Saturday, September 28, 2013

A finely calibrated show of force: Malaysian Armed Forces 80th anniversary parade

Swift and decisive: The entry of PT-91M Pendekar main battle tanks into parade centre, crowned by low flying TUDM warplanes, made quite a spectacle as turrets swiveled in salute, tank engines roared and warplanes screamed overhead in a choreographed show of force. The ATM Ke-80 parade was telecast live by Malaysian TV (note the overhead camera on the boom).

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Ground rules for photographing Malaysia's biggest show of military might were simple enough: 1) Stay behind the white line. 2) Don't block the people behind you.

Watched over by unsmiling Military Police from Kor Polis Tentera Diraja (KPTD), that vantage point put one within touching distance of the sharp end of the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) as Malaysia's war machine went into show of strength mode.

The parade to celebrate the ATM's 80th anniversary was held on 21 September 2013 in Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in the heart of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The last time the Malaysian military showcased its capabilities was the parade to mark the Tentera Darat's (Malaysian Army) 80th anniversary in Port Dickson on 2 March and the amphibious landing demo on 3 March. In the week immediately following the TD parade and capability demo, ATM forces went into action against Sulu militants in Sabah in a ATM-PDRM (Polis DiRaja Malaysia, Royal Malaysian Police) joint operation codenamed Operasi Daulat (Operation Sovereignty).

Last weekend's capability display appeared calibrated to assure Malaysia's domestic and foreign audience that the Malaysian military is well armed and capable of protecting the Federation's vital interests.

It is interesting to note that the tagline for Hari ATM Ke-80, ATM Perkasa, Kedaulatan Terpelihara, contained a play on the Malay word for "sovereignty". And lest foreign observers miss the message, the tagline appeared in English on the parade's main stage - A Formidable MAF, Sovereignty Safeguarded.

Firepower on show: Paratroopers from Pasukan Atugerak Cepat (PAC, Rapid Deployment Force) parade with heavy weapons. Front to rear: RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher, Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle and Anza SAM. Anza means Lance. The addition of Pakistani Anza surface-to-air missiles to PAC's armoury gives the unit an organic low level air defence capability. Having missileers as part of the unit strengthens unit cohesion as the ground forces and LLAD trup would be more familiar with one another. As usual, PAC paras chanting as they marched put on a spirited show.

Tank killers: Heavy anti-tank guided missile teams embarked on Adnan armoured fighting vehicles with Baktar-Shikan anti-tank guided missile launchers in ready-to-fire position. The platform carrying the missile is retractable. Note the unsmiling KPTD MP, ever watchful on the sidelines of the parade.

Two full dress rehearsals and calibrated disclosures of ATM firepower such as TUDM's seldom-seen Russian ordnance and fast attack vehicles were all it took to raise eyebrows.

Malaysian spectators who were there to watch the ATM parade loved it and the muscle-flexing did not go unnoticed among netizens, creating a stir in cyberspace that outlasted the 2.5 hours it took for the parade to unfold with mock attacks capped by 12 marching contingents and five waves of Mobile Column elements. Speaking of outlast, the rhythmic beat of the ATM March (click here) and the Malaysian Army March (click here) played over and over, were strangely addictive and lingered in one's head long after the event. :-)

There were minor hiccups. These include the apparent lack of coordination between the deployed 35mm Oerlikon battery and the parade (the guns were supposed to fire blank rounds at some point during the parade), noticeable gaps between the commentary and the appearance of flypast elements, the less-than-symmetrical bomb burst by four Su-30MKM fighter jets and the Alvis Stormer which nearly stalled during the drive past (It didn't and the crowd cheered when it trundled along). But what do you expect with just two rehearsals?

On balance, takeaways from the event point to an ATM that has matured in the past two decades or so when it shed its counter insurgency orientation to move towards a conventional warfighting posture.

Looking at the ATM's growth trajectory in the past decades, one can expect an even more potent Malaysian military in years to come.

Air denial: Malaysian artillery gunners oblige this blog's request to showcase all three of the ATM's MANPADS in one picture. Seen here from left to right are the FN-6 Flying Crossbow from China, Anza from Pakistan and Russia's Igla ("Needle") man-portable air defence system. The ATM also possesses the twin-Igla Djigit launcher. Acquisition of sizeable numbers of MANPADS puts low flying warplanes and troop-carrying helicopters at risk in areas where Malaysian ground forces are trained, organised, armed and supported to conduct air denial missions. PAC paras riding Honda XR 250 scrambler bikes are taught to employ SAMbush tactics where potential landing sites are ringed by fast moving teams armed with Anza MANPADS.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Guide to Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) new digital camouflage combat uniform

Paratroopers from the Pasukan Atugerak Cepat (PAC, Rapid Deployment Force) in the Malaysian Army Number 5 with the new digital camouflage pattern (front view).

Malaysian Army Number 5 uniform with the new digital camouflage pattern (rear view)

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The Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia, ATM) 80th Anniversary Parade on 21 September 2013 gave military buffs an opportunity to view and examine the new camouflage pattern at close range.

Selected Malaysian Army ground units donned the new digital pattern camouflage for the first time at the parade.

The digital pattern camouflage is known by the Malaysian Army as the Fabrik Celoreng Corak Digital Tentera Darat. It replaces the "Tiger stripe" camouflage pattern, known locally as the Baju Celoreng Harimau Belang, which has been the standard camouflage pattern since the 1990s. Please see above image for a comparison of the Celoreng Corak Digital digital pattern uniform and the Harimau Belang pattern it is replacing.

The ATM camouflage uniform has the same design as the current uniform, which is called the Nombor 5 by the Malaysian military. The fabric is understood to be made up of 65% ripstop cotton and 35% polyester.

Colour scheme
Senang Diri understands that detailed studies were conducted at a few locations, with different terrain, to define the geographical and operational requirements for the new camouflage pattern.

Following these field trials, the ATM identified the type and mix of colours for its new camouflage. These are:
Green (Hijau): 40%
Beige (Baige): 30%
Chocolate (Coklat): 25%
Dark Blue (Biru Gelap): 5%

Four criteria are said to spell out specifications for the new No.5. These are as follows:
* The need for the uniform fabric to be durable (Tahan Lasak)
* Comfort for the wearer (Keselesaan Pemakaian)
* Relevance to the ATM's combat environment
* Maximum concealment (Penyamaran maksima)

It is understood that the pattern is made up of a combination of digital pixelated patterns 5mm by 3mm which are broken up at random and fused again using the four colours in the combinations mentioned above. This gives a "Fractal Solution" effect which provides the basis for a good camouflage pattern tailored for the ATM's specific operational environment.

The ATM is said to be planning to issue uniforms with digital pixelated patterns to the Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Malaysian Air Force.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) displays Russian missiles at Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade

Royal Malaysian Air Force Kh-29TE air-to-ground missile

The missile warload for Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Sukhoi Su-30MKM warplanes went on show this morning, giving the public what is believed to be their first look at these missiles in RMAF service.

These missiles made their public debut at the Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade:
* Kh-29TE air-to-ground missile. NATO reporting name AS-14 Kedge. Range: 10km to 30km

* Kh-31P supersonic anti-radiation missile. NATO reporting name AS-17 Krypton. Range: 110km.

* Kh-59ME air-to-ground missile. NATO reporting name AS-13 Kingbolt. Range: 200km.

The missiles were carried on flat bed trailers as part of the RMAF contingent. Also shown were American-made missiles such as the Harpoon, Sidewinder and Sparrow.

The Russian-made ordnance are game changers for the RMAF as they allow its Su-30MKMs to hit targets from long-range and at ingress speeds far higher than that of comparable western munitions. The long reach of these missiles puts the RMAF pilots and WSOs out of the defensive envelope of most surface-to-air missile systems.

The supersonic Kh-31P anti-radiation missiles, in particular, could potentially unhinge air defence systems that rely on radars to scan the airspace and guide SAMs to their targets.

The RMAF is not known to have publicised live-firing trials of these missiles.

The pictures posted here indicate how close the MAF allowed this blog to approach the parade and Mobile Column. Many thanks for the courtesy this morning.

Kh-31P anti-radiation missile, a supersonic radar killer.

Kh-59ME air-to-ground missile

Malaysian Armed Forces marks 80th anniversary with parade and display of military might in Kuala Lumpur

Salute: Malaysian PT-91M main battle tanks dip their 125mm guns in salute to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the Malaysian military's top brass at the Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade.

The sharp end of the Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia) went on show this morning in the heart of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, with a tri-Service parade to mark the Malaysian military's 80th anniversary.

Among the parade highlights was a photocall (above) by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak with the Malaysian Army's Kombat Tim Striker (PT-91M MBTs, Stormer APCs and Malaysian infantry), the display of Russian air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance used by the Sukhoi Su-30MKM warplanes and the much anticipated unveiling of the Number 5 uniform in the digitised camouflage pattern.

We got into position from 6:30am, well in time for the parade which was due to commence from 8am.

As per SOP for these sort of events, the guiding principle was to get as close to the action as possible and from the seat in the gallery, yours truly slowly inched towards the VVIP stand and the parade route.

The pictures and stories which will be released in due course will show how close is close.

On show: With Malaysian Army scouts from Kombat Tim Striker. Four PT-91M MBTs and two Stormer APCs made their appearance in the digitised camouflage scheme. The opportunity to experience firsthand how the Malaysian Armed Forces executes a parade and conducts engagement activities with the Rakyat was invaluable.

An additional treat (for me at least) was the presence of ATM staff cars. This included 10 MID's Malaysian counterpart, Z1, which was photographed this morning.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade

Am now in Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary parade, which marches off at 0800 hrs Hotel tomorrow at Dataran Merdeka.

Had a nice time watching the MAF set up shop this afternoon and wandered around the vehicle parking lot. :-)

Trip report will follow in due course.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to add Aster 30 to integrated air defence system

What's missing?: Netizens familiar with the Republic of Singapore Air Force air defence shield may notice that a long-serving Ground Based Air Defence system is not in the diagram above. Guess which one.

Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on Relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base

Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence, click here

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen: Madam Speaker, the member Mr Lim Wee Kiak has asked a highly relevant question as the relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase (PLAB) must never compromise the ability of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to safeguard Singapore's security and sovereignty.
Indeed, this was the over-riding and primary consideration when MINDEF and the SAF studied the possibility of relocating PLAB. We were mindful that the current capabilities of the RSAF were achieved over four decades and remain critical to protect a small country like Singapore which lacks strategic depth.
The RSAF's superior air defence and strike capabilities have been built up through prudent and steady investments of resources and land allocation for our defence needs. And over the years, we have acquired, adapted and developed advanced technologies and state-of-the-art platforms to provide more accurate and timely early warning and situational awareness of potential threats. We will continue to invest in these capabilities.
In particular, the RSAF is putting into place a state-of-art multi-layered Island Air Defence System to provide a comprehensive shield protecting Singapore against airborne threats. This includes at the outer perimeter, our existing Gulfstream-550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft, which replaced our E2C in 2012, and significantly enhanced our early warning and air defence capabilities through its better endurance and longer range of detection.
I would like to announce today that the SAF will also be acquiring the ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile System. This missile defence system against airborne threats is used by advanced militaries such as France and Italy. The ASTER-30's capabilities are many times more potent than our current I-HAWK ground-based air defence system. The ASTER will allow us to engage multiple threats simultaneously and from a longer distance. It will complement the SPYDER, which we have already operationalised - it is a mobile, shorter-range, quick reaction ground-based air defence system - and together, they will provide a layered air defence shield.
The RSAF will also be looking to upgrade its fighter fleet. We plan to upgrade our F-16s to modernise their avionics and extend their lifespan. Our F-15SGs were recently acquired and have proven themselves in recent multilateral military exercises with advanced Air Forces like those from the US and Australia during Exercise Cope Tiger and Exercise Pitch Black. Also, as announced at the Committee of Supply in March this year, we are evaluating the suitability of advanced multi-role F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in meeting our long-term security needs to further modernise our fighter fleet and replace our older aircraft.
These advanced capabilities that I have mentioned have been built up through steady defence investments over the years, and have now provided the confidence for MINDEF and the SAF to consider relocating PLAB in the long term to meet national development needs.
In 2011, MINDEF and the SAF conducted a thorough assessment of our capabilities and security threats for the long term. We satisfied ourselves that our security would not be compromised and that relocation of PLAB could take place after existing airbases at Changi East (CAB) and Tengah (TAB) have been expanded to accommodate relocated assets and facilities. 
The expansion of Changi Air Base and Tengah Air Base will be necessary to house relocated fighter and support squadrons as well as accommodate facilities currently housed in PLAB. As members would recognise, this undertaking is complex but the RSAF will use this opportunity to build anew through innovative operational concepts and advanced airbase designs, and this will enhance the effectiveness and resilience of our air bases. Newly expanded and improved airbases together with advanced fighter fleets protected by a multi-layered air defence shield will ensure that the RSAF maintains its deterrent edge and continues to be an effective and formidable Air Force.
PLAB's relocation will be a long-term and complex undertaking. MINDEF will be working closely with MND on the detailed planning and implementation of the relocation over the next two decades. Thank you.
* This is MINDEF's transcript of Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen's reply to the oral parliamentary query on 8 Apr 2013. The official record of the Singapore Parliament Report can be found on the parliament website:

Analysis of the Parliamentary reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen
Today's announcement that Singapore would replace its Improved Hawk (I-HAWK) surface-to-air missiles with the Aster 30 has overshadowed larger force modernisation projects for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

Notable among these is the yet-unanswered question of where the RSAF's long-serving 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns have gone and what - if anything - will replace this low-level air defence system.

The 35mm Oerlikons are conspicuous by their absence in the schematic above, which has inserted the contribution that Aster 30s will add to Singapore's integrated air defence system when the system has yet to arrive.

The statement in Parliament (see above) by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, outlines several big ticket RSAF initiatives. The staff officer(s) who drafted the speech did a good job sketching the strategic basis for a strong and evolving Third Generation RSAF ("lacks strategic depth", "early warning", "situational awareness", "multi-layered").

But the cherry on the cake would have been small mention - just a one liner would suffice - that the RSAF is marking its 45th anniversary this year. It would have reminded Singaporeans how far we have come in the past decades. The Parliamentary statement is, afterall, a major roadmap of the RSAF's future emphasis and direction.

Major projects outlined by the Defence Minister include:
* A planned upgrade for the RSAF's Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighter fleet. As the F-16 is the most numerous fighter type in the RSAF's inventory, the mid-life upgrade for our F-16s could turn out to be the biggest upgrade ever undertaken by the RSAF since the 1980s era A-4 Super Skyhawk project.

The scope and scale of the work for the RSAF Air Combat Command - AESA radar, black boxes for integrating F-16s into the Singapore Armed Forces battlenet - is likely to generate keen interests among defence players for a piece of the action.

The announcement is timely as organisers of next year's Singapore Airshow 2014 go into the last mile to persuade aerospace and defence companies to set up shop at the biennial airshow.

* Expansion of Changi Air Base and Tengah Air Base. Base infrastructure is set to grow at Tengah - presently the RSAF's largest fighter base - while a new Changi Air Base (East) will rise from a greenfield site at the future Changi Airport Runway 4, outside Changi Naval Base.

Having the RSAF give up Paya Lebar Air Base will release military airspace west of Changi Airport's Runway 1. The net effect of this enormous volume of airspace would allow Changi to cope with increased air traffic in decades to come.

Compared to warplanes and combat helicopters, air bases are unsexy and do not stir one's loins in the same way as an F-15SG Strike Eagle thundering off WSAP on full reheat.

But the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF planners understand why the RSAF stood up its Air Power Generation Command in the first place. Today's statement underlines Singapore's willingness to follow through with investments needed to generate and sustain air power.

* And now back to the MBDA Aster 30s. English language grammar specialists - and there are a good number who visit this site - would recognise that Dr Ng used the future tense for describing the Aster 30 purchase. 

He said:" I would like to announce today that the SAF will also be acquiring the ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile System. This missile defence system against airborne threats is used by advanced militaries such as France and Italy. The ASTER-30's capabilities are many times more potent than our current I-HAWK ground-based air defence system. The ASTER will allow us to engage multiple threats simultaneously and from a longer distance."

His statement indicates that the I-HAWKS will remain in service in the interim (a no-brainer), as no time frame was mentioned for the Aster 30s to take over from the I-HAWKS.

The 70-km range Aster 30s will give the RSAF Air Defence and Operations Command (ADOC) the reach and killing power to enlarge the sphere of contested airspace around Singapore. To this Ground Based Air Defence System, one might add the contribution of the Republic of Singapore Navy's Aster 15s - a Sea Based Air Defence System? - which could further extend the outer edge of ADOC's range rings.

When the Aster 30s turn operational, a decision to add the squadron to the Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) maintained by forces from Australia, Great Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) is likely to boost air defence coverage of peninsular Malaysia.   

When one uses today's statement to telescope RSAF capabilities into the future, what one sees is a determined effort by our defence planners to make investments that will give the RSAF the numbers, the reach, the sustainability, lethality and technological edge that represent the air force's contribution to deterrence.

It is indeed encouraging to note that our defence planners have thus far steered clear of buying trophy armaments that look good in a flypast, positively spiffy on parade, but have little fighting value.

We fight as a system. And the system of systems that the future RSAF will command should be a sight to behold. 

You may also like:
RSAF I-HAWKS mark 30th anniversary in 2012. Click here

RSAF marks 45th anniversary with parade at Tengah Air Base. Click here

Alert Always: Israel's Iron Dome. Click here

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Alert Amber with the Singapore Army's 76th Singapore Infantry Brigade (76 SIB)

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At a Singapore Armed Forces Mobilisation & Equipping Centre, 14 September 2013: Just hours after an Open Mobilisation Exercise (Mobex) was activated and with 3,000 citizen soldiers responding to their call to arms, the In-processing counters tasked to receive the mobilised brigade have no customers.

It is Alert Amber for the Singapore Army's 76th Singapore Infantry Brigade (76 SIB), activated using code words Moon Light, Hard Work, Bronze Medal and Pop Corn. So where is everybody?

The counters where Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) register their presence electronically resemble the line of check-in counters at Changi Airport's departure terminal - wired up for business-like speed and efficiency to issue NSmen their Mobilisation Card in a minute or less. Queue poles slice the waiting area in front of the In-processing counters into neat lanes where NSmen wait their turn.

But rush hour is evidently over and there's not a soul waiting to be served.

Amid the lull, in comes Second Minister for Defence (2M), Chan Chun Sing, for a look-see with parliamentarians and Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Permanent Secretary, Chan Yeng Kit, accompanied by a comet trail of senior officers led by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, Chief of Army, Major-General Ravinder Singh and almost every Key Appointment Holder you can think of in the Singapore Army's top echelon. So counter staff try to look busy as they explain the role of the In-processing counters to 2M and his entourage.

Around us, there's a hum of activity as NSmen grouped into their respective battalions raise the readiness level of their units from a peacetime to a ready-to-deploy posture.

This involves a whole spectrum of Force Preparation activities such as retrieving war materiel like guns and ammo from storage, and getting over a hundred vehicles mission-ready by fitting these with communications gear and heavy weapons.

One does not have to see Headquarters 76 SIB's bar chart of manpower statistics to realise that a good number of NSmen are present and accounted for.

It was encouraging to see the turnout and sense of duty demonstrated by the NSmen as the Mobex unfolded. For those interested, activities 76 SIB NSmen performed are listed in the February 2013 edition of Army News and the March 2013 issue of Pioneer magazine.

What impressed during the trip behind the fenceline of a mobilisation centre were inferences, drawn from random observations, that signaled the SAF can mobilise, arm and deploy NS units more rapidly than before.

Compared to mobilisations of yesteryear which I had seen and used a baseline reference point, Singapore's practice of getting its citizen soldiers armed and mission-ready at a designated Mobilisation & Equipping Centre (MEC) speeds up the tempo of mobilisation activities.

The net result, as revealed by 2M yesterday, is a reduction in time taken to mobilise and deploy NS units for operations. The actual time needed is a closely-guarded trade secret. But the SAF has said it has shaved hours off the 10 to 12 hours that NS units once needed to move from a peacetime to mission-ready profile under Alert Amber.

The things that caught one's attention during the 76 SIB Mobex include:

* The instruction for visitors to leave all mobile comms behind before we toured the ammo distribution point. Mentioned during the pre-departure brief, this made it abundantly clear that live ammo - including electronically fused munitions - had been drawn from the ammo stockpile for the exercise. The processes, clearances, escort and effort needed to move a brigade's worth of live ammunition in Singapore in peacetime are likely to be immense.

Yesterday's exercise allowed SAF Ammunition Command (SAFAC) to put its drawer plans into action, allowing those in charge of the SAF's ammo to experience firsthand the large-scale distribution of war munitions to frontline units. SAFAC would then have to safely restock everything again, deep where the sun don't shine, while accounting for every single bullet, mortar bomb and guided munition.

Furthermore, the shop window of all types of ammunition used by infantry small arms and heavy weapons was intended to give NSmen confidence in the warfighting potential of their brigade.

The footprint of 76 SIB's war load, by the way, is surprisingly small yet deadly for the envisaged contact rate. While soaking in the sights, I found myself casting my mind back to an old assignment in the UAF and mentally calculating how many stacks could be packed per cavern (because of the high ceiling and almost unlimited floor loading). Standing under the blazing sun in the MEC, I felt soundly reassured while day dreaming. Our defence planners are indeed creative and have thoroughly transformed SAFAC's business model.

* By observing the throughput of various stations NSmen had to undergo during the Mobex, one could better understand the logic that underpins the MINDEF/SAF decision to introduce MECs. Simply put, MECs allow NS units to make better use of their time while sharpening their defence readiness.

Also invaluable was the chance to see the level of support provided by civilian entities in moving NSmen from one station to another. The seating capacity and number of buses employed was noteworthy, as was the lack of indications of bunching of NSmen at the stations we toured. The last point could have indicated some glitch in the manner in which 76 SIB NSmen were mustered for Soldiering Fundamentals activities (SAR-21 training, Combat Casualty Aid Refresher and Chemical Defence Refresher Training).

Indeed, one thought that sprang to mind watching the bus ferry services in action at the rifle range was NDP (National Day Parade) practices, which the SAF is intimately familiar with. Incidentally, a fair number of SAF personnel at yesterday's show-and-tell were from the NDP alumuni, including this year's NDP EXCO chairman.

The success/failure of the MEC concept is grounded on sound application military logistics principles. Those familiar with the complexity of NDP would realise the discipline needed to keep the show running according to the time sheet can also apply to the way MEC activities unfold. Click here for a related post on how the Republic of Singapore Air Force studied how a logistics company does its thing.

* Just as one had to observe the SAF to draw inferences, the same could be said of NSmen observing 2M's entourage. What looked like a mass of gawking civilians to casual observers actually comprised representatives from every MINDEF/SAF platform tasked with engaging Singaporeans on defence and security matters.

This included the  Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) on Defence & Foreign Affairs, Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) and Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS). Observers familiar with the mandate of these respective bodies would realise they complement and support one another while reaching out to Singaporeans to listen to and act upon their feedback.

The look behind the fenceline of an MEC provided telling and reassuring indications of how our Mobex system has improved.

When I informed the 90 cents newspaper that I was impressed, I was well aware this is a word I use sparingly and only in justifiable circumstances.

The opinion and views in this blog post are mine alone and do not reflect the official view of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD).

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Malaysian Armed Forces to stage massive parade in KL on 21 Sep to mark 80th Anniversary

[Edit: Amended the march off time to 8am in the 3rd par. Thanks Dzirhan.]

A military parade involving some 8,000 warfighters and combat vehicles in a new, digitised camouflage pattern will be held next Saturday (21 September 2013) in the heart of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Held to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia) on the first weekend after Hari Angkatan Tentera (Malaysian Armed Forces Day on 16 September), the tri-Service event promises to be bigger than the Malaysian Army Day parade held earlier this year in Port Dickson.

The parade is expected to march off from 8am on Saturday 21 September, with ATM battalions led by their own military bands. Thousands of troops will be trailed closely by a Mobile Column comprising a sizeable number of ATM war machines. The ground elements will be crowned by a low level flypast of Royal Malaysian Air Force warplanes and Royal Malaysian Navy helicopters.

Spectators will be treated to a static display of ATM equipment after the parade is over.

With a week to go before showtime, Malaysian defence enthusiasts are abuzz about new equipment that their country's armed forces may display for the first time.

Credit: Mymil forum

An image of an Adnan infantry fighting vehicle in fresh warpaint has been circulating among Malaysian military enthusiasts on the MyMil website. This shows a vehicle painted in a four colour camouflage scheme that appears to be an upsized version of the new ATM Number 5 camouflage uniform. The colours used appear to be the same as those found on the current Harimau (Tiger stripe) pattern.

Credit: Mymil forum

The new No. 5 is expected to make its debut next Saturday when the parade marches off at Merdeka Square in KL.

More information on the ATM 80th Anniversary Parade will be released from this weekend onwards after Malaysia's PAT chairs a press conference.

The newsflow is timed to build up awareness and anticipation of the Malaysian military's biggest show of force in years.

This blog will be in Kuala Lumpur next week to celebrate the occasion with the ATM fan club.

With grateful thanks to Kuala Lumpur-based defence journalist Dzirhan Mahadzir for keeping us in the picture and Malaysian military enthusiasts from the Mymil forum for images of the new camouflage patterns. Ta'at Setia!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Defence Information Management in the Internet age: Online presence can help MINDEF/SAF reach out to a wider audience

Free tickets to a major tourist attraction in our first contest, at the conclusion to this blog post.

For Singaporeans who served National Service before mobile telecommunication devices became commonplace, downtime was spent chatting with one another on any topic under the sun (described in fragrant Singlish as "talking cock")  or catching some Zzzs. The 1977 painting by Ho Kok Hoe, titled Conversation, above artfully captures the moment.

Face time that citizen soldiers from the First and Second Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) invested in one another often resulted in firm friendships that spanned decades.

The contribution such long-lasting ties made to camaraderie and unit esprit may well be imagined, as soldiers who were familiar with one another's personal strengths and foibles might be expected to work together better as a team, running the extra mile with and for one another.

The SAF has indeed recorded many instances where full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) or Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) willingly stepped forward to put in extra time with their respective units, just to be with those they grew up with while serving NS.

These days, downtime might look like this:

The drop in face time among today's NSFs should be obvious to anyone who has spent time observing how our fellow citizens interact with one another while off duty.

The penchant for youngsters to gravitate towards electronic games or plug into cyberspace at every given opportunity doesn't necessarily mean that ties among them are any weaker than NSFs who served Singapore in the pre-handphone era.

Indeed, one could argue that today's NSFs establish face time in a different way as opportunities for interaction among such NSFs using social media can take place anywhere, anytime and with anyone (see the conclusion to this post). This compares to the pre-handphone generation where face time ceased the moment cohesion activities or unit outings ended.

Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF officers tasked to cascade defence information would doubtless have recognised the need for, and relevance of, online media platforms as part of their publicity plans.

If you look at the glass as being half full, this means that conversations with NSFs and NSmen can be sustained far longer and in more creative ways that cultivate stronger mindshare than the previous method of having a conducting officer stand in front of the men to rattle off the key points.

In addition, a wider audience can be addressed. This includes families, friends and employers of citizen soldiers, whose awareness of, and support for, defence activities are integral to raising and sustaining commitment to defending Singapore.

To be sure, command presence from establishing face time with the men is still vital. But the point is that the interaction can continue on social media, should the SAF's Services make the effort to engage their audience in the online world where youngsters tend to spend their time in. These could include platforms like Facebook pages for the respective Services, though one should always be mindful that the sphere of influence in social media extends way beyond Facebook alone.

The potential is tremendous, if face time in the real world is complemented by an adaptive online media plan that reaches out to tech-savvy NSFs and NSmen in new and exciting ways.

Tapping on online platforms can extend one's reach to a new audience, erstwhile strangers, whom one might otherwise not get the opportunity to meet and greet in person.

To underscore this point about reaching out to a new audience, this blog will sponsor two tickets to Universal Studios Singapore OR the S.E.A. Aquarium OR Adventure Cove Waterpark (your choice) to the first of the four anonymous NSFs in the picture (not the painting!) above, whose faces are to the camera and whose name tags are visible, who contacts me via email. The first one to respond gets the two tickets. In your email, tell me where the picture was taken and what you were doing there.

Monday, September 2, 2013

National Day Rally announcement on the closure of Paya Lebar Air Base: A note to our future Chief of Air Force

Most blog postings address a wider audience.

This one has been written for just one individual currently commissioned as a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) officer, possibly in the late 20s age bracket, almost surely a scholar holding the rank of Captain 1 or Captain 2 or a newly-minted Major, whose personal ability, future potential and track record will make him or - and I say this with full conviction, her - the RSAF's Chief of Air Force (CAF) in the Year 2030.

CAF 2030 will preside over the drawdown of Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) 17 years from today.

The project will involve the relocation of fighter and transport squadrons resident at PLAB, specialised RSAF squadrons plus mission critical defence infrastructure like the munitions dump, to a new airbase built on reclaimed land outside the present Changi Naval Base (CNB).

To the officer destined to be RSAF Chief of Air Force in the Year 2030:
As a young officer, the 17 years of lead time before PLAB units move to the new Changi Air Base (East) may seem like a long and comfortable time horizon.

In reality, that lead time will give your present HQ RSAF just ample time to help shape perceptions as the Air Force you will one day lead takes on its biggest effort to move house.

Even as you trust that the organisation knows how to plan for the future, your career trajectory in coming years should keep in mind the need for, and importance of, shaping perceptions of your internal and external audience. These thought-drivers are intended to help you understand the situation better:

1. We are guessing, but the announcement made during the National Day Rally 2013 may have been preceded by years of planning by HQ RSAF. Indeed, the RSAF officer who could be most familiar with the genesis of PLAB's closure may be your current Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng.

You may, someday, like to acquaint yourself with the project LG Ng helmed when he was Head Air Plans which touched on this topic and investigated the downstream repercussions on RSAF mission readiness in some detail.

This was back in the late 1990s. Yes, your Air Force plans long term. So should you because your predecessors set the bar high.

2. Armed with the background and strategic justification behind the proposal, you should be better able to articulate why PLAB's closure is in Singapore's national interest to two main audience groups.

These are:
a) Your internal audience, which comprises several subsets:
i) RSAF personnel who need to be convinced that the Air Force's operational readiness is not compromised.

ii) Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel from the other Services who need similar assurance, knowing that these individuals (unlike RSAF personnel) will assess the situation without baseline knowledge of air ops. In the case of some army or navy personnel who work in silos even in 2030, poor awareness of the Air Force will make speaking to them as challenging as reaching out to civilians. This means your internal comms plan must be crafted with asymmetry of domain knowledge in mind.

b) Your external audience comprises Singapore residents outside MINDEF/SAF, who are the target audience for activities which foster Commitment to Defence.

Remember that by 2030, Singapore's aerospace sector would have risen to new heights, thanks to the enlarged Changi Airport and supporting industries.The challenge of attracting young Singaporeans to join the RSAF will make it imperative that youngsters in 2030 view the RSAF as a credible, First Class Air Force and therefore, an employer of choice. You would appreciate that these points are not mutually exclusive. Building mindshare that the optimisation of land use at a higher, national level, will not compromise lower level interests (i.e. force generation by RSAF 2030) will take a sustained, strategic public relations campaign. But more on that later.

c) The foreign audience - our friends and frenemies - will attempt to draw inferences from PLAB's impending closure to assess how it may affect their country's national interests and defence posture. They too need to understand that the ability of RSAF 2030 to generate and sustain air power needed to shape and dominate the future battlefield through decisive capability overmatch will remain unruffled with the PLAB drawdown. This aspect must be handled astutely or Singapore's deterrence posture may be compromised.

3. Help the RSAF maximise positive PR mileage from the drawdown. Our Air Force's tireless effort to put Singapore's interests first are poorly appreciated by Singaporeans. Even before Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the RSAF would give up PLAB for national development, Air Force planners had contributed to better land use by releasing the TACAN height template from PLAB to Changi Air Base, thereby allowing taller commercial buildings to dominate the skyline in the Central Business District and in Marina South. This was because the TACAN template's relocation from PLAB removed height restrictions that previously shackled land use optimisation.

TACAN is not easy to explain. The PLAB closure will be visually more impactful, easier to see. But plan your PR campaign in totality so as not to short change HQ RSAF. This means you must be self-aware, so start by asking the right questions as a young officer.

4. With forward planning - of which RSAF has demonstrated (see S/no. 1 and 3 above) - the ability of RSAF 2030 to have resilient base infrastructure that can soak up an initial first strike and respond in full measure should be beyond doubt.

The guiding principles for protecting air power include elements such as camouflage, concealment, passive defences and dispersion. We are guessing that this led to the 1st Gen and 2nd Gen RSAF having around 40 air platforms per base from the total strength of around 200 air platforms across five principal airbases. As the number of air platforms (manned) falls in the 3rd Gen RSAF, that dispersal ratio will still hold even with four principal bases.

Keeping our air assets dispersed while improved ground sensors and reconnaissance assets in LEO adds to our sense-making ability that should give the RSAF a level of early warning unimagined in today's context.

Bear in mind RSAF 2030 should be able to call upon passive (earthworks and hardened structures) as well as active defences. The latter buys the RSAF time to respond and should contribute immeasurably to the survivability of base infrastructure. Make the effort to understand GBAD in some detail, particularly active defence technology, even though you may wear a pilot's wings.

And as defence science matures, the possibility that RSAF strike packages may one day combine manned fighters with UCAVs, which are less runway dependent, should serve as interesting food for thought. Bear these points in mind as you work towards earning your first "star".

5. Use that head start wisely. The full-time National Servicemen who will enlist in 2030 at age 18 were born last year. This leaves you with an enviable advantage if a strategic PR campaign is planned and phased in at intended intervals.

For instance, your colleagues should recommend touchpoints at primary, secondary and JC level/polytechnic which aim to build-up the future NSF's domain knowledge of the RSAF. This can be done incrementally as the student progresses through Singapore's school system. Students are a captive audience which are a PR professional's dream. If the campaign plan is applied intelligently, the NSFs of 2030 should enlist fully aware that the SAF they serve has an Air Force which is at the top of its game - with or without PLAB.

Likewise, outreach for NSmen and future enlistees can be tiered and initiated at strategic time intervals well before the PLAB drawdown so that in 17 years' time, the narrative can be elevated to a higher level of discussion and not remain mired in the five cents/10 cents issues of whether the RSAF did the right thing.

Check Six!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) marks 45th anniversary with parade at Tengah Air Base

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) held its 45th Anniversary Parade at Tengah Air Base (TAB) this morning to mark RSAF Day, which is today, with marching contingents framed by RSAF war machines of all types.

Notable by its absence was one long-serving RSAF weapon: the 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns from 160 Squadron which appear to have lost their place of honour at the milestone parade with no replacement announced. :-)

The 35mm Oerlikon's no-show was more than made up by the parade backdrop - imagine a line-up wall-to-wall RSAF warplanes, combat helicopters, UAVs and air defence systems for engaging all manner of air threats and for executing a full spectrum of missions. This backdrop comprised one example of every major weapon type in the RSAF's inventory, displayed fully armed and hand-polished for review by Chief of Air Force Major-General Hoo Cher Mou and the RSAF top guns.

A low level flypast (done twice!) by F-15SG Strike Eagles and F-16D+s may have helped rouse residents in western Singapore enjoying their Sunday morning snooze to the sound of freedom while air force vehicles that paraded as a Mobile Column were a much anticipated point of interest. *grin* (Click here for the guide to MID number plates)

Some takeaways from the event:
1. It was evident that older machines such as the C-130 Hercules tactical transport and Super Puma medium-left helicopters had been upgraded to keep them fighting fit. With ample unused airframe flying hours, upgrades such as the addition of defensive aids should enhance platform survivability in contested airspace.

2. The total absence of trainers served as a thought-driver (at least to me) which points to how Singapore's air force has overcome airspace constraints by spreading its training network worldwide, with flying training done unilaterally or in concert with established air arms.

3. Turning to heartware, the strong turnout by community leaders and students from the Youth Flying Club is a positive indication that the RSAF does not organise a parade for the sake of staging one, but has outreach with the community apparently embedded as part of the whole parade planning process. It shows the air force understands links with the community are key to gaining people's support/understanding for air force activities, particularly flying activities whose noise level and duration can test the patience and tolerance of non aviation-inclined Singaporeans.

4. Still on heartware, CAF mentioned that the RSAF will launch is Facebook page in due course. This may signal a sustained effort is underway to inform and educate netizens about RSAF activities. Social media is not all Facebook, as media professionals would know, so one hopes AOD planners will eventually add more tools to the RSAF's social media outreach options in addition to Facebook.

5. And here's a snippet that may interest collectors of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) badges and paraphernalia. The RSAF will soon issue unit patches for the left upper sleeve of their blue Number 4 fatigues.

Finally, Happy RSAF Day to all RSAF personnel. Many thanks to all who made the RSAF 45th Anniversary Parade unfold smoothly and to AOD for allowing the access.