Saturday, January 25, 2014

Free e-Book download: Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (Malaysian Armed Forces) Gulf of Aden deployment

Game over: Suspected sea pirates are freedom-impaired after commandos from the Royal Malaysian Navy's PASKAL team stormed an MISC ship in the Gulf of Aden that had been subjected to a non-compliant boarding by the civilians in the picture.   

Op Fajar: The Malaysian Success Story in the Gulf of Aden 2008-2013
Royal Malaysian Navy and MISC Berhad
November 2013, 186 pages

Download your free English language coffee table book that chronicles the Malaysian Armed Forces deployments to the Gulf of Aden, codenamed Operasi Fajar (Operation Dawn), from this link.

The 186-page book, Op Fajar: The Malaysian success story in the Gulf of Aden, is an authoritative source of reference on the five-year long operational deployment. In that time, 476 Malaysian-flagged merchant vessels from MISC came under the protection of combat forces from the Royal Malaysian Navy, Royal Malaysian Air Force and Malaysian Army.

Op Fajar's narrative brings the reader close to the action while explaining the strategic picture such as the sea piracy situation and providing background on ATM forces involved during the deployment. Malaysia's approach to Total Defence (HANRUH) is also explained as the back story that tells how the ATM and Malaysian shipping line MISC jointly cooperated and coordinated the naval and air action on and above the Gulf of Aden.

Info graphics are nicely done. In particular, the range rings drawn on pages 64-65 illustrate the dramatic escalation in attacks over the years as pirates operated further from the horn of Africa.

The picture on page 162 of a PASKAL member embracing someone is quite moving and chosen well by the editorial board as it underlines the human side of the Royal Malaysian Navy's crack naval forces.

The book's editorial approach is commendable as it assumes nothing from the reader. Even someone with zero exposure to the ATM would find everything he or she would need to know about Op Fajar and Malaysian defence matters. That it is written in English should ensure the narrative finds new and enlightened readers in the international defence community.

Circulation of the book on the Internet illustrates the desire by Malaysian defence planners to circulate the good word on Op Fajar to as wide a global audience as possible. The hard copy was launched in November 2013 to commemorate 5-years of Op Fajar.

The Malaysian defence information plan for Op Fajar has range, depth and, most important of all, a compelling story to share. This should ensure the successful operation receives maximum exposure and draws max appreciation from an audience far from Malaysian shores.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Vigilance Fail: Malaysian woman in red Perodua slips past Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs guard post in broad daylight

If you calculate the success rate of Singapore's security forces at the Woodlands Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Checkpoint, a lapse of one vehicle per 50 million or so vehicles per year is an infinitesimally small figure.

But in the eyes of Singapore's security watchers, every lapse is one lapse too many.

From the look of things, the book is going to be thrown at Home Team officers after a vigilance failure by our border guards allegedly resulted in a Malaysian woman ending up in the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) compound on Monday in broad daylight.

This was no sneak attack by commandos with blackened faces done under a moonless night. The unnamed woman had allegedly entered MFA by tailgating an authorised vehicle in a red (couldn't choose a brighter colour) Malaysian registered (sigh...) Perodua (sighs again...) hatchback that had been on the watchlist of the Singapore Police Force since last Friday.

While it is highly unlikely Peroduas will be the infiltration vehicle of choice by Malaysia's crack Grup Gerak Khas, this lapse will affect the careers of Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and Singapore Police Force officers down the chain of command.

Combating vigilance fatigue
Shattering rice bowls to send a message to rank-and-file will not exorcise the ghost of vigilance fatigue.

Indeed, the buzz out there that the lowest ranking individuals will (once again) be hardest hit is likely to damage Home Team morale at  a time when we need everybody to be in high spirits and in top form.

It is a tall order when one has to do one's duty in an organisation that operates 24/365, at a time when the rapid increase in Singapore's resident population is likely to have resulted in a spike in workload.

To be sure, Home Team discipline must be enforced.

At the same time, there can be no better trigger than the MFA intrusion for a top to bottom look at Home Team morale and workload as the discipline process alone - however severe the penalties - will not nix the problem. Even if morale at our border checkpoints is satisfactory, flagging engagement levels are a lead indicator of issues that will crop up sometime downstream, perhaps with grave consequences to Singapore's security and wellbeing than just red faces at certain Singov ministries.

Key questions that are worth mulling over include:
* How is the staff estab level at border checkpoints? In other words, are current staffing levels for ICA and SPF officers sufficient to deal with the surge in travellers during peak seasons?

* How much has the workload increased in the past 10 years? A 10-year analysis would factor in the rapid jump in Singapore residents after the turn of the century when new citizens were introduced in substantial numbers. Our transport system was apparently caught offguard as such infrastructure is a long lead-time item - you cannot build a new rail line overnight. And there are worrying signs our healthcare providers are now bearing the brunt of the population spike, as seen through the shortage of hospital beds.

Workload of frontline officers
So even if estab levels at passport checking booths are fully filled, a higher workload as seen through the footfall and vehicles processed at Tuas and Woodlands would indicate that the assumptions that justified the staffing levels of yesteryear are no longer valid.

If such is the case, would it surprise you that the system is feeling the strain?

To be fair, one swallow does not a summer make. And one lapse at a high-value installation like the MFA should not be indicative of systemic failure. It made newspaper headlines precisely because it is a rare, once in a blue moon event - thanks to the vigilance of the Home Team. [As an aside, the subbing desk at the Today newspaper needs to tighten up its editorial processes. First, it was the howler that the SAF has "369 divisions". Today's report on the MFA incident carries the line "about 68 million vehicles passed through the checkpoints every day". Goodness, this  is major gridlock. Shouldn't it read "every year"?]

It is beyond doubt that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Teo Chee Hean, is miffed.

"I have expressed my deep dissatisfaction to the Commissioner of ICA and the Commissioner of Police over the breach at Woodlands Checkpoint and the subsequent response actions. This case should have been prevented and dealt with more urgently and decisively as it could have resulted in more serious consequences than what occurred. I have directed the Commissioners to report to me the corrective actions they are taking, and recommend appropriate action to be taken against officers who have not discharged their duties properly," said DPM Teo.

If the Home Team needs a wake-up call, this would be it.

Heartware matters
But guarding against future lapses will demand more than meting out disciplinary penalties because the corrosive effects such penalties may have on the wider Home Team community should not be underestimated.

Morale needs to be attended to, cared for and treasured. And so must the confidence every Home Team officer has in the system that it will look after their interests and wellbeing as workloads vary.

For example, how much has the salary of the average frontline ICA and SPF officer risen in relation to the workload at our border checkpoints? If their salaries have marched in step with NWC guidelines without due consideration for their workload, then perhaps it is time to relook their salary formula. Perhaps the throughput of our checkpoints could be used to calculate a Performance Bonus of sorts, which would reward the team collectively should Singapore enjoy a spike in travellers.

These are soft, heartware issues that can be sidestepped by issuing an imperial edict for rank-and-file to pull up their socks, suck it up and get the job done.

But one must remember that there are certain jobs that cannot be parcelled out to foreign talent and the safety and security of our border checkpoints is a prime example.

If the team is understaffed, overworked and their career trajectory could be compromised by that one in 50 million arse luck incident that occurs during their watch, then Home Team officers mulling their future at a time of the year when bonuses are paid will likely look elsewhere for options.

In short, they can resign. This would be an unfortunate and unintended by-product of the housekeeping in the wake of the MFA incident.

Our security safeguards are only as strong as the weakest link. If weak links have been exposed through unfortunate incidents, be thankful no blood was shed. Be grateful for the opportunity to remedy the situation and help the weak links level up and do better in future.

Never take the morale, confidence and dedication of our frontline officers for granted. They will run the extra mile for you. But when the chips are down, will you do the same for them?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A look at riot police from the Singapore Police Force Special Operations Command and Gurkha Contingent

Follow me: Officers from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) Gurkha Contingent stand to in full riot gear. GC officers can be distinguished from Singaporean policemen by the five-digit service number embroidered in white on the right chest pocket and the crossed kukris on their helmets. Gurkha officers lead from the front, as seen in this picture.

With the Singapore Parliament due to discuss the Little India riot (8 Dec 2013) tomorrow, here's a series of images that show how the Singapore Police Force (SPF) would deploy and respond to civil disorder.

The images date back to 2006. They record a set piece demonstration staged for the media ahead of the IMF-World Bank meeting in Singapore that year. The publicity was aimed at assuring delegates and Singapore residents that the Republic was ready to tackle any eventuality at the meeting as such sessions have been known to attract activists who vent their views through violent street demonstrations. The high-profile event passed without street protests and were widely viewed as among the most peaceful in the long-running series.

The incident in Little India clearly indicates that real ops are different from set piece demos where forces can be marshalled and deployed in textbook formations like the ones seen below.

Am unsure if SPF has a Singapore Armed Forces ATEC-type evaluation for its riot police but it looks like they could benefit from such a framework, along with more realistic OPFOR simulators.

If you like reading about ancient warfare, you may see similarities between the formations used by Roman legions and what you see below. Enjoy!

Special Operations Command troopers form up line abreast in preparation for the order to advance.

With a water cannon vehicle providing close support, SOC troopers close ranks to form a shield wall as they confront demonstrators (played by other SOC troopers wearing civvies). The front ranks of a Roman legion deployed for close combat would probably have shields placed side by side like this. Evident from this view is the fact that while the troop commander has deployed the block force over a broad frontage, the line has poor defence in depth and no immediate reserves to exploit and pursue tactical opportunities. Such a formation is also vulnerable on its flanks. One would assume such a formation would be deployed across the breadth of a street, both to seal off the area and protect the flanks of the formation.

Providing support behind the SOC troopers are Gurkha Contingent police officers. Note the different types of shields. The officers with the round shields serve more as skirmishers who can rush out from either end of the protective shield wall, which in this formation is in stand to formation in open order. Impressive for pictures but the reality is that urban areas in Singapore afford few opportunities for large-scale formations like these to form up. Indeed, as seen in Little India, traffic congestion may prevent support vehicles from getting close to the flare up.
Pelted by "bricks" (shuttle run blocks for those of you old enough to have used these during PE), SOC vehicles support the shield wall with non lethal munitions. This vehicle has a mast-mounted camera for recording purposes. This stunted vehicle is not the prettiest in the SPF stable but does the job. It replaces an old Command vehicle design dating back to the Malayan Federation which had an open deck cupola built over the driving compartment of a bus. The SPF Gurkha Contingent and Royal Malaysian Police still use the older sort of vehicle as the elevated position of the cupola  gives commanders a better view of the area of operations.

The water cannon lets fly to soften up demonstrators moments before a baton charge is ordered. At close range, the jet of water can knock you off your feet. The water can be dyed to identify people soaked by the water cannon. Note the exposed flank of the thin blue line. Once a charge is ordered, tactical control of the dispersed troopers is almost impossible unless every trooper has a comms device. During street riots in South Korea, police who charged at demonstrators often found the tables turned when they were subsequently surrounded by superior numbers.

The baton charge is followed by the advance of the GC troopers, who are tasked with mopping up operations (below). This stop line comprises Tactica armoured personnel carriers and has strength in numbers, giving GC officers the option to form up their men with more depth than the SOC formation seen above and with reserves to exploit tactical situations. One assumes that the Gurkha stop line is the point beyond which demonstrators will not be allowed to cross.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Civilians in the line of fire: Civil military relations and the Singapore Armed Forces

Many firsts were achieved on the day of the assault crossing.
It was the first time the armed forces operated with everything "on" (radars, comms equipment and sensors) at the same time (and already the friction was beginning to show).

It was the first time the soldiers had crossed into a foreign country without getting their passports stamped.

It was the first time the Motorised Infantry battalion travelled with full fuel, full combat load of ammo and full ballistic protection (including hard plates for LBV) and with a pair of Apache attack helicopters flying top cover, wall-to-wall rockets and Hellfire missiles.

It was clear to even the least defence-aware citizen soldier in the battalion that the shit had hit the fan, the button had been pressed and the balloon had gone up. This was it.

The crossing unfolded unexpectedly well with no opposition encountered. The Ops cell in the Division Strike Centre was cheered by the speed of movement, aided by the new 70-tonne capable waterjet-propelled landing craft that helped the Army walk on water.

But no plan survives first contact with the enemy. And this age-old mantra replayed itself in the minds of some DSC staff officers as the operation gained traction exactly as it had been tried out a gazillion times during war games.

The Commando team sent across to secure the landing point reported that the only opposition they encountered comprised two patrol cars from the state police, with three policemen and one policewoman slouched against their cars, arms crossed and firearms holstered. They showed up at the landing point almost on cue, like they knew how the scenario would be played out so predictably. 

As the Commandos radioed back for instructions in this unscripted shoot/don't shoot situation, the police kept a watchful eye on the intruders but stayed their ground.

It was have been so easy to end the stalemate. Two shots each, double tap, right in the head for a brain stem kill and they would all be dead before their bodies slumped to the ground.

But the DSC had other ideas. What had failed at a state-to-state, grand strategic level would now be played out (successfully) at the tactical level of small unit operations- the delicate art of negotiation.

A Commando officer stepped forward, head to toe the atypical special forces operative with all the gear one would expect for a hot-war situation, covered by intense-looking members of the landing team who continued to play soldier even as the police maintained a look of absolute nonchalance, disinterest and pity as the soldier boys did their thing.

The DSC was told the state police would not interfere with the military operation. But as the state had not been cleared of civilians, they were duty bound to ensure civilian safety on roads and in residential areas. On this point, the police would not budge.

And so, Day 1 of  the operation saw an uneasy, indeed unusual and unexpected armistice between the invaders and the state police in the area of operations.

When the convoy was ready to move, it travelled in combat march order on the highway with a ridiculous front scout comprising one state police car whose blue and red strobes on the light bar blinked energetically and incessantly. Hazard lights on,  sirens blaring at regular intervals and with windows wound down for shouted instructions to the curious motorist who stopped or slowed down to watch the convoy, the police car did a stellar job clearing the road ahead of civilian traffic.

Officers watching imagery from the mini UAV that accompanied the convoy would later comment the police car looked like a sheep dog herding the mass of civilian traffic away from the convoy's line of march.

Overhead, the Apaches continued their elliptical orbit from front to rear of the convoy; the steady, onward movement of their racetrack flight path broadcasting to all interested observers the general line of advance of the war machines they sheltered.

The breakaway, when it came, was unannounced and unexpected and the police officers in the lead vehicle took some time to notice that the lead 8x8 in the convoy had halted.

As the cops alighted from their vehicle, a group of soldiers could be seen giving their attention to the metal central road divider. A tool of some sort (circular saw) produced a shower of sparks and seconds later, the sound of tortured metal being chewed down by the power tool was heard by the police officers.

The soldiers in the leading 8x8 had opened their hatches and had binoculars trained on the police car. In front of their hatch, the overhead weapon system trained left to right in a regular rhythm that left observers no doubt that the gun was manned, watchful and ready to fire. With the barrier shorn down, soldiers were seen moving a broken piece of divider away, like ants carrying away a twig.

One by one, the 8x8s gunned their idle engines into life and moved off, each 8x8 emitting a tell-tale puff  of smoke down the line as each driver brought their vehicle to Drive mode and engines strained to get the stationary infantry carrier vehicles moving again. The 8x8s disappeared on the laterite road that led into a sprawling plantation whose cash crops were planted some 4 metres apart.

Soon, the estate had swallowed the length of the convoy and the second state police car (it brought up the rear) made its appearance, light bar winking and signal light flashing as it attempted to follow the battalion. Even at that distance, one did not need subtitles to decipher the game of charades played between the soldiers who manned the crossing point and the second police car.

Assault rifles held up at shoulder level pointing at the car with an outstretched palm meant: Stop immediately or we fire.

That same outstretched palm moving vigorously into motion, shooeing the car away could only mean: Stay away.

The soldiers and one 8x8 stayed at the head of the dirt road as the battalion wound its way north, with the two Apaches tethered to the convoy maintaining their faithful aerial watch.

The combat route was open for business.

When a professional audience studies war games such as Forging Sabre, they will look beyond the scenario scripted and kinetic operations executed.

At the level of grand strategy, several questions may spring to mind:
1. Will Singapore's leadership have the guts to pull the trigger for the scenario played out?
2. Will the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) be ready and able to execute the deed?
3. How realistic are the war games when applied in the projected area of operations (AO)?

With the amount of resources that have been invested in our defence diplomacy frameworks and our intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities (so vital for advance warning), one would expect defence planners in modern Singapore not to leave the Lion City caught with its pants down.

At  the same time, our neighbours need - indeed deserve - a strong and enduring level of engagement that ensures Singapore's strategy of military deterrence is never misconstrued or miscommunicated (perhaps deliberately, by foreign politicians looking for a bogeyman) as one of a latent adventuresome military power.

For deterrence to be calibrated well, a professional audience needs to understand and appreciate that all contingencies pertaining to the use of the SAF's full force potential have been addressed.

Civilians in the line of fire
Foremost amongst these is the basic question of what will happen to civilians in the AO.

Our war games such as Forging Sabre are impressive because the munitions unloaded on simulated air base complexes and enemy formations in the field leave no doubt that the war machines work as advertised.

But every large scale war game - B/Conqueror, B/Gladiator, F/Knight, Orion, Ulysses and so on - is played without the presence of the million-plus civilians in the AO and the tens of thousands of vehicles that could conceivably choke off roads and highways (i.e. your key avenues of approach). Having a handful of soldiers play civilians just doesn't do. That is a Peace Support Operation kind of gig that would be eclipsed by the real thing. Bear that in mind.

The more interesting war games are said to take place on advanced computers that can simulate what-if situations to a frightening level of detail and realism, giving Ministry of Defence and SAF planners the thought-drivers they need at the level of grand strategy, a dress rehearsal of how situations might unfold, how operations could be hampered.

If you can imagine the application of computer simulations in medical science which show how individual rogue cells multiply, the same can be done to mimic the movement of masses of people and perhaps even individual vehicles in a parallel universe where the doomsday machine has been unleashed and all hell breaks loose.

It is heartening to guess that there is an aspect of Forging Sabre the SAF will never talk about openly - because every defence forces needs its trade secrets.

It is reassuring to nurse the opinion that Civil Military Relations (CMR) have matured in the SAF to such an extent that a number of battalions which is not small have been earmarked for dedicated CMR duty. Remember that every battalion that performs CMR is one battalion less on the front line. And this calculus illustrates how seriously the SAF views the issue of non-combatants in an AO.

Looking at how the Malaysian military may look at the same issue, it is abundantly clear to this blog that the Malaysian military is not stupid - to put it bluntly.

Any Malaysian military professional who overlays the line of march for a manoeuvre warfare exercise like Wallaby onto home ground can guesstimate the issues the SAF would face (with some degree of accuracy, one might add).

Strategic burden
Indeed, one Malaysian military professional has indicated to this blog that the population in Johor will not be evacuated in the event of a period of tension, even when Code Yellow is about to turn Red, but left in place as a strategic burden to the occupying force. In peace and war, civilians in Johor will need food and water, power for their homes and offices and a sewer system that works. War or no war, people will fall sick (which means clinics and hospitals need to remain operational), refuse needs to be cleared, law and order maintained in a city that even in peacetime has a tough time keeping criminal elements in check. In addition to all this, civilians in war will need some sense when the madness will subside. If the occupying force cannot provide the succour Johor residents will need, you can bet your last dollar that civil disorder will break out.

This is why some Singapore watchers looked closely at how the Republic handled the Little India Riot. Was the response decisive? How much damage and how many injuries did authorities suffer at the hands of the rioters? Elevate the intensity of the Little India Riot to an occupied city which erupts into a riot, can Singapore cope? You wonder...

This strategy of trading space for time (time to mobilise the ATM, time to prepare for a decisive encounter) could explain why Peninsular Malaysia's southernmost state of Johor seems under-defended with only the ATM 3rd Division holding the fort versus three SAF Divisions (3, 6, 9 Div), two Army Operational Reserve Divisions ((21, 25 Div) and a People's Defence Force formation (2 PDF).

The odds may be against it but bear in mind the 3rd Division (the Malaysian one, not the SAF's 3rd Div at Jurong Camp) is unique in several ways that indicate Malaysian defence planners realise why the division is at the sharp end of the stick: 3 Div was the first Malaysian army division conferred Combined Arms status and is the only Malaysian army division equipped with counter-battery capability (ARTHUR weapon locating radars).

That  Johor appears under-defended does not imply the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (Malaysian Armed Forces) is clueless how to defend home ground.

Indeed, the lack of vigorous opposition or attempts to build a frontline right at the Johor coast may signal that the Malaysian military has other cards up its sleeve.

Achieving a military break in and a break through are two different things altogether. The Malaysian military professional knows this all too well. *Respect*

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hunt for "lost" British Monster Guns to commence in Singapore soon

Cross section of a 15-inch battery: Each hardened 15-inch gun mount is around three storeys deep, with ammunition stored in reinforced concrete magazines beneath the gun. Soil overburden estimated at around six feet (2 metres) is thought to cover the gun mounts today.

"Lost" in Singapore for more than 70 years, a hunt for the fortifications for 15-inch artillery guns - dubbed  Monster Guns - will get underway soon, spearheaded by curious individuals from Britain and Singapore who are convinced the fortifications lie buried in the Lion City.

As many as three reinforced concrete mountings - some three storeys deep - for giant 15-inch guns built by the British before World War Two could await discovery in Singapore, said a British amateur historian who has spent more than a decade tracing the fate of these and other Singapore coastal gun emplacements.

Lost and found
If found, the rediscovery of the Johore Battery Number 2 gun and Number 1 and 2 guns from the Buona Vista Battery could cause a sensation, and have awaited rediscovery 72 years after the Fall of Singapore. There are similar 15-inch gun batteries, built by the British for the Spanish government remaining in Spain, complete with the guns. Some are open to the public, those on Menorca for example. There you can go into the magazines and into the gun houses.

The Buona Vista No.1 Gun was near the junction of Ulu Pandan and Reformatory (now Clementi) Road. Mowbray Camp now covers the area and is occupied by the Singapore Police Force. But there are visible traces of what may be entrances to the underground magazine (which stores ammunition for the 15-inch gun) and the Battery Plotting Room (which provided fire control data for the guns using sightings of enemy warships seen from coastal observation posts to work out their position on a map) in the camp. The underground areas may well still exist.

The position of the No.2 Buona Vista Gun inside a condominium in the Holland Road area could spell a windfall for residents there as the underground structure would add inestimable value to the property. Its presence could also save the property from future land acquisitions from Singapore authorities, as the area sits astride a major road and possible future rail sites.

Amateur military historian Peter Stubbs, 69,  used British and Singapore maps and aerial photos dating from the 1940s to the present day to plot the gun positions. He also went through newspaper archives and corresponded with retired British Royal Artillery gunners to painstakingly piece together the fate of Singapore's extensive coastal defences built before WW2.
For example, arcane data such as the trunnion height for each gun, which measured the height of the gun at a certain point on the earth's surface (this was vital for accurate gun firings as the gunners would know where the target ship was in relation to their gun when plotting target data on a map), was compared with ground surveys in Singapore to figure out where the gun mounts could be.

 Plan view of a 15-inch gun mount that was built in Singapore.

What happened to the 15-inch guns?
The guns themselves are long gone. What remained after the British spiked the guns in February 1942, stayed in place during the war, and were scrapped by the British in the years following the war. 

What may remain of the 15-inch guns are the underground  reinforced concrete magazines and power rooms, and the gun-wells into which the guns themselves were mounted. The underground structures extend to a depth of some three storeys, and had three main rooms. The shell store, cartridge store, and the power room. The guns, each of which had barrels as long as a bus, were adapted from naval guns that used to arm battleships.

Mr Stubbs found that Number 3 Gun (northernmost) of the Johore Battery was demolished during an expansion of Changi Airport. This was covered in the press, and photographs of the demolition taken for posterity.

The Number 1 Gun of the Johore battery was covered over by the British in the early 1950s, and a small estate of service married quarters named 'Lloyd Leas' was constructed . Old amahs may well remember it. The Changi Grammar School moved to the area in the early 1960s. The school building has survived, but most of Lloyd Leas was demolished and the area became a prison complex. In April 1991, the long hidden underground areas of the gun emplacement were re-discovered during work being carried out by the prison service. A replica 15-inch Gun was mounted there, and the magazine and power room was outlined in concrete on the ground above.

"Disappeared without a trace"
There is compelling evidence that underground elements of the Number 2 gun lie buried within Changi Airport's fence-line, south of the CAAS airport fire station, waiting to be unearthed and celebrated as a historical treasure.  

 It is the same story at Buona Vista. Pictures from the 1950s and 1960s, indicate the gun positions were still intact then. Then they mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Demolition of the structures, which would have required extensive excavation, does not seem to have been recorded anywhere. Successive generations of British servicemen who served in post-war Singapore do not remember any demolition. Singaporeans questioned have no memory of any major excavation work at any of the sites.
Both gun batteries were built inland, some distance from the coastline, to protect them from counter-fire from warships.

Mr Stubbs explained: "The Buona Vista, and indeed the Johore Battery, were sited to be inland and out of sight from the sea for very good reasons. The 15-inch guns were indirect fire weapons. This means that they did not have to see targets in order to engage them - as you say difficult  to locate and hit. Fire control was provided from remote locations. Any enemy engaging the batteries would not be certain where there fall of shot was landing, thus making enemy fire control more difficult.

"Coast batteries had an important advantage over enemy ships. They were fixed and stable. Ships had to take into account the waves and roll and pitch of the ship. All factors affecting accurate fire. It may surprise you to know that long range coast batteries such as the 15-inch ones had to take into account the curvature of the earth, and the earth's rotation in fire control."
So compelling was the deterrent value of the five 15-inch guns in Singapore - in their time the biggest coastal artillery pieces outside England - against seaborne threats that the invading Japanese forces mounted their attack from Singapore's landward side instead. 
Mr Stubbs will be visiting Singapore this year to revisit WW2 sites, and make further attempts to establish the continued existence or otherwise of the "lost" 15-inch gun batteries.
Please stay tuned for more updates. :-)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16 fleet due to receive improved combat capabilities from Mid-Life Upgrade

Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) F-16s, the warplane that forms the core of the air force's striking power, are due for a mid-life upgrade (MLU) that will improve the fighter's ability to sense-make, fly and fight, in all weather, day and night.

Fresh data from the United States indicates that the value of this proposed project, cited as US$2.43 billion or around S$3.09 billion (US$1: S$1.27), could make this the most ambitious warplane MLU ever led by Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). The RSAF F-5 Tiger is the last fighter type upgraded by MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), under Project M.

Scope of Singapore's F-16 upgrade
The F-16 upgrade is significant because defence electronics have advanced since Singapore ordered its first F-16C/Ds in the early 1990s. Fighters of that era are equipped with defence electronics whose computing power, processing speed, bandwidth and networking ability pale in comparison with today's state-of-the-art - imagine using a handphone or PC from that era and you get the picture.

So while the RSAF's F-16s can do the job today, it is imperative that the black boxes that form the brain and nerve centre of the fighter are brought up to date with a new radar that can detect threats from a greater distance and therefore allow the pilot to make best use of longer range precision weapons, all this while exchanging data with other SAF assets seamlessly and securely in real-time and with minimal human intervention, thus cutting down on the pilot's workload.

The MLU would keep the RSAF F-16 fleet fighting fit for years to come, allowing the air force to maximise the airframe hours left on the type even after nearly two decades of operations (F-16C/Ds entered service in phases, so the bulk of the fleet is well below 20 years old).

A wish-list of items said to be destined for the RSAF's F-16s, posted online yesterday by the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), outlines the extensiveness of the MLU for RSAF current F-16 fleet, which is the most numerous fighter type in the RSAF order of battle.

The RSAF flies three types of single engine F-16s, the oldest of which were ordered 20 years ago. These are the single-seat F-16C, the twin-seat F-16D and twin-seat F-16D+, which are configured with additional electronics for self-protection against enemy missiles and conformal fuel tanks for extended range/loiter time.

RSAF units that fly the F-16 are:
* 140 Squadron (the RSAF's most established fighter squadron)
* 143 Squadron (it spearheaded the introduction of A-4 Super Skyhawks, in their day the RSAF's most numerous fighter type) and
* 145 Squadron (it flies the most extensively furnished Vipers, the F-16D+).

The DSCA, the US government agency that oversees arms sales to foreign nations, informed the American Congress on Monday of a "possible Foreign Military Sale to Singapore for an upgrade of F-16 Block 52 aircraft and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of US$2.43 billion".

F-16 MLU wish-list
The list of items  mentioned in the DSCA statement is likely to draw interest from defence buffs and Singapore watchers.

"The Government of Singapore has requested an upgrade of 60 F-16C/D/D+ aircraft.  The upgrades will address reliability, supportability, and combat effectiveness concerns associated with its aging F-16 fleet.

The items being procured in this proposed sale include:
   70  Active Electronically Scanned Array Radars (AESA)
   70  LN-260 Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems (GPS/INS)
   70  Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS)
   70 APX-125 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Combined Interrogator Transponders
   3   AIM-9X Block II Captive Air Training Missiles
   3   TGM-65G Maverick Missiles for testing and integration
   4   GBU-50 Guided Bomb Units (GBU) for testing and integration
   5   GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions for testing and integration
   3   CBU-105 (D-4)/B Sensor Fused Weapons for testing and integration
   1   AIS Interface Test Adapters for software updates
   1   Classified Computer Program Identification Numbers (CPINs)
   4   GBU-49 Enhanced Paveways for testing and integration
   2   DSU-38 Laser Seekers for testing and integration
   6   GBU-12 Paveway II, Guidance Control Units"

The RSAF is known to have some 500 different ways to equip its F-16s for combat missions.

From the look of things, the MLU is due to expand this repertoire even further should MINDEF/SAF adopt the US proposal to enable upgraded F-16s to carry CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapons, which is a smart munition optimised to hunt and kill armoured targets like tanks and armoured rocket launchers.

RF-16 recce fighters
Senang Diri understands the RSAF F-16C/D/D+ fleet has been phased through progressive capability improvements in the past two decades.

This includes taking on the battlefield reconnaissance role after the RSAF stood down its fleet of RF-5S Tigereye recce fighters, which were modified locally with nose-mounted optical sensors. Recce F-16s are said to fly the role using pod-mounted sensors. These allow RSAF air warfare planners maximum flexibility to field the fighter type for a variety of missions over land or sea. More than just a sensor platform, RSAF F-16s configured for recce flights are said to be able to share what the warplane has captured much faster than the RF-5s which had to land and offload their imagery (let's just leave it at that).

The proposed MLU is timely as the black boxes on RSAF F-16s are of a vintage eclipsed by the  current generation of computer software.

Potent air defences
In terms of flying ability, few would doubt that the F-16 continues to prove to be an agile and nimble fighter. The warplane's small profile and energy make the warplane a potent opponent in the air-to-air domain even without vectored thrust.

When complemented by the ability to shepherd our fighters to the right place, right altitude and right time using ground-controlled intercept, improved sense-making when linked to RSAF airborne early warning aircraft and air-to-air missiles that offer the pilot the ability to execute beyond visual range or off boresight engagements, the RSAF F-16's status as the mainstay of the RSAF's strike capability looks secure, with the proposed MLU extending the fighter's relevance for the coming years.

Add to this strength in numbers, with up to 60 RSAF F-16s on call during a national emergency, complemented by 24 F-15SGs and dwindling numbers of F-5S - when you're out of F-5s, you're out of fighters - as well as MINDEF/SAF interest in future manned platforms such as the Joint Strike Fighter as well as unmanned options and one can tell that the RSAF's Air Combat Command will have a busy and promising time well beyond WY 2014/15.

To the fighter mix, one must add multi-layered ground-based air defences operated by RSAF air defence squadrons, including but not limited to upgraded Improved HAWKs, Spyders, four types of MANPADS and the long-serving 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft artillery and other system fielded by RSAF 160 SQN :-)

Sea-based air defences, in the form of Aster batteries aboard Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class stealth frigates, can be expected to play their part in safeguarding the island nation's skies too.

Above all, a formidable combination for defending the Lion City against aerial threats.

See the RSAF Black Knights demonstrate what the F-16s can do in the air at the Singapore Airshow 2014.

You may also like:
This story of an unnamed fighter upgrade project. Click here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hits and misses explaining the Third Generation SAF

Combat pilots usually take centre stage during pre-flight briefings for a test flight involving a war plane.

On this occasion, it was a defence engineer who was the centre of attraction, ringed by a circle of the air force's high fliers as something new, something bold and hitherto untried was showcased.

As a constellation of stars, crabs and bars listened intently, the defence engineer explained how the black box would help get the Jet in and out of contested airspace safely.

It is a challenge explaining how precision this-and-that can sharpen the ability of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to achieve its mission, in peace or war.

Making people realise and appreciate the impact that precision information, precision manoeuvre and precision strike bring to the battlespace is important both for sustaining commitment to defence among Singaporeans and deterring the adventuresome from testing the system.

Such awareness-building is challenging. This is because sense-making is more difficult to demonstrate than, say for example, a straight off firepower display where guns bark or missiles fly.

When the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF are determined to do so, it can achieve wonderful things.

The Jet, of course, was a war horse on the cusps of an ambitious upgrade that would give it a fresh lease of life.

You couldn't buy this gizmo off-the-shelf. It was home grown. Unique. Tailored for the Air Force's specific operational requirement that would see the Jet fly in to and out of airspace infested with unfriendly missiles.

Neither could curious eyes spot the device as it was embedded within the Jet. Yes, clever. But an engineering headache no less.

The usual option was to hang a similar device in a pod from a hardpoint. But the Air Force's Operations & Doctrine warfighters wanted to save every available hardpoint for extending the Jet's reach (fuel tanks) or hitting power (assorted munitions).

Some other way had to be found for its life insurance.

A good example was the media engagement during Exercise P in 2008 when the Singapore Army showcased its then-new Advanced Combatman System (ACMS) to the Singaporean media.

Time, effort, patience and, above all, trust (repeat: trust), went into the media engagement plan which helped defence writers get a better grasp of what ACMS was all about.

MINDEF/SAF could have simply pumped an acronym-laden fact sheet to media outlets and ticked off a box, having done what was expected.

But it went the extra mile by getting soldiers to demonstrate how wrist-mounted keypads could be used to send and receive messages, between sections in the infantry platoon and higher HQ. It showed the kind of messages that could be sent, like SMSes, and had full-time National Servicemen and regulars talk about their experiences "dialling a bomb". They took every question under the sun, answered with aplomb and confidence and their faith in their equipment was palpable.


The defence engineer proposed keeping the black boxes under the skin of the Jet. No protuberances or air scoops would be needed, he said, as these would disrupt airflow. Whether by accident or design, this resulted in a cosmetically implanted device, so cleanly inserted that it kept the basic lines and profile of the Jet.

In short: you wouldn't even know it was there.

Warfighters were intrigued.

But how, asked one, would you cool the thing?

It was an intelligent question that the defence engineer had anticipated. He let his audience soak up the question and ponder over it before stepping forward with a reply.

"Wax", came his laconic reply.

He scanned his audience and watched with satisfaction as the reply intrigued more than satisfied their curiosity. So he waited for the other shoe to drop.

"But how...?"

With a smile, with years of experience explaining hard to understand concepts in disarmingly simple terms, the engineer spoke like a teacher in front of class of eager beaver students.

"The wax will melt when the device is powered up. The melting cools the electronics." He couldn't resist, adding as a punchline, that a similar cooling device was used on NASA spacecraft.

"But will there be enough and where will the wax go?"

Trade secret. He knew and his audience knew the technicalities need not be explained in minute detail. A separate technical assessment team had put the idea through the proverbial washing machine, testing its technical viability and probing for possible flaws. None were found.

"By the time all the wax melts, your mission will be over."

It was as simple as that and the Project team went on to win a rather distinguished prize. It is this sort of narrative that has hoisted one's immeasurable respect for that particular Air Force that benefitted from such expertise. All this done and achieved quietly behind the scenes, out of sight but not out of mind.

The media engagement during Exercise P was an outstanding success.

Convinced, impressed, educated, it led to the realisation that a humble Singapore Army infantry section leader could, if necessity demanded, call upon everything the SAF could throw at the enemy.

This led to yours truly coining the evocative phrase that ACMS gave soldiers the firepower of the SAF in a backpack. MINDEF/SAF never indicated its reaction to the phrase. But the fact that then Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean used the same words at least twice signalled that the commentary had hit the sweet spot.

The time spent outfield during Exercise P wasn't the secret that helped the phrase "firepower of the SAF in a backpack" bubble into one's stream of consciousness. It was a by-product of the winning partnership between newsmaker (MINDEF/SAF) and reporters as they navigated in new, uncharted territory heralded by the introduction of ACMS. It would not be business-as-usual for networked infantry and we all realised the dawn of a new paradigm.

It was the trust engendered between newsmaker and reporters, the open and frank conversations that proved to be the winning formula.

In the years since 2008, much of the narrative on the Third Generation SAF has been anchored on more or less on the same phrases that are sounding clichéd: sense-making, firepower, arsenal, find-fix-and-finish, knockout blow.

The defence reporting scene here has yet to lift itself to the next level, a higher plane of discussion of the 3G transformation as our fighting forces continue to evolve.

XFS provided a ripe opportunity to level up. But that chance came and went and we failed to capitalise on it.