achieved despite competing events such as the Grand Opening of Universal Studios Singapore on 28 May morning, the start of bargains galore as the Great Singapore Sale kicked off its first weekend and the start of the mid-year school holidays when Singaporean families tend to leave the city-state for a vacation.

Sure, the fact that the event was free could have spurred people to flock to the air base.

But Team RSAF apparently took nothing for granted and worked with mainstream media and social media to promote awareness of ("I know about the open house"), interest in ("Sounds interesting. Let me find out more.") and support for ("I will make time to attend the event") the RSAF Open House in major newspapers and blog postings. Such pre-publicity is commendable and will be addressed in a separate report.

For now, let's examine how the visitor experience can be enhanced when the next committee dusts off the files several years from today to organise the next instalment of the RSAF Open House:

1. Shuttle bus queue line management:
The crazy maze at Eunos bus interchange should be replaced. The current zig zag queue line essentially made every bus passenger trace the entire floor area of the queue line. This can be tiring especially for elderly visitors, people pushing prams or with kids in tow.

Rather than a zig zag arrangement, why not have people queue in parallel numbered queues starting from Line 1, Line 2 and so on. When the shuttle buses arrive, Line 1 will embark the shuttle first followed by Line 2 etc. Once the last line is filled, the now empty Line 1 is reopened for visitors and the sequence repeated. Done this way, visitors will be spared the crazy maze and will cover the minimum amount of floor area needed to reach the bus.

2. First touch point with visitors:
The time spent in queues should not be seen as dead time but an opportunity to get visitors into the mood for their experience. Most movie theme parks do this. The RSAF could have leveraged on its "Defending Our Skies" tagline for the open house to make visitors feel like they are being transported into an operational airbase.

Field Defence Squadron (FDS) personnel could have been deployed near the queue lines so the spillover crowd would have something interesting to photograph (like an FDS MB240GD jeep with GPMG) while killing time for the shuttle bus. Theming the queue area (correct password like "Defending Our Skies" before you are allowed to queue?) maximises visitor enjoyment as crowd interest is stoked even before they reach the airbase.

3. Information display boards:
Good show by Air Power Generation Command (APGC) weapon specialists in introducing the sharp end of the RSAF to visitors. Fully armed warplanes seldom fail to make a striking backdrop for photographs. But more could be done to introduce and explain the air-to-ground ordnance to the public.

Military enthusiasts and foreign military visitors would likely know what they are looking at, so the deterrent effect is achieved here. But commitment to defence can be strengthened if heartlanders are taught the difference between a laser-guided JDAM and a vanilla Mark 82 iron bomb and therefore walk away with a healthy respect for the RSAF's combat capabilities.

In this regard, a dedicated bomb park with videos and pictures should be devoted to teaching visitors what they are looking at instead of having aerial guns, bombs and rockets displayed as mere props for the fighter aircraft. Why not have a mock bomb crater (painted on canvas) to show visitors what the kill radius is for bombs of assorted tonnage? Or mock bunkers showing the penetrative power of some types of ordnance when pitted against hardened structures?

Remember that the best warplane in the world cannot do its job without the weapon specialists who load, arm and pre-flight the sharp end of the Air Force.  

4. Aerial display
This is the piece de resistance of every RSAF Open House and this year's 35-minute air display and mock attack sequence did not disappoint. This year, both the F-16Cs and F-15SGs took off from the main runway. At the last open house, single-seat F-5S Tiger IIs and F-16Cs roared off the taxiway and main runway, demonstrating the PLAB's ability to get its warplanes into the air in the shortest possible time. This made for a more dramatic show as half of the take-offs were executed much closer to the crowd line.

Not sure how many visitors missed watching the RSAF recruitment video and Singapore Youth Flying Club 40th anniversary video that were screened at the end of the aerial display.

As spectators tend to pack the 5,000-seat capacity viewing decks an hour or more before showtime, this captive audience is an advertiser's dream. Rather than let their eyeballs stray aimlessly, the videos could have been screened before the aerial display segment just like movie trailers. The clips could even be repeated twice without testing the patience of the crowd as they were tastefully filmed and fun to watch.

With proper scripting, the FDS could also pull off a pre-show segment. The viewing gallery is almost full 45 minutes before showtime anyway so any pre-show would not lack an appreciative audience. Even a mock patrol sequence using V-200A 20mm vehicles driving in front of the crowd line with guns in a herring bone pattern would soak up camera time.

Now to the flying display proper: Showing heartlanders how F-15SGs and F-16Cs get airborne within minutes is impressive. Having them fly race track patterns around an intruding piston-engine aircraft isn't. To be sure, a WW2-era Brewster Buffalo could have done the same job. Pity 855 was not made to play the part of an intruding bandit as her distinctive tiger stripe paintwork would have made her show ready as a mock dogfight unfolded over show centre. Sure, the RSAF fights its air battles BVR these days thanks to AMRAAM but some creative licence would allow Team RSAF to dazzle spectators with aggressive flying.

Would have preferred to see the Chinook fly in fully armed.

That said, the aerial display was well received though the storyline is at risk of being dated for repeat visitors.

5. Traffic management
Facebook traffic updates are fine but drivers are more likely connected to GPS en route to PLAB than Facebook. A LED sign placed before the turnoff to Airport Road would help drivers make a go/no go decision before adding to the jam.

At places like Sentosa, roads are watched several kilometres away from the St James Power Station/Gateway Avenue turnpike for signs of traffic build up. The same could be done for Airport Road to better manage visitors who drive to the base.

The dropoff area at W7 could have been turned into additional parking. This was done during previous shows (in the mid 1980s!) when the apron all the way to the STAero hangars provided ample parking space.

An alternative cab rank could be formed outside AFS alongside the shuttle buses as the area is sheltered and can cope with any queue spillover. This also reduces pressure on the traffic control points as fewer people need to cross the road to wait for a cab since the cab rank is on the same side of the road as the open house.

To sum up, RSAF Paya Lebar opened its doors to tens of thousands of visitors with just two days of sneak previews for families of RSAF personnel and organised school tours to tweak last minute glitches.

The fact that many of the full-time National Servicemen airmen and officers were not in service during the last RSAF Open House three years ago underlines the steep learning curve for all ranks.

Indeed, only one officer on this year's organising committee was part of the brains behind the last RSAF Open House in 2008. Everyone else had to learn from scratch how a crowd magnet was put together.

That those involved adapted to demands of the open house and coped with huge crowds streaming through W7 validates the learning points institutionalised by the previous committee in its show report.

We hope the RSAF Open House 2011 committee will do likewise and will hand over valuable takeaways for the next committee.

Check Six!