Sunday, September 30, 2012

Loss of KRI Klewang: Shipyard plans rebuild

Message from North Sea Boats in East Java after KRI Klewang caught fire on Friday arvo, just hours away from her first sea trial:"It’s very sad for everyone, but we will get through this and come out stronger at the end.

"And we certainly plan to go ahead and build again."


Crippled wings: Time to relook Singapore's airbase security posture

You won't find Merah on Google Maps.

Despite its anonymity, it's a safe bet that this airbase-away-from-an-airbase is on the list of places to visit for foreign airpower analysts. If amateurs know, what more the professionals*?

If infiltrators embrace the intelligence preparation of the battlefield, detailed mission planning/rehearsal and elan that the 15-strong Taliban attack force displayed during the raid on Camp Bastion earlier this month, Merah would be hard pressed to resist a breach by even a small raiding party.

It is an irony that the deadliest Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes and helicopters are maintained and armed by engineers and armourers who carry nothing more lethal than a screwdriver during operations.

It is noteworthy that RSAF force protection troops were among the last to be equipped with the SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle. They laboured for some time with M-16 rifles with iron sights** - rifles so worn out that their parkerized receivers were often worn away to a silver tinge by successive batches of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs).

For a period in the late 1990 till early noughties, we endured the illogical situation where our deadliest and most expensive warplanes were guarded by air force personnel armed with the oldest operational rifles you could find in the entire Singapore military. Had an aggressor called our bluff, the folly of this situation - having crown jewels guarded by ill-equipped jagas (jaga is a local term for night watchman) - would have been apparent to all.

It is baffling that RSAF Field Defence Squadrons (FDS) - so vital for defending the sharp end of Singapore's airpower - are treated almost like poor second cousins compared to Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) combat formations when it comes to rearming and equipping units with war material. Case in point: The V-200s used by FDS troops which are older than all the NSFs (and many Operationally Ready NSmen, i.e. reservists) who fight from these ageing vehicles even after the upgrade.

It is incomprehensible why our FDS - the Cinderellas of the SAF - are issued no side arm when scenarios for attacks on airbases will see them pitted against special forces armed to the teeth and then some.

Equally alarming is the almost complete lack of armoured vehicles in the FDS vehicle park. Apart from the V-200, FDS troops are asked to ride into action in soft skin vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz MB-240GD and MB-290 PSV.

If you believe in the motto "Airpower begins with Us", it will not take a great intellect to figure out who tops the target list should period of tension move from political bluster and diplomatic posturing to one of military action.

Whether by intention or strategic miscalculation, aggressors (both state and non-state actors) would want to have a go at RSAF airbases. Such infrastructure represents prestige targets where a successful action would lift one's market value up by several notches and make the world take notice.

Intruders who make it past the fenceline of an RSAF facility and penetrate into the heart of the Loop areas will find a target rich environment of expensive warplanes/helicopters and largely unarmed RSAF ground crew. It will be a turkey shoot.

This explains why case studies of asymmetric attacks on air force instructure (both successful and repulsed) should come under close scrutiny by defence planners here.

The September 2012 attack on Camp Bastion, the May 2012 attack on Pakistan's Mehran naval air station and the LTTE's raid on Colombo airport attack in July 2001 remind us why airbases have been described as the vulnerable strategic centre of gravity by airpower theorists. In all cases mentioned, the raiders had no air force to boast of, no proper staff college to study from and were not the kind of structured military force you would find in the IISS Military Balance.

These raids exemplify situations where air force war machines are not seen as elements to be feared, but targets to be attacked. Planned meticulously and executed with daring, an aggressor who fights with no exit plan usually gets his way.

When it comes to a situation of FDS versus special forces professionals who are trained, organised, armed and supported to create maximum mayhem, a special forces raid could cripple Singapore's wings more effectively than a raid by a hodge podge of warplanes attempting to whiz into Singaporean airspace on an air raid.

This is why the FDS force structure merits a serious rethink so that the warfighters charged with protecting Singapore's deadliest war machines get the tools they need to do the job. Warplanes and helicopters cannot be replaced on a whim. Considerations of cost aside, the lead-time needed to order, manufacture, deliver and commission a new aircraft makes the argument for a debilitating first strike against places like the Merah loop even more persuasive.

Over time, hardware can be replaced. What's irreplaceable are the pilots and groundcrew - which is why that multi-million dollar investment in trained fighter pilots must be fiercely protected. The RSAF must also be seen as having made best efforts in upping its active (i.e. FDS, area defence mines) and passive defences (camouflage, concealment, dispersal, intrusion detection sensors) so that any attempt at penetration will be stopped at the fenceline and the raid would have been in vain.

SAF force planners and RSAF publicists had better work fast.

When a special services group attains the critical mass, firepower and training needed to attack and overwhelm airbases, this special services group would offer their political masters a strategic option and represent a countervailing force against airpower.

When that day dawns, one must be perfectly clear who deters whom.

*  The number in the time stamp for this post should mean something to those who know.
** One could make a similar argument for soldiers at ammunition depots - "The heart of the Army's firepower". In the 1980s and 90s, many pulled sentry duty armed with unwanted SAR-80 assault rifles that combat formations rejected.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

KRI Klewang total loss after fire aboard ship

The Indonesian Navy's fast missile trimaran, KRI Klewang, caught fire yesterday afternoon while pierside in East Java.

Images uploaded from Friday afternoon show Klewang burned down to the waterline. Ship is a total loss. No word on casualties. Am awaiting further information from the yard.

The trimaran is made almost entirely of carbon fibre composites. Fully fuelled, the Klewang can embark 50,000 litres of fuel for her four MAN engines.

North Sea Boats explained in an earlier email that Klewang was built entirely in Indonesia, not merely assembled from modules shipped to the yard.

The shipbuilder said:"We built the boat from scratch. The rounded underwater hull sections were infused in a temporary wooden female moulds. The rest of the structure was built from flat, CNC cut, PVC cored, composite carbon fibre sandwich panels, that were infused on a large vacuum table, using room temperature cured vinylester resin."

The fire which razed Klewang in two hours unmasks the survivability of this class of ship. Warship enthusiasts would note that post battle analysis of Falklands war losses (especially HMS Antelope, HMS Ardent), the Exocet attack on USS Stark and the 1991 Gulf War (Coalition versus Iraqi fast patrol boats) persuaded naval designers to move away from aluminium superstructures to all-steel construction for a more robust ship design.

In the case of Indonesia's trimaran, the advantage of a lightweight vessel that was hard to detect on radar came at a price of a combustible design, as was vividly demonstrated yesterday.

The earlier post on KRI Klewang is found here.

Navy vessel catches fire in Banyuwangi

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Banyuwangi, East Java
Fri, September 28 2012, 9:37 PM

A fire raged through the Indonesian Navy's KRI Klewang-625 at the naval port in Banyuwangi, East Java on Friday at 3:15 p.m. No casualties have been reported but the Rp 114 billion (US$11.91 million) ship was severely damaged.

Indonesian Eastern Fleet (Armatim) spokesman Lt. Col. Marine Yayan Sugiana told The Jakarta Post that the vessel was undergoing maintenance by its builder, PT Lundin Industry. “The vessel had yet to be officially handed over to the Navy. It was still undergoing maintenance checks by PT Lundin Industry,” he said.

The navy, however, said it would investigate the blaze, which lasted for two hours before fire fighters managed to extinguish it. “We will deploy a team to investigate the cause of the fire. We will use the report to evaluate the case,” he said.

PT Lundin Industry's director, Lisa Lundin, said the company would deliver an official statement relating to the incident on Monday.

The making of the carbon-fiber composite vessel was initiated in 2007, when PT Lundin Industry undertook extensive research into building a fast, modern ship capable of evading radar. In 2009, PT Lundin started the construction of the 63-meter-long vessel.

Around 30 Armatim members were trained to operate the vessel in September this year. (ENDS)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Defending neutrality: Singapore's position in the Pacific Rim land grab

If disputes in the Pacific Rim turn ugly and involve the American military, one of the first things Singapore will have to defend is the notion that it will remain neutral in the land grab.

Rhetoric aside, the presence of the United States (US) military on Singapore soil will befuddle any attempt by our diplomats to make us appear like we are uninvolved bystanders. 

Singapore has long been used by the US as a swing around point for American war machines transiting to the Middle East from the Pacific Rim and vice versa. These include warships that come pierside at Sembawang and Changi Naval Base to top up on supplies and allow the ship's crew some R&R, to layovers for transport aircraft destined for places like Bahrain or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. On busy days, two to three MAC flights can be observed using Singapore as a stopover.

This strategic lily pad for the American military, so convenient for hops westward towards the Middle East or pivots east to (name your flashpoint) in the Pacific Rim, is likely to be closely scrutinised by policy watchers as they prepare their respective position papers.

In peacetime, the US presence will be noted by regional powers as a benign point of fact - something to be noted yet not quite a point of concern.

If and when Singaporean facilities make a clear, substantial and direct contribution to war machines fielded by the US military in regional disputes, such privileged access may compromise any noises we make on our neutral stand in the dispute.

This could spell unintended consequences for our city-state as we fall into the crosshairs of warring parties. Against regional powers with long-range missile artillery or strategic bombers, this crosshair could be more than a figurative reference as strategists work out their options against the staging area used by US forces in Singapore.

Once our neutrality is disregarded, Singapore will be ipso facto viewed as a co-belligerent in the eyes of military forces arrayed against the US.

Let us be clear on one thing: Access granted to the US to Sembawang port and Paya Lebar Airbase has supported America's regional presence under several US Presidents. But America's ability to project and sustain military power in the region is neither subservient to, nor dictated by, access to Singapore. The fact remains that US forces have long arms and powerful fists. Their forces can very well go it alone in terms of sustaining their show of force, unilaterally if need be.

So even if Singapore suddenly sticks its head in the sand and becomes a regional loner, the theatrics and power struggles between recognised, emerging and wannabe regional players will continue whether we like it or not. 

Our national interests will be hurt more by our inability to sense and act ahead of the shifting tide; and our inability or unwillingness to proactively read overt and subtle diplomatic nuances and posturing between regional players.

The implications for Singapore's interests in contested waters and airspace are real and significant because our economy depends on free and unimpeded access to trade routes that ring the globe.

In such a situation, our diplomats could be caught in a situation that would really test their mettle. 

Consider the strategic conundrums:
* Continue granting access rights to US war machines and Singapore may get sucked into a period of tension or conflict it does not want. 

* Bar access to US warships and the city-state will earn the ire of the world's superpower.

* Open our air and port facilities to all foreign forces - regardless of flag or global ambitions - and we inevitably become a magnet for foreign forces waiting to square off against their adversary the moment they emerge from STW or our airspace (the Battle of the River Plate springs to mind).

The strategic grey areas that fall within the two extremes will put a premium on deft diplomacy and behind-the-scenes activity that ensure Singapore's national interests are not compromised.

It is heartening to note that such quiet diplomacy is already unfolding in pursuit of regional peace.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Malaysia Boleh! - Singapore Armed Forces wings its way Down Under for war games aboard MAS airliners

SQ me, are you here for Wallaby? Australian ground staff attend to Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Airbus A330-300 shortly after it arrived in Rockhampton, Australia, from Changi packed with Singaporean soldiers. Her touchdown in Rocky delighted Australian planespotters with a type rarely seen in that airport. Picture by Trevor Hardsman 

When it comes to moving warfighters across continents, Malaysia Boleh*!

Airliners from Malaysia's national carrier, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), airlifted the first wave of Singaporean troops to Rockhampton Airport on Saturday evening, ahead of Singapore's biggest unilateral war games in Australia, codenamed Exercise Wallaby.

Australian plane spotters observed two MAS Airbus A330-300 arrivals in Rockhampton (ROK) on Saturday night. These were 9M-MKA and 9M-MKJ, flown as flights MAS8726 and MAS8761 respectively. The airliners took off from Changi International Airport (SIN) on Saturday afternoon loaded with Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel. Please click here for their report and more pictures on the Central Queensland Planespotting site.

The commercial charter means that Malaysian pilots and flight attendants were among the first to get wind of the massive trooplift Down Under - before Singaporeans were informed of the upcoming military manoeuvres.

To those familiar with SAF doctrine, the use of Malaysian airliners to kick start the troop buildup for Exercise Wallaby would probably cause some chuckles, bearing in mind the simulated scenarios that will be fought across the Australian outback during the long, hot summer.

Perhaps there's no stronger signal of a warming of bilateral ties that having MAS deliver the SAF for one of the biggest live-fire exercises on its annual calendar?

The SAF troop strength in the Australian state of Queensland will be built up in coming weeks as the 1st Frame of Exercise Wallaby gets underway. The war game is an umbrella term for several component exercises staged under that name in Australia's Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA).

Six Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Super Puma have been observed on the ROK flightline and more RSAF helicopters are understood to be en route.

This week, Apache attack helicopters from 120 Squadron are expected to land in ROK, flown in partially disassembled aboard Antonov heavy lift transports.

Stay tuned for more reports. If you know of friends leaving soon for Wallaby 2012, please write in!

* Boleh is the Malay word for "can do".

Deepest appreciation to the nocturnal plane spotters in Rocky. The year has flown by (bad pun) with astonishing speed and it's SAF war game season again Down Under.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A fortified bastion in name only: Taliban raiders take on ISAF airpower in bold attack

In Singapore, warfighters are taught that air superiority and its loftier aspiration, air supremacy, will give the Lion City a decisive edge in combat.

In Afghanistan, opponents to the American-led occupation see ISAF air power not as a military advantage but a military target.

Events there a week ago saw six United States Marine Corps (USMC) AV-8B Harrier jump jets from Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) destroyed at Camp Bastion by Taliban infiltrators, with two more Harriers damaged beyond economic repair. The night raid achieved the biggest single day loss of USMC Harriers and was a toll on American warplanes unseen since the Vietnam War.

The Harrier unit lost their squadron commanding officer and a groundcrew from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 was killed. Nine others were wounded by the raiders, who reportedly donned US fatigues.

Taking a leaf from lessons of past wars, the attack on Camp Bastion's refuelling facilities indicates the raiders and their trainers who planned the raid understand the Archilles heel of airpower lies with the means to generate and sustain air power. The raiders also recognised that warplanes are weapons only when airborne. Aircraft on ground, both fixed and rotary wing, are stationary, high-value targets.

Losing fifteen raiders (one was captured) for the damage wrought is - by cold, loss exchange calculus - a worthy tradeoff in any language. Material losses aside, the raid will likely exact a psychological toll on ISAF personnel who think they are safe behind the wire.

Following the raid, their guard will have to be kept up even in supposedly safe areas with impressive-sounding names like Bastion. Forced to remain on guard constantly and faced with the chilling realisation that personnel wearing friendly uniforms might not be what they seem, nerves will be worn down sooner or later. When warfighters snap from the constant strain/uncertainty and are incapable of performing their duty, the raid would continue claiming victims long after the material damage is patched up.

The lesson for Singapore, which wields the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) as an instrument to deter aggression, is clear. Against raiders willing to pay the ultimate price, no airbase can be made secure.

This lesson has been vividly demonstrated in full-scale and brushfire wars from Biafra to Vietnam and all cardinal points in between.

RSAF airbases are protected 24/7 by air force security personnel grouped under Field Defence Squadrons(FDS), which are deployed for protection of installation, EOR security, counter MANPADS as well as counter attack force roles.

But while our warplanes and helicopters are under FDS protection, RSAF installations such as air defence units lack the ground firepower that protects military airbases against infiltrators. Action taken against such soft spots could rob the RSAF of its eyes and ears.

If ISAF airpower can be destroyed within the fenceline of fortified bases like Camp Bastion, out-of-base deployments by the RSAF during operations would put austere bases high on the hit list of special forces units on the other side.

Singaporean plane spotters have long known that airbase activities can be observed from vantage points around its long perimeter. In recent years, stories written in the 90 cents newspaper about the A-4 Super Skyhawk last flight from Tengah and the scramble at Changi Airbase (East) to intercept the Cessna Caravan floatplane were the work of plane-spotters who happened to observe unusual activity. The blog post on the crash of RSAF AH-64D Apache "Redhawk 69" came from the network of plane spotters less than 60 minutes after impact (please click here for the flash).

If you have a ground element who can observe and report air activity together with the underwing loadout, this heads-up can serve as an early warning to impending action as professionals can calculate how long a warplane can stay aloft on tanks and internal fuel.

As the Taliban has proven itself as a learning organisation, we are unlikely to have seen the last of such bold attacks at the heart of ISAF's airpower. Indeed, The Australian Sunday Times described the raid on Camp Bastion as the "birth of Taliban SAS" in A-stan (click here to read the article).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Exercise Wallaby 2012

Air bridge from SIN to ROK about to be established, possibly this weekend.

Intent is to track and document all birds by type, in/outbound callsign, time of arrival and cargo loadout. Advance parties in-country ahead of 1st frame of exercise.

Good hunting.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

National Conversation: Two defence-related questions for LKY

Now that the National Conversation is moving into full stride, it's only a matter of time before defence and security become the topic du jour.

Nagging questions of a military nature that should be asked, sooner rather than later, concern Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew (LKY). For the sake of keeping historical records clear and unambiguous, LKY should consider addressing two points that may come back to haunt Singapore years from today.

Firstly, With respect, what exactly was your role during the Japanese Occupation? How did such arrangements take place (responded to a job ad, press ganged into service, volunteered etc)? What went through your mind during the period? How did your family/friends/neighbours react?

Secondly, do you still believe the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was "crazy" to put submarines on the wish list for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN)?

Answers to the first topic would put on record authoritative replies to a potentially contentious topic years from today. Lacking the benefit of a first person account, Singaporeans who debate this topic in future would be running a fool's errand because no one would be the wiser which story to believe.

It is therefore crucial that myths are busted and rumours laid to rest while the individual is still compos mentis.

What was done during the Japanese Occupation cannot be undone. It would be beneficial for Singaporeans to have a clear and no-BS account of what transpired rather than to have malicious talk knock one's reputation years from today.

The second topic would help researchers understand the context to a remark LKY made in 1995 about subs.

"Every armed force believes it ought to upgrade," said Mr Lee."For years I told the Singapore Armed Forces, which wanted submarines, 'You are crazy. These are shallow waters. You will be easily detected and bombarded with depth charges.' But well, OK. Here is the Swedish submarine. The economy is doing well and it is a cheap sub (US$10 million in then-year dollars). Its purchase will still be within the five per cent of GDP assigned to defence. So why not use it for some training? "

Since making that remark, Mr Lee has not made any statements about subs in Singapore's paper of record. Defence analysts who sieve through newspaper archives years from today may thus come to different conclusions to LKY's present day views on submarines now that the boats have been in Fleet RSN's orbat for several decades.

Readers might wonder why such questions were not posed to the man himself since his email address can be found on the Sing government directory.

Emails were sent some time ago to Mr Lee and his press sec YY. That unsolicited query didn't get the courtesy of a reply, even a nil response.

If you feel energetic or curious enough, you could pose the questions and might - as they say in the casino business - get better luck with a full and proper reply. Should you receive a reply, please share the responses with the rest of us. Good luck, Sir.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree: The rise of the Singaporean Elite

In the decade just past and in years to come, more scions of society elites will join the workforce.

Their career of choice and - more to the point - how they got that job will put to test Singapore's meritocratic system.

At stake is our reputation as a country that believes in, supports wholeheartedly and goes to great lengths to protect the practice where people are assessed based on merit rather than their bloodline.

If we agree that the creativity of our people is Singapore's greatest resource, then meritocracy is something we should preserve and protect at all costs.

Burden of proof
Even in situations where there is absolutely no foul play, the burden of proof on the families of Singaporean elites is a heavy one indeed.

This is because the manner in which a candidate is recruited is, in most companies, treated as staff-in-confidence. It is, therefore, easier to throw unsubstantiated brickbats alleging wrongdoing than it is for the system to defend its integrity and credibility without compromising the confidentiality of the hiring process.

So even if scion emerged as hand on heart, really the best candidate for the job, suspicions will linger that his or her family connections helped the scion to clinch that internship/cushy National Service desk job/full-time job that heartlanders also have their eyes on.

No silver bullet
From an information management standpoint, the challenge for elite families will grow in frequency as the number of scions of first and second generation mandarins start leaving the school system to find their first job. The intensity and explosiveness of debate will grow correspondingly as these scions pop up on the radar of Singaporean heartlanders and people start speaking their minds.

There is no silver bullet, no public relations contingency plan that can inoculate the elites against cynics who allege that their scions somehow always seem to emerge primus inter pares.

What is crucial is the self-awareness from elites that the life and fortunes of their scions will come under close scrutiny. The career trajectory of one's son or daughter must therefore be open to public scrutiny and must be defensible according to society's expectations of how a meritocratic system ought to work. You must be seen as being whiter than white.

In some cases, the elites may be tripped up by people in the system itself who have the best intentions for these mandarins in mind. Unbidden by the elites, servile minds may try to ingratiate themselves by rolling out the red carpet for the princelings in the hope of scoring brownie points or favour from the elites. This is a reality not just in Singapore but in societies all over the world. This point is important because the extent to which unsolicited ingratiation takes place could upset the apple cart of meritocracy.

This is why self-reflection and self-awareness is so crucial. If it is unusual for heartlander families to have their sons defer full-time National Service (NS) for, say for example a period of 12 years, the elite family must ask itself how such a deferment would be seen by the hoi polloi. If the deferment period deviates from the norm, then the elite family must make a judgement call whether or not junior should walk that road.

For that call to be made, the elite must first be self-aware. Alas, such prescience is not always present.

Yes, this is reverse discrimination because one would be forced to hold back the scion's career trajectory - assuming the scion earned it fully on merit. If the collective wisdom of the elite family rules in favour of walking the path less trodden, this decision must be transparent and fully defensible. If not, the party that pays the price is not the family's honour but this abstract concept called meritocracy. Besmirched family reputations can be patched up, harder to do so for Singapore's reputation.

When to pull strings
Where favours are sought and granted through the old school network or business connections, all parties involved in such transactions must be prepared to explain their stand. Once again, such string-pulling and personal recommendations are not unique to Singaporean society. Nor is it illegal or an uncommon business practice. It happens everywhere.

On the other side of the coin, there are elites who cast their scions to fend for themselves, believing that the school of hard knocks will do them good. Yes, such mindsets exist and their presence among the glitterati of Singaporean society provides assurance that not everyone will resort to pulling strings.

As our society matures, we must ask ourselves to what extent string-pulling should be practised or tolerated. Take two candidates with identical paper qualifications: Candidate A comes from a heartlander family whose parents are ordinary folk whose only chance of appearing in the newspaper is in the obituaries - if they can afford it. Candidate B's comes from a family whose father/mother are society elites known to everybody. Which candidate do you think will have a headstart in life?

Plutocrats must have the conviction and social conscience to help aspiring and promising candidates from all types of heartlander homes, not just their own. Stories of heartlander children made good are inspiring to read about. But as jobs dry up, the hard truth is that the system must actively police itself or risk killing the pool of promising candidates who hail from humble backgrounds.

As with the example of self-awareness where favour is granted by fawning minions, an astute patriach/matriach must be fully aware that the ears of society gossips are finely-tuned to the slightest hint that junior enjoyed a privileged route of advancement. The begs the question: If word gets out, can you take the heat?

The elites must also be aware that their scions will be under close scrutiny by co-workers even if they landed their job purely on merit. Attention to these scions will surface despite best efforts at keeping their bloodline secret because that is the nature of how office politics works.

How many of us have come across individuals who are described with the line "He/she is so-and-so's son/daughter" as a prefix or suffix to that individual's name? In chronic cases, people may not even remember the scion's name and may simply refer to the scion as so-and-so's son/daughter.

To be sure, there are scions who take pride in flaunting their family tree. There are also parvenu elites who love nothing better than to flash their newly won elite status (example: recipient of some prestigious scholarship). Such behaviour should be frowned upon because it damages confidence in the system.

Now, some words on the scions themselves. Scions are aware they have big shoes to fill. In happy situations where the merit-based assessment works as advertised, the scion who is onboarded really pulls his/her weight, is a credit to the organisation and a joy to work with.

Then there are instances where scions try too hard to prove themselves or wilt under the pressure of constant (and largely unspoken) comparisions with their illustrious parent(s). This may give rise to deep-seated insecurities in the scion, who ends up over compensating and chafes co-workers with their overbearing and bossy nature when they are low on the corporate hierarchy (but their father is the boss' golfing partner...).

Scions are generally more articulate and broad-minded that your typical heartlander-bred example. Being the progeny of powerful mandarins or the political elite, they grew up in a setting where they saw their parents speak their mind and get their way in most situations.

Undoubtedly book smart as proven by their grades, scions may need help polishing their EQ to help them avoid situations where they unwittingly come across as social buffoons (Britain's Royal Family has many outstanding examples). There are those who ape the mindset, mannerism and syntax of their parents, little knowing that behaviour won from a track record of robust performance or years of experience on the corporate/political battlefield cannot simply be copied and mimicked theatrically by an unproven flyweight.

While the elite may make a remark that sounds amusing or witty, the scion may come across as lofty and sarcastic (because there are some jokes that only the boss can crack).

Where the elite may have been outspoken and confident in speaking his/her mind, the mimicking scion may strike others as being arrogant, conceited and pompous. It does not help when insecure scions feel they must have the last word in any debate, must have their own way and are unable or unwilling to eat humble pie.

In situations where a sense of humility and understanding could have saved the day, scions who lack EQ may end up burning bridges with co-workers.

By scoring own goals, it will not take long for such scions to grow their pool of detractors who claim they wouldn't have landed in their position if not for their bloodline.

Such situations poison our trust in the meritocratic system.

There is an antidote: Having self-aware elites and glitterati who know that even in the realm of the high society, there are OB markers they should not cross.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Newspaper's gaffe fails to deter would-be killers

Singapore's paper of record made a gaffe in its Page One headline today, "Five youths jailed, caned over Downtown East murder".

In using the word "murder" (instead of "death" or "killing"?), the $1.00 newspaper probably expressed the thought bubble from Singaporeans who followed the justice system as it prosecuted the people who killed former Republic Polytechnic student Darren Ng Wei Jie, who died at age 20.

If the Page 1 prominence of the article was meant to deter would-be murderers, the headline makes this an epic fail.

Murder is a hanging offence in Singapore. The article's headline appears to suggest that one can get away with murder if one is prepared to pay the price and trade one's freedom for time in jail with three square meals a day, shelter and exercise periods - which are basics that many poor people in Singapore do not have - and endure caning.

The 12 years behind bars for the 20-year-old who is said to have sparked the fight, Stilwell Ong Keat Pin, means he will be out when he is in his 30s. He was convicted not for murder but culpable homicide. There is a big difference between the two which the $1.00 paper should have been well aware of.

The National Conversation: Mainstream media should look beyond chasing advertising dollars

Asked to choose between making sense and making money, a profit-driven media company would probably pick the latter option.

When a media company leans towards strengthening its earnings, this could extract a social cost in terms of poor content, service levels or damage to the social fabric. But our society can put a stop to this - if we want to.

The impact on society is most keenly felt when programming decisions that favour attracting viewers/readers come at the price of informing, educating or entertaining the audience properly. Society does not have to grin and bear it as viewers/readers have demonstrated in the past they will take a firm stand when media companies venture into socially unacceptable territory.

If you're old enough to remember the controversary over Kodak's Olympic ad campaign in the 1980s and the hoo hah over the Mum's Not Cooking television show, you may recall these two initiatives had a short lifespan in the broadcast media. They came, they aired and were taken off, never to be repeated in sequels or repeat broadcasts.

Kodak's television ad was one of the first delivered in Singlish on local TV. At the time, it was considered bold to script a TV ad in rapid-fire local slang. Alas, it was a tad too bold. It flopped when viewers reacted against it.[It is a pity this ad is not on Youtube.]

The Mum's Not Cooking show anchored its delivery on unscripted dialogue liberally infused with Singlish. Not all viewers liked it though one could say the show's host, Ms Jacintha Abisheganadan, was ahead of her time as her onscreen presence presaged the kind of dialogue that is commonplace on Singaporean English language television productions in this day and age.

Seen in today's context, society would probably not bat an eyelid if the Kodak ad and cookery show were telecast on the idiot box.

But society's negative reaction forced commercial interests to rethink their strategy. Media watchers and social scientists will probably have oodles of material debating how Singlish staged a return to primetime TV. It could have started insidiously, with the odd Singlish remark voiced by TV stars, till audiences became conditioned to such verbiage.

A similar negative reaction greeted the attempt by state-owned TV to include ad time on the nightly news bulletin. Netizens who are old enough will recall that the nightly TV news used to be the only ad-free programme on free-to-air broadcast channels 5 and 8.

Today's Primetime News is an aberration, a slap in the face to anyone looking to Singaporean TV news as his or her window to local or world events. The state of play has degraded TV news into a handful (usually less than a dozen news items) crammed into a 30-minute timeslot which has at least two breaks for TV ads. Peel away political news (which they must air) and hot topics of the day, the news editor is left with precious little airtime to inform, educate and entertain viewers with current affairs. In the old days, TV news used to be followed by newsreels at the tail end of the programme with no newscaster, just news clips of local and world events.

This is one reason why news junkies don't tune into Primetime News anymore - it is a waste of time as news aggregators on the Internet deliver more depth to their content.

From the perspective of the MIW, who seem so keen to regain market share in the tussle for hearts and minds, the poor state of content on state-owned TV could be a weak link in their grand strategic plan to reshape opinions. The short answer: The Singaporeans who matter are simply not tuning in.

We must watch out because the gradual social acceptance of Singlish on TV (vis-a-vis the Kodak olympic ad and Mum's Not Cooking era) and dilution of Primetime News may also be partially responsible for the dumbing down of our students.

The effect is seen even at selection panels for scholars - supposedly promising candidates who are the cream of their cohort - when top students demonstrate an alarmingly shallow view of current affairs and express themselves poorly during the interview.

And when written tests are administered, you will be surprised how many of our graduates face difficulty stringing sentences together coherently, not to mention struggle to deliver a decent presentation in front of management.

Resumes for internships or job applications appear to be cobbled together using stock phrases from some school tip sheet - dozens of students end up parroting one another when they don't make the attempt to tweak the stock phrases spoon fed by their lecturers. When a cover letter and resume for an internship shines, it is usually one from a candidate who makes the effort to express clarity of thought and some originality in content. But such candidates are rare and therefore, grab-worthy.

If we pride our use of English as one differentiator that has propelled our little red dot Asian nation from Third World to First, then active and immediate steps should be taken to polish our students' command of the language (spoken and written) and awareness of current affairs.

The prognosis does not look cheerful when one imagines the situation five to 10 years' from now when today's students (hopefully) rise to positions of responsibility.

Without proactive intervention and capable leadership to guide this effort, this "National Conversation" will go nowhere if people cannot even express themselves properly.

Friday, September 7, 2012

KRI Klewang: TNI's fast missile trimaran patrol vessel is launched

Fine form: KRI Klewang takes her first dip in Indonesian waters shortly after her launch on Friday 31 August 2012. The 63-metre fast missile trimaran patrol vessel looks set to be the pride of the Indonesian Navy. 

If looks alone could kill, you would not want to cross swords with the Indonesian warship, KRI Klewang.

Even without studying her vital stats, the rakish lines of the 63-metre long fast missile patrol boat with three hulls and her dagger-shaped bow tell onlookers KRI Klewang is unlike most other vessels afloat. Indeed, this man-of-war an instant head-turner, which makes this trimaran an ideal candidate for naval diplomacy as well as more serious naval business.

Launched last Friday from the North Sea Boats yard's in East Java, Klewang - she is named after a single-edged Indonesian sword - looks set to be the pride of the TNI. The first of four trimarans built for the TNI, KRI Klewang has few rivals in ASEAN navies when it comes down to a contest for futuristic looking warships.

As with most stealth warships, KRI Klewang follows the informal rule of thumb where the stealthier a war machine, the more attention it seems to attract because of its unusual and funky looking non conventional design.

In the case of KRI Klewang, her hull form is based on the proven wave-piercing trimaran design that saw the 24-m trimaran, Earthrace (above), establish a new world record for the fastest round-the-world trip by a power boat. Two years of intensive research and development with New Zealand naval architects, LOMOcean, saw the X3K trimaran design evolve into the KRI Klewang. Check out LOMOcean's designs here.

Built entirely of carbon fibre composites, KRI Klewang has almost no magnetic signature. Her sharply angled superstructure adds to the vessel's low observable features that make her hard to detect by radar.

Once the TNI completes the concept of operations for Klewang-class trimarans, the CONOPS for stealthy trimarans optimised for shallow draft work could see Klewang and her sister ships operate close to shore to make the warships less detectable against the clutter from land.

The 30+ knot dash speed and manoeuvrability of the vessels in confined waters, together with the suggestion that they can carry a gun/missile-armament give the trimarans the firepower needed to execute high speed ambushes against enemy vessels transiting narrow sea lanes.

A crew of 29 officers and ratings operate the warship. Accommodation and fighting spaces are spread over three decks. Space and weight has been reserved for an embarked special forces team or Indonesian Marines of unspecified size. The idea is for the trimaran to serve as a parent boat which can make a high speed run to deliver the passengers to their area of operations. A 11-m RHIB, capable of 50 knots, can be launched and retrieved while the trimaran is underway via a docking bay in the stern.

While the TNI's diesel-electric subs are no doubt the stealthiest boats in the fleet, the combination of shallow water in littoral areas, underwater obstructions (rocks and uncharted wrecks) and constraints on the number of passengers an SSK can embark make a surface insertion the preferred option in some situations. The Klewangs will give TNI greater flexibility in ops planning of special forces insertion/extraction as mission planners have another option to use.

KRI Klewang's specific warload is classified. However, North Sea Boats has said the trimaran will carry a China-made combat data system and a "rapid fire CIWS". A fact sheet circulated by the yard said the trimarans are designed to carry up to eight Type 705 anti-ship missiles, or RBS-15 or Exocet type SSMs. Gun armament could comprise 40mm to 57mm guns or a close-in weapon system of unspecified type. "These can be mounted high on the superstructure, giving better range and firing arc," it added.

Gun and missile armament will all be concealed to minimise radar signature, with the CIWS or gun turret unmasked when the trimaran closes up for action stations.

KRI Klewang's launch will be followed by extensive sea trials from October 2012. The warship is expected to be fully operational in 2013.

Fast facts: KRI Klewang
Launched: 31 August 2012
Crew: 29 officers and ratings
Length, overall: 63.0m
Length, waterline: 61.0m
Beam, overall: 16.0m
Water draft: 1.2m
Main engines: 4 x MAN V12 diesels powering MJP 550 waterjets
Dash speed: More than 30 knots
Range: 2000+ nautical miles on 50,000 litres of fuel

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to North Sea Boats for the preparation of this blog post.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Article on second careers for military personnel

As pointed out by netizen HSH in his reply to the post on second careers for military personnel, this article is worth reading. Do note the reply from officialdom.

While I agree that high fliers from the military are often hired for their strategic vision and big picture view of things (i.e. HAIR qualities?), one should not ignore the fact that rank-and-file may not buy this point of view readily. It will take time to win hearts and minds from all stakeholders. This includes one's staff, business partners, the media and in the case of listed companies, institutional and retail investors, fund managers and analysts.

Yes, it's a minefield out there.

The Straits Times
Dec 16, 2006

Don’t knock us, our rice bowls are not iron

Military and civil service high-fliers nearing or past their tenures struggle to keep up in corporate world

By Ho Ai Li & Susan Long

A WELL-KNOWN chief executive of a global company here tells how he receives persistent calls from former scholars who have graduated from Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College.

Some are military officers about to hit 45. Others are from the Government’s elite administrative service, in their 50s and nearing the end of 10-year tenures.

Some are so desperate to ’sell’ themselves that they ask what time he will be in the gym so they can run on the treadmill next to him and make their pitch.

‘It’s very sad,’ observed the CEO, who spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity. ‘In Singapore, above 45, you cannot be looking for a job. The job must be looking for you.’

Things are getting tougher for military or civil service high-fliers nearing or past their shelf life. Previously, most were absorbed by government-linked companies (GLCs) or statutory boards when it was time to leave.

But these days, GLCs - which are becoming more bottom-line-driven and moving from passive asset management to aggressive overseas expansion - prefer to hire those who can hit the ground running from Day One. These would be people with experience in global banking, financial services, mergers and acquisitions, leisure entertainment and customer relations.

Unfortunately, those leaving the military and civil service lack that global perspective and struggle to keep up, say corporate observers and recruiters.

According to human resources consultancy Hewitt Associates country head Na Boon Chong: ‘The challenge has moved from managing a large organisation to helping guide the company through significant industry changes. The latter requires depth of specific industry experience, which retiring civil servants or military officers often lack.’

Finding them a job in the private sector is also a problem. Singapore’s contract manufacturing industry is shrinking and the growth of home-grown companies with pockets deep enough to hire such high-calibre candidates is just not able to keep pace with the conveyor belt of government scholars today. Each year, the public sector gives out about 250 scholarships.

What aggravates matters, said executive headhunter Richard Hoon, is that former military men can be too used to the regimented life.

‘Maybe only one out of 100 can adapt to the corporate world. The rest have to work hard and undergo personal coaching to be ‘demilitarised’,’ he said.

‘They have a certain bravado, talk in a certain way and have a certain mindset that’s not attractive to employers. They used to be officers, always managing others. But stripped of their uniform, they’re just ordinary people with a difficult transition to make.’

Many also lack the soft skills so necessary in the business world.

Outplacement specialist Paul Heng said: ‘Stories are plentiful about ex-civil servants and army officers who behave as if they are still sitting in their ivory towers, giving orders to the troops. Some are downright patronising.

‘They need to inspire confidence in interviewers that, not only can they do the job, but they can also assimilate into the company culture and work well with others.’

The ‘cultural re-adaptation’ process can take months, even years. As such, this group now competes with the droves of other over-40, out-of-work managers looking for work.

Some complain that while the Government exhorts industry to hire older workers, it is not quite walking the talk itself.

In 1998, the career span of military officers was reduced from 27 to 23 years, meaning that those who joined after 1998 would retire at about 42, instead of about 45 previously.

Since 2000, the Administrative Service has ruled that those appointed to Public Service Leadership jobs will have only 10 years’ tenure for each position, such as permanent secretaries, deputy secretaries or chief executives of major statutory boards.

The rationale is to maintain a steady turnover, help the organisation avoid becoming too settled in its ways, and encourage young and capable officers to remain in service and strive for top posts.

What that means, a fast-rising administrative officer said, is that you have to actively work towards your next tenure during your current one.

‘If you get promoted to permanent secretary too early, or something goes wrong, you miss a step and can’t get to the next level. The conveyor belt of scholars relentlessly moves on and pushes you out. And there you are - yet another out-of-job older worker,’ said the officer, who is in his 30s.

His own exit plan? He is banking on regional demand for senior civil servants with deep policy expertise and operational experience.

At 37, another government scholar who is now doing well sometimes worries whether he will be able to survive on the outside in his mid-40s.

‘Honestly, a lot of us have no idea what we can do outside,’ he said. ‘Our rice bowl is not iron or as glamorous as people think it is.

‘I know people think we have it made and are so well-trained that we can easily be absorbed into industry. But it’s a misperception that needs to be corrected because there’s obviously a mismatch between what the public sees and what our potential employers see.’

With the clock ticking away, he has begun finding out how he can get into financial advisory work. He is also managing his expectations downwards and keeping his commitments spare, by not upgrading from his Housing Board flat.

Also cautious is a former government scholarship holder and Cambridge graduate now working as a researcher.

At 45, and having seen the corporate carnage that claimed some of his 40-something peers, he is considering starting a cafe or getting trained to be a masseur.

‘In your 40s and 50s, more than at any other time, you need financial stability. Yet, it’s the age when you’re the most vulnerable,’ he said. ‘There’s a heartless bottom-line economic calculation going on and companies are quite happy to cut you loose.

‘The slippery slope to unemployment can start suddenly. It can be one year, one bad move down the road. The tragedy for scholars is that they have always been on an ascending path. The thought of levelling off or falling down is scary.’

But there are stories of courageous and successful transitions too, like that of lieutenant-colonel-turned-entrepreneur Nicholas Koh, 46.

The former deputy head of naval logistics (platform systems) and navy scholar had the option of staying on till 47, but chose to ‘bite the bullet early’.

In 2002, at 42, he took a smaller gratuity package and left to join ST Engineering as vice-president of defence business.

‘I wanted to get out early and start gaining valuable corporate experience to build my future while I still had energy,’ said the father of two teenagers. ‘I didn’t want to get too used to a comfortable life.’

In 2003, he quit the job that paid around $150,000 a year, took a painful pay cut and set up Victory Knights Management Consultancy.

‘It was my baptism of fire. I decided to fight for it out there. No point looking for short-term havens,’ he said.

His firm administers a marine technology master’s programme offered by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Last year, it also ventured into Oman, where it helps to incubate environmental technology and property development companies.

‘Out there in the commercial world, it’s war. Generals and colonels who are able to fight a war should be able to fight for themselves. If they can’t, they don’t deserve their former rank and status,’ he declared.

‘Public funds have been used to groom them in the past, so they should come out into society and create new ways to contribute back to Singapore’s economy.’

The system's reply to the above article:

30 Dec 2006

The Editor
The Straits Times
Forum Page

Job is exacting but officers have good careers

We refer to your article "Don't knock us, our rice bowls are not iron" (ST, 16

The need to make career transitions is not unique to the Administrative
Service and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). In the private sector, career
transitions due to restructuring, consolidation, mergers and acquisitions are
increasingly becoming common place. The challenges faced by those making
career transitions after having risen to senior levels over a number of years in
the same organisation, are similar whether they are from the private or public

There is indeed no iron rice bowl in the Civil Service and the SAF. The
Administrative Service and the SAF, nonetheless, offer an attractive,
challenging and fast-paced career that spans twenty to thirty years, for
capable, energetic and innovative individuals who want to serve Singapore
and Singaporeans.

Our top officers come into the system knowing how it works, including the fact
that there are term appointments for top jobs. Career progression is based
strictly on work performance and the potential to do higher level jobs. Able
Administrative Officers and military officers rise to take on senior
appointments with the most outstanding taking on the top positions. Under
performers are managed out. So every officer has to pull his weight and prove
his worth.

In addition, timely leadership renewal ensures that the Civil Service and the
SAF remain nimble, progressive and responsive to the demands of the
changing environment. This is not so different from what is happening in the
private sector - there is no guarantee that a person can stay on in senior or
top level jobs indefinitely.

We have fair and transparent systems in the public service to chart career
paths that will meet the aspirations of our officers. They get a competitive
remuneration package, systematic development and training opportunities,
and exposure to a wide range of jobs and experiences.

Hence, by the time a senior officer leaves, he would have had a full and
satisfying career, departing with good release benefits, and a wealth of
experience. In fact, the Public Service continues to tap on the experience of
some of these retired top officers in relevant assignments, even after their

Yours sincerely,

Ms Ong Toon Hui
Director, Leadership Development
Public Service Division
Prime Minister’s Office

Colonel Benedict Lim
Director, Public Affairs
Ministry of Defence

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Marching into civvie street: Military personnel who move from MINDEF/SAF's orbit into the corporate world

Like the military, the corporate world has its fair share of acronyms and industry-specific lingo.

Armed forces personnel who want to move to the corporate world would do well arming themselves with peculiarities of their new career as soon as practicable.

It will, admittedly, take time to settle down into a fresh work environment with new co-workers and unknown group dynamics that dictate the nature, pervasiveness and toxicity of office politics. The sooner one develops a mental mindmap of the group dynamics of the workplace and social norms, the easier the transition.

In this regard, expectations rise proportionately with one's military rank. These expectations encompass not just work performance but also the manner in which one conducts himself/herself at work.

Tongues will wag for even the most innocent slip up. Take, for instance, the following case:
The meeting between the former Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officer and his subordinates appeared to unfold well. It was one of first attended by the new head honcho. As his managers prattled on about a certain project and the part ATMs (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) have to play in this project, the former military man felt compelled to ask: What do ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) have to do with all this? Alas, he was thinking of the machine from which people perform financial transactions, most commonly cash withdrawals. The meeting stopped dead in its tracks to recalibrate when it was clear the ATM being discussed was not the kind of ATM head honcho had in mind.

It did not take long for that story to spread beyond the walls of that meeting room. It made delightful lunch time gossip, was a great conversation starter among colleagues looking for something to spice up an otherwise ordinary work day. Eventually, even people outside the organisation got to hear about it.

It had a happy conclusion as the SAF officer is said to have settled down in the organisation well and earned the respect of his subordinates. This was after he went through a steep learning curve to acquire and master the domain knowledge needed to steer executive decisions for his industry sector.[He is still there, by the way.]

Not all accounts turn out this way. There have been accounts of high ranking military men who waltz through the corporate hierarchy in the civilian world, expecting their former status and reputation to elicit kow tows from rank-and-file along the way. One example that a few pilots have recounted (on separate occasions) describes how a high flier in an airline assembled them for a chat session where the tone, language used and thrust of the session treated them like school boys being lectured for some grave transgression. It did not go down well with the audience.

Military personnel must be aware of the parties who will keep their career trajectory on their radar screen. Some will watch how the second career pans out for inspiration on what they themselves could achieve some day. Others will have less noble intentions, eager to pounce on wrong management calls by former military men as evidence of their unsuitability for the corporate sector.

Topping the list of interested parties are their brothers in arms. There are cliques in the defence ecosystem - just as in any social system - and not everyone will cheer your successes. Compatriots from roughly the same cohort who eyed that plump posting in the corporate sector might end up committing the sin of Envy and hate you for being there.

Secondly, career officers who grew up in the private sector or government body outside the military may loathe you for being parachuted into the system. A foreign service officer (FSO) once remarked that he felt his career runway was limited as top postings that FSOs aspire to earn - head of mission in an embassy or high commission - seemed the exclusive province of former SAF officers. He loved the foreign service and would give it his all while in service. At the same time, he would chart a second career as there was the impression of a glass ceiling.

With mindsets like that, can you blame the civil service for loss of talent?

Whether true or not, more should be done to address such mindsets. There ought to be more transparency in the manner in which former military personnel are moved to other government departments (OGDs) once they leave the orbit of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF. There must be selection criteria because the new postings are not for flyweight candidates. How were they selected? Was the position open to internal candidates from that organisation?

Sharing the criteria would assure career officers who worked their way up the ranks that their performance and experience do count for something. It would also signal that there is no glass ceiling. As such, talented and committed individuals do stand a shot at key positions.

Thirdly, the lack of transparency has a knock-on effect on younger officers. Being new to the defence ecosystem, many 20-something officers would be none the wiser about how the system works. They see what you and I see - high ranking personnel moved to OGDs or the private sector by an invisible hand. In this regard, we must make a distinction between the private sector as in Temasek-linked companies and the private sector which encompasses other companies in which the Singapore government has no stake or influence.

With their future career at stake years downstream, it is a safe bet many young officers would tread on the side of caution. This could quite possibly result in individuals who do not rock the boat unnecessarily and make the extra effort never to step on toes or offend the system. Are you then surprised mavericks are so scarce in the SAF?

As a mature organisation, the SAF of today counts far more senior officers than the generation of officers who served the Singaporean military in the 1970s and 1980s. Expectations must be managed by informing high potentials that not everyone can secure a position in OGDs or TLCs.

Awareness of this fact may breed a situation where officers due for transition make special effort in cultivating relationships with future employers. While there is nothing inherently wrong or illegal about such a practice, it does raise a poser on the strength of the checks and balance that should, rightfully, exist between MINDEF/SAF and external parties, including OGDs and defence contractors. This relationship should be done at arms-length.

An official from the Defence Science & Technology Agency once related how a senior SAF officer made it known during a meeting (not an informal beer drinking session, mind you), that he was due for retirement "next year". It was a blatant pitch for his second career. He eventually got the job, which speaks credibly for his foresight and planning. But his arrival in DSTA stoked misgivings among career officers there, as described in point two above.

Given time, such relationships may morph into a localised version of Japan's gakubatsu or Britain's old school tie clique, where everyone is treated equal but some are more equal than others.

Related post:
GCE A Level Exams: Pivotal period for young Singaporean students and SAF Scholar aspirants. Please click here.