Sunday, July 31, 2011

National Day Parade 2011 Parade Preview: Approaching the big day!

"One more show and we'll be through": Ensigns from the Guard of Honour contingent march towards the Singapore Flyer, where the Colours they bear will be uncased. The next time they pass this route will be on 9 August when they will be on parade for the actual event.

Having performed in front of a "live" audience of more than 130,000 people (CR3 to CR6, plus yesterday's Parade Preview), National Day Parade 2011 participants might feel they have got the show drilled to perfection.

They have good reason for such confidence, but should keep their minds focused on the big day on 9 August.

Everything they have done thus far for NDP 2011 - all the rehearsals, memorised song scripts and practised moves - builds up to Singapore's 46th birthday celebrations. And the NDP team must execute the event with panache, flair and energy not seen at all previous combined rehearsals.

As the event will be televised "live" and webcast to an audience numbering millions of people, anything less than a maximum effort would throw away all the time and sacrifices made these past few months.

These past few Saturdays, NDP participants on and off stage would have seen how thousands of Singaporeans made time to join them at the CRs. CR ticket holders and ticketless, self-invited spectators knew full well the song and dance routines were still being polished, cue tables tweaked and the fireworks discharged only a fraction of those saved for NDP itself. Still, they came.

Thousands more will come on 9 August.

If the shows weren't worth their time, the CRs would attract zero spectators.

As we approach National Day, the anticipation of entering centrestage will be electrifying for NDP participants.

And even as the NDP Executive Committee (EXCO) builds various scenarios into its planning cycle, NDP participants must steel themselves for the unexpected, be prepared to recover quickly and get on with the show.

Will it rain?

What if the fireworks mis-fire? Has happened before... during NDP 2007.

What if the feu-de-joie commands are mis-timed, like in NDP 2000?

Will drawer plans for various emergency scenarios be needed?

Come what may, NDP participants will have thousands cheering them on.

These include their family members who feel a special connection with NDP 2011 because their loved ones are involved in the show. Many family members and friends of NDP participants made time to catch CR3, eventhough the NDP musical was still half-baked and fireworks show only a token.

At yesterday's Parade Preview, the parents of Leopard 2SG tank driver Lance Corporal Boo Li Yan went to Marina Bay how their 23-year-old son had been spending his past few Saturdays.

As the column of vehicles for the Dynamic Defence Display trundled towards the show venue, Raysen Boo, 53, and his wife kept an eye out for Tank 25 from the 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR).

The Leopard 2SG was driven by Li Yan, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate who is third in a family of four children.

"We are very proud," said his homemaker mum."He tells us it is the newest tank in Singapore."

Li Yan's parents did not get to see their son as Tank 25 and Tank 16 were driven with hatches closed, but he probably saw them through the periscopes of his Leo2.

Show of tanks: Mr Raysen Boo and his wife pose in front of Tank 25, driven by their 23-year-old son, Lance Corporal Boo Li Yan. The couple stayed faithfully by the Leopard 2SG until it was time for the tank to join the Parade Preview. All this while, they did not even get to see their son - such is the thing that parents do.

The couple were content to snap a picture with Tank 25 in the background and watched as the war machine trundled towards the NDP venue.

Such family support, so natural and unscripted, was heartwarming to witness.

It will be even more heartwarming to watch NDP 2011 unfold on 9 August.

All the CRs build up to that special day, so on with the show!

Acknowledgements: Thanks are due to the NDP 2011 EXCO for the assistance rendered at the Parade Preview, and to Ong Jun Wei and team for pencilling in time during the lockdown at Marina Bay.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

National Day Parade 2011 3rd National Education Show: Ready for action on 9 August 2011

Take Post! Gunners from the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery, man their guns as the self-propelled raft made up of M3G amphibious vehicles from the 35th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers, powers its way towards the NDP show venue in Marina Bay. As is self-evident, the toughest part about this assignment is the lack of shelter from rain/sun and no toilet breaks.

Today's National Day Parade (NDP) rehearsal is special because it pushed the number of people who have watched the musical scripted for Singapore's 46th birthday past the 100,000 mark.

With the successful close of the 3rd National Education show (NE3, also known as Combined Rehearsal 6), the NDP 2011 participants and Executive Committee (EXCO) are about as ready as they can be for National Day on 9 August 2011.

Coming close on the heels of 2010's massive parade at the Padang, the NDP 2011 EXCO led by the Singapore Combat Engineers had a tough act to follow.

But they pressed on and have delivered a delightful NDP show plan that is part parade, part theatre musical and all good fun.

Not content with confining the action to The Float at Marina Bay, which is the site of the event's floating stage, show organisers have used Singapore's new skyline at Marina Bay as the backdrop for a light, sound and theatrical spectacular, the likes of which Singaporeans have never seen before. Clever.

There are the over-sized props that trace Singapore's history in song and dance items, the laser show that highlights Singapore's tallest skyscrapers in bright green light visible for miles and of course the fireworks that drew such a crowd tonight that city-bound traffic was backed up along Nicoll Highway all the way to Merdeka Bridge minutes before the main fireworks barrage was released at 8pm.

But what makes NDP 2011 special are the people who make the parade happen. You will see many of them give their all when you tune in to the NDP 2011 telecast come 9 August.

This main cast is supported by hundreds more working quietly behind the scenes to ensure the show hums along without a hitch. Many of them toil so far away from show centre that parade spectators will never get to see them.

Scores of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel have been detailed to usher, manage and look after student performers and participants from uniformed groups. They make sure headcounts are accurate and water/meals delivered on time. But they will never step foot on the NDP stage during showtime.

Then there's the SJQ gang, faithfully ring fencing NDP 2011 against nasty CBRE hazards, rain or shine.

NDP is sometimes panned by critics as a showpiece for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to display new capabilities. One cannot argue against this point of view. But there are unscripted moments when the SAF's capabilities and track record in demanding operations are there for all to see, if you know what you are looking for.

Top honour: I have waited 15 years to get this picture and I consider this image the most precious of all the pictures I took at CR6/NE3 today. This was the first time I was allowed close enough to the Colours to photograph the streamer won by 525 and it produced that lump in the throat moment. Someday, I hope I can write the Timika story. To those who know, the streamer was hard won and I have the highest respect for 525 and those who earned it. Well done.

Unit commendations held aloft as embroided streamers on the Colours of certain SAF units tell of past operations that underscore why the city-state's defence force is a quiet keeper of the peace.

Today, Team NDP went through their routine for the sixth full dress rehearsal. They called it CR6, but labelling it a combined rehearsal is somewhat a misnomer as even professional artistes seldom want to rehearse in front of a real audience.

But NDP 2011 did.

Young and old, professional performers or part-time amateurs, they gave their all. And what a show it was.

Acknowledgements: A word of thanks to the NDP 2011 EXCO for... everything. And to the tireless liaison officers Edward Wee, Ong Jun Wei, Collin Cheong, Li-Ann and Yan Han for putting up with all my nonsense, walking here/walking there from Float to F1 Pit Building up and down umpteen times like I have never seen the CR before. And to the Milnuts for the company during the past CRs.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Faces of the National Day Parade 2011: School of Dance performers breathe life to supersized NDP prop

Stage fright takes on a whole new meaning for dancers from the School of Dance who will dance their hearts out on Singapore's 46th birthday, but nothing will stop the 46 young dancers from their curtain call come 9 August.

The National Day Parade (NDP) 2011 participants will perform on a tiny 3m by 3m stage seven storeys above the ground with no railings, with the event broadcast "live" to millions of viewers.

Forty six dancers from the School of Dance spent the past few months polishing their routine and are ready to breathe life to the massive cube that will take centrestage at the show venue for Singapore's 46th birthday celebration.

Months of rehearsals and meticulous planning between dance choreographers, the lighting and sound crew and safety officials have produced a show item in one of the largest props ever constructed for a National Day Parade.

The stage can rotate and a lifeline is all that will save an over-energetic pirouette from shooting the dancer out of the cube. So practice and tight coordination between a behind-the-scenes team that will ensure the right cube rotates dancers into view at the right time is essential.

Artistes from the School of Dance have taken centrestage before but nothing beats this year’s dance venue.

Chan Hsin Yee, 15, from the School of the Arts, said she spent many hours practising in a dance studio with fellow dancers said the anticipation was awesome just before her cube was rotated into position for her first rehearsal in front of packed seating gallery during Combined Rehearsal 3 (which was open to family members of NDP participants)

Hsin Yee said: “There’s a lot of adrenalin flowing when I’m performing on the 7th level, which is the highest level of the cube. When you are dancing you can see the entire audience and it’s a really good view. Dancing at such a height is really exciting.”

Her sixth floor dance counterpart, Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Elaine Kim Nevis, 20, added: “It’s different exposure from being in a studio. We just have to do more practice and get used to the feeling of being on stage.”

Catch the cube dancers in Act 2 of NDP 2011.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Front row seats around Marina Bay for ticketless NDP 2011 spectators; Resorts World Sentosa to roll-out National Day perks & special fireworks show

Good shot: Spectators' view of the Presidential Gun Salute (PGS) 25-pounder guns, seen from the Merlion Park. Five guns will fire 21-rounds as President S.R. Nathan reviews the parade during his last appearance as Singapore's President.(Picture courtesy of xtemujin)

Can't get your hands on one of the 25,000 National Day Parade 2011 spectator tickets?

Then head down to Marina Bay or Resorts World Sentosa to soak in celebrations as Singapore marks its 46th National Day on 9 August 2011. Ticketless spectators can still be part of the NDP action as they can catch the NDP action unfold around Marina Bay from vantage points such as the Merlion Park and promenade near the Esplanade.

However hot the action is, keep in mind 8:10pm as the Pledge Moment and reflect upon why we celebrate National Day.

Lieutenant Colonel Tong Yi Chuen, Chairman of the Branding & Publicity Committee for NDP 2011, said:“Wherever you may be at approximately 8:10pm this National Day, we hope you will join the rest of Singapore in this shared emotive experience of reciting our Pledge and singing the National Anthem together as One People.”

This year, join the Pledge Moment Competition by submitting your YouTube clip of your Pledge Moment. Details can be found here.

In the lead up to 8:10pm, NDP 2011 should whip up the celebratory mode in the real and virtual world. Some 100,000 spectators are expected around Marina Bay and the "live" telecast of the parde should attract millions of eyeballs in Singapore and elsewhere as people catch the action on TV and on the internet.

The Marina Bay area which overlooks the NDP 2011 show venue will bring spectators as close to show centre as they can get without a ticket. Look skyward at around 6:28pm* and try to spot the Republic of Singapore Air Force Super Puma deploy a stick of crack Red Lions parachute display team from the Singapore Army's Commando unit thousands of feet above the bay.

From 6:35pm, expect to see air force helicopters, naval and Police Coast Guard fast craft strut their stuff as part of the Dynamic Defence Display (D3).

Timed to take place from 6:35pm, the D3 show includes an air-sea segment titled "Defending Our Shores". This show item will see a S-70B Seahawk make its NDP debut (6:43pm) and a CH-47D Chinook heavy lift helicopter swoop low over Marina Bay to drop a team of navy divers from the Naval Diving Unit into the water (6:45pm).

Bayside spectators will also see the flypast by a flag-carrying Chinook escorted by a pair of AH-64D Apache attack helicopters (7:03pm) as the choppers snake their way down the Singapore River towards the Float, the NDP venue. This will be followed a minute later by a flypast by five F-15SG Strike Eagles. The jets will roar in from the sea in wedge formation on a south-north flight path.

The fireworks - an all-time crowd favourite - and special laser show (7:56pm) on skyscrapers around Marina Bay, will also be visible to people around the bay. The main barrage of fireworks is set to be launched around 8:05pm. Hang around for the post-parade party as yet more fireworks will be discharged. Shutterbugs should bring a tripod and read up on their digicam's fireworks setting to get the best results.

If you want to catch a special fireworks show away from the Marina Bay crowds, consider heading to Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to watch NDP 2011 televised "live" on a giant screen. Singapore's first Integrated Resort will also entertain guests with a special fireworks display put together for NDP.

RWS has another perk for NDP 2011. The resort will grant free entry on National Day to 5,000 Singaporeans aged 65 years old and above to the Universal Studios Singapore theme park.(Tickets can be redeemed in person at USS ticket booths from 1 to 5 Aug'11, and on 9 Aug'11. There will be a cap of 5,000 free admission passes for senior citizens aged 65 years and above.) 

RWS spokesman Robin Goh said:"RWS is proud to call Singapore home and this year, we show our appreciation to the pioneers who have shaped Singapopre's society during the nation-building years.

"Besides free entry to Universal Studios Singapore for senior citizens on National Day, guests to the resort can also soak in the spirit of celebration amidst a patriotic atmosphere in red and white, which complements a series of National Day-themed events and festivities across the resort. This includes a live-screening of the National Day Parade as well as a special National Day fireworks display."

Lieutenant Colonel Kennedy Lim Kee Khan, Chairman of the Outreach Management and Celebrations Committee, said:"Be it singing the National Anthem, reciting our Pledge, watching the dazzling fireworks or simply enjoying the electrifying atmosphere at the various Celebration hotspots, we hope that Singaporeans of all ages can come down to Marina Bay waterfront and RWS on 9 August 2011 for an extraordinary experience as we mark our nation's 46th birthday with a bang."

* Timings are based on the cue table for NE1. The actual timings on 9 Aug'11 may vary but shouldn't deviate by more than a couple of minutes.

Note to photographers: The Helix Bridge will be closed during parade rehearsals and for the National Day Parade as it will be used by the Guard-of-Honour contingents during the Pledge Moment. The Esplanade Bridge will not be accessible to photographers as it will be covered with hoardings. Do recce the site in advance and pick your spot early.

Monday, July 18, 2011

No tickets needed for NDP 2011's dazzling laser light show

Light 'em up: Ten lasers mounted on top of the seating gallery at the Float are used to outline the Singapore city skyline. The special effects are best seen from the waterfront promenade in front of the Esplanade.(Picture courtesy of Henry Wong)

You don't need a ticket to this year's National Day Parade (NDP) to catch a dazzling show item.

Just keep your eyes on Singapore's city skyline for a laser show that will outline skyscrapers and trace out a new city skyline - if weather conditions are just right.

The item titled "Lighting of the Skyline" on NDP cue tables is set to take place around 7:56pm. Catch a preview in the following clip:

Mac Chan, a theatre and lighting design consultant who helped put together the show, explained that imaginary skyline (to the right of frame 1:27min to 1:32min in the above clip) is incidental with the help of smoke from low level fireworks. This is because smoke banks produced by the fireworks must drift in the right direction for the laser effects to be seen clearly.

The bright green beams come from ten lasers mounted on the top of the seating gallery that are programmed to aim their beams at the Central Business District (CBD) skyline about 1km away.

"We make sure that the laser beams land only on the building facade and not the glass windows," Mac said."With precision control, the lasers will never shoot into the buildings and spectators in the buildings will not have direct contact with the laser beams."

He explained that the lasers were programmed to trace the CBD buildings using a special graphic programme. Aided by computers, the team matched the pulsating lasers with music to create the light and sound show for NDP 2011.

The green lasers are backed by a supporting cast of searchlights used to backlight the skyscrapers with cones of light.

Asked where's the best spot to catch the show, Mac said:"The laser effect has been optimised for the Float audience perspective, so the seating gallery audience will get the best perspective, but otherwise everyone (around Marina Bay) can see it from any angle."

Note: If you've yet to see it, you only have two more chances to watch the laser show before NDP 2011 on 9 August. The lasers will fire up during NE3 this Saturday and during the Parade Preview on 30 July'11. Fireworks are due around 7:35pm, 7:40pm, 7:56pm (with laser show) and 8:05pm (pyromusical grand finale).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Singapore's citizen soldiers should be engaged on challenges to the Army's vision for defending Singapore as Third Generation Networked Force

After the line "firepower of the SAF in a backpack" was penned in a commentary for The Straits Times some years ago, Defence Ministry speech writers and certain journalists adopted this catch phrase to describe how our soldiers pack more punch.

That punch will grow on 5 September 2011 when HIMARS rocket artillery batteries are commissioned into service with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) 23rd Battalion Singapore Artillery. The event at Khatib Camp starts at 15:00 H.

Even as new sensors and shooters such as HIMARS bring the masterplan for a Third Generation Networked Force from concept to reality, we must ensure that improvements to soldier systems are tailored to military requirements and not to national circumstances.

The Singapore Army is a force for war and force elements cannot be drawndown to appease bureaucrats or number crunchers.

Developments in the Singapore Army Infantry Section, which is the smallest tactical unit in the Army's order of battle (ORBAT), illustrate how better equipment, improved CONOPS and more realistic training has allowed our infantry to do their job better than ever before.

The 5.56mm bullets fired by 3rd Gen soldiers may be the same as those used by 1st Gen and 2Gen SAF infantry, but technology allows today's soldiers to sense and shoot with lethal effect while shielding him from return fire and sustaining his mission under demanding circumstances.

But while the Advanced Combat Man System has achieved much, defence planners must avoid becoming infatuated with technology by introducing gadgets which may end up overloading small units with too much information and cumbersome comms protocols.

The staying power of Hezbollah fighters during engagements with the Israelis did not come from superior information alone, but a wily appreciation of the battlespace and an ability to stay one step ahead of predictable responses by Israeli air power and armoured spearheads.

We must be clear that the Singapore Army's specific operational requirements are unique to Singapore's demographics. Also unique is the area of operations that 3rd Gen full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) and Operationally Ready NSmen (i.e. reservists) are likely to operate in during a hot war scenario that calls upon the SAF's full force potential.

The circumstances brought about by dwindling birth rates will result in smaller cohorts of NSFs in coming years. Defence planners must therefore keep their eyes on future enlistee numbers to assess how fluctuations in NSF intakes may affect SAF manpower demands. Just by studying birth statistics from previous years, these planners have a max head start of 18-years to tweak SAF ORBAT tables. They must make the most of such prescience as the headstart for any given cohort is pared down year by year.

Furthermore, changes to the ORBAT must be communicated clearly to citizen soldiers so they will continue to have confidence in the SAF. Defence observers should also be addressed in case they misread units taken offline (1 PDF, 2 GDS, 46 SAR, 20 SA, 22 SA etc) as a desperate move due to the manpower crunch and miscalculate the SAF's value as a deterrent force.

While such national circumstances make it tempting to do more with less, get more bang for buck by stretching every defence dollar, one should not lose sight of operational requirements such as mass, unit cohesion and the attitude of Singaporeans towards defence matters.

The 7-man Infantry Sections are an expedient way of maintaining the number of battalions on paper while dealing with smaller NSF intakes. But one must ask what is the bare minimum of boots on the ground needed to achieve mission success?

On paper, a 7-man Section trained, organised, equipped and supported as part of a 3rd Gen Networked Force is far superior to yesteryear's 9-man Section. No argument here.

But just as the weight of fire and accuracy of delivery has been sharpened in the Lion City, neighbouring armies are doing so too.

How then does one compare the benefits of adding two Matador anti-tank rockets to an SAF Section to the pair of RPG-7 rocket lockers in a Malaysian Army Section? One paper, the small units of both armies have anti-tank weapons. But the ones chosen to arm Singaporean soldiers are single-shot weapons. There is a standing joke that the first few minutes of a hot war with the Singapore Army will be the most intense as LAW gunners fire off their rockets to get rid of deadweight. What happens after that?

The Malaysian RPGs can be reloaded and fired for as long as their Sections are amply supplied with the folding fin rockets. Even if the supply train is interdicted, a Malaysian Army Section can carry a sizeable warload of RPG rockets into operations when first mobilised.

Sure, armchair strategists have all read about how RPGs are inaccurate in a crosswind. Much ado has also been made about the Matador's dual purpose warhead and its ability to be fired in enclosed areas (which RPG gunners cannot do without risk of killing themselves from the backblast).

But one must ask if the killing power of one Matador is worth more than the multi-shot RPG which is an infantryman's artillery? In my mind, the Matador's one-time use is a worrying liability.

As NSmen have noted on this blog and elsewhere, all it takes to whittle down the fighting prowess of a platoon is for a handful of NSmen to report sick or not report for a mobilisation at all - not a foregone conclusion as the Israelis have learned.

Having two teams of three soldiers led by a Section Commander means the Section has no bandwidth to exploit battlefield successes or pursue the enemy. For example, if Team 1 (with three soldiers) is assigned to breach a room with Team 2 and the Sector Commander in support, this Section will lack the muscle to pressure forward and exploit breaches in the enemy's main line of resistance. You can well imagine the difficulty in holding ground, establishing and defending a bridgehead if even one soldier in that Section becomes a casualty. At least one other must attend to the casualty, thus lowering the effective headcount to five.

Our decision to downsize years ago from a 9-man to 7-man Section thus came at a price.

The counter argument is that technology makes small units more vulnerable to detection. Small units risk being betrayed by ground and air sensors that observe and report their every move, day and night. Armed with such logic, some planners argue that a 9-man section adds two more targets to the battlespace. Therefore, small is better.

To be sure, the size, composition and TO&E of all tactical units is at best a compromise. Army planners must thus have the flexibility to deploy infantry units that have the punch and numbers to prevail as a one-size-fits-all orbat may not do the job. Having better educated soldiers and tailoring a training plan that pits warfighters to different situations helps in this regard.

Unit cohesion is another area that needs to be examined. This is the touchy feely aspect involving but not limited to commitment to defence (C2D) and how NSmen feel towards defending the Lion City. The thoughts, feelings and concerns of NSmen need urgent and constant assessment.

At a time when more SAF battalions are turning evergreen, NSmen from these evergreens may find team spirit in their NS units lacking because they served NS at different times. The disjoint in shared experiences robs NSmen of the camaraderie and esprit developed in mono-intake units who enlist, ORD and serve ICT together. This may affect the staying power of NSman battalions particularly during difficult situations when soldiers may have to make stay or fight decisions.

The publicity that ushered in the era of mono-intake units in the 1980s explained all the benefits of such arrangements well. The lasting impressions of these plus points damage today's Army when NSmen are left clueless why the SAF needs to raise, train and sustain evergreen units.

It is high time that the Singapore Army explain why evergreen units were introduced and how they are superior to the mono-intake arrangement. Were evergreen units conceived in response to national circumstances (i.e. the lower birthrate) or are evergreens necessary as they are the best fit for the SAF's new operational requirements?

I may stand corrected but I have yet to find any other National Service system make a compelling argument for having evergreen units where conscripts come and go like elements on a production line. And if war-tested forces have not adopted this approach to handling their defence manpower, what makes Singapore's system superior?

Apart from mass and unit cohesion, creative mindsets will help SAF Infantry fully exploit the benefits of better arms and battle tactics.

This includes asking if the one shot, one kill mantra is relevant in today's context for precision fire. Would a one shot, one wound approach result in killing the combat strength of hostile forces faster as additional soldiers would need to tend to a grieviously injured soldier?

Are less than lethal munitions really worth carrying into war? Should the space be used instead for an additional frag grenade?

And when one talks about lethality, is it really worth risking an SAF Section for room-by-room clearance during Urban Ops? Or can one ignore the bodycount of enemy troops and civilians and employ flamethrowers/fuel-air munitions that can also perform this hazardous task?

As we realise the 3rd Gen soldier, how should sensors and shooters be integrated to shorten the kill chain, maximise damage while reducing fratricide and civilian casualties?

The next logical step for the Singapore Army, which has gained experience operating unmanned aerial and terresterial sensors, is to graduate to unmanned weapons slaved to the sensor network.

Saturating the battlespace with unmanned sensors and weapons would add decisively to the Army's combat edge and usher in a new paradigm in land warfare.

The future may be closer than you think.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Revamped Singapore Army infantry section gives soldiers much punch... and adds to alphabet soup of military acronyms

ACMS: Advanced Combat Man System. The ACMS is the catch-all term for a range of capability-enhancing projects for Singapore Army infantry warfighters. The Infantry Capability Development Approach calls for improvements under a roadmap driven by the 4 "S" - Shoot, Sense, Shield and Sustain.

BFS: Basic Fighting System, which refers to the battlefield computer carried in a backpack that helps a 7-man infantry Section deploy and fight as part of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) 3rd Generation Networked Force. The Singapore Army's BFS comprises the following: HMD Helmet-Mounted Display that can project maps or camera images to an eyepiece, SI or System Interactor which is a handheld computer keypad/TV remote control, SWC Soldier Wearable Computer, DRM (see below) and PRC 650 for voice and data comms.

CEA: Commander Enhancement Add-on. Function keys and scopes mounted on a modified SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle with a Modular Mounting System (MMS). The CEA allows Section Commanders to designate targets and send voice, still images or stream video images while keeping the rifle pointed down range towards the threat. 

DRM: Dead Reckoning Module. A navigation aid that helps warfighters find their way in urban areas or thick jungle where GPS signals may be blocked.

FSS: Forward Sensor System. Weighing 3kg, a FSS can be sent by wireless link up to 200m ahead of its masters to gather video images of what lies ahead. The FSS wireless link can work in urban clutter and does not need line of sight with its master.

KHS: Key Hole Sensor. A 500g hand-held camera probe that is small enough to snake its way through key holes (hence its name) or bore holes to allow warfighters to see what lurks behind an obstruction.

LORIS NVS: The 325g LORIS night vision system is a monocular that can detect a man-size target up to 180m away, which is 1.8 times further compared to the range of an earlier NVS. It replaces the Mini-N-SEAS (Mini-Night-Single Eye Acquisition System) which could recognise targets up to 100m away.

PRC 650: A hand-held communications device (i.e. walkie talkie) that allows Team Leaders and Section Commanders to talk to one another securely.

RCF: The Round Corner Fire system helps soldiers aim their rifles round a corner, from behind cover or above a trench lip while keeping their bodies out of sight and protected from return fire. The 550g device has a camera that feeds the image from the optical sight on the SAR-21 assault rifle onto a small screen, which can be tilted towards the hidden firer to help the warfighter deliver aimed rifle fire.

TTS: Tactical Throwing Sensor. This is a 550g video camera encased in a rugged, self-propelled and remotely controlled casing. The TTS is designed to be thrown ahead of an infantry Section so that the video camera can send images back to the BFS. The new version of the TTS replaces the camera-equipped ball which made a famous appearance during a COS debate in Parliament some years ago.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the HQ 9 Division/Infantry personnel on duty at the SAF Day event at Temasek Polytechnic who fielded queries and helped me piece together this glossary. It is fascinating to see how the Singapore Army's ACMS has grown in scope, capabilities and ruggedness, yet dropped in weight and bulk, since the prototype was unveiled for field trials years ago.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

National Day Parade 2011 Fun Pack packers from 30 SCE keep their spirits up as N-Day draws near; packers to handle some 3.75 million items

The National Day Parade (NDP) Fun Pack doesn't pack itself.

Singapore Army soldiers from the 30th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (30 SCE), have been given the job of packing, sorting and distributing tens of thousands of these sought-after NDP momentoes to parade spectators for NDP 2011.

The job may seem simple. But the sheer volume of Fun Packs that need to be packed, the tight deadlines and the need to shoulder this NDP assignment even as 30 SCE primes itself as fighting fit Field Engineer battalion guarantees that logisticians in the battalion will have their mettle tested to the hilt.

That's because 30 SCE's combat engineers will have handled around 3.75 million individual items by the time NDP 2011 is over.

As these items come from different suppliers who provide keepsakes ranging from the national flag, to light sticks, noise makers and tissue packs, this seemingly simple task of packing bags has to be executed with, ermmm, military precision.

Miss just one item in one Fun Pack and this could ruin a spectator's NDP experience. Miscalculate the amount of time needed to pack the goodie bags and some spectators could go home empty handed; which is a smaller problem than handling the explanation that the Ministry of Defence will probably demand.

The tall order falls on the shoulders of Captain Benjamin Kang, 28, an OC from 30 SCE. He leads a team of around 80 packers from the battalion tasked to slot, drop and secure 25 individual items from books, to fans and snacks into each goodie bag.

When planning started, CPT Kang pencilled in a packing window of two weeks. But the battalion's training schedule and the reality that storing 25,000+ Fun Packs per rehearsal is no easy matter saw his packing window slashed by half.

The shortened packing time adds to the pressure CPT Kang and his team face every week since Fun Packs were first distributed from Combined Rehearsal 3 last Saturday (attended by family members of parade participants) as a fresh batch of Fun Packs have to be packed right after a rehearsal is over.
Fun Pack packer Third Sergeant Gan Yu Meng, 20, said 30 SCE personnel arrowed assigned for the task are taking the challenge in their stride despite knowing they have to pack some 25,000 goodie bags x 25 items x (CR3 Family Day + NE1 + NE 2 + NE 3 + Parade Preview + NDP 2011) = 3.75 million items by the time NDP 2011 is over.
"We have enough manpower and people have their own way to keep themselves motivated,'' said 3SG Gan, a full-time National Serviceman who is a Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate. "Some of them are a very tight group, very bonded and can push each other on."

Fellow 30 SCE combat engineer, 3SG Adolphius Wong, received his first National Day Parade Fun Pack when he attended his first National Education show as a Primary Five student.

Today, the 20-year-old full-time National Serviceman cannot remember where he kept that pack.

But he is swamped with Fun Packs every week as the packing line pushes out one freshly-packed goodie bag in less than 60 seconds.

At this evening's first National Education show (NE 1), some 25,500 Primary Five students and their teachers enjoyed a sneak preview of NDP 2011, taking home a Fun Pack put together by the 30 SCE team.

The 30 SCE packers, whose job includes distributing the bags to parade spectators, were all gone by the time the screaming kids streamed out of the NDP venue.

Their work stations were all cleaned out and the combat engineers were probably headed back to camp for an after-action review and some rest before resuming their tight packing schedule.

They will have to repeat this routine, week after week for two more NE shows and one Parade Preview, plus the parade for Singapore's 46th National Day on 9 August.

3SG Adolphius may have lost the Fun Pack he bagged in P5, but one thing's for sure - after NDP 2011, the 30 SCE Fun Pack packers will never look at a NDP Fun Pack the same way for years to come as they have earned a healthy respect for the amount of planning and preparation taken to prepare the NDP keepsake.

(Note to School of Dance and Bendemeer Secondary participants, will push out your stories by NE2.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

National Day Parade 2011 organiser relearns copyright issue raised during N-Day 2008

Watch this obscure video clip made in 2006 from the Japan Ad Council.

Now watch the music video for the theme song for National Day 2008 and focus your attention on the segments with the girl sketching during the art class.

Did you spot any similarities?

Source: The Straits Times 15 July 2008

Concerns over intellectual property (IP) issues raised three years ago could have helped National Day Parade Executive Committees (NDP EXCO) of subsequent years avoid this legal and public relations minefield.

To the best of my research, the copyright issue in 2008 was not properly addressed by the EXCO of that year's parade. Sidestepping the issue could have contributed to the loss of awareness to watch out for and respect copyrights in any N-Day material. It could also explain why a multi-agency NDP EXCO, which prepares for all sorts of contingencies and emergencies, got blasted by netizens over the Fun Pack Song.

An NDP EXCO has at its command a vast array of national resources and a powerful mandate that allows it to close down airspace and shut public roads for NDP rehearsals. Some of these resources should have been spent on policing the IP rights of material such as still, video images, as well as music licenses used during the N-Day season.

A Red Team could also have been formed to rigorously critique plans, procedures and processes involved in handling creative content to ensure the NDP EXCO is not caught blindsided.

This Red Team, which could be drawn from all segments of society, could also be used to road test NDP collaterals before these are unveiled during the PR blitz.

But isn't hindsight always 20:20? So where do we go from here?

As things stand, the reactions of netizens to the Fun Pack Song penned for NDP 2011 has cleared the ditty from the NDP timetable as effectively as a LAMBE mine-clearing line charge can blast its way through a minefield.

The current situation for the NDP EXCO 2011 is this:
* There is time to modify the parade timetable ahead of this weekend's National Education show (NE1), which marks the first display to the public. NE1 will also see Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen chair the Minister's Vetting session for the first time. The session will allow Dr Ng to make go/no-go decisions on certain show matters before the NDP show concept is frozen. Last Saturday's Combined Rehearsal 3 saw the 25,000-seat gallery at The Float at Marina Bay filled with parents and friends of NDP participants; not quite the "real" public.

* Internet storms have a short lifespan. They usually fizzle out two weeks or so after netizens have vented their spleen and said their piece. This means the PR obstacles in the real and virtual world should be cleared in time for Singapore's 46th birthday on 9 August 2011.

* The NDP 2012 EXCO is understudying the current team. If record keeping is thorough, lessons from this Fun Pack Song issue are likely to be institutionalised for future committee members to learn from. One hopes the lessons will be passed on properly to follow-on EXCOs to help future teams avoid relearning valuable lessons in copyright matters.

* Just as a well organised and glitch-free NDP is often held up as a proxy for how well the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can get its act together, cock ups such as missing the flypast datum call or overlooking IP issues can make observers wonder if the Third Generation SAF is as good as it claims to be. EXCO members must register this fact. Observers recognise that a glitch-free event during an occasion as large and complex as NDP is not possible, but they will also watch how quickly and proactively an EXCO initiates service recovery efforts. Command guidance must rally everyone together to focus their energy on delivering a good show.

* Publicity over the Fun Pack Song is likely to generate and sustain public interest in how the segment will be replaced come 9 August. Thanks to the viral video, many people will be watching to see how this year's NDP EXCO can advance and overcome this issue. I believe they can.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Singapore National Day Parade 2011: Combined Rehearsal 3 - Strengthening the Singapore Spirit

With combined rehearsals for this year's National Day Parade (NDP) barely at the halfway mark, it is likely some NDP participants are beginning to feel burnt out to some degree - and we don't mean just from the rays of the scorching afternoon sun.

University undergraduate Tan Ming Kwang, 22, certainly felt that way about the combined rehearsals (CR) when he was part of NDP 2009.

Despite calling the rehearsals a "chore", Ming Kwang and two of his Army buddies made time to spend this morning at Kallang to watch full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) from his former combat engineer battalion go through exactly what he did two years ago.

Linking NDP with commitment to defence: Third Sergeant Tan Ming Kwang (standing on ramp, second from left) and Third Sergeant Cai Wensheng (second from right) edge their M3G into position during an NDP practice on the Kalllang River in 2009. Two years later, Ming Kwang and Wensheng visited the same site to watch their former combat engineer unit prepare for this year's NDP. A single M3G in the water is called a rig. A raft is formed by fastening several rigs together.

His battalion's role for NDP 2009 was to ferry the Presidential Gun Salute (PGS) battery of 25-pounder guns aboard M3G ferries. At the time, these amphibious vehicles had never been used to carry the PGS battery to fire the 21-gun salute before. The tight rehearsal schedule and the battalion's immovable and non-negotiable commitment on Singapore's birthday added to the pressure for 35 SCE officers and men to get the PGS executed, safely and with a stately presence befitting the occasion.

It was a tall order. Safety guidelines and training templates had yet to be written and there was zero institutional memory to draw from.

And so Ming Kwang and his fellow combat engineers were made to rehearse their role over and over again as staff officers wrote safety guidelines and deployment procedures for the PGS item from scratch. The unit also worked with defence engineers to add enhancements such as lightning arrestors and additional lighting to the M3Gs so spectators could see the gun crews. Defence engineers also tested the vehicles to ensure they could take the strain of having guns fired while on the water as the M3Gs were not designed as floating gun platforms.

"We must have rehearsed our part more than 10 times," said Ming Kwang, who was then a full-time National Serviceman with the 35th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (35 SCE)."Looking back at my NDP experience, I treasure the memories. It's when I was going through the practices that it felt more like a chore."

With the training schedule imprinted in his memory, Ming Kwang and fellow Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) from his unit showed up bright and early at Kallang to catch the M3G crews swing into action. They had seen it all before, but watching combat engineers from his former unit gear up for CR3 brought back memories of their army days.

NDP 2011 marks the second time that 35 SCE has been tasked to ferry the PGS battery. As the NSFs who shouldered the responsibility in 2009 have all left the Singapore Armed Forces after completing their full-time NS, the unit has to raise and train a new batch of combat engineers for this role.

With more hours of rehearsals under their belt, the experienced NSmen felt they could deploy and form a ferry faster than the current batch of 35 SCE NSFs they watched on Saturday morning. They also recounted how NDP rehearsals claimed hours of work spent away from the public eye while in camp. These include washing the boat-like M3G vehicles, clearing sand and debris from the impellers of the ferries, as well as cleaning the paintwork to keep the vehicles in near showroom condition.

Gentle giants: An M3G amphibian from 35 SCE is guided through the tree line to its launch spot at the Kallang River. These large vehicles are surprisingly manoeuvrable in confined areas and even more nimble in water.

It is clear from this episode that an NSF's experience with NDP can create lifelong memories - both good and bad. The challenge for NDP Executive Committees (EXCO) is to keep the sum of memories positive as there are bound to be good days and bad days during the CRs.

Coaxing NSFs along as the show progresses from a fuzzy concept to a grand national event helps these young Singaporeans value their contribution to a national event that Singaporeans look forward to viewing every 9 August.

Allowing parents and friends of NDP participants to see firsthand how their loved ones are spending their time during CRs is an invaluable way of telling NSFs that their efforts are appreciated and that no one is taken for granted.

We saw this today when the 25,000-seat gallery at The Float at Marina Bay, the venue for NDP 2011, was nearly filled to capacity as loved ones of NDP participants caught them in action during CR3.

Third Sergeant Sim Qi Xian, now finds himself in the same boat as Ming Kwang was in 2009. The 22-year-old graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic maintains a positive attitude towards the demanding rehearsal timetable.

Sharing session: Third Sergeant Sim Qi Xian (seated centre, with cap) from Bravo Company, 35 SCE, listens as First Warrant Ong Kim Piao explains how the M3Gs should be manoeuvred in the water. As 3SG Sim and his fellow full-time National Servicemen are taking part in NDP for the first time, experience shared by SCE regulars helps transfer lessons learnt from NDP 2009 to the young combat engineers.

"I feel honoured because not everybody gets to do this," said the 22-year-old, who is trained to pilot the M3G when it is converted to a ferry.

Among the challenges are keeping the six-bay ferry rock steady as gunners from the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery (23 SA), prepare to fire 21 rounds of blank ammunition to salute the President as he reviews the parade.

Then there are duties, same as those shouldered by the NDP 2009 M3G crews, that guarantee each CR is a long, day/night slog for the combat engineers.

Said 3SG Sim:"We have to prepare the rigs from washing to maintenance every week. The tedious part is washing it because the rigs are so big."

One hopes that when NDP 2011 is done, the present batch of NSF involved in the parade will takeaway their own storehouse of happy memories and forge friendships that outlast the duration of their full-time NS.

Reunion: Master Sergeant Francis Miranda from the Singapore Combat Engineers (centre) and First Sergeant Yu Weishen (white T) meet their former trainees Third Sergeant(NS) Tan Ming Kwang (black T, second from right) and Cai Wensheng (red T). Two years ago, MSG Miranda (then a First Sergeant) helped train Ming Kwang and Weisheng for their part in NDP 2009. Their NDP experience made such a lasting impression that the NSmen came back to watch their unit prepare for this year's parade.

Master Sergeant Francis Miranda, who was Ming Kwang's platoon sergeant in 2009, noted:"I was quite surprised to see them (his NDP 2009 NSFs) this morning. But back in 2009, I also had some ORD personnel drop by at Kallang to visit us."

Ming Kwang, his former trainee, said:"This morning's visit is an eye-opener for me because when I was in the Army I didn't have a chance to take pictures of my equipment. Now that it's over, I feel that NDP 2009 was a memorable experience and I really enjoyed it."

Acknowledgements: I thank the NDP 2011 EXCO for the access to CR3 for a behind-the-scenes look at NDP preparations and to the participants for making time to host these visits. The bonus was coming across ordinary Singaporeans, like NSmen from the NDP 2009 alumni, who were prepared to share their story in an unscripted engagement.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Singapore Army displays new sensors for Urban Operations

The Singapore Army displayed and demonstrated its latest range of sensors for Urban Operations at an event this morning to mark Singapore Armed Forces Day at Temasek Polytechnic.

It is noteworthy that sensors tested during earlier trials, like the camera ball, have been replaced by new gadgets. Please see the info box above.

More pictures will be uploaded this weekend.

SAF Best Unit competition needs to keep up with 3rd Gen SAF

While Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters who worked hard for their Best Unit trophy should be justifiably proud of their achievement, the question is whether the prize is worth their effort?

In the past decade, the transformation of the SAF into a Third Generation fighting force has shot far ahead of the terms and conditions drawn up years ago for the Best Unit Competition.

The inter-unit rivalry the competition generates is useful, especially for a peacetime armed forces with no imminent threat to rattle its sabres at.

But for defence observers who track the SAF's force structure, the level of competition seems to have been diluted in recent years for some categories of military units.

As the drawdown of forces has not been explained by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), observers may - even with the best intentions - develop a hypothesis that some trophies are an easy win. It may also lead to speculation that some teeth arms have had their combat potential diluted as word leaks out of units that were quietly stood down.

For instance, the SAF Guards Formation was once a brigade-size formation with three battalions of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) Guardsmen. The formation of heliborne infantry has since been pared down to two NSF Guards battalions after 2 GDS was stood down.

A study of the Singapore Artillery (SA) formation presents things in starker terms. Once upon a time, six Singapore Artillery battalions - 20 SA to 25 SA - vied for the Best Artillery unit trophy.

Today, the field of competition has shrunk to just three NSF artillery battalions. These are 21 SA, a hybrid battalion equipped with Primus 155mm self-propelled howitzers and FH 2000 155mm heavy artillery guns, 23 SA, which is another hybrid unit whose batteries are armed with Pegasus 155mm heavy artillery and M142 HIMARS rocket artillery, and 24 SA with its Arthur and Firefinder fire detection radars.

One does not have to be a gambler to realise that the odds have improved for the three COs, compared to the Singapore Artillery's heyday when Chief Arty commanded six NSF artillery battalions.

More puzzling is the apparent dilution of hitting power as two NSF arty battalions were taken off the orbat tables.

Is technology such a force multiplier than the new HIMARS justifies the disbandment of two tube artillery battalions? Or was this a case of Hobson's choice due to declining birth rates?

It is presumed that SAF artillery battalions are now evergreen units, which means the respective six-gun batteries are constantly active and not stood down whenever a batch of NSFs complete their two years NS when they hit their Operationally Ready Date (ORD).

It is further presumed that the substantial pool of gunners built up during the 1990s gives SAF force planners a sizeable stock of defence manpower to ensure the SAF has more than enough gun crews for its Army divisions. This fulfils one of the tenets of War, which is Mass.

Observers familiar with the 200-series SAs would realise this is true.

However, if combat potential and firepower were measured by numbers alone, the Japanese would never have conquered Singapore during WW2 and the SAF would have nothing to fear from its neighbours.

By mixing and matching freshly-ORDed servicemen with NSmen from earlier batches, SAF force planners can certainly ensure units are committed into battle at the full estab strength.

However, the vexing question is the impact such a plug-and-play approach will have on unit cohesion.

During WW2, the German Army was so strapped for manpower along the long Eastern Front that ad hoc emergency units were hastily put together to plug gaps in the frontline. On paper, these emergency units or Alarmeinheiten had the estab manpower authorised for infantry battalions. But as officers and NCOs barely knew one another, the fighting potential of these Alarmeinheiten was poor. Several German generals have noted this in their post war memoirs and their thoughts are worth mulling over by SAF planners.

It is one thing to fight and die for strangers (i.e. fellow Singaporeans). It is quite another to be ordered to fight and die with strangers.

Warfighters from evergreen units need to be given sufficient time to bond with their counterparts who may be of a different age group and physical fitness level from their cohort. When fatherhood dawns, NSmen will have different priorities in life too, adding to the gulf between newly-arrived NSmen and the lau jiaos (older soldiers). Band of brothers they are unlikely to be.

MINDEF/SAF must ensure the engagement of NSmen is pitched at a level that helps them understand and appreciate the rationale for force structure changes. Afterall, the introduction of SAF mono intake battalions in 1980 was publicised as a means of bolstering unit cohesion as the NSFs stay with one another throughout their reserve training cycle.

What about now, with evergreen units?

At the same time, literature should be shared in the open domain for defence analysts who maintain order of battle spreadsheets to understand their 200-series, 300-series and 400-series NS battalions of support arms better. We see eroded combat potential as ORD personnel are thrown in penny packets to patch up understrength NS battalions.

Aside from assuring defence watchers that the Best Unit competition is still a good yardstick of how big a fight an SAF unit packs, the tricky part comes with informing and educating people that the field of competition is much broader than the candidate units people read about in newspapers.

These closed battalions and squadrons do not exist and their respective COs have always been bench warmers when Best Unit trophies are given out on SAF Day, which falls on 1 July.

It is ironic that some of these units and squadrons wield precisely the kind of sensors and war machines that helps the SAF justify its 3rd Gen moniker.

So as those shiny Best Unit trophies sit alongside the parade ground today waiting to be claimed by proud COs, think ahead of Best Unit competitions of future years.

The status quo should change to ensure this annual affair stays ready, relevant and makes a decisive contribution to the defence readiness of Singapore.