Saturday, November 30, 2013

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights aerobatics team stage photo shoot over Singapore city

Residents over eastern Singapore had a sneak peak of precision flying by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights aerial display team when six F-16Cs in prominent red/white/black team colours, accompanied by an F-16D (in usual warpaint) possibly as a photo ship, flew low over the city skyline early Saturday morning.

The Black Knights team had a cloudless Saturday morning for their photo shoot. According to plane  spotters, the team formed up over RSAF Paya Lebar Air Base around 8:15am before heading southwards in tight formation.

Approaching the city from Paya Lebar Air Base, the six F-16Cs called smoke on about 8 km out and trailed a banner of smoke all the way to Singapore's iconic city skyline, with the chase plane in close contact.

Results of this morning's photo shoot could be intended for Black Knights publicity material.

The reformed Black Knights are due to make their public debut at next year's Singapore Airshow (11 to 16 February 2014).

Update: Image taken at around 11:38 Hotel, update posted at 11:45 Hotel
Black Knights back for another run past the city. White smoke trails. Here's a picture.

 Delta Chevron Flyby
Update: 16:42 Hotel. Video of Black Knights practice submitted by reader Raymond Lee KL. Filmed from Sengkang at around 11:40 Hotel almost directly under flight path. Note the faithful F-16D chase plane following the action at close range.
Chevron Roll

Many thanks to all plane spotters who contributed sighting reports this morning.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Visit to Muar

Fur ball: Kittens at play on the grounds of Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim. The one in front, an eager hunter, looked like a tiger cub. Note the kittens' playmate striking out like a fencer from right of frame while the rest of the pack are boxed in.

Hi everyone,
Am winding up a three-day visit to Muar - which isn't your usual touristy place.

Had a wonderful time poking around town and its surroundings on the road/estates leading to Melaka. :-)

To the people of Muar, thank you for the hospitality. Your town will feature heavily at the front and tail end of a report am working on.

Wet gap water obstacle Irrigation canal in an oil palm estate outside Muar.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Admin note: Capability demo

Dear All,
Am in the process of sourcing a compact digital camera with video function to cover a capability demonstration. It will take place overseas and will involve air and ground combat forces from an ASEAN country.

Have received several suggestions. Photo buffs, if you have something in mind which costs less than $500, is compact and rugged enough to withstand blast shock, please email me. The camera may not survive the trip, hence the low budget :)

Details will follow once embargo is lifted. TY


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Deal or no deal? Decision awaited on whether the F-35 will join the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)

Today's Straits Times report* headlined "S. Korea to buy 40 F-35 stealth fighters"' is a dress rehearsal for how the local media will describe the warplane if and when Singapore updates its fighter fleet.

If the Lockheed-Martin (LMCO) warplane is going to be touted by the Singaporean media as a "stealth fighter", one would hope our home audience of tax payers is discerning enough to know their war machines.

That's because in the world of low observable (aka "stealth") technology, there are stealth fighters and there are stealth fighters.

Clever marketing campaigns, below-the-radar lobbying and clueless newsrooms often conspire to upsell stealth wannabes as the real thing, when in reality the warplane falls short in the real world test of fighter jet versus integrated air defence system.

In the case of the LMCO F-35 Lightning II, design features such as its angular fuselage which make the fighter less observable have elevated the platform's status to that of a stealth fighter.

But what's linguistically correct may not pass muster in the eyes of discerning military buyers and knowledgeable defence scientists.

A warplane with low observable features does not magically transform into a stealth fighter just because one wishes it to. It would, for example, take an F-35 driver with boundless/misplaced optimism to fly against an island air defence system (like Singapore's) armed with current-day technology to deliver the miserable two bombs on target. If you wish, you could even pit an F-35 against an Su-30, like the ones they have up north, in a one-to-one gladiatorial contest and see if it can fly out again after stirring the hornet's nest.

That the F-35 has got short legs and a modest payload (to phrase it politely) counts against it. Ditto its uninspiring capabilities when pitted against current day dogfighters such as the F-16 or Su-30.

While the "stealth fighter" tagline is an instant conversation starter for defence buffs who are pro or anti-F-35, the stand first of the same article that said the warplane is a "costly jet" stands on firmer ground.

Hefty price tag
Even as the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and air warfare planners in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) mull over the shape, form and lethality of Singapore's future air power capability, there are segments of defence-aware Singaporeans who have expressed private misgivings about the F-35's purported flyaway cost.

In and around Bukit Gombak, the figure touted is in the region of US$200 million per plane.

Now, you can argue that Singapore's peace and security is priceless. But there are many ways to defend our skies and the sound of freedom need not thunder out of the nozzle of a F-35B.

Options include buying more Boeing F-15 Strike Eagles, with bar talk suggesting that Singapore can buy several top-end F-15s for the price of a single F-35B.

Looking in the years ahead, there are unmanned options the RSAF can consider and if you are part of this conversation, there's no need to elaborate.

To be sure, the vision of overcoming land constraints by putting frontline military aviation on surface platforms is alluring. From a force survivability and operational flexibility point of view, there are convincing arguments for having strike aircraft based off mainland Singapore. The scenarios projected are interesting and yes, Singapore must start somewhere if potential game-changers are to be added to the list of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) capability options.

However, Singapore's air warfare planners must be self-aware that tech infatuation is a malady that may afflict military minds subjected to LMCO's relentless marketing blitz to find and secure buyers for the costly fighter.

We must also remember that the aggressive push by the United States to grow the F-35 fraternity is made with its self interest in mind, as it fights to enlarge the pool of buyers to make it economically sensible to commence F-35 low-rate initial production.

High-low fighter force
Not mentioned in the article on South Korea's decision on the F-35 is its stablemate, the F-22 Raptor.

Air warfare professionals have noted that since the 1970s, the United States Air Force fighter fleet has been raised on a high-low concept, with a high performance fighter complemented by larger numbers of fighters with a more modest performance envelope.

The high-low mix was defined by the F-15s and F-16s. Not for nothing is the F-15SG described as Singapore's most capable fighter, even though in terms of product evolution, the F-15's product life cycle actually began years before that which led to the General Dynamics YF-16 lightweight fighter. The RSAF's present day order of battle which comprises F-15SGs and a large flock of three variants of the F-16 (we fly Southeast Asia's largest F-16 fleet) is the state-of-the-art that has been combat proven by the Israelis and is a combination also adopted by the South Koreans.

In theory, today's USAF sees itself fighting with a high-low mix comprising F-22s and F-35s.

The F-22 is not for sale, owing to its superior technology and low observable features that are said to give American fighter pilots  a winning edge against fifth generation fighter platforms. As far as stealth fighters go, the F-22 is the Real McCoy.

So countries which hanker for the F-35 are not in the same league, developmental cycle wise, as those which aspired to add the F-15 Eagle to their air force once upon a time in order to achieve the high-low mix. Countries that want the F-35 must realise they are chasing the "low" in the high-low mix as the F-22  is not for sale.

With the Singapore Airshow 2014 around the corner, you can bet LMCO will go great guns to tout the F-35 as the fighter for the future.

But with the F-22 - also made by LMCO - barred from its sales catalogue, Lockheed salesfolk have no option but to bet the farm on that costly fighter.

As for the Singapore media - so prone to calling every armoured vehicle a tank and every large warship a battleship - let's hope the defence writers can tell rhetoric from reality.

* The story on South Korea's decision on the F-35, plucked from wire agencies, could have been copy edited to sieve out the marketing fluff.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

National Service in Singapore: Things to bring on your first day and whether NSFs should be allowed to choose their vocation

One of the top questions Singaporean pre-enlistees have about National Service: What to bring on the first day of NS?*

If we cannot even address questions on what Maslow would define as basic needs of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), we as a society are some way from addressing higher level topics such as aspirational ones.

Decades after NS began in 1967, the general level of defence awareness among Singaporeans is - if you excuse the expression - piss poor.

More can and should be done to elevate the shortfall in defence awareness. But you would probably appreciate this would take time, resources and sustained effort to build and retain mindshare among future enlistees.

The idea of allowing pre-enlistees to pick their NS vocation is interesting and certainly worth debating. One assumes that the objective would be to keep NSFs better engaged - to use HR parlance - during their two years serving the Singapore Armed Forces or Home Team (or defence research lab... but let's not go there).

In a climate where there's equal awareness of NS opportunities, one can imagine a scenario where close to 20,000 Singaporean teens make reasoned, informed choices on how they would like to serve the SAF when they enlist as citizen soldiers.

Are we there yet? Far from it.

Take the Infantry Formation, the backbone of the Singapore Army, as an example. The green berets have different types of infantry battalions in their order of battle - regular infantry, protection of installation troops and other special-to-task infantry battalions that carry Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR) designations but perform a different role during operations.

We also have heliborne infantry, who come under the Guards Formation, and armoured infantry who come under Headquarters Armour.

Is one to assume that pre-enlistees can navigate the checklist of options entirely on their own?

Our teenage boys can certainly be educated about the SAF order of battle. And this exercise would involve working with individuals who want to make the most of their NS tenure. The unconvinced, disengaged or apathetic can choose to ignore the education blitz and allow the SAF's invisible hand to deploy them accordingly - as it has done for decades past.

Like all communication narratives, the strategic comms plan for this outreach would involve charting touchpoints as well as a realistic timeline for working with the target audience - future enlistees, their teachers as well as their parents/guardians.

In this regard, a multi-year effort that tiers information from baby steps upwards should do the job. For example, the National Education show (i.e. National Day Parade rehearsal) that Primary 5 students attend can be one formal touchpoint to inform and educate youngsters that we have an Army for land battles, Navy for fighting at sea and Air Force to protect our skies - it's as basic as that.

In later years, SAF open houses hosted by the respective Services can allow students to know the Singaporean military more intimately from Secondary 1 to 3. Such events cannot simply be excursions. There must be a deliberate programme to infuse teenagers with a deeper understanding of the SAF and Home Team units and build anticipation - not fear - about NS.

One more touchpoint should take place in Year 1 of junior college, Years 1 and 2 of polytechnic life and the first year of a NITEC student's journey with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). This would arm teenagers with a better understanding of SAF vocations by the time they have to choose their own fate.

Along the way, expectations can be managed by teaching students that while a best effort will be made with matching the NS posting with the pre-enlistee's top choice, not everyone will get their vocation of choice.

This in effect teaches a life skill of managing one's disappointment. As adults, we all have to endure situations where we may not get our house or apartment of choice, that perfect job, best boss, dearest colleagues or sweetest life  partner. It's a valuable skill learning to live with what we have and to roll with the blows.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF may also have situations where a willing buyer meets a willing seller, but the buyer wants out after discovering that the vocation is too tough or not as glamorous as they thought it would be. What then?

It should be apparent that the menu of NS vocations should be extended to pre-enlistees before Basic Military Training (BMT). Our NSFs have enough coping to do during their first weeks of military life without the added pressure of vocation choices.

Choice is one thing. Fitness level, attitude and performance demonstrated during BMT is quite another.

At a practical level, there will be situations where certain units may not be available for certain NSF intakes during the year. This situation would arise when an evergreen unit has not discharged its previous mono intake batch of NSFs. As there is no room at the inn, it goes without saying that NSFs for certain intakes may not be able to pick that unit but following cohorts will be able to do so. The cognoscenti sbould have little difficulty identifying these units and predicting their enlistment intake timetables. But will such information be open source? How would MINDEF/SAF explain this to NSFs without compromising operational security?

Once upon a time, when managing an internship programme that took in several hundred students annually, the question of whether internship candidates should be allowed to pick their posting in a theme park arose. Students felt some positions were more "glam" because the rides or uniforms were cool or had more girls. The youngsters thus tended to gravitate towards these popular positions.

Close consultation with teachers from all five polytechnics revealed that students would benefit more, in terms of academic skills, working experience and life skills, if their posting was left to the internship host. That is the approach adopted till this day and the Gen Ys and Linksters just have to suck it up.

Of course, this was backstopped with an all-out effort to inform and educate internship candidates as best we could, so everyone knew that the learning value from every posting was immense and that students would be given the chance to expand their learning during their 3 to 6 months with the company.

Alas, however much MINDEF/SAF aspires to incorporate a more consultative approach to the NS framework, one must always remember that NS will involve personal sacrifices.

Between a situation where pre-enlistees cannot choose their vocation and one where choice is offered, the one where you or your loved ones have a choice should be the preferred option.

But choices must be informed ones. And this starts with pre-enlistees knowing and accepting that choosing their NS vocation is vastly different from choosing a CCA.

A better way of doing NS should never result in a softer NS.

* Things to bring on your first day of enlistment

Identity card
Pen and notebook, possibly in a pencil case.
Small ruler
Black marker (to mark personal items)
Tooth brush, tooth paste
Face wash
Spare spectacles, screwdriver for specs
Spectacle band
Nail clipper with file
Talcum powder in small container
Shaver plus spare blades
Extra underwear
T-shirt and shorts for sleeping.
Clothes hangers (the hard plastic type will break. I used aluminium clothes hangers. About four to six should suffice)
Bar of soap, spare soap and soap box for standby bed
Alarm clock (battery operated)
Orange cloth
Petty cash for canteen breaks
SAF-compliant handphone with spare battery
Washing powder and brush
Plastic bag (supermarket type) for soiled clothing before book out

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bullets or batteries? Which would you choose?

This is the second in a series of blog entries that will lead to something in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned for more...

Given a choice between lugging more bullets or batteries into battle, which would it be?

As the Singaporean warfighter relies ever more on electronic devices to observe the battlespace, exchange information and deal with the nasties, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) must decide how the combat load for its warfighters should be configured for our specific operational requirements.

In past decades, sustaining the combat potential of Singapore Army ground forces involved making tradeoffs between ammunition, water and combat rations (i.e. food).

Working out the combat load
The weight penalty that an average Singaporean soldier can carry is finite. Most medical practitioners would prescribed it as a percentage of one's body weight rather than an absolute figure, which would be less meaningful as soldiers come in all shapes and sizes - though soldiers can be organised into fighting units with approximately the same fitness level.

Furthermore, recommendations for western armies may not apply to the SAF as western soldiers tend to be taller and heavier than Asians. This means Headquarters Medical Corps must spearhead data collection that would help defence planners figure out how much a Singapore soldier can carry into operations.  In this regard, HQMC has had decades of enlistment records to work on, which would indicate how successive cohorts of conscripts have grown in height and weight since National Service began in 1967.[Note: A lead indicator would be the Ministry of Education as the MOE would know how the sizes of desks and chairs and uniform sizes for primary school students have increased in past decades.]

So the rule of thumb of carrying small arms ammunition (i.e. bullets) for 1.5x contact rate applies to most infantry units. Add personal items like the skeleton battle order (SBO) with two water bottles (now replaced by the load bearing vest or LBV), helmet and boots and the weight penalty increases appreciably.

In today's Singapore Army, the infantry section - the smallest tactical unit in the Army - is better connected to higher echelons of command thanks to various electronic devices linked to the Battlefield Management System.

The information furnished - Blue Force Tracking, Call For Fire etc - is noteworthy.

In theory, a Singapore Army infantry section at the very edge of the frontline can call down firepower from an impressive array of shooters, not just  those organic to their unit like the Company Marksman but options provided by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) or Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) should beach landings require naval gunfire support. In other words, the soldier really has the firepower of the SAF in his or her backpack.

The information moves both ways: targets located by the Section can be relayed upstream to be added to the realtime ground situation picture compiled by higher command. The individual soldiers therefore serve as sensors in the sensor to shooter loop.

But such devices must get their juice from somewhere, especially outfield far from the nearest power socket.

The hypothetical choice between bullets and batteries is not as stark in reality as it may seem.

Singaporean defence scientists have looked at using the soldier's locomotion as a source of energy, with power tapped from every step a soldier takes.

Turning to renewable energy by using solar cells would, theoretically, cut down one's reliance on stored energy in the form of batteries.[How one would charge the solar cells during a monsoon or in the shaded sanctuary of a secondary forest is a point to consider.]

Using technology to invent better batteries is another option. This would allow soldiers to carry batteries that provide more power for the same weight penalty.

Wielding Information as a weapon
Even if one assumes that technology will offer a solution, Singaporean full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) and Regulars must be soundly convinced that the gadgets they carry into operations are worth the trouble.

If soldiers believe the fancy gadgets are duds, then it is possible they will opt for carrying more bullets as their life insurance.

Soldiers must be convinced, either through background briefings backstopped by realistic war games, how the humble electronic gadgets can act as game changers.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF have, thus far, expended no small effort informing and educating Singaporeans on the Third Generation (3G) SAF narrative through exhibitions, open houses and publicity accorded to selected war games. Such conversations are commendable and should continue.

MINDEF/SAF must continue leading the initiative to educate soldiers on the war-winning potential of these electronic devices. In other words, soldiers must be competent in wielding information as a weapon, knowing full well forewarned is forearmed and that decisive overmatch in battlefield information can help define and shape the battlespace to one's advantage.

Past weapons engineering projects have shown lukewarm success in helping soldiers stay connected on the battlefield.

The Bionix 1 infantry fighting vehicle is an example of an award-winning, home-grown war machine that checks all the boxes when it comes to firepower, mobility and protection. Alas, in our view, the Bionix scores poorly in sustaining the soldier's ability to stay plugged into the battlefield network.

The BX1 has no auxiliary power unit, meaning the vehicle must keep its engine running to power up electronic devices within. This is fine during a peacetime exercise when one doesn't have to worry about the supply of diesel or the acoustic or IR signature that the vehicle generates when its engine is kept running. But if we train as we shall fight, how would you rate the BX 1's survivability during a shooting war against a competent adversary?

Add to this the vibration issues that the BX1 was noted for, especially during cross-country driving for long distances (100km or more), and one can understand why the Bionix did not exactly endear itself to our Armoured Infantry.

No model answer
The simplistically phrased "bullets versus batteries" question has no model answer.

Neither is any prescribed solution - you shall carry this many bullets with this number of batteries - an evergreen one that successive cohorts of NSFs will be happy with. This is because the march of technology will offer ever newer and better options for SAF defence planners to plug and play with.

What is certain is that the wave of battlefield experimentation and field trials that we saw at the turn of the century as the SAF publicised its transformation into a 3G fighting force, should continue unabated.

Our SAF needs to continue having the latitude to plan and execute full troop exercises involving firepower and manoeuvre, with live-fire components drawing upon war machines that can literally reshape the battlefield using ordnance of assorted tonnage, range and lethality, to find the best solutions to our unique needs.

You may also like:
RSAF datalinks put through stress test at Exercise Forging Sabre. Click here

Keepers of the peace: Why our Citizens Army needs to be backed by a strong RSAF. Click here

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Information management during a crisis: Balancing operational security and public expectations

Widespread publicity given to the arrests of the alleged authors of vandalism in the cyber world and real world sends a clear signal of Singapore's zero tolerance to such mischief.

To informed observers, it also underlines the capabilities of Singapore's cyber sleuths in finding their quarry, in some cases less than a week after cyber vandalism was reported.

To those interested in Singapore's information management posture, this episode provides an interesting case study of the manner in which Singaporeans are updated and reassured on a security-related issue (i.e. the security of our computer networks against outside interference).

With the benefit of hindsight, it would appear that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's robust remarks made on Wednesday 6 November that Singapore will "spare no effort" to find the people who are out to cripple Singapore's computer networks had solid ground to stand on.

One assumes PM knew that the Royal Malaysian Police had on Monday 4 November successfully arrested James Raj Arokiasamy in Kuala Lumpur. James, a 35-year-old Singaporean, is said to have carried out various acts of cyber vandalism using the nom de guerre "The Messiah".

PM Lee said:"It is not just anything goes and you are anonymous, therefore there is  no responsibility... You may think you are anonymous. We will make that extra effort to find out who you are."

If Singaporean investigators were still wandering in the cyber wilderness looking for someone to nab, one wonders if PM would have phrased his remarks with such gusto. This is because from an information management perspective, statements that raise expectations unnecessarily are best avoided as the quote may come back to haunt the newsmaker - especially in cases where the quarry eludes identification or capture for eternity.

Past is prologue
We note that this is the second time Singaporean officialdom had used the phrase "spare no effort" to describe a situation that is essentially a fait accompli.

Scroll back to July this year when Singaporeans reeled from the shock of the double murders in Kovan, where one victim was dragged under a car for some distance.

Watch the timeline. The crime was allegedly committed on Wednesday 10 July.

On Friday 12 July, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Teo Chee Hean, convened a joint press conference with the Singapore Police Commissioner, Ng Joo Hee, to update Singaporeans on the case.

DPM Teo said:"This is a very serious case and the Commissioner of Police has been updating me regularly. I have asked the police to spare no effort to make sure that justice is served." Click here for story.

On Saturday 13 July, DPM Teo revealed that the suspect was in custody in Malaysia. From his statement, we could join the dots which suggest the information flow for this tragedy.

DPM Teo said:"We first established his identity on Thursday morning after piecing together several pieces of evidence. He had crossed the Causeway into Johor on Wednesday night.

"We had not earlier released any details for operational reasons as Police assessed that there was no threat to public safety, and revealing his identity was likely to have made his arrest more difficult to achieve." Click here for full statement.

In other words, when DPM Teo convened the 12 July press conference, he probably had the suspect's identify in mind and, one assumes, an inkling PDRM officers would get their man. DPM's confidence that the manhunt would be wound up soon probably justified his "spare no effort" remark. [Note: If police investigators had no leads, a good press secretary/public relations manager would advise against setting expectations too high.]

Public figures the world over have to occasionally grapple with maintaining operational security, while not at the cost of not saying anything and therefore compromising public confidence.

United States President Obama attended a press club dinner in Washington D.C. in 2011 the night US Navy Seals were sent into Pakistan to get Osama Bin Laden. Subsequent analysis of President Obama's composure during the dinner gave no clues that his heart was with US warfighters about to conclude a years-old manhunt half a world away.

Coming back to the cyber and street vandalism cases, we bet PM Lee could justify his confidence before making his "spare no effort" remarks to the media on 6 November. DPM Teo's remarks made in relation to the Kovan case jumped to mind when PM Lee spoke on the sidelines of counter terrorism Exercise Highcrest and we waited in anticipation to see how this would turn out.

Interestingly, PM's remarks may have put his PMO website and that of the Singapore President in the cross hairs of cyber vandals who went in action on Friday 8 November.

It must have been a busy weekend for Singapore's cyber sleuths and SPF computer forensics experts and investigators.

By Tuesday, Singaporeans were informed that The Messiah had been arrested and charged.

This in itself was a news break but there was lot's more: The police had updates on high-profile cases involving the defacement of part of the Istana and PMO websites as well as street vandalism that carried Anonymous taglines and people found with Guy Fawkes masks who had been questioned by police.

The police action has provided assurance that law enforcement agencies have kept up with the times by honing their investigative capabilities in cyberspace and that they can get mischief makers, whether in the real world or cyberworld.

You may also like:
Singapore police arrest man for online bomb threats after Boston Marathon blasts. Click here

Singapore police computer forensics versus online threats. Click here

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Trophy targets in a cyber war: A look at Anonymous Singapore (Anonymous SG) versus the Singapore Government

In the real world and the cyber world, there are trophy targets whose well being exerts an influence in the battlespace out of all proportion to the actual action taken against it.

In the digital battlespace, websites for the Singapore President and the Singapore Prime Minister's Office (PMO) are, arguably, trophy targets with a high prestige value.

Both were hit by cyber intruders on Friday, with online activist(s) from Anonymous claiming bragging rights for the handiwork. These developments should leave Singaporean security watchers no doubt as regards the credibility of their online statements as Anonymous has flexed its ability to match words with deeds.

Making a point
The Anonymous group had earlier declared "war" on the Singapore Government for its stand on the licensing framework for news websites. This could have led to a heightened state of alert last weekend when a number of government-linked websites were taken offline for what has been officially described as "planned maintenance".

The 5th of November - Guy Fawkes Day - was supposed to be D-Day when Singapore government websites could expect an online assault.

On Wednesday 6 November, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged that no effort would be spared to find hackers who threatened Singapore's online networks. PM Lee made the comments on the sidelines of a counter-terrorism exercise for real world scenarios.  His warning to hackers was given strong play by the mainstream media and was carried on Page 1 of The Straits Times.

We did not have long to wait for the other shoe to drop.

On Friday 8 November, Anonymous responded with visits to the Istana and PMO websites.

We would probably never know if the action taken by Anonymous was triggered in response to, or executed in spite of, comments made by PM Lee.

Credible opponent(s)
If Anonymous read PM Lee's remarks and then launched the intrusion as a counter strike amid a climate of heightened vigilance by Singapore's cyber sleuths, this says a lot about their spunk, technical prowess and fighting spirit (or audacity, depending on your point of view).

Had Anonymous planned all along to hit the websites anyway, this says even more about the capability of the group to plan, organise and execute a campaign strategy using a pre-determined list of targets which they may have scouted beforehand for weaknesses worth exploiting. This second assumption, in our view, elevates the capability of the group as it indicates their ability to conduct mission planning, probably rehearsals and that the group recognises the concept of a strategic centre of gravity by hitting trophy targets.

Anyone can issue a statement online. But to follow up with direct action so soon after by walking right into the Lion's den to make a point is something else altogether.

What's more, the point made on a PMO webpage was delivered succinctly in Tweet-compliant verbiage. No long, rambling manifesto ala the Unabomber. Just a pointed message that hit the right nerves. From a public relations standpoint, the terse taunt on the PMO website was a PR masterstroke  - because it soon went viral.

The red faces that probably ensued make this episode a classic example of asymmetrical action where a non-state actor forces a country to take remedial action that results in a high financial and manpower penalty vis-à-vis the effort needed to stage the intrusions.

For officialdom to reason that the Anonymous action failed to disrupt or degrade online services furnished by government departments misses the opportunity to reassure Singaporeans that they are on top of things.

If you care about Singapore, you may realise such assurance is important as it appears Anonymous now holds the initiative in the online tussle. They hit trophy targets and have done so with impunity.

The InfoComm Development Authority (IDA) Assistant Chief Executive James Kang told the Today newspaper:"Were genuine users being affected? No. The integrity and operations of the websites have not been hijacked."

The IDA's point of view is factually correct. But are we to be reassured by this? The authority could have done more to address why a full scale alert failed to deter, degrade or disrupt outside interference in trophy websites.

Mind you, this was no Pearl Harbor surprise attack launched from out of the blue.

Anonymous went on Youtube to deliver a statement of intent, even helpfully narrowing down its target sets to  government websites. So the war warning would have been received in good time (hopefully) and our cyber defences would have come online, fully mobilised in anticipation of trouble.

Instead, we get tech-speak from IDA.

Mr Kang added:"At any one time, there are thousands of vulnerabilities... no organisation will be 100 per cent... If we cannot prevent, then we must detect fast. It's all about minimising the impact and protecting data, services."

The Today article noted that the attacks on the Istana and PMO websites were discovered within 15 minutes and the pages were taken down within an hour.

Readers who are not tech-trained can only take Mr Kang's statement about "thousands of vulnerabilities" at face value.[Note: Ironically, only Anonymous knows the true value of his statement....]

Wither the Cyber Defence Operations Hub
We may not be tech-savvy but from a strategic studies and PR point of view, we can say that fallout from this affair will affect the Ministry of Defence and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) the next time it has to showcase its cyber defences.

Why, you may ask?

Because this episode appears to be fronted entirely by IDA. What role, if any, does MINDEF/SAF Cyber Defence Operations Hub serve in safeguarding Singapore from Anonymous? The grandly named hub was announced by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen on 29 June'13, as part of his interview for SAF Day.

Thus far, not a word has been shared... and one wonders why. Perhaps opsec due to ongoing operations?

If you are charitable, you could form the mental picture of SAF Cyber Defence Operations Hub operatives working tirelessly behind the scenes, burning their weekends as part of an All Of Government task force, tracking down the electron trail which will lead men in black to the door of Mr or Ms Anonymous, ready to make a forced entry and bring the show to a forceful close.

But there's another scenario more worrying to consider. This assumes the Cyber Defence Ops Hub is a benchwarmer with little or no active part in all this unless Cyberpioneer is hacked. This would make an interesting talking point on the level and extent of inter-ministry cooperation when the websites chips are down.

The silence will hurt the credibility of the Cyber Defence Ops Hub the next time MINDEF/SAF parades them to the media, because people may ask why they didn't swing into action when most needed by our country.

War has been declared. The attacks have started. What more are you waiting for?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Indonesian air force wraps up deployment of warplanes to Batam island

In case you missed it, Indonesia deployed its latest warplanes to Batam last week as part of its Angkasa Yudha war games.

May be worthwhile for Jakarta Post to write a follow-up to this story...  :-/

As for the rest of us: Keep Calm and Carry On.

Exercise not disrupting commercial flights
The Jakarta Post, 31 October 2013
The Air Force’s 2013 Angkasa Yudha Exercise taking place at three air force bases in Riau Islands province will not disrupt commercial flights in the province and neighboring Singapore.

The use of the airspace for the military exercise, which is being held until Friday has been approved by Singapore who controls Indonesian airspace in the province, Batam’s Hang Nadim International Airport head of general affairs, Suwarso, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Singapore controls Indonesian airspace from Dumai in neighboring Riau province to Riau Islands’ far flung Natuna regency on the fringes of the South China Sea.

Suwarso said The Air Force fielded six Sukhoi Su-27/30 and four F-16 jet fighters, three helicopters and a C-130H Hercules in Batam. Other aircraft taking part in the exercise are fielded in Jakarta and Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

“Generally, the exercise is conducted in the south while commercial flights in Batam and Singapore are taking place in the north,” he said.

“So there is no obstruction for commercial flights except when the jet fighters are going to and returning from the exercise.”


Keepers of the peace: Why our Citizens Army needs to be backed by a strong Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)

1 December 2022 update: My first novel, Pukul Habis: Total Wipeout, a fictional story of war in Malaysia and Singapore, was released on Amazon in November 2022. Available from Amazon sites that serve your location. "Look Inside" function on some sites shows sample pages.



Canada: Look Inside

France: Look Inside

Germany: Look Inside

Japan: Look Inside



United Kingdom: Look Inside

USA: Look Inside

This is the first in a series of air power and precision strike blog essays that will lead to something coming up.

When a battalion mobilised for war operations tells you that 90 per cent of its estab strength is present and accounted for, how would you react to that figure?

The response rate for mobilisation exercises is a crucial readiness indicator for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as it draws upon citizen soldiers to form the core of its full force potential.

That 90 per cent response rate tells defence observers that the battalion has essentially lost 10 per cent of its manpower even before the first shot is fired. When you factor in lessons from years of defence operations research, which tell us that a military unit becomes combat ineffective when it loses about 40 per cent of its fighting strength, such awareness amplifies the significance of the 10 per cent absentee rate.[There are exceptions to the rule. Elite units with a high level of training and esprit have fought ferociously even with their numbers whittled down significantly. Example: the German Fallschirmjager during WW2]

With this in mind, defence planners who sketch out future force structures should pencil in allowance for NS units who may show up for operations with less than full strength. That notional 10 per cent shortfall can be made up in various ways, from having the NSmen present work a little harder or through the use of technology that can compensate for the shortfall. [Note: All this assumes the missing 10 per cent is spread out evenly throughout the unit because if the missing manpower is lumped all in one Company, then that understrength Company cannot be considered fit for operations.]

Regular Army versus Citizens Army
In peacetime, defence planners can forecast manning levels (we use this term in a gender neutral sense, as the battalion could comprise men and women) for an all regular force with a fair degree of certainty.

This is because leave for an all regular force can be curtailed or cancelled, thus keeping your defence manpower within camp. Training courses and non essential war games can be cut or postponed with the same result. The net effect would be to raise the estab strength of the unit to close to full strength in anticipation of deployment for immediate operations.

Defence planners in charge of conscript armies would struggle to hit that magic number. When fighting a short war scenario with little or no war warning, the speed at which the SAF can shift from a peace to war footing is a strategic centre of gravity that outsiders may attempt to disrupt, degrade, destroy or destabilise during the lead up to hostilities.

Without the six months notice required by the SAF 100 call up notice for in-camp training, leave entitlements for citizen soldiers are out of reach of defence planners. In civilian life, citizen soldiers from the rifleman to key appointment holders can attend courses, join business meetings or run their lives as they wish.

The legal requirement for Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen, which is what other armies call reservists) to inform MINDEF/SAF and the Home Team (police and civil defence) when they leave Singapore for more than 24 hours but less than six months (anything more requires an Exit Permit) is therefore an important one as it gives MINDEF/SAF a big picture view of the defence manpower situation at any given time.

Four imperatives during a mobilisation
When the button is pressed, Singapore must trust that her citizen soldiers will be ready and willing to carry through the following four phases of a military mobilisation.

First, they must respond to mobilise. Implicit in having codewords flashed via broadcast media (TV and radio as well as cinemas) during an Open Mobilisation and the activation codes shared discretely during a Silent Mobilisation is the trust that citizen soldiers will uphold their part of the transaction.

Second, they must mobilise to deploy. Having NSmen in uniform and in camp is a step towards getting them to make the transition from citizen to soldier. This involves organising and equipping NSmen into organised parts of a complex military structure known as an order of battle. The unit also needs to be supported in battle with food, munitions, POL and information. The last component is a new addition to the digital battlespace as the opposing force(s) can be expected to interfere with the morale of NSmen during a period of tension.

We should remember that there's a difference between grouping 100 strangers in a hierarchical structure with a chain of command and fielding 100 individuals who have trained on war games together as a cohesive fighting unit. During WW2, the Germans routinely formed emergency units (called Alarmeinheiten) on the Eastern Front from servicemen on leave or drawn from understrength units to form a new unit. Accounts by German veterans indicate that Alarmeinheiten had woeful military value. Fighting as strangers without the benefit of unit cohesion, such units had less value that a unit of comparable (or even weaker) manpower strength as the bonds that held soldiers together during combat was non-existent in the units scratched together from odds and ends.

This explains why the Singapore Army moved towards mono intake units decades ago, and why the esprit forged during ICTs is something commanders value.

Third, citizen soldiers must deploy to fight. Open Mobilisation exercises look good when staged for the media because of the sheer amount of activity that takes place in camp. Weapons are issued, ammunition checked, the noise from range practice and force preparation make wonderful kodak moments. When NSmen know they have to do it for real, citizen soldiers must have the mental frame of mind to follow-through all the way to the covering force area (CFA).

Last, NSmen must fight to win. Citizen soldiers be convinced of the cause they are fighting for. When the go order is issued, the time for deep personal reflection is over. The CFA is no place for a focus group discussion on the whys and wherefores of national defence, theories on nationhood and what it means to be a Singaporean. Decision paralysis could occur if NS units indicate some philosophical inertia when it dawns on them this time, it is for real.

Defence diplomacy
While all this is going on, defence diplomacy needs to swing into action to convince the other party that full mobilisation leading to deployment is not a predetermined or inevitable outcome. At any point in time, SAF combat forces can be demobilised, scaled back and relations reset, perhaps from two sides of a conference table where jaw jaw takes the place of war war.

It should be clear to defence-minded individuals that 100 per cent commitment to defence (C2D), while desired, can be neither assumed nor guaranteed.

At the same time, enemy interference can be expected to sow self-doubt or whittle down the effectiveness of the mobilisation process. Such interference could take the form of soft kill options like Psychological Warfare (eg anonymous postings on the Net purportedly from Singaporeans questioning the need to fight) or hard kill, direct action against a manpower mobilisation node (eg deploying special forces to shoot up a mobilisation area).

The effort to foster C2D must therefore be evergreen. It will never be completed within one's staff tour or work year, no matter how strongly supportive respondents may appear to be at a certain period of time.

At the same time, C2D comms must rise above the level of white noise by listening to and acting upon feedback from Singaporeans.

One should also think strategically to forecast possible pain points downstream. In doing so, the objective should be to explain, in clear language, why taking a certain course of action is to their ultimate benefit. More to the point, the downside risks of not taking a certain course of action needs to be communicated. This will forestall situations when people learn about the price of inaction when it is too late and scramble to compensate - a fool's errand for certain long lead time defence items. Once certain capabilities are lost, it may take years to reintroduce the lost capability which people did not appreciate.

Above all, our citizens army needs a strong air defence shield under which our island nation can transform itself during an emergency when it moves from peace to war operations.

That shield comes in the form of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

The four phases of a mobilisation would count for nothing if command of the air cannot be safeguarded by the RSAF.

Our Air Force should continue keeping its combat readiness high and weapons proficiency proven during realistic, intense live-fire exercises that underscore how it will keep us out of harm's way.