Saturday, August 31, 2013

Should the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) fight in Syria?

Sooner or later, American officials tasked to form an international coalition to fight in Syria may come knocking on Singapore's door.

This is one civil war the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) should keep out of.

As a small country, our defence manpower (and by this we include SAF servicewoman) is limited, precious and comprised mainly of citizen soldiers.

SAF warfighters who have thus far shouldered the burden of operational deployments overseas are our Regulars. They form the core of the SAF, helping to preserve institutional memory and training standards which keep our citizens armed forces mission ready, 24/365.

The number of Singaporeans who have made a career out of soldiering numbers is small compared to our resident population size of around five million. This means that any call to arms issued for missions sanctioned by the United Nations (UN) or freelance affairs by the world's policeman (i.e. the United States) must be weighed carefully against current manpower taskings.

Even in peacetime, the picture isn't cheerful. Just ask any SAF Recruitment officer the pressures that come with meeting the recruitment quota.[One recent resignation letter is said to have come from none other than the Singapore Army's Assistant Chief of General Staff (Personnel) Colonel Ang Heng - in other words the Army's HR head - who quit to join the Land Transport Authority.]

The SAF's six-year deployment to Afghanistan should not be used as a precedent for future SAF deployments, whether under the UN flag or as part of any international coalition.

Americans tasked to round up a posse for possible military intervention in Syria must be clear that Singapore's A-stan deployment, codenamed Operation Blue Ridge, came about under circumstances that do not apply to the Syrian crisis.

Foreign military forces went to Afghanistan after the world witnessed the deadliest terror attack on September 11, 2001. This example of global terror was traced back to safe havens in Afghanistan which an international coalition was determined to disrupt, degrade and destroy.

Many of the free world's armed forces were sent to Afghanistan. This included military personnel from all the Five Power Defence Arrangement signatories - Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. If that mission was futile or ill-planned, then armed forces worldwide would be tarred with the same brush.

This was a mission Singapore could not sit out, particularly after our intelligence network found that authors of global terror had been hatching plots in Singapore before 9/11.

Had global terrorism touched our shores, it is clear that the fallout from a large-scale terror attack on our island nation will exceed the combined capabilities of the SAF and Home Team agencies as defence planners had yet to scale up our response plans for catastrophic terrorism in peacetime.

We have heard about plots to crash an airliner into Changi Airport. Schemes to initiate multiple bombings of diplomatic missions and the infamous video recce of the Yishun MRT station, which is a train station frequented by United States Navy personnel who come ashore from warships docked at the nearby Sembawang Wharves.

Expectations of assistance from abroad must be tempered by a willingness by Singapore to do its part, when circumstances call for it and where our resources allow.

As the world's largest anti-terror sweep unfolded in Afghanistan after the deadliest terror attacks ever, Singapore did the right thing by sending the SAF there.

Afghan politics is, without a doubt, complicated.

But the objective of rooting out terrorist safe havens carried on nonetheless. More than a decade later, it is clear that terror cells cannot operate in A-stan with the impunity they enjoyed pre-9/11.

OBR's six-year run which involved 492 Singaporean men and women deployed in-theatre and hundreds more supporting it from Singapore demanded a hefty sacrifice on the SAF's part. In retrospect, Singaporeans should be thankful that sacrifice was not paid for in blood.

This is why Singaporeans should be proud of the SAF's mission success during OBR. From start to finish, no fatalities. At the drawdown: ample respect earned from foreign armed forces who served alongside the SAF - to the extent that our ARTHUR weapon locating radars extended their tour of duty at the behest of foreign soldiers who appreciated the early warning these radars provided.

When duty calls, the SAF has done its part in previous operations under UN flag or as part of an international coalition.

The same cannot be said of the Syrian tragedy.

Unless mandated by the UN, Singapore should stand firm in keeping the SAF well away from Syrian soil.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Our SG Conversation: When defence matters will become an instant talking point

Although defence matters were overshadowed by other hot topics - housing, health care education - during the Our Singapore Conversation, national chatter over defence-linked issues will spring forth unexpectedly, forcibly and perhaps unpleasantly should the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) report a large number of deaths from a single incident.

That tragedy will be the acid test for decades of work spearheaded by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF to engender a strong and lasting spirit of commitment to defence (C2D) among Singaporeans.

A near-miss decades ago very nearly gave us that national tragedy.

It occurred when a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 Hercules transport made an unscheduled stopover in a regional country after encountering a mechanical situation while fully loaded with troops. The 122 Squadron aircraft had more than 75 souls onboard.

Had the worst happened and the C-130 went down in a foreign country, the death toll would have eclipsed any other peacetime SAF training incident. Thankfully, all SAF personnel were safe.

Singapore is fortunate that the ensuing newspaper story on the incident was just a couple of paragraphs long.

MINDEF/SAF was doubly fortunate it took place before the invention and proliferation of social media as a medium for disseminating news.

Taken in today's context, a replay of that incident is quite likely to generate more attention than MINDEF/SAF defence information managers need, want or deserve.

Steeling the defence ministry for a worst-case scenario involves more than simply scaling up resources. For instance, if a certain number of information management personnel are required to handle a single SAF training death, the resources required for multiple deaths does not necessarily rise proportionately.

Speed of news gathering, accuracy in assessing data gathered and in disseminating the media release quickly are factors that should be at the core of any effort any crisis comms plan that aspires to maintain credibility while holding the initiative in managing news flows.

If the SAF bleeds, the resulting chatter among Singaporeans can be expected to touch on these themes:

First, tactical level questions on the incident itself. What happened? Who is responsible? How can we avoid a similar tragedy and so on.

Depending on the profile of the fatalities list - the race and age group of the dead, how many NSFs, how many SAF servicewomen, how many were the only child, how many were children of New Citizens - the mainstream media can be expected to churn out stories by stalking wakes that spring up across our island.

Seen through the clinical eyes of PR professionals or reporters, the permutations for such human interest stories is finite. The expected lifespan in the mainstream media can also be predicted before public interest eventually and inevitably fizzles out.

A situation involving heavy loss of life will put MINDEF/SAF's track record in administering the military under close and intense public scrutiny.

Here's where MINDEF/SAF's reputation as a smart user of defence technology and its competence in defence engineering may help Singaporeans accept that the incident may have been an isolated one.

Such a reputation needs to be zealously protected because the trust Singaporeans place in the hands of MINDEF/SAF when they send their sons for  National Service will be shaken should professional lapses or incompetence prove to be a contributory factor in a national tragedy.

The Skyhawk Crisis during the mid 1980s is an example of an episode in MINDEF/SAF defence engineering history where public confidence in the RSAF's most numerous combat aircraft type was tested after a series of crashes.

This is why investments in keeping MINDEF/SAF's technological edge sharp are so vital in convincing Singaporeans than when the worst happens, a best-effort had been made in keeping our defence hardware in top form.

Reputations aside, one should remember that all SAF training deaths involve giving next of kin answers to questions they may find difficult articulating during their time of grief. The manner in which MINDEF/SAF deals with heartware must assume primacy in the crisis comms plan; corporate image comes second during such situations because this will take care of itself if people are convinced the organisation has done all it can to help the NOKs.

Second, a large death toll can be expected to trigger a wider debate on defence matters. Such debate may be framed in philosophical terms on defence matters that have nothing to do with the incident itself.

Questions raised on the need for National Service, who serves NS and who doesn't, can be expected to underpin discussions that will push concerns on Our SG Conversation hot topics such as housing, health care and education to the backburner temporarily.

These are bugbears that MINDEF/SAF alone cannot handle as they address the strategic thrust of Singapore's growth plan that a single ministry is ill-tasked to talk about.

Depending on the scale of the tragedy, the national mourning that will undoubtedly take place will prompt many Singaporeans to go into soul-searching mode for answers to questions on immigration, the Population White Paper etc that Our SG Conversation has thus far sidestepped.

Here's where sound information management protocols and credible voices will play a vital role in managing the situation. That credibility isn't built during a crisis but is cashed in using emotional credits earned from heartlanders during day-to-day situations and interaction between MINDEF/SAF and Singaporeans.

On our tiny island nation, deaths of strangers have resonated among Singaporeans who mourn and weep for individuals they do not know.

The mainstream media devoted pages of coverage after four Republic of Singapore Navy women sailors died after RSS Courageous collided with a container ship.[We have had near-misses involving Republic of Singapore Navy tank landing ships - both County-class and Endurance-class ships - which collided in the Singapore Strait with cargo vessels soon after leaving the naval base on their respective MIDS Sea Training Deployments. The loss of these LSTs would have made newspaper headlines too.]

The incident involving SAF conscripts in Taiwan after a ROCAF F-5F crashed into a warehouse there generated more awareness on Singapore's military presence in Taiwan than from any previous incident or event.

Handled ineptly, poor information management may ultimately result in the inevitable head(s) rolling down Gombak hill as public pressure may force the Singov's hand in being seen as doing something to cool public anger.

The situation depicted here is hard to imagine because Singaporeans have never experienced a heavy death toll from a single SAF incident.

If and when that day comes, we will know how strong C2D in this country really is.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

National Day Rally 2013: RSAF Operational Master Plan expected to guide proposal to move Paya Lebar resident squadrons to Changi East after 2030

Updated on 21 August'13 with images of Paya Lebar Airport from our files.
Now you see 'em.... Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes taxi to their roost on the eastern side of Paya Lebar Airbase. The Operational Master Plan that steered the hardening of Paya Lebar drew comfort from the fact that the civilian airport inherited by the RSAF in 1981 sat astride low hills, which were eventually carved out to house dispersal areas for RSAF warplanes. Note the height of the surrounding terrain above the fighters. Aircraft shelters (non hardened) are thought to have been cut into the hilly terrain and have their sides held up by concrete retaining walls.  

What appears to be a straightforward swap between an established airbase, Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB), with a brand new one in Changi East after 2030 isn't as easy as it seems.

The good news is that Headquarters Republic of Singapore Air Force ( HQ RSAF) has at least 17 years to plan for the future and military minds would know it doesn't take that length of time to plan, build and operationalise an airbase. [United States Navy construction battalions (SeeBees), for instance, could carve out an airfield from virgin jungle within weeks during WW2. A modern airbase comprises more than just the runway and hardstandings to park aircraft. But the squadron HQs, fuel farms and weapon magazines can be designed and built much earlier than 2030.]

Another positive is the fact that Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and RSAF planners tasked with designing the airbase will have an untouched piece of real estate to work with. The site is a blank canvas on which architects of our future air power can apply decades worth of lessons from Operational Master Plans (OMPs) which have improved the mission readiness and survivability of critical infrastructure at existing RSAF airbases.

As the OMP for the new airbase at Changi Air Base (East) - not to be confused with the current Changi Air Base (East) - gets drafted, challenges inherent in designing a military aerodrome on reclaimed land while factoring threat profiles expected from 2030 onwards should prompt the project team to think about the following:

1. The greenfield site for the new Changi Air Base (East) will give the project team immense latitude in designing base infrastructure from scratch, free from constraints and limitations the RSAF faced when it took over the civilian Paya Lebar Airport in 1981 and had to get it fighting fit.

Blast from the past: Paya Lebar Airbase during the mid 1980s displayed evidence of construction activity on its once verdant eastern side. We can see the uncompleted Hush House just after the Whiskey 4 crossing. The changes to the base are more stark when one compares pictures of Paya Lebar Airport taken during her opening year in 1955 (below). The image below is of particular interest as it reveals the gradient and elevation of the ground on the eastern side of what is now PLAB. Interestingly, the northern end of the PLAB runway where this picture was taken in the late 1950s has military architecture well worth a closer look.

New airport: The Whiskey 4 (W4) crossing at Paya Lebar Airport and the undeveloped eastern side of the runway are shown to good effect in the images above and below. The terminal building and future PLAB Jet Apron are still under construction in the image below. None of the RSAF servicemen and servicewomen who serve at PLAB today were born when these images were taken.

Building for future growth: Aerial view of the northern end of Paya Lebar Airport runway which captured construction work to extend the runway in the 1950s.

Final approach: The image above and the one below would be familiar to pilots who have flown into PLAB from its southern end. The rustic landscape south of the runway has been completely cleared. Residents of PLAB would note that the right hand corner of the image below now houses what appears to be quick reaction alert shelters cloaked by extensive camouflage measures.

2. From the perspective of a potential attacker, the location of the new airbase opens up new opportunities for rendering resident air power inoperable as a major impediment - PLAB's location amid civilian infrastructure - is gone. Highrise residential flats in the Hougang and Serangoon outside PLAB complicate firing solutions for tube and rocket artillery fire as well as mortar barrages fired at shallow angles as these civilian infrastructure stands in the way.

3. On a related note, having Changi Air Base (East) as the neighbour to the Republic of Singapore Navy's Changi Naval Base makes this slice of mainland Singapore a target rich environment. Unguided rocket barrages intended for the airbase which miss their target due to the large CEP could fall into the compound of the naval base.[If I was role playing the Red Team, I would feel encouraged and plan accordingly.] 

4. The RSAF airbase and RSN naval base in Changi sit in plain sight of Pengerang, in Johor. Not for nothing did British military surveyors build a fort on the commanding hill to support coastal artillery batteries emplaced in Changi. Technology may have changed but the advantages of the geography from Pengerang's lofty heights haven't. This is a point our military planners ought to keep in mind. 

5. The new airbase will be the largest RSAF airbase which is closest to the open sea. We have never had an airbase so close to an international shipping lane before. PLAB's location farther inland made it less vulnerable to seaborne attack, which could be launched within minutes without warning from men-of-war exercising their right of innocent passage through the Strait of Singapore during a Period of Tension.(Unless our Rules of Engagement indicate we can fire first at a potentially hostile warship, which would essentially make this island nation the initiator of hostilities. Go figure.) 

6. The new airbase will not be complete without measures to improve its ability to generate and sustain air power, under time pressure and perhaps under fire.

Safe haven: And here we have a prime example of what we believe is a standalone RSAF aircraft shelter. The aircraft shelter itself isn't believed to be hardened and is thought to comprise a metal roof held up by H-piles. Noteworthy is the use of extensive earthworks and camouflage netting to screen aircraft hardstandings from outside observation. The same role is served by the fence line which is shielded with woven plastic strips. An improved design to this 1990s-era shelter might eventually be found in Changi East to house RSAF warplanes based there after 2030. The HAS on the northeastern end of TAB are thought to be of a different design - housing warplanes more compactly but with a higher level of protection. 

Landscape artists: This Google Earth image plucked from cyberspace of Paya Lebar Air Base shows the extent landscape changes made by the RSAF to camouflage and conceal its warplanes based there. These revetments were cut into elevated ground on the eastern side of PLAB's runway (see first black and white picture above for a better idea of the terrain). Seasoned users of Google Earth would probably have their customised library of images of places of interest.

7. Despite the constraints that Paya Lebar Airport's civilian infrastructure posed to RSAF staff officers during the 1980s, the low hills on the eastern side of the PLA runway allowed the air force to loop taxiways into the hills and scatter fighters in aircraft shelters dug into the elevated ground (see image above). Changi's flat terrain and relatively shallow water table, being so close to the sea, offer no such advantages. Our defence engineers do, however, have extensive experience designing aircraft shelters for the RSAF and might employ an improved design of the anonymous structure you see above for the new airbase.

8. Despite the promise of STOVL fighters such as the F-35B, the new base will still need ribbons of concrete as taxiways and one main runway. The argument that fighters like the F-35B can take-off vertically during operations is ill-informed when one considers the considerable penalty in aircraft warload when performing as a jump jet. A long runway will be necessary to support large transports, which regularly call at PLAB in support of Singapore Armed Forces deployments overseas.

9. Yet more thought has to go into where supporting infrastructure will be based. These include the Aeromedical Centre, Air Force School, Flight Simulator Centre and so on. PLAB is a thriving eco-system that has used more than 20 years of ops to achieve steady state operations between resident and non-resident units. This synergy cannot be achieved overnight just by giving PLAB units a new mailing address in Changi.

10. Questions will also hang over the fate of Singapore Technologies Aerospace, which serves a vital role in sustaining RSAF airpower. However, the 17 year gap between now and 2030 gives ST Aero and its mothership, ST Engineering, more than ample time to mull over choices. To put things into sharper focus, that 17 year window is longer than the ST Engg group has been in business (it was formed in 1997).

You may also like:
National Day Rally 2013: Quick take on proposal to move Paya Lebar Air Base. Click here

Sunday, August 18, 2013

National Day Rally 2013: Quick take on proposal to move RSAF Paya Lebar Air Base

Backgrounder: National Day Rally venue
Now that the National Day Rally is over, Senang Diri can reveal that the post in March on Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Bloodhound Missile Site Bravo was inspired by the unpublicised visit by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to ITE College Central on 20 March 2013.

New roost: S.211 jet trainer 343 has found a new home in ITE College Central along with a UH-1H (below), also thought to have been a former RSAF machine but now sports ITE colours.

We hope this explains why the post appeared seemingly out of the blue in March. The post on Missile Site Bravo promoted awareness of land use planning in Singapore and was later published by myPaper. Please click here for the post "When MINDEF had to do National Service".

I would like to place on record my deepest gratitude to SD's media planners and content advisors for the tutorials which led to the forward-looking piece. Your contributions have lifted this blog to a new level with professional advice and expertise that has helped SD generate and sustain online content.

Proposal to move Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB)
Tonight's National Day Rally speech by PM Lee indicated that the RSAF's Paya Lebar Air Base (WSAP) may move its activities to Changi Air Base (East), presently located on reclaimed land off Changi International Airport (WSSS).

Bear in mind this is a long-term proposal at enlarging the land bank of real estate on mainland Singapore to cater for future development.

How far downstream? Probably 2030 and beyond.

The proposal floated by PM Lee is a bold one. It appears recently hatched as the land use map for 2030 released in January 2013 had left PLAB untouched.

The tract of land presently occupied by PLAB in the eastern part of Singapore is enormous. The footprint of the current air base is just one part of the land bank that urban planners can tap on.

Moving the air base would free height restrictions on buildings in the vicinity of its runways, particularly the end of runway (EOR) at both ends of the base which are now dominated by infrastructure for light industries.

From an operational perspective, the closure of PLAB would leave the RSAF with two air bases for fixed wing aircraft on mainland Singapore. There is one emergency runway on Pulau Sudong which could be turned into a fully operational air base, though field security and resupply across open water may pose challenges during operations.

The point that all RSAF fighters and strike aircraft will be shepherded to two vulnerable bases will, undoubtedly, provide ample talking points for discussions on the wisdom of such a proposal.

Casting our minds forward to 2030, one should bear in mind that the F-5 fighters now resident at PLAB will have long been retired by then. The C-130B/H Hercules transports are also expected to have been partially replaced by then, despite the mid-life upgrade performed by ST Aerospace.

The number of F-15SG Strike Eagles could be expanded by the end of this decade, perhaps with an improved variant of the F-15 family.

In terms of future threats, precision-guided munitions (PGMs) delivered by land, naval or air platforms can be expected to offer ever diminishing CEPs while raising the lethality of their payloads. These include payloads primed for airburst, point detonation or delayed detonation, as well as warheads optimised for deep penetration or weapons with cargo munitions.

All this means that keeping air bases geographically separated on mainland Singapore will offer air platforms marginal protection from a determined, all-out assault if the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) intelligence network fails to provide adequate early warning.

While multiple air bases will dilute the strike potential of an aggressor as multiple locations need to be addressed, the small size of our city-state means all air bases are likely to receive some form of attention should PGMs dominate arsenals of the future.

In addition, our compact land mass means that cruise missile technology, which is presently curtailed under arms control regimes, need not be employed against RSAF air bases. Low tech, shorter range options such as glide bomb kits attached to free fall ordnance can do the job just as well. Fast forward to 2030 and one can expect extended range PGMs to dominate military arsenals.

Passive protection at an enlarged Changi Air Base (East) can offer some protection to RSAF air platforms.

The biggest impact may come from the RSAF's experience in knocking down inbound air/missile strikes with technology that can only be imagined in today's terms.

By 2030, the RSAF is expected to have deepened and widened its expertise with active protection measures such as anti-missile defences, one of which is expected to step up to take the place of the RSAF's long-serving 35mm Oerlikon AA guns soon.

You may also like:
Military land use by the SAF in 2030. Click here

RSAF Space Command. Click here

Monday, August 12, 2013

M346 advanced jet trainer remains grounded after second crash: AIN Defense Perspective report

M346 Jet Trainer Still Grounded After Second Crash
AIN Defense Perspective » August 9, 2013
August 9, 2013, 11:15 AM

Almost three months on from the crash of a pre-series aircraft in Italy on May 11, Alenia Aermacchi’s M346 jet remains grounded as investigations into the causes of the accident continue. The Italian manufacturer has insisted there are no similarities between this incident and the November 2011 accident in which a prototype M346 crashed off the coast of Dubai after appearing in the airshow there. A spokesman told AIN that the trainer/light attack aircraft will be flying again “very soon.”

In the most recent accident, according to sources speaking to AIN on condition of anonymity, test pilot Matteo Maurizio suddenly lost all control of the jet. He survived the crash, but sustained serious injuries after ejecting. The aircraft in Dubai is believed to have lost all electrical power just after takeoff. Its two pilots also ejected; one was injured.

The Alenia spokesman said that the two M346s were configured differently. Three separate investigations are probing the most recent accident: one is being conducted by the manufacturer, another by the Italian air force and a third by judicial authorities.

The M346 has been ordered for the air forces of Israel, Italy and Singapore. Two production aircraft were delivered to the Italian air force in late 2011 and early last year for operational test and evaluation. Deliveries of 12 aircraft to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) No 150 Squadron, based at Cazaux airbase in France, began earlier this year, although they were unannounced at Singapore’s request.

The Italian air force has ordered six M346s, against a total requirement of 15. The first two have completed initial operational test and evaluation, but the latest accident has delayed a final operational test and evaluation in Italy. The Israeli air force is due to acquire 30 M346s starting next year, via a joint venture between IAI and Elbit that will provide pilot training under contract. The Singapore aircraft are also being provided under contract by a joint venture among prime contractor ST Aerospace, Alenia and Boeing.

The M346 competes against the BAE Systems Hawk and the KAI T-50 in the advanced jet trainer market. In February 2009, the UAE Air Force announced that it had selected the M346, but no order was ever confirmed. The same three aircraft are being proposed for the 350-aircraft U.S. Air Force T-X requirement, although that has been delayed by U.S. defense budget problems. They will also compete in Poland, which is shopping for eight new trainers to serve from 2015.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book review: 2263 Days Operation Blue Ridge The SAF's Six-year Mission in Afghanistan

Two Thousand Two Hundred And Sixty-Three Days
Operation Blue Ridge The SAF's Six-year Mission in Afghanistan
Ministry of Defence, Singapore, 2013, 165 pages, hardcover.
Price: Unavailable

As the only coffee table book on Operation Blue Ridge (OBR), the six-year Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) mission in Afghanistan, Two Thousand Two Hundred And Sixty-three Days deserves a place on the bookshelf of every SAF watcher.

It is one-of-a-kind, so the review's conclusion is straightforward: This is a must-have.

The book's default status as go-to guide on the SAF's longest and most complex mission is well-earned. Facts and figures outline the full scope of the SAF's work in-theatre while pictures - many published for the first time - give readers a comprehensive tableau of OBR's many facets.

SAF officers and students tasked to write about OBR will find it a handy, one-stop starter kit that will get them up to speed on Singapore's involvement in Afghanistan (this ended last month).

The 26cms by 26cms (10.25 inch by 10.25 inch) book comes in 13 chapters. These are:

Forewords and Messages

Closer Than We Think

5,221 km from Home

Doing Our Part

Leaning Forward, Reaching Out
- Genesis of Operation Blue Ridge

Making a Difference
- Bringing Smiles
- Bridging People
- Every Drop Counts
- Sharing Warmth
- Providing Healthcare

Working Hand in Hand
- The Golden Hour
- Steady Hands
- Shield Of Safety
- Eye In The Sky
- Patterns Of Life

Shona Ba Shona (Note: "Shoulder to Shoulder")
- Guns Ready!
- Mine!

Leading from the front
- Forward Leadership
- Embedded To Support
- Making It Happen

Force Preparation
- Enabling The Mission
- R.S.O.I (Receive, Staging, Onward-Movement & Integration)

Family and Friends
- Pillar Of Strength
- Forging Ties
- Flying Our Flag

Mission Accomplished

The Flag Bearers

While the pictures and bite-sized quotes from OBR participants make for easy reading, perhaps more ink could have been expended outlining why the SAF embarked on its OBR journey. The forewords by Defence Ministers past and present, and SAF Chief of Defence Force and Chief of Army serve as useful thought drivers.

Further, albeit brief, discussion is found in the chapter, Closer Than We Think. This talks about global security challenges after 9/11 and delves into how the international community closed ranks to act against elements which exploited Afghanistan's wide ungoverned (or ungovernable?) expanses to hatch terror plots against countries such as Singapore.

"Terrorism know no borders," the book states."The international community therefore has a stake in rebuilding Afghanistan, so that transnational terrorists cannot hijack the country to conduct its militant activities."

Attempts by the regional terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), to stage attacks in Singapore form the lead in to describe why OBR was initiated, where SAF forces were deployed, when various phases of OBR were executed, what the SAF did there, how it trained for and supported the mission and who were the men and women who accomplished the mission.

The economy of words used by OBR's author(s) makes 2263 Days read like jottings from a journal, which makes six years of operational achievements easy to digest. This book nonetheless serves as a valuable start point for anyone who wants to engage in a balanced debate on OBR.

Not for nothing does MINDEF describe the mission as the SAF's most complex overseas deployment. About a third of the book is devoted to putting on record the work needed to sustain the mission all those years and the acronym, RSOI, tells that getting there involved more than booking a seat on an aeroplane.

Rough field: Many interesting pictures are found in MINDEF's commemorative book on the SAF mission in Afghanistan, such as this one of C-130H 735 from 122 Squadron on an austere looking airfield. Note what appears to be an astro dome atop her cockpit and bumps on the nose for defense electronics.

As there are no indications the book will be found in bookstores here, it would be to MINDEF/SAF's benefit if netizens could read its contents on its website perhaps as a downloadable PDF file.

It is a pity that MINDEF/SAF's effort in acknowledging the good work done by OBR participants does not seem to have been extended to the unknown hand(s) responsible for this book. There is no author mentioned. No departments have been credited for their part in the book, which is not the way you want to motivate future book committees tasked to record some SAF milestone.

Even with 2263 Days out of reach, you can get a good idea of its message from a roving exhibition on OBR. A large part of the book's contents have apparently been grafted as material for this exhibition. This kicks off tomorrow at Toa Payoh HDB Hub at 10am and will remain open till 8pm.

You may also like:
A national necessity: Operation Blue Ridge. Click here

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Guide to Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) MID vehicle number plates

"Sedikit sedikit, 
Lama lama,
Menjadi bukit"

First on the list: The number plate 1 MID is reserved for high-ranking dignitaries hosted by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence. The car itself is believed to have its own civilian registration and is thought to be supplied by a civilian contractor. Fun fact: It is plated 1 MID just for the occasion by attaching the special plate with rubber bands (just visible)!

11 March 2023 update: Books Kinokuniya in Singapore has stocked Pukul Habis. Please visit its main store in Ngee Ann City or Bugis Junction, or check the Kinokuniya online store here. The title should be available via Kinokuniya Malaysia soon. Please enquire with the KL store.
For readers elsewhere, please check the Amazon sites that serve your location. "Look Inside" function on some sites shows sample pages.



United Kingdom: Look Inside

USA: Look Inside. When ordering from Singapore, please click on the "Shipping to Singapore?" button. Ignore the "Temporarily out of stock" notice on the page.

This guide is based on an assessment of more than 5,000 individual number plate identities for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) vehicles compiled by yours truly over many years.

The database is a labour of love bordering on obsession that pulls together pictures and notes taken of SAF vehicles seen on public roads or during open houses/events organised by the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Air Force and Republic of Singapore Navy.

Readers with no inkling of SAF number plates should be relatively conversant by the time you reach the end of this post.

As you read this, please be aware there are exceptions to every guideline noted. These have been flagged out with pictures to help you understand the exceptions to what is generally observed.

Background to MID number plates
All wheeled and tracked SAF vehicles are identified by an alpha-numeric code on number plates carried on the front and rear of the vehicle. The same applies to equipment designed to be towed like cargo trailers and LAMBE landmine clearing device, which fall outside the scope of this discussion.

The three letters that Singaporeans and SAF observers commonly link with SAF vehicles are MID. These letters are drawn from the initials for the Ministry of the Interior and Defence (MID), the ministry set up after Singapore became independent on 9 August 1965. This ministry was the forerunner to the present-day Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and eventually hived off its home affairs functions to a separate ministry known as the Ministry of Home Affairs, which groups vehicles for the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Police Force and other Home Team agencies that oversee drug enforcement, immigration and so on.

Seldom seen number plate: Few SAF servicemen would have seen the Iveco-Fiat light truck above as it was not chosen for SAF Guards battalions after field trials, during which it carried the 9923 MID number plate. We find the vehicle interesting as it was marked with both types of MID number plate naming styles - 9923 MID on the front and MID 9923 on the rear (most MID-plate vehicles stick to one naming conventional for front and rear plates). Enthusiasts would note that the 992x-series is a special plate. Note the three-axle Land Rover Defender alongside - another rarity that can send one's heart aflutter.

The naming convention for MID number plates is interesting because variations have been noted on different vehicles. SAF vehicles have been observed with the xxxxx MID sequence and the MID xxxxx sequence.

At the risk of sounding eccentric, we would like to point out that the sign a towing vehicle displays (see example above) to indicate the SAF vehicle which is on tow uses the naming convention MID xxxxx - which is a point we find noteworthy as the vast majority of SAF number plates are of the xxxxx MID variety.

There have also been rare instances when a single vehicle was seen with both naming conventions. For SAF number plate collectors, occasions when such unique vehicles are seen on the road never fail to generate some excitement (to put it mildly).

Exceptional: RSAF aircraft tow tractors registered using both types of naming conventions. The tractor in the middle is interesting as it is one of the few SAF vehicles with a suffix to the vehicle number.

The MID naming convention is not the only alpha-numeric system adopted by MINDEF/SAF. Exceptions include SAF vehicles thought to have been registered with civilian licence plates (scroll all the way to the end) as well as a naming convention unique to SAF war horses deployed in Afghanistan which adopted the naming convention with the letters SAF followed by a number.

There are further exceptions to the alpha-numeric guideline. For instance, AMX-13 light tanks were identified by four-digit numbers. When upgraded to SM1 standard in the late 1980s under Project A, each light tank received a five-digit number with no accompanying letters. Other SAF A-vehicles have also been noted with just numbers as their identifier.

Number plate colours and fonts
Regardless of naming convention, the vehicle identities usually appear on number plates comprising white letters on a black background.

Different typeface: Seen here on Singapore Artillery hardware are two types of number plate font styles. The laminated letters on the HIMARS vehicle are noticeably different from the stencil type font displayed on 55048 MID, which is a Primus 155mm SPG. Compare and contrast the font used on the Primus with the narrow type stencil font below sprayed on an AMX-10. 

The type face is usually of the sans serif font. The different font types observed indicate some latitude given to SAF units and vehicle suppliers when making number plates.

The majority of armoured vehicles have their number plates sprayed on using templates. These are identified by the stencil type font of which there are at least three different type faces. Again, there are exceptions such as the MaxxPro MRAPs which carried embossed aluminium number plates with raised silver lettering on a satin finish black background.

Numbering convention
The smallest number on an SAF vehicle seen thus far is the numeral 1. Vehicles include 1 MID, which is a staff car number for high-ranking visitors (not the Minister for Defence or SAF generals) and SAF 1.

The MaxxPro MRAP SAF 8 (above) carries a stamped aluminium number plate with embossed lettering, matt silver on a satin black finish. Notice the thin silver border on the number plate, unique to this class of armoured vehicle.

The SAF 8 identifier was used only in Afghanistan when the vehicle was deployed for Operation Blue Ridge. It is not know why the SAF had to start a new naming convention as the pair of Singapore Artillery ARTHURs MID 56331 and MID 56332 sent for OBR kept their usual MID number plates.

From Singapore's independence till the late 1980s, SAF vehicles were noted with four-digit number plates. The 10000 barrier was broken not with the Iveco-Fiat three tonners, as is generally believed, but with passenger buses that served the RSAF (example 10001 MID) and the Singapore Army.

The upgrade for M-113s resulted in vehicles in the 4400 MID-series and 6000 MID-series tagged with a five-digit alpha-numeric number that had no apparent link with the previous identifier.

To date, no SAF vehicle has been observed with a six-digit number plate. But should you know of any, please let us know!

The vehicle type with the highest number plate series is the Terrex. These have been observed with plates starting from 99000 MID. Interestingly, while the first Terrex unveiled by former Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean in 2009 carried the number plate 99001 MID, another Terrex has been observed with the 99000 MID. The latter is believed to be the first Terrex to have rolled off the Singapore Technologies Kinetics production line.

Series starters
On that note, we come to series starters. We define these as the first vehicle which kicks off a new numbering sequence.

A number of series starters have been identified over the years. These include the series starter for the Primus 155mm self-propelled guns, which was found during an artillery live-fire exercise during Exercise Wallaby in Queensland, Australia. This was done by the simple expedient of walking among the battery between salvos (behind the gun muzzles, obviously), which was an interesting experience to say the least.

Finding the series starter 55000 MID - the first Primus - and meeting its crew was a memorable experience because one doesn't always chance upon series starters.

Same but different: The Bionix IFVs seen here can be readily distinguished by their different number plate sequences. It was number plate tracking which raised the question why the BX2s were assigned different numerical sequences. For those of you who know, the roles for both types of BXs are quite different!

All SAF full-time National Servicemen (NSF) and Operationally-Ready NSmen (i.e. reservists) entrusted with SAF vehicles would probably known that the type of vehicle can be discerned from the numbering sequence. See for example the two BXs pictured above.

This is why every occasion to see an SAF vehicle in public should be treasured.

The day you tell yourself you don't have to see a certain vehicle because you have seen it before is the day the database loses its value because one has let slip an opportunity to refresh and revalidate raw data.

No number plate is too insignificant. All SAF vehicles are head-turners, whether they are GP cars or something more menacing.

Every contribution contributes to better awareness of how vehicles are identified. And the learning journey and search for new numbers must be relentless.

Low profile: It is intriguing to speculate why this EOD vehicle carries a number plate with civilian registration and why a G, P or Y plate was not assigned. If low signature was one objective, this is defeated by the letters on the front of the vehicle. Other EOD vehicles in 36 SCE's stable carry the usual MID plates.
Special duty: Here's one that baffled us. 37001 MID with no formation sign, reinforced front bumper, side steps and roof rack suggest has a special role after the bells and whistles are added. This type of Mercedes-Benz G wagen was also seen with civilian registration.

On that note, we come to SAF vehicles seen with vehicle registrations usually associated with civilian vehicles. Different types of vehicles used by the Commandos and Singapore Combat Engineers have been seen with such number plates.

It is thought that civilian registrations add to the low signature when such vehicles are deployed for situations in public areas.

The variations you see here show why this blog finds the subject so fascinating.

You will never see them all during your lifetime, but there's always one more SAF number plate just waiting to be discovered which can shed light on the nomenclature adopted for the SAF's war horses.

You may also like:
Guide to radars and defence equipment on HDB flats. Click here

With grateful thanks to SAF number plate enthusiasts who, over the years, contributed pictures and tipoffs of SAF vehicles seen in public areas.


SAF Land Rover Discovery, unit unknown. Picture posted in response to the anonymous comment, 11 Aug'13 time stamp 12:14 AM below.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Death of Taiwan conscript Hung Chung-chiu: The view from a Singaporean blogger

Source: China Post

Reports on the death of Taiwanese conscript Corporal Hung Chung-chiu after he was allegedly mistreated by his military superiors make sad reading, particularly when circumstances linked to the 24-year-old's death are projected to Singapore's context.

This weekend just past, thousands of Taiwanese gathered in Taipei to express outrage over the incident and show their anger towards the island's defence ministry and armed forces.

In the wake of the incident, Taiwan's Minister for National Defence, Kao Hua-chu resigned while senior commanders in CPL Hung's unit, 542 Armour Brigade, were hauled up for investigation.

Could the same happen here? Would the death of a full-time National Serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) topple the Defence Minister from his perch and lead to widespread protests in Singapore?

Singaporeans will indeed be infuriated by lapses in military leadership. But their fury is unlikely to boil over into large scale street protests (defined as tens of thousands on a scale unseen in Singapore, not dozens of activists in Hong Lim Park) against the SAF, mirroring peaceful demonstrations in Taipei.

This is because the uproar in Taiwan triggered by CPL Hung's death was underpinned by deep-seated communal tensions that outside observers often miss or may be unaware of.

There is a deep societal divide in Taiwan though the people there may look the same. Surnames are an immediate giveaway. Ditto their preferred language or dialect.

This communal divide is between Chinese who are native to the island (ben di ren) and those who trace their bloodline to mainlanders who fled to Formosa after the 1949 civil war. Known as the "outside province folk" (wai shen ren), those who settled on Formosa dominate the upper strata of Taiwan's armed forces.

Until several years ago, it was estimated that more than 90% of the officer corps in Taiwan's military comprised Chinese of mainland descent - a social imbalance long resented by natives on an island which enforces compulsory 12 months of military service for its male youths.

The late CPL Hung was the adopted son of a family native to Taichung. This means Hung did not come from the social strata beloved of Taiwan's military.

Observers noted that his death in a military dominated by non-native Chinese was all it took to ignite a flashpoint long suppressed in Taiwan society. Taiwan's civil-military relations are stratified, with fault lines whose origins go back decades.

228 Incident
Native Taiwanese have apparently not forgotten the pain from the massacre of civilians on 28 February 1947 - an incident known in the island as the 228 incident.

Fury over the deaths of 10,000 to 30,000 civilians (mainly natives) at the hands of Kuomintang troops decades ago have left deep, lingering scars in Taiwan society. Not unexpectedly, it has also fomented wariness over the armed forces in which non-natives dominate the command tree.

The decades-long communal schism and mistrust of the military provides the backdrop necessary for us in Singapore to understand why Taiwan residents responded so furiously to the training death, sad and unfortunate though the circumstances may be.

More background
Taiwan's Defence Minister did not resign solely because of pressure from angry countrymen. That's what one sees on the surface.

Former Taiwan DM Kao Hua-chu, 66, is a cancer survivor.

Following his brush with lung cancer, the Army general had expressed his desire to throttle back from government service some time ago. His cancer treatment proved successful. The general is now in the recovery phase after his cancer treatment. This explains the former minister's wish to scale back on his commitments.

Had the general remained in service, his time at the helm may assure Taiwanese of continuity in defence ministry leadership and the government's desire to get to the root of the matter. This is important as the months ahead are a critical time when investigations into CPL Hung's death get underway.

Playing the scapegoat card right now, particularly at DM level, does not advance the search for truth.

There is a school of thought that if not for General Kao's health scare, he would not have had to resign.

General Kao is afterall an influential figure in Taiwan's civil-military landscape. Prior to stepping up to lead the defence portfolio, Kao was director of the veteran's league.

Now this is a vastly different entity from the SAF Veterans' League.

Taiwan's version commands a membership of some 7 million former military men - a vast vote bank for the KMT if you think about it.

Lessons for Singapore
Strip away the political and historical background which complicates Taiwan's efforts to generate and sustain commitment to defence, circumstances reported after CPL Hung's death would have infuriated civil society activists in any citizen's army from South Korea to Switzerland, Israel and Singapore.

CPL Hung's fate was sealed when he was caught in a military camp with a mobilephone. This in itself was not a hanging offence.

But it is said that the Taiwan NSF's attitude riled his superiors: Reports claim he challenged his officer by asking what he could do to him, since the 24-year-old was due to complete his full-time NS within 72 hours.

News of his combative attitude reportedly went up to the brigade commander of his armour unit. Physical punishments said to have been meted out by his superiors - all regulars - started the fateful series of events that could have claimed CPL Hung's life.

It is said that CCTV footage in the detention centre where CPL Hung was made to perform physical exercises to the point of exhaustion (he died subsequently in hospital) were missing, unaccountable and suspected to have been destroyed.

The loss of CCTV footage which could have explained what happened quite naturally added fuel to the fire.

Media landscape
The media landscape in Taipei could have played a part in helping street protests move from concept to reality.

There are apparently no less than 12 newspapers published in Taipei itself. Every news outlet is a profit-driven, uber competitive news hub which races against its rivals to publish news which sells. The details will sort themselves out. What matters is raising circulation in a market where news consumers have ample alternatives

So the street protest idea essentially became a self-fulfilling event when fanned by a ferile press whose coverage of CPL Hung's death proved an instant incentive to buy the newspaper with the juiciest story.

The safety net which the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF have built in our society are the multiple layers of touchpoints which serve as conduits for feedback and yes, criticisms during periods of internal tension.

These range from committees made up of elected officials (which have included Opposition MPs), advisory councils comprising common citizens and assorted engagement efforts with grassroots leaders in communities which live in the vicinity of SAF camps, as well as outreach by individual SAF units in selected schools.

The individual SAF serviceman may not see the importance of such outreach.

But taken collectively and sustained year after year, the combined MINDEF/SAF effort gives our defence eco-system the rigor and flexibility to weather trying situations.

Make no mistake: Every SAF casualty is a defence information challenge that is complex and difficult to deal with, and whose endgame defies easy prediction.

At the heart of everything is making sure trust with citizens who underpin our citizens' army is never compromised nor taken for granted. That family members will get the answers they seek and the support they need.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

National Geographic Channel's guerilla marketing for OCS documentary misfires badly

Decorations and Uniforms Act
(Original Enactment: Ordinance 5 of 1922)

(30th March 1987)

An Act to prevent the unauthorised use of or wearing of certain orders, decorations, medals, emblems and uniforms and for purposes connected therewith.
[10th March 1922]

Short title
1.  This Act may be cited as the Decorations and Uniforms Act.

Unauthorised use of insignia, uniforms, etc.
—(1)  If any unauthorised person uses or wears —
any insignia of any order instituted by the President;
any decoration or medal, or the ribbon of any decoration or medal, so instituted;
any naval, military or air force decoration, medal, bar, clasp or ribbon;
any badge, stripe or emblem supplied or authorised by the Armed Forces Council or by the President;
any uniform or part of a uniform of the naval, military, air or police forces; or
anything so nearly resembling any insignia, decoration, medal, bar, clasp, ribbon, badge, stripe, emblem or uniform or part of a uniform as above-mentioned that it is calculated to deceive,
and if any unauthorised person assumes or uses any title of rank in the military, naval or air forces, or any letters after his name indicating the possession of any order, decoration or medal, that person shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction before a Magistrate’s Court to a fine not exceeding $400 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.

The Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) should send a clear and unambiguous message to the National Geographic Channel that its guerilla marketing campaign for an upcoming TV documentary misfired big time.

If publicity for Every Singaporean Son (ESS) is what they seek, perhaps slapping NatGeo with a fine and imprisoning the fake soldiers for offences committed under the Decorations and Uniforms Act would send awareness of the documentary sky high.

Images from Straits Times online

Their publicity stunt in the heart of Singapore's business district on Friday, where passersby were invited to shout drill commands at a platoon of "soldiers" dressed in regulation SAF garb makes absolute ESSes of the Singapore Army.  

From the get-go, the ESS marketing effort appeared to be led by rank amateurs who are clueless how to profile the SAF in a proper fashion.

The print ad which appears on Page 2 of this month's edition of Pioneer magazine should have been a leading indicator of the liberties their marketing gurus are prepared to take to sell their product. The picture of two SAF servicemen is reversed, resulting in the sword being held in the wrong hand and the SAR-21 assault rifle shouldered improperly.

It would be interesting to find out whether the FA for Pioneer's August issue raised any eyebrows with MINDEF/SAF when the draft issue went through the usual clearance process.

With 20:20 hindsight, that lapse could have afforded MINDEF/SAF a timely intervention to ask NatGeo about the publicity blitz planned for a documentary that would show viewers what Officer Cadets go through in their 38-week quest to become commissioned officers.
MINDEF/SAF could have asked the critical question, "What else do you have planned for ESS publicity?", before the Defence Ministry, SAF and the institution of National Service in Singapore ended up as collateral damage from a misfired publicity stunt.

That stunt may prompt Singaporean tax payers to ask just what sort of storyline ESS will have across its various episodes and whether similar liberties will be taken in the story telling. 

Concerns flagged out by netizens are natural, expected and reasonable as the first touch points before ESS even airs (the print ad and marketing gimmick in Raffles Place) both bombed.

We have experienced a number of guerilla marketing stunts going wrong in recent years. It's high time we send a strong deterrent message against creative minds who believe they can execute, then backpeddle with an apology and get away with lunatic ideas.