Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

RSS Formidable keeps new structures under wraps

68, meet 68: The nuclear powered aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz (CVN-68), lurks in the distance as the Republic of Singapore Navy's RSS Formidable (68) cosies up to the United States Navy carrier for a photo shoot during the RIMPAC 2012 war games off Hawaii. Coincidentally, both ships carry the pennant number "68". 6868

Still under wraps are unknown apparatus on the roof of Formidable's helo hanger, which are thought to be launchers for anti-torpedo countermeasures. For more, please see previous post here.

RSS Formidable will sail home for Changi Naval Base less two Harpoons. The anti-ship missiles were ripple fired during a live-fire exercise on 14 July 2012 (US Pacific time) that demonstrated near simultaneous TOT with missiles approaching the target from multiple vectors during the end game. The target ship, quite possibly the ex-USNS Niagara Falls (AFS-3), a Mars-class combat stores ship, was sunk during the engagement.

Each of the Republic of Singapore Navy's six Formidable-class stealth frigates can be armed with a larger warload of anti-ship missiles than other warships in her class.

RIMPAC is due to end on 3 August 2012.

Photo credit: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eva-Marie Ramsaran. Thanks!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Enemy in sight: Local film to show Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) battling the Enemy on home ground

For the price of a cinema ticket, you can discover how Singaporean film maker/comedian/cross-dresser Jack Neo addresses the age old question: "Who is our Enemy?"

His upcoming film, Ah Boys to Men, due to premiere on 8 November 2012, promises to pit local thespians and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines in a "war scenario". It's a description that is likely fan the interests of Singapore watchers from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur as they wait anxiously for how the Enemy will be depicted in this quasi-action flick.

The Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) e-zine, cyberPioneer, said:"While the film promises to entertain with a light comedic touch, Mr Neo revealed that there would also be plenty of exciting action scenes and use of CGI (computer-generated imagery). Expect to see real Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) hardware such as Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles in action during a war scenario where the Singapore heartlands are invaded by enemy forces.

"With support from the Ministry of Defence and SAF, the crew were also able to put several of the 'recruits' through a two-day training programme to familiarise them with the military lifestyle and latest equipment used."


It would be instructive for defence buffs and social commentators to see just how MINDEF/SAF calibrates the signature of the Enemy, because this is a description that officialdom has assiduously avoided in past years.

What we've seen thus far are intensive campaigns that tug at the heart strings of Singaporeans by asking them what they will defend and whom they hold dear. We have had the horror of the Japanese Occupation during the Second World War drummed into our psyche. Privations from shortages of water and food are sometimes replayed in school during Total Defence Day when school kids are deprived of nourishment during recess time. And the race riots.

What we've seen offialdom avoid is a clear and unambiguous description of the Enemy. Instead, the SAF's capability development has been described by the politically correct and non offensive sounding term "multi spectrum". The SAF's transformation is explained on the grounds of being capability-based and not threat-based. The two are different in philosophical orientation but may attain the same end result in terms of military hardware, if you pause to think about it.

We have been told that to name a likely or possible enemy is to make a definite one. So all these years, we have had to contend with the SAF shadow boxing during war games around the world with Enemy combatants from no one particular country or countries.

For those aware of the fragility of Singapore's geo strategic position, the difficulty of MINDEF policy officers and MFA wallas in describing what Singapore needs to guard against doesn't take much imagination.

It is clear that Jack Neo's film is receiving more than tacit support from MINDEF/SAF, which isn't a bad thing because if the film is going to be made anyway, then MINDEF/SAF might as well have cinemagoers impressed with the SAF with National Education (NE) messages discretely sewn into the dialogue/plot/background like product placements so common in blockbusters.

From a defence information management point of view, the portrayal of the Enemy is dicey on these counts:

First, the absence of official literarture on the Enemy may make the young or the impressionable or the sinister-minded use Jack Neo's film as the benchmark for which the Enemy is calibrated and described. If SAF war fighters are sent to fight aliens (Battleship, Battle: Los Angeles, Independence Day, War of the Worlds, Mars Attacks), then the years many of us have spent serving National Service (NS) might be seen as a farce.

If the Enemy comprises terrorists set loose in the heartlands, then would this not count as a job for the police or Special Forces rather than something for the full force potential of the SAF to tackle, swiftly and decisively?

If the Enemy consists of soldiers from Malaysia and/or Indonesia on the war path, we can expect our Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive Third Party Notes from the aggrieved party, not to mention lots of bad press from north and south.

Second, the impression that the SAF is trained, organised and equipped to fight a terrestrial Enemy on homeground is not only wrong, but dangerous as it may seed wrong impressions of the SAF. Heartlanders and ill-informed citizens of this island nation may harbour the impression that this is the kind of land war the SAF has in its drawer plans. And the question of how long Singapore's fighting forces can prevail if the Enemy is allowed to invade home ground may shake confidence among citizens and new Singaporeans.

Granted, this film is part comedy part action flick made in good fun. But it is perhaps more than coincidence that it will premiere in a year when Singaporeans mark 45 years of National Service.

For those of us who know how the system works, you can bet officialdom will milk maximum PR value from Mr Neo's venture by getting the good and the great to say what this film reminds us to defend and how valuable the SAF is to Singapore's defence and security and how we should never take peace and stability for granted.

We know all that. But tell us again, who is the Enemy?

Please take part in the latest poll -->

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) air staff takes creative approach in studying airpower

Armed forces have much to learn from one another in the art, science and conduct of military operations.

Learning opportunities abound in the civilian world too, as evidenced by a study trip said to have been made by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to a courier company in a foreign country some time ago.

Singapore air force officers spent many hours on an airplane to get to their destination just to see air activity unfold over a span of some three hours. And the ops tempo was intense. In that time, well over 100 air cargo planes arrived at the air hub to have tonnes of cargo sorted, redirected and sent on its way - all within a tight timeline.

Bound by delivery standards that customers pay to expect in the cut throat courier business, the civilian company's staff had to work fast and load each freighter accurately according to its fresh cargo manifest. Late arrivals had a knock-on effect on departure timetables as cargo needed to be moved from one aircraft to another and a late package could hold up a departing flight.

The sheer volume of cargo transactions meant that even a tiny percentage error rate could result in a sizeable amount of missing cargo or items despatched on a longer journey when it could have gone on a more direct flight.

The RSAF study group watched intently as a steady stream of incoming freighters landed and were marshalled to their respective parking bays before a small army of ground support staff swarmed round the planes to get cargo pallets unloaded.

In a cavernous sorting area, conveyor belts hummed as a steady stream of boxes, packages, perishable and fragile cargo from all over the world - containing items of inestimable monetary and intrinsic value - flooded the sorting area in what is described as organised chaos. Within hours, the ground staff had to work out the destination airport that would get the package to its address in the shortest possible time. Weight limits for cargo pallets were calculated and freighters reloaded, refuelled and sent on their way. With the clock ticking, this was no place for slackers.

Management processes fine-tuned by this courier company were the RSAF's takeaway as it sought to find a better way to generate and sustain its airpower.

If you think about it, there are many parallels with how an air force perfects SOPs to turnaround warplanes, combat helicopters and drones. Aircraft on ground are targets. They become weapons of war only when they are airborne, armed and fuelled with the right mix of munitions and flown by an aircrew well appraised of the air situation picture and the determination to get the warload to its destination.

In the RSAF, mission readiness exercises such as Exercise Hotshot provide excellent opportunities for air crew, ground staff and RSAF engineers to demonstrate how they intend to keep airpower airborne. For example, when the A-4 Super Skyhawk was our principal air strike platform, hot refuellings were routinely practised during Hotshot with the Skyhawk's turbofan running. Armourers were timed on how fast munitions could be loaded onto hardpoints rapidly and accurately, in daylight and low light for simulated night attack missions. Keeping the turnaround time as short as possible is a valuable force multiplier.

As there are some 500 combinations to load an F-16 warplane with munitions, sensors and fuel tanks, the job of RSAF air strike planners can be daunting. Add in the different performance envelopes for different RSAF warplanes (F-15SG, F-16C, F-16D, F-16D+, F-5S), the number and mix of war machines needed (air defence suppression, strike, escort, AEW/MPA, recce and CSAR) to achieve mission success, and the operational necessity of working alongside Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units in the event of coordinated strikes and the work load grows significantly.

In addition, planners have to think about how to deconflict airspace because the same patch of sky could be used by manned and unmanned RSAF assets. Airspace could also be used as firing lanes by Singapore Artillery, whose barrages of tube and rocket munitions could pose a hazard to RSAF strike packages.

That study trip to the courier company is commendable. It is reassuring to know that the RSAF's air staff is prepared to think unconventionally in its quest to assess and adopt best practices from the military and civilian world in its learning journey and no distance is too far to acquire such insight.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Comments on the Singapore Army's camouflage uniform

Dressed to fight: Singapore Army infantry demonstrate the difference between the old Number 4 combat uniform (right) and the design which replaces it. Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence

It does not take a defence expert to tell which of the two soldiers in the image above blends better in tropical vegetation. The Singapore Army soldier on the left wears camouflage fatigues with an improved blend of green, tan and black hues, colour pattern and uniform design compared to the uniform worn by the soldier on the right, which has a design that is being phased out.

This past week, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) decision to swap the old combat dress, known as the Number 4 uniform, for a uniform with pixelised camouflage patterns came under scrutiny of the Singaporean media. The SAF camouflage uniform came into prominence after reports from the United States said that the US Army was rethinking its US$5 billion, eight-year-long investment in its pixelised Army Combat Uniform (ACU).

Here are some comments on the matter:
1. Singaporean journalists writing about the matter should have been savvy enough to recognise that it centres more on the blend of colours chosen for the ACU, which is principally grey, than the effectiveness of using pixel patterns to help an individual blend in with surrounding terrain. Learn to tell what the fuss is all about before jumping onto the bandwagon.

2. For media officers with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and staff officers with the 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry, media queries on the matter are a perfect opportunity to underline the thinking behind the new Number 4. Just pull out the old news releases and talking points and send it across to the mainstream media.

3. It should be clear to commentators who do their homework that MINDEF/SAF does customise when the need arises. The uniform used by SAF personnel serving in arid areas, for instance, is visually different from the Number 4 issued to soldiers locally. As a matter of interest, the uniform worn by soldiers with the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) who serve as enemy simulators is also different.

4. Soldiers who train overseas in places like Australia or New Zealand continue to wear the Number 4 issued locally as their time spent overseas is for training and not an operational deployment. There is a big difference between the two. MINDEF/SAF will make soldiers change their wardrobe if ops/tech planners decree that better camouflage is needed.

5. Assorted comments have been raised on just how well our Number 4 blends into *fill in your choice of terrain*. Let's get this clear: No mass production combat uniform in the world can turn a warfighter into a chameleon and blend the soldier against different terrain.

6. In terms of terminology, a plain olive green or desert tan uniform is a camouflage uniform since the single shade of colour was chosen to serve as camouflage. French troops in World War 1 wore a shade of blue called Horizon Blue to blend them against the skyline when advancing on open ground. The German Army in WW2 was one of the first to use camouflage uniforms with disruptive patterns. US Marines also experimented with a disruptive pattern and used this during the Pacific island-hopping campaign. The Germans recognised that changing European seasons meant that a disruptive pattern which was good in one time of the year may not work a few months later, and so developed a reversible smock with summer/autumn or winter patterns and other creative combinations.

7. One of the most active modern armies has steered clear of using combat fatigues with a disruptive pattern for its regulars, full-time National Servicemen and NSwomen and reservists. Its troops have gone to war wearing a single colour uniform whose shade of green has not changed in the past four decades or so. That country is Israel.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Republic of Singapore Air Force I-Hawk anti-aircraft missile batteries to mark 30 years of operations

If your business or schoolwork was done on a 30-year-old computer, people are more likely to notice the age of the system than be impressed by its computing power.

If you protected Singapore's skies with a 30-year-old guided missile system, the same thoughts might cross the mind of pilots tasked to fly against the weapon system.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) Improved Hawk (I-Hawk) surface-to-air missile batteries, which mark their 30th anniversary this month, may be old but are a force to be reckoned with.

RSAF I-Hawks have populated order of battle data sheets for the past three decades. The American-made weapon system is older than teenage full-time National Servicemen and indeed many of the RSAF regulars assigned to the I-Hawk missile squadron. In terms of computing power, the latest smart phones many of you use pack more juice than the I-Hawk command and control system when first delivered to the Singapore Air Defence Artillery (SADA) in the early 1980s.

The past 30 years have seen an interesting evolution for our I-Hawks. Today's Improved Homing All-the-Way Killers - the missile's full name - are no pyrotechnic antiques, thanks to improvements in weapons technology and modifications to concept of operations that guarantee hostile pilots will get a closer look at the dart-shaped missile than they bargained for.

Improving the Improved Hawk
From the get-go, Singapore's defence scientists and weapons engineers sought to reduce the footprint of a fully deployed I-Hawk missile unit by assessing how the system, which relied on several types of towed radars to scan airspace, could reduce its TO&E.

Gaps in operational capability, such as the weapon system's ability to detect, identify, track, engage and destroy low-level targets amid ground clutter, were identified and addressed. The air force did this by using Ericsson Super Giraffe radars to serve I-Hawk missile batteries even though neither Raytheon, the missile's manufacturer, nor the United States Army, had tried this configuration.

It is understood that because the Americans did not believe or support the proposed modification, Singapore had to buy several I-Hawk systems configured to full US specifications as a precondition for purchasing components of the weapon system (namely launcher and HPI) that RSAF air defence planners and Singaporean weapons engineers wanted to specially configure. This is why the RSAF ended up operating I-Hawk batteries in two configurations known colloqially as the American and Swedish fire units.

The RSAF added Super Giraffe radars to its I-Hawk missile batteries right from the start, pioneering what became known as the Swedish configuration of its Improved Assault Fire Unit (IAFU) in a nod to the Giraffe's Swedish origin. The Super Giraffe radar cabin, mounted on Mercedes Benz 6x6 trucks for enhanced cross-country mobility, doubled as a missile battery command and control post where I-Hawk air defence officers and NCOs would direct and fight the air battle.

The American and Swedish Improved Assault Fire Units IAFUs that resulted from the air defence study spearheaded by Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Headquarters RSAF and SADA added another credible layer to the multi-layer integrated air defence system, whose mission of defending Singapore skies in peace and war in a FIR criss-crossed by a heavy volume of civilian air traffic remains a complex one.

RSAF's multi-layered air defence
When the 80km-plus Bloodhound SAMs were stood down, the 40km x 18km high kill zone guarded by I-Hawks 24/7 formed the first line of missile defences that protected the Lion City against air attack. Today, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters have added Aster anti-aircraft missiles aboard Republic of Singapore Navy's Formidable-class stealth frigates to the national air defence network. This move underlines the importance of the Third Generation SAF to train and fight as an integrated fighting force with close collaboration and cooperation between land, air, naval and intelligence forces.

Long after staff officers responsible for the I-Hawk enhancements retired, the momentum from those early mods and determination to deliver an air defence guided weapon system that the RSAF can confidently use to deploy, detect and defend our skies continued unabated.

Old analogue hardware used to guide I-Hawk missiles to their target has been replaced by a fully digitised system which helps the system perform its assigned mission more reliably, even under threat of Enemy interference using soft or hard kill options.

I-Hawk Remote Engagement Section
The network of underground, protected fibre optic lines that link dispersed I-Hawk missile fire units, known as Remote Engagement Sections, keep RES missileers fully appraised of the air situation picture in their air defence identification zone even with no emitters close by to betray their presence to an Enemy with sharp ears. This fibre optic network is among the least appreciated of RSAF improvements but lies at the heart of efforts to harden Singapore against determined attempts to knock out or suppress our air defences.

Immune to jamming, the fibre optic network allows the air defence commander to wield I-Hawk fire units with maximum unity of command even under threat of enemy fire. The missile batteries have low or no electronic signature and can remain so till it is time for the I-Hawks to fly.

The I-Hawk missiles do not fight alone. Aerial intruders have to first punch through the RSAF's fighter screen flown by F-15SG Strike Eagles and F-16s before coming into the range rings of the I-Hawk, Spyder low to medium level SAMs and SHORADS such as the Igla (shoulder-launched and Dzhigit salvo launcher unit), Mistral, RBS-70 and radar-directed Oerlikon 35mm anti-aircraft artillery.

In the air defence arena, Singapore's small size turns out to be a defender's advantage - the range rings for all these weapon systems and RSAF sensors overlap and there are virtually no gaps to filter through, unlike larger countries with huge tracts to airspace to defend. The difficulty in countering all these air defence systems and the loss-exchange ratio that an aerial intruder must be prepared to endure adds to the deterrent value of the RSAF.

Unlike the vanilla I-Hawks delivered straight from Raytheon's factories and operated according to US doctrine, Singapore's modified IAFUs play the game differently, more creatively and are ready to meet and greet the Enemy day or night, under all weather conditions. Every mod and product improvement made by the RSAF had to be supported by a concept of operations that governed rules of engagement for IAFU configurations that were unique to Singapore.

After the upgrade, fewer emitters are slaved to each RSAF I-Hawk fire unit - those that are switched on may be decoys - and the High Power Illuminator that serves modified IAFUs armed with missile triplets on each launcher is about the only emitter needed for the I-HAWK to do its job. Being plugged into the wider range of RSAF sensors also allows the HPIs to up the pace of the air battle and the modified IAFU can service multiple targets at the same time.

Giraffe steps in
Adding new elements such as Super Giraffe radars to guard against low flying targets complicated the job of hostile fliers as the I-Hawk's kill zone was made more lethal for low level intruders. The Giraffes sharpened sense-making for RSAF missileers out to a range of 40km - which suited the I-Hawk fire unit wonderfully as the Super Giraffe's detection range matched the missile's maximum engagement range. With the truck-mounted Super Giraffe radar designed to scan a hemisphere of airspace from low to medium altitude, the Enemy pilot's job of sneaking in at low level was a risky business.

Having served faithfully for decades, the Super Giraffes have stepped aside for the Giraffe Agile Multi-Beam air defence radars that do the job even better, especially against intruders determined to deny an air defence system use of its eyes and ears.(Note: Unlike the SG radars, Giraffe AMBs may not be organic to the I-Hawk squadron but can share track data.)

The upgraded I-Hawk is a vast improvement from the 80s era weapon system and is able to make a positive and decisive impact in the air battle. With upgraded capabilities in sense making and battle management, the improved I-Hawks pack a punch and stand ready to give aerial intruders a warm welcome even after 30 years on active duty.

Such improvements are not happenstance as a weapon system or platform does not upgrade and renew itself automatically. Sustained efforts must be made by the Air Staff to challenge existing concept of operations and think through how the playbook can be improved to suit our specific operational requirements.

The ease with which integrated air defence systems in places like Iraq and more recently Libya were cut to size and rendered operationally ineffective shows that air defence strategists in HQ RSAF must be alert always to changing rules of this high stakes battle.

Happy Anniversary to the RSAF I-Hawk community, past and present, and our foreign friends for being there for this journey.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Exercise Pitch Black 2012

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is due to join five other nations in Exercise Pitch Black 2012, which takes place in Australia's Northern Territory between 27 July and 17 August.

Even before the first foreign warbirds arrive at RAAF Base Darwin, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) info ops plan supporting the war games has already been active in cyberspace. Exercise Pitch Black 2012 has its own Facebook page and the ADF has promised to keep fans updated with news, pictures and videos on the exercise.

To top things off Down Under, the Royal Australian Air Force informed netizens of its Open Day on Saturday 11 August at RAAF Base Darwin to mark the war games. Warplanes, combat helicopters and air defence systems from all six nations are expected to be put on show.

Who's going?