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).


Anonymous said...

SAF 264 will ensure good presence, looming war will see many of the guys you saw at the causeway, maybe the systems that inform SAF of exit notification might even crash at the onslaugh.

Shawn said...

Isn't it spelled materiel and not material, seeing that this post specifically references munitions?

David Boey said...

Dear Shawn,
You are right. The amendment has been made.

Corrections also made to SOFUN and CSNS.

Many thanks to all the sharp eyed readers.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Acquisition of Aster 30 announced.

Anonymous said...


After I saw the online CNA report on Aster 30, I *thought* I saw the scroll on CNA the broadcast on the RSAF upgrading its SAMs and *fighters*. Was I mistaken? I didn't see an an online report on the fighters part.

I don't think it's coincidental that they announced this on LKY's birthday. What could be the reason for doing so?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn said...

No worries David.

To be honest, as someone who was initially skeptical of the SAF's capabilities before I enlisted, I think my view has changed quite a bit. While I'm still not entirely convinced of our ability to win decisively, I'm nonetheless impressed by how forward thinking our Armed Forces are.

Just think of the recently completed MMRC - I'm not sure how many other militaries actually have facilities like that presented in the MMRC. More importantly though, it frees up more land for other resources, and as we have all learnt from our NE lessons, well... Land is precious.

Another innovation that impressed me was mentioned in this post - the MEC concept. Streamlining the entire in-pro/out-pro process to such an extent couldn't have been easy, considering the amount of inertia that's present in the organisation (the antediluvian attitudes don't help either). Risk taking is not exactly encouraged after all, and many are content to stick with how things work right now. Existing directives and policies laid down by higher-ups don't help, and many don't challenge them – the higher-ups aren't usually receptive either. I believe that the team that carried this project through is truly impressive and I think many underestimate the amount of effort and thought put into it.

Looking forward, one can only hope that our future commanders, defence planners and importantly, our future politicians have the necessary backbone, wherewithal and foresight to continue innovating and implementing the necessary changes.

P.S. That's not to say I haven't seen the SAF fail in implementing new systems/concepts/etc. I think there are a number of examples of that happening too. Hopefully though, this number would go down.

David Boey said...

Dear Anonymous 9:17 PM,
The 16th of September also marks Hari Angkatan Tentera (Armed Forces Day) in Malaysia.

But I see no link - and I say this in all seriousness without any sarcasm.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...


I agree that there is no link between the announcement and Hari ATM. There is the possibility the announcement today was a birthday present for someone to was influential in the acquisition. Had there been no link, any number of other dates could have been chosen. For all the formality of stepping down from the cabinet, the extent of the man's influence is unknown but definitely substantial.

I do not view the Aster 30 as primarily enhancing the RSAF's already overwhelming capability against enemy aircraft. I see its value to Singapore and its major distinction over the Improved HAWK as providing a defensive as opposed to offensive capability against a neighbouring country's growing unguided rocket programme. It reduces the need to preemptively strike the rocket launch pads and TELs before they fire the first shot at vital installations.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if Aster 30 is in the league of Iron Dome. Iron Dome can handle land based rockets. I doubt Aster 30 can do this. It is meant to take down incoming aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistics missiles (if we are buying the right version).

David Boey said...

Dear Shawn,
Am glad you recognise the willingness to innovate does not inoculate the SAF - or any military for that matter - against failure.

Dear Anon 17 Sep 9:39 AM,
What if an Aster 30 user also has Iron Dome? *ponders*

Best regards,


singa auta said...

Dear Anon 10:29 pm,

You are a reflection of the typical Singaporean who sees the neighboring countries as enemies. Such a bad neighbor you are...

Anonymous said...

I think we are a very rude neighbour. The average Singaporean is condescending and self-righteous towards neighbouring countries and does not understand them. We know even our leaders (and yours) have said very pointed things.

But if you are Malaysian, we know we both talk big but are good neighbours who don't do each other any harm and enjoy mutual benefits. Including defence benefits. ;)

If you are not Malaysian, well, please stop burning your forests and please explain the purpose of developing surface-surface rockets with such a long range. Please note that Aster is a defensive system, it cannot be used to start a war. If the rockets are your right, Aster is even more our right.

FriendlyKawanYouBolehMakanAh? said...

First, Malaysia is not burning our own utan. Indonesia is.

Second we buy long range rocket because you buy so much powerful aircraft and have so many tanks.

Third Malaysia military size is a third of Singapore despite being slightly bigger countrywise.

You buy, we buy, but we always buy less.

So who is more aggressive I ask you?

Anonymous said...

Malaysia is not developing long range rockets. Indonesia is. If you are from Malaysia, better invest in Asters of your won.