Sunday, September 25, 2011

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) stages massive 5,750km air and sealift to Australia to deploy forces for Exercise Wallaby

The first two Singapore Airlines B777 charter flights packed with several hundred Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel are expected to arrive tonight in Rockhampton Airport (ICAO code: ROK).

Some 20 more B777s charter flights are expected to wing their way from Singapore to ROK - a distance of some 5,750km - in the coming days as the build-up of forces for this year's Exercise Wallaby gathers pace.

Pre-flight: RSAF ground crew from 120 Squadron assemble an Apache AH-64D attack helicopter at Rockhampton Airport as preparations for Exercise Wallaby swing into high gear. Note that the Oakey-based Super Puma in the foreground has had its floatation gear removed.

Tiny Rockhampton Airport in Australia's Queensland State is looking more like a military airfield as the Singaporean military pumps more war machines into the area.

Ten Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) helicopters are already there, according to Australian plane spotters who are keeping tabs on air activity in and around ROK.

The latest arrivals are four AH-64D Apache attack helicopters from 120 Squadron. The Apaches were transported there on Tuesday 21 September aboard a Polets Airlines Antonov AN-124-100 heavy-lift (RA-82075, Flight POT4762) transport aircraft. The Polets Airlines Antonov left ROK on Wednesday. For more, please visit the Central Queensland Plane Spotting site here.

The Apaches join six Super Puma/Cougars which flew there from the Australian Army's Oakey Army Aviation Centre, where the RSAF maintains a helicopter detachment.

These rotary-wing assets from the RSAF Participation Command will soon be joined by fast jets from Singapore. (27 Sept'11 Update: Sing sources clarified no fast jets for Ex Wallaby 2011. Helos only.)

The war machines are due to participate in Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) manoeuvres in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) held as part of Exercise Wallaby - an umbrella term that embraces several component war games.

The SAF build-up has proven to be somewhat of an attraction for Australian military buffs, some of whom drove several hundred kilometres to catch the action at ROK.

Plane spotter Damian Freiberg said:"Local spotters enjoy the extra action - it also brings out a lot of local visitors who enjoy watching all the heavy jet action! Other Australian spotters travel to Rocky to take photos too."

Acknowledgements: This blog appreciates the efforts of Australian military nuts in keeping an eye on things in ROK. We will keep you informed of departures from SIN so you can catch them at the end of their flight. Check Six!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fitted for but not with: Up-arming the Singapore Armed Forces during a Period of Tension

War ready: Bronco variant known as the Warthog built for British Army operations in Afghanistan.

Show ready: Singapore Army Bronco tasked for joyride duty during an Army Open House at the SAFTI Military Institute.

Which version of the Singapore-made Bronco all-terrain tracked carrier (above) would you choose as your battle wagon?

It's a safe bet most of you would pick the uparmoured version in desert warpaint which serves the British Army as the Warthog.

The Singapore Army's troop carrier variant (70313 MID) can be uparmoured too as the tell tale attachment points all around the cabin clearly indicate. This Bronco lacks teeth, but a pintle-mounted 7.62mm GPMG can be rapidly added along with the bolt-on composite armour panels before it trundles into operations.

Hopefully, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war planners have drawer plans to add a proper shield and softmount for embarked, belt-fed automatic weapons because the lack of such protection would make Bronco gunners exposed from waist up bullet bait.

The Bronco is just one example of an SAF war machine fitted for but not with hostilities only war material.

Several other examples abound in the Army, Republic of Singapore Navy and Republic of Singapore Air Force.

Betting that a Period of Tension (POT) would buy war planners precious time to scale up the SAF to its full force potential is a delicate guesstimate. This strategic assumption demands timely, high quality strategic intelligence to guarantee the SAF does not get caught wrong-footed.

This guesstimate is all the more risky should the SAF face an all-regular force that is essentially at full mobilised strength during peacetime. To the all-regular force, wars are come-as-you-are affairs as the regulars already have what they need in their arsenals.

It is different for a citizens army like Singapore's. To mobilise for action means pulling manpower needed to drive the economy. Such a decision cannot be made frivolously. A crafty enemy who knows this can play around with trigger points to the extent that MINDEF/SAF may be flummoxed as to whether the threat situation warrants a full, partial or no SAF mobilisation during a phoney war scenario.

The same reasoning extends to the Home Team agencies, which are never 100% equipped for their full force potential and also have procedures for mobilising reserve manpower.

The window of several months preparation for a hot war expected to last less than two weeks is a scenario that can elicit endless comments from armchair strategists and staff college students.

If the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF are robbed of this preparation window, SAF warfighters and war machines are likely to go into operations without the touted benefits of all the bells and whistles.

With the defence budget already taking the lion's share of the national budget, keeping special order items for a hot war reduces the pressure on defence spending. The reasoning behind this is that essential items would be purchased and fitted on a just-in-time basis ahead of a shooting war.

This approach has practical benefits for war machines such as armoured vehicles. The additional weight from add-on armour would increase wear and tear during peacetime training, resulting in worn out vehicles and a higher maintenance bill.

It also preserve operational security as hostile forces are likely to be surprised by stuff that appears only during operations.

Mind you, the vanilla Bronco can still do the job. But without additional armour and close-in protection, the embarked infantry would be unable to respond during an ambush (the Bronco does not have firing ports and soldiers have to open the doors to fire their small arms).

The scenario that a POT would buy Singaporean strategic planners the window needed to crank up war preparations to full defence readiness may not come true if a wily enemy knows your playbook and executes countermeasures to catch the SAF off-balance.

The trick is calibrating the SAF with the right amount of firepower during peacetime without blowing the budget, without wearing out men and machines or scaring the sarongs of its neighbours.

War planners would do well keeping their powder dry by having drawer plans for hostilities only equipment that can be quickly delivered to the city-state during a POT.

This delivery window assumes that the entity responsible for the POT would be compliant (or stupid?) enough not to ring the city-state with an air and naval blockade which would deny the city-state access to essential war material.

It also assumes that home forces would pack the readiness, reach and firepower needed to escort overseas shipments into Singapore. The demand for round-the-clock patrols during the build-up to (assumed) hostilities, plus additional vigilance by an in-country counter attack force to guard against pre-emptive attacks by saboteurs is likely to strain the SAF the longer the POT stretches.

The re-arming of the SAF during a POT could also compromise or erase any diplomatic efforts to steer clear of war. This strategic conundrum arises because the other side cannot be expected to sit idly by while SAF war machines are brought up to full war standard. Its intelligence planners are likely to recommend precautionary deployments of their regular forces and such deployments run the risk of forcing the SAF into strike mode in which the time for talk ends and the shooting starts.

During a POT, RSAF escort flights or naval patrols for HVUs represent sensitive flashpoints that could quickly shrink months of anticipated POT to a heightened state of tension within days if any side miscalculates.

It is not a foregone conclusion that a POT would culminate in war.

The decision to move from peace to war posture is a political one and all that training and preparations could count for nothing if politicians vacillate and cannot reach a decisive decision point during a POT.

Weak-willed politicians may also hold back the SAF's drawer plan response. There are few things worse in strategic decision planning than curtailing the SAF into limited action where target sets are hit incrementally in pin prick attacks rather than in a massive autostrike blowout repeatedly and ruthlessly delivered day and night till the target sets no longer exist.

In such situations, a hostile army that moves quickly could dash Singapore's hopes of a "swift and decisive" response if it brings the city-state within the range rings of its artillery before the SAF can mobilise. Anyone who has seen the SAF mobilise large units would realise that mobilisation centres are a target rich environment teeming with citizen soldiers making the transition from civilian to soldier (sailor or airman, as the case may be). The mobilisation centres are a legitimate target under the laws of war. Spread over several hectares, these premises are also an area target ideal for imprecise artillery barrages fired by rocket artillery units.

With the resolution of ownership of Pedra Branca and increased efforts to reduce Singapore's dependence on Malaysian fresh water supplies, Singapore has cut down its list of potential casus belli by two scenarios.

The irony is that the less likely a shooting war, the more vociferous will be the calls for Singapore to explain the need for and relevance of the SAF.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Missing elements in Singapore Armed Forces war games

It's exercise season for Singapore's military!

In the past week alone, the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) churned out three news releases (Exercise Matilda, Ex Suman Warrior, Ex Valiant Mark) on war games involving the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and warfighters from at least five other countries.

More's to come when Exercise Wallaby is launched in Queensland, Australia, next week.

There's one critical element missing from all these muscle-flexing outings by the SAF: civilians.

Watch the snazzy video clips screened by MINDEF. Examine the images of the combat manoeuvres and you will see a sanitised battlespace devoid of civilians.

This will not be the case in real life should deterrence fail.

Non-combatants numbering in the millions will be found in the SAF's area of operations if push comes to shove and Singapore's war machine puts into practice war craft drilled during war games such as Ex Wallaby.

If SAF Armour is to advance over distances clocked in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Rockhampton, it cannot realistically expect to do so in an AO emptied of civilians as in the Aussie outback.

Allied forces learned this the hard way during the opening phase of World War Two when British and French troops found roads leading to the battle area in the Low Countries clogged with civilian vehicles and refugees.

The same situation could upset carefully crafted drawer plans that have been rehearsed and replayed on computer and on military training grounds where map overlays mimic distances and objectives the SAF could be tasked to capture and hold in a hot war scenario.

If the SAF's advance crawls to a halt or fails to unfold with the promised "swift and decisive" effect, Singapore's war planners may find themselves in a fix as the city-state cannot sustain a long slugfest.

Adding to the difficult task is the likely presence of stay behind forces deliberately inserted to cause maximum damage on the SAF's combat service support (CSS) units. These units are the soft underbelly of the SAF - literally so because the SAF's armoured spearhead will be supported by logistics units that ply vulnerable supply routes in unarmoured vehicles, driven by combat unit rejects of dubious motivation, carrying highly flammable and combustible war material in an AO with long supply lines, no FEBA and uncountable ambush spots.

Matched against special forces fighting on home ground, the result of a clash between SAF loggies and special forces operatives determined to draw blood is not difficult to forecast.

It may be improper to inject war games such as Ex Orion and Ex Wallaby with such a high level of realism because doing so would alarm observers. It would also make the playbook obvious to trained eyes. And if the presence of huge numbers of civilians - real or simulated - really slows down the fighting units, the drag on morale from citizen soldiers who realise the enormity/futility of the task at hand may be difficult to manage.

Such mission scenarios are best fought in the virtual world, on plasma where computer algorithms can simulate to some degree of realism how the presence of non-combatants in an AO can blunt the advance of SAF manoeuvre forces.

It's high time that MINDEF/SAF upgrades the SAF's combat service support units to ensure they can do the job.

Soft-skinned B vehicles should be junked for armoured cargo carriers with excellent on and off-road capabilities. Protection against IEDs and mines should be a basic requirement. Remotely-controlled weapon mounts with a high degree of accuracy, day/night sights and ample ammunition should replace pintle-mounted GPMGs with no armour protection. Tempered glass should be replaced with armoured glass.

SAF planners need to plan and execute supply runs the same way an Armoured Battle Group is deployed for a thunder run. The supply convoys should have eyes-in-the-sky to probe and investigate the road ahead. Fire support should be ready on call. MSRs need to be treated the same way combat commanders view the battlespace. This is not a milk run but a combat operation in Indian country where the natives are hostile.

Above all, the heartware of SAF CSS units - the logisticians, drivers, aerial delivery pallet riggers and so on, need to be infused with the right fighting spirit and mindset of their mission and expected threat levels. For way too long, officers and WOSEs assigned to CSS units tend to be seen as the Cinderellas of the Singapore Army.

This mindset is perpetuated by MINDEF/SAF itself which likes to reserve media engagements and photo opportunities for the Defence Minister with teeth arms such as Armour, Artillery, Commando and Guards units. When was the last time you saw a Minister for Defence posing for newspaper photographers with Army truck drivers, clerks or water purification specialists?

Till now, CSS units have tended to survive on hand-me-downs. In the pecking order of priorities, the logistics units are usually at the bottom of the heap. They are the unloved orphan child who is last in the list of priorities, the ones whose budgets can be cut and whose wish lists remain so.

In the age of the M-16S1 5.56mm assault rifle, some CSS units were still armed with ancient AR-15s from the Vietnam War or unwanted SAR-80 assault rifles. They later progressed to M-16s when the rest of the Singapore Army transitioned to SAR-21 assault rifles.

The Third Generation SAF would send a strong deterrent message indeed if CSS units were overhauled from top to bottom.

It would take a bold SAF staff officer to argue that Army drivers should be armed with weapons such as the P90 5.7mm submachine gun. And why not? The Belgian gunmaker that designed the P90 made it a compact weapon designed to be carried by helicopter pilots and truck drivers.

But in the SAF, the P90 has been elevated to a weapon for crack Commando LRRP teams, who value its compactness and killing power of 5.7mm rounds designed to punch through body armour. Don't our SAF drivers deserve the same hitting power in an ambush?

With SAF teeth units transformed to fight a 3rd Gen battle, it's time to shift the spotlight to CSS formations and other GS Command units.

It is no point making a big show of war games such as Exercise Wallaby when defence observers look at the tail in the SAF's tooth-to-tail ratio and realise where the weak links are.

The weak links in the chain are the ones hostile forces will gun for.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

National Day Parade 2012, Singapore: Some random thoughts

The planning cycle for National Day Parade 2012 (NDP 2012) has begun but has yet to reach a design freeze.

Next year's parade will be the fifth held at The Float@Marina Bay after NDP 07, 08, 09, 11. The event is being organised by Headquarters Guards, the parent formation for the Singapore Army's heliborne infantry known as Guardsmen.

The Guardsmen work closely with rotary-wing elements from the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) Participation Command to plan, prepare and execute airmobile operations and regularly test such CONOPs during war games such as Exercise High Noon and Orion.

Combat support elements from the Singapore Artillery such as the 155mm Pegasus lightweight howitzer, which can be airlifted by a Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, serve an important role in providing Guardsmen with concentrated artillery fire in their area of operations.

Specialised heli-portable gun or missile-armed Light Strike Vehicles (LSV) such as the Flyer and Spider (the vehicle, not the munition) are integral to Guards-led spearheads designed to provide flank support for the Singapore Army's heavy manoeuvre units formed by Armoured Battle Groups (ABG).

Essentially light infantry after they have landed, Guardsmen use 40mm Automatic Grenade Launchers (40AGL) or wire-guided Spike anti-tank missiles with a launch and update capability to harass hostile forces en route to meeting engagements with SAF ABGs.

Guardsmen can also capture and secure key transportation nodes such as expressway interchanges or river crossing points as manoeuvre forces fight their way towards the objective from land or from a coastal hook beach landing.

With this background in mind, let's look at how HQ Guards can revamp the Dynamic Defence Display (D3) for NDP 2012.

1. Airmobile column
Stage an aerial flypast that displays the airmobile capability of the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Singaporeans have seen numerous NDP flypasts and get to see the Mobile Column of war machines once every five years. An Airmobile column comprising underslung 155mm Pegasus guns, LSVs in various fighting configurations (40AGL, Spike, 120mm SRAMS mortar), with Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and Super Puma/Cougar medium-lift helicopters escorted by Apache attack helicopters with assorted ordnance would add a new and visually captivating element to NDP.

Do watch this video to see what a massed formation (from 3:10 onwards) of helicopters might look like. This formation was filmed in Singapore.

2. Chinook with naval divers
This display should be updated with the Chinook landing on the water to launch a dinghy with naval divers. The one we saw this year with naval divers jumping off a Chinook has been repeated several times already. Not many people realise the Chinook can land on water and the calm conditions in the freshwater reservoir (less corrosive than a water landing in seawater) are ideal for such a demo.

The flight demo you see below was flown by Spanish pilots. Imagine watching this in Marina Bay.

3. Recognise 45 years of National Service
The year 2012 will mark the 45th year of National Service. This milestone should be built into part of the D3 show, perhaps using the well-known Open Mobilisation logo and all codewords flashed over the past decades during Open Mob exercises. This would show spectators the number of units that have gone through mobilisation practices in past years - and there have been many.

It will be clear that the Chinooks have a big part to play in the Airmobile column and D3 show.

Their contribution would be timely as the number in their official designation, CH-47D Chinook, coincides with the 47th year of Singapore's independence.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Goodbye Borders Parkway :(

The Borders bookstore at Parkway Parade shopping mall is on its last legs and probably won't see another weekend as a going concern.

During its heyday, the Borders military book collection (complete with mis-spelt sign, see above) was a magnet for defence buffs as its amply stocked collection always promised a fascinating outing.

The writing was literally on the wall once bookshelves started to get noticeably bare some months ago.

With online bookstores offering hard-to-beat rates (including shipping) and insane currency conversion rates used by booksellers in Singapore, sticker prices at Borders were no longer competitive.

Worst was to come when people treated the place like a library rather than a bookstore.

And so it died a slow and agonising death as packed bookshelves were depleted and no longer restocked.

I will treasure the titles I bought from Borders in the past.

My last purchase at Borders today was a reference book on Greek and Roman mythology.

Admittedly an arcane subject but it's a handy reference for finding out about characters such as Heracles who lent his name to a naval radar and an interesting project.

Thank you Borders team members for the many years of happy memories.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Singapore Armed Forces military deaths and training safety: Telling it like it is

The public relations message that the Defence ministry is doing all it can to keep military training safe yet realistic is as old as National Service (NS) itself.

Singaporeans have heard it all before, indeed ever since conscription began in 1967. As social media platforms mature, defence-themed PR messages need to be better calibrated as Singaporeans keep defence matters on their watch list.

This is why the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) need to raise, train and sustain a credible PR machinery to win the hearts and minds of Singaporeans and shape opinions in defence matters. 

The increasing number of conscripts from families of New Citizens who will enter NS in coming years puts added pressure on MINDEF/SAF's Public Affairs Directorate because these households do not have the benefit of exposure to the NS system that most Singaporeans have. But more on that later.

However large the PR bureaucracy, Rule Number One is telling things as they are and not as you wish they should be. Doing so will earn you credibility and respect. Doing the opposite will build misgivings which could poison years of goodwill.

The above article from 1984 is a good example of how things could have been explained better. You may not realise this when you read the story and take things at face value without any basis for comparison.

But the statistics on military deaths in the article do not, in my opinion, match the reports on training incidents in the period mentioned. In my opinion, the article could confuse defence-watchers rather than clarify questions over training safety. The mismatch in death statistics could provoke more questions than reassure Singaporeans.

According to the article, only one of the 250,000 men trained by MINDEF "last year" - presumably 1983 - died in an accident.

I may have misread the situation but in my mind, the record of SAF training deaths for 1983 appears to tell a different story. According to open source newspaper reports, there were at least seven SAF deaths reported in 1983. With the benefit of the Internet, anyone keen on data mining the paper of record's archives would probably have noted the following fatalities. In my opinion, incidents 1, 3, 5 and 6 appear to be accidents.

Feb 1983: Lieutenant (LTA) Ang Cheng Sing, 20, and LTA Tio Sio Ngee, 19, died when their UH-1H helicopter crashed.
April 1983: Recruit Christopher Rayney, 20, from the School of Basic Military Training (SBMT) died of a viral infection.
May 1983: Private Chin Jee Yat, 20, from 25 SA died when a tyre exploded. Correct: 25 SA, since disbanded.
May 1983: Recruit Tham Wai Keong, 18, from the Infantry Training Depot (ITD) died on Pulau Tekong (Tekong island) during a route march.
June 1983: Private Lim Siang Kang, 19, from 35 SCE died in a crane accident.
June 1983: Commando Sergeant Yeo Soon Seng died several days after a diving accident.

If MINDEF/SAF had a different way of computing such statistics, it should have made this clear to newspaper readers. In my mind, the ministry did not. Try as I might, the numbers could not be reconciled.

The article also mentioned that in the first seven months (Jan to July) of 1984, only two SAF personnel had died.

However, the five SAF training deaths noted for the same period in 1984 are:

Feb 1984: Officer Cadet Lee Marn Wye, 19, found dead in a pond after he went missing during a map reading exercise.
April 1984: LTA Koh Mean Wan, 23, from 38 SCE died in Sungei Gedong. No further details.
April 1984: Recruit Sim Keat Kee, 19, died during a 2-km run.
April 1984: Recruit Bak Yow Hock, 17, died in a pool accident.
May 1984: Hunter pilot Captain Tan Seng Hui, 26, went missing over the South China Sea.

If you can match these tragedies to MINDEF's statistic of two deaths in the January to July 1984 period, please teach me how.

Whichever way you want to count the tragedies, families and loved ones of the dead will mourn their loss forever. In press articles from more than two decades ago, parents of yesteryear voice the same pain that parents of recent tragedies expressed.

Internet resources provide a wealth of data for defence-watchers with the time and energy to build their own records. MINDEF must recognise that the ability for netizens to datamine from one's desktop using net-based search engines means netizens are likely to countercheck every and any statistics that emerge from Gombak Drive. This capability was unavailable to newspaper readers back in the early 1980s and most people were probably none the wiser.

The bitter reality is this: So long as military training continues, the list of SAF fatalities will grow in coming years. As unpalatable as it may seem, this grim statistical fact underscores why a credible information management posture is so vital in the social media era.

Today's cohort of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) who form the Third Generation SAF come from families whose menfolk weathered a harsher NS life. Stories of cover-ups during the late 1960s and 1970s - whether true or pure urban myth - can be easily passed onto the 3rd Gen SAF warfighters if MINDEF/SAF is not careful.

With the full panoply of social media gadgets at the fingertips of Gen Ys, the longevity of urban myths in era of the 3rd Gen SAF should be obvious.

MINDEF's PR challenge is compounded by New Singaporeans, many of whom hail from foreign countries where the military is best avoided, if not despised. Even if caste-based social groups envy martial traditions, the way New Singaporean families look at NS is little different from those of Singaporeans in the 1960s who viewed the SAF with skeptical eyes.

The impact of negative newsflows on New Singaporeans makes the PR task more complex. Newbies to the Lion City, unbloodied by military service, can be expected to react differently from homegrown Singaporean families who have felt the collective sense of loss many times before. When Death visits, as it will one day, the shock effect on the New Citizen family will be magnified.

I trust MINDEF/SAF had good intentions in sharing the death statistics with Singaporeans during the press engagement in 1984 or a solid basis for its calculations.

If the ministry had a more rigid definition of how it counted the deaths, this was not made clear in the story. The ambiguity that is apparent when one compares official rhetoric with numbers drawn from a file of death reports is unsettling, in my opinion.

There are several other striking examples of an apparent contradiction disjoint between records compiled from open source literature and the version of events from officialdom. But I believe I have made my point and will stop here.

The defence PR strategy may have worked 27 years ago when our island nation was younger and her citizens less discerning.

Alas, PAFF must realise by now the situation today is very different.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Singapore's energy options: Relooking the nuclear energy option

Please take part in the poll on nuclear power  Many thanks! -->

A power struggle of sorts is developing between Malaysia and Singapore to be the first to build and operate a nuclear powerplant.

Singapore must keep its eye on nuclear power options because the strategic disadvantages of being second to market could imperil the city-state's energy security.

In the post-Fukushima era, nuclear power is hardly a vote-generating idea. Japan and Germany have both pledged to reduce their reliance on nuclear power after the March 2011 tsunami in Japan contaminated parts of Japan with radiation from damaged nuclear power plants.

Whether we like it or not, natural gas fields that fire up turbines in Singapore's power stations are expected to be exhausted in about 20 years' time. This is a blink of an eye when seen in terms of the planning cycle needed to introduce an alternative form of energy, be it from a renewable (solar, wind, tides) or non-renewable source (oil, coal, gas).

To sit back and do the politically expedient by steering clear of the nuclear question would bring back the same strategic problems posed by the water problem.

With Singapore gradually weaning itself of dependence on freshwater from Malaysia's Johor state, botched planning in energy security could drive Singapore once again towards Malaysia for a strategic resource. In this case, energy.

The first country to add a nuclear power station to its power grid will guarantee its citizens a stable and safe source of energy. Cut through the screaming rhetoric from greenies and you will realise that post-Fukushima nuclear reactors are designed with more fail safes and with a far higher standard of reliability and mean time between failure for critical components than the 1970s-vintage reactors installed at the Fukushima facilities.

Depending on the power-generating capacity of the reactors installed in the Sin-Mal-Indo triangle, the first to market could end up selling surplus power to its neighbour at an unbeatable price per kilowatt hour.

The appeal of such pricing will rise as the last cubic metre of natural gas is sucked out of the earth.

A Singapore government in a state of decision paralysis about nuclear energy may indeed be forced to hitch the city-state's energy grid to Malaysia's nuclear powered Tenaga Nasional someday.

When that day comes, a flick of a switch up north is all it takes to get this little red dot to behave.

Singapore has walked the nuclear energy road before. In the 1970s, the government sent a young physicist to England to study all he could about atomic power. The individual carried the future of Singapore's energy security on his shoulders and knew he was charting Singapore's future with the paper of recommendations he would help pen for the government.

To his credit, he wrote off his own future by recommending that Singapore steer clear of nuclear power. It is understood he did so because the 1970s era nuclear power was still being refined. Years of training in atomic power had thus been redundant. But it did not matter as the paper he wrote was for the long-term good of his country.

That selfless individual was the late Dr Tay Eng Soon - in my opinion an underrated politician who gave his all for Singapore in more ways than Singaporeans can imagine or appreciate. I have the highest respect for him.

Our country must once again face the nuclear question.

We should do so united, with our eyes scanning the far horizon and with our hearts in the right place.

We must address this topic with the same discipline demonstrated by Dr Tay.

Options in terms of real estate must be made ready even as the go/no go milestone has yet to be reached.

Opting for nuclear power means more than having enough juice to power up your computer screen years from now.

Our increasing reliance on desalinated water will suck up huge amounts of power to convert seawater into potable water for us to drink and to sustain our industries. Until someone can reinvent the desalination process, we must be prepared to crank up our national grid well in time for the expiry of the water agreement with Malaysia in 2061. Not to do so would be strategic lunacy.

Nuclear energy will also mean the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team agencies such as the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force must up their game substantially, quickly and professionally.

Our intelligence services must do so likewise and have another pot to watch.

We may need to train, organise, equip and support our version of the United States Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) that can guarantee the safety of nuclear fuel. Specialised arms and equipment will need to be sourced and adapted to our tropical climate, along with SOPs for meting out deadly force on entities who may want to interfere with Singapore's nuclear energy cycle.

We need to upgrade our Police Coast Guard into an open-water force to accompany and escort nuclear fuel ships from fuel source to waste dump.

Infrastructure-wise, Singaporeans need not worry that a nuclear power station will be built next door.

This blog understands that Singapore has a site in mind for a reactor under Jurong Island. It is tunnelled some 130 metres below sea level in granite bedrock and is said to have chambers some 27 metres tall - three times the height of Resorts World Sentosa's 9-metre high car park for those of you who have been to there.(If you haven't, please visit to take a look.)

Energy planners must therefore stay the course and decide what's best for Singapore.

If and when the go signal is given, infrastructure should be ready and so should our security services.

This imponderable may test the mettle of the current government's persuasiveness with heartlanders and that outreach must start right now with the MIW being more open and consultative with its people.

Their biggest hurdle is whether the average Singaporean - this means you and I - will be mentally prepared to accept a nuclear reactor on our soil.

Are you?

Further reading on nuclear power on the blog:
The nuclear option for Singapore. Click here.

S'pore's new energy source: A nuke on your doorstep. Click here.

Nuclear energy for Singapore: A look at Singapore's information management and PR strategy for nuclear energy. Please read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Government and the Media in Singapore

Interesting article about the 90 cents newspaper.

WikiLeaks: Significant gov’t pressure put on ST editors

By Yahoo! Singapore

SingaporeScene – A senior staff member of Singapore's largest newspaper admits there's "significant pressure" on its editors to follow the government line, according to a newly released WikiLeaks document.

As a result, reporters within the paper are "increasingly frustrated" with the restrictions on what they can report and often seek overseas postings where restrictions are less.

The document, which appears to be a written minute taken in 2009 at the Singapore Embassy, highlighted the private views of two Straits Times journalists and a then-journalism student.

Chua Chin Hon, who is currently the paper's US bureau chief, was quoted as saying that reporters have to be careful in their coverage of local news, as Singapore's leaders will "likely come down hard" on anyone
who reports negatively about the government or its leadership.

Without naming names, he also recounted how several ministers at the time "routinely call editors" to ensure that media coverage of an issue "comes out the way they want it."

Chua also said that ST editors had been vetted to ensure their "pro-government leanings" and that while local reporters are "eager to produce more investigative and critical reporting... they are stifled by editors who have been groomed to tow the line."

In the WikiLeaks cable, Chua pointed out how there is extensive media coverage before the government intends to push out a certain policy, adding that some articles read like "Public Service Announcements".

He cited how during the 2008 collapse of Lehman brothers, there was a spate of articles writing about the retirees who lost money in the mini-bonds in a sympathetic manner, and this was followed by the government's decision to assist those retirees.

Singapore's largest newspaper has often been criticised for its pro-government stance.

Another reporter, Lynn Lee, who is currently the paper's Indonesian bureau chief, confirmed the restrictions on local media, highlighting the internal editorial debate over the covering of the opposition in Singapore.

An example she gave was the conflict over the amount of coverage that the paper would dedicate to opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam (JBJ) following his death in September 2008, saying that while editors agreed with reporters' demand for extensive coverage of his funeral, they rejected reporters' suggestions to limit the amount of coverage devoted to eulogies provided by Singapore's leaders.

In the end, the leaders' statements took up a significant portion of the allotted space, Lee said.

In addition, Lee revealed that self-censorship was a common practice for reporters.

She said that she would never write about any racially sensitive issues, citing the case of a journalist in Malaysia who was arrested for reprinting a politician's racially charged comments.

In contrast to the limitations imposed on local reports, Chua said that the paper's reporters are more free to write about international events. Chua said he enjoyed a great deal of freedom during his stint as China Bureau Chief.

The leaked cable also contained the views of then-journalism student Chong Zi Liang, who said he could see himself working locally for one or two years before going off somewhere else, because he thought it was too "stifling" to remain in the country.

The document is part of a collection of 251,000 unedited and confidential US diplomatic cables that can be found on the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website, founded by Julian Assange.

In the latest batch released online, several more can be found about Singapore.

One talks about the state of Singapore's opposition in 2004 and another on how the government actively co-opts talented Muslims to become Members of Parliament.

Last year, WikiLeaks revealed what key Singapore diplomats thought of neighbouring Asian leaders as well as what former leader Lee Kuan Yew thinks about North Korea.