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*


Anonymous said...

If they can plan for this type of exercise, why can't they plan for the shortfall of the hospital beds / manpower...and of course the housing problems.....If they have spend the billions of dollars buying worthless products..and spend on the health / education..and housing...we will be pleased with this government..but alas, they are just interested in inflating their military ego....will one less aircraft or submarine destroyed the defence of Singapore...

bob villa said...

Ah, David you have 'wise up'. It will be like in the song 'Hotel California', 'you can enter but you can never leave'. After that ,then we play another song.
Or it id more like Taichi or Jujitsu, using your enemy strength againts him.
Remember the only sure thing in life ,is death.
And 'Kia si' people dont like thoese odds, want to bet?.
Now that something the defence planner have to think, well unless they can make a' brave serum' with DSTA help.
I understand they have identify two possible cure .;)

Loyal citizen said...

Hi David,

I hope our government will be ever ready to tackle some of these possible scenarios of which I highlighted below:

It is inevitably that some of these Trojan Horses may be lurking in our homeland. Think of the possibility that "A group of PRCS" stirring up unrest in Singapore may prompt their communist government interfere in our affairs through political or military actions under the pretext of protecting their so called "Worldwide Chinese interests ". With china becoming more assertive in its actions worldwide, we must guard ourselves against such possible conspiracy happening in our country. A similar fate I mentioned above befall on Vietnam in 1979 Sino-Vietnam war.

Scenario 2:

With two Asia largest economies INDIA and CHINA competing for naval dominance and influence in both India ocean and South China Sea, there is a likelihood that one day we may see PRCS ships maintaining their continuous presence in the tiny chokepoint of Malacca straits.

I prayed that as our country progress itself into the future, we will find a way navigate the tricky waters of the international and domestics affairs. Just my 2 cents worth.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think u say too much.

- from someone who knows what u are talking about...

Anonymous said...

Think ..he does not understands..and thought he understands..but just a mouth piece of the government..

No independent or critical thinking..

Anonymous said...

about 100,000 malaysians live in johor baru, johor, come to work in SG everyday.

ah seng said...

Hmmn... the best way is to unleash a barrage of rockets and destroy the undefended northern state and claim it as our own. Nice... Who cares about the population, they are just a bunch of useless, undeveloped and lazy people.

Anonymous said...

lucky that I'm in klang valley, selangor, so this matter is not my problem !

Anonymous said...

Typical Malaysian mindset. wars will happen in Johor, Sabah or one or two portions of the country. Malaysia is a small country. it is only big relative to sg. look at the map.

Anonymous said...

ah seng said...
"Hmmn... the best way is to unleash a barrage of rockets and destroy the undefended northern state and claim it as our own. Nice... Who cares about the population, they are just a bunch of useless, undeveloped and lazy people." January 19, 2014 at 10:19 AM

It appears that ah seng is Hitler reincarnated.

bob villa said...

David my comment was disallowed. Why ,the truth hit too close to home is it.?

Anonymous said...

Why you keep talking about war with Malaysia? This puny camera boy is going to shoulder a rifle and man his post? You work for a malaysian based company, you go over and see their military shows, yet you talk here as if anytime we will go and kill Malaysians in a drop of a hat in the Government says so. Please, talk all you want about SAF firepower, listen more to the disgruntled Singaporeans who are being exploited by our own Government and you expect us to readily die for some stupid political gain,

And fuck you very much too

David Boey said...

Dear Bob,
Your comments are not moderated.

Ads and spam have been removed but almost everything else is left intact in its full glory.

Will remove comments that offend race, religion or attacks against other people. Have not had to do so since 2009 though I have considered removing some of "ah seng's" remarks as some of you have written to me about these.

Try again? There could be a word limit imposed by BlogSpot.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Bob villa, yours must have been a very interesting comment. If you would not mind rewording your comment a little, we would be eager to hear it just as we appreciate your other comments.

Anonymous said...

Basically no win situation for all when the shit hits the fan.

I am typical Singapore NS man with glasses and puny.
But with my rifle and section with SAWs LAWs & L2s, HIMARs, 155s , Apaches backing me up, I think I will not be quite an easy pushover. Try fighting me in jungle and built up area when I am armed. My section & me will most likely beat the crap out of an enemy many more times than u think possible.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Malaysia has threatened SG on several occasions.
Very easy for big country to threaten much smaller nation.

When SG was on verge of separation from My there was real possibility My was prepared to invade SG. However, British made clear that that wud not happen.

In around 2000 My threatened cutting off water to SG. That is a clear act of war as it was a threat to SG survival.

Pedra Branca provided another opportunity for My to flex their muscles by sending warships close to the disputed outcrop. Threats were also made to occupy the disputed outcrop.

So is it a mystery that SG may consider My a real threat when there is an issue and the big bully cannot have its way ? SAF will remain ready for any untoward and sudden threat from anyone at any time.

Anonymous said...

the main point is that nobody can predict when those powers-that-be in putrajaya would start acting crazy (again) towards its neighbour.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:18 AM,

Relax. I can't imagine anything Malaysia has done to be responsible for the hardships in our life. Like what someone above said, hostility and war is a political exercise. We should question and examine the interests behind teaching us to imagine an enemy in the name of patriotism. Is it to tell us we cannot have diverse opinions just because we are a small country? Is everything we read in the ST about the 1990s water price disputes true? Does questioning things really lead to our being invaded?

Anonymous said...

No need war la. Be smart. Buy their already corrupted leaders. As a businessman, i can honestly say malaysian leaders are for sale. Haha. Long live the one eyed!

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:29PM.

That's a real great attitude to take. Despite all the documents produced and formal documentation provided by the Sg gov on the water dispute, it is now o' so fashionable to question everything that is from your own government. Way to go on the 5 pillars of defence. Our country so needs more of your type. The wannabe critical thinkers who are no more than unreasonable detractors.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:29PM

Questioning and disbelieving for the sake of questioning and disbelieving does not a clever man make...

Anonymous said...

The only side which has been blatantly untruthful is Malaysia. Remember the scenic mountains behind Pedra Branca. Fancy a Malaysian poster casting aspersions on a foreign govt when his own govt is full of lying ingrates.

Anonymous said...

Relax. I can't imagine anything Malaysia has done to be responsible for the hardships in our life. Like what someone above said, hostility and war is a political exercise
Right. Malaysian leaders and publications have said a lot of things to harm ties - jingoistic and downright hostile. This is inexcusable. Younger Singaporeans will not tolerate this. The next political party which reduces our closeness with Malaysia gets my vote. Time to put Malaysia in its rightful place.

Anonymous said...

Wah, you put Malaysia ahead of all your other political priorities in Singapore. Salute.

Not that I question you, but which party will express such an aim for you to vote?

Anonymous said...

you can vote for whichever political party, except umno !

Anonymous said...

After reading about malaysian publications on singapore, i am just floored by the jealousy, ill will, misconception, racism ans war mongering. And these are official talk. i am telling all my friends about this. Malaysia is not a good neighbour.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the claim not backed up, ah seng. Please go ahead and tell your imaginary friends.

Many countries around the globe are more corrupt, poor, racist, incompetent than Malaysia. Yet they are not collapsing or being militarily or economically invaded by their neighbours.

If you think this will happen to Malaysia in your lifetime, we'll see. We can have a waiting game.

David @ January 19, 2014 at 11:09 PM

Thank you for giving the due consideration.

Anonymous said...

Well, it is already quite bad. So, hey. Hope things get better yea.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes internal troubles and confusion is more than enough to bring down a country or let it float about aimlessly. No need for invasion.

Anonymous said...

Yup, lets see if you die an angry old man waiting for it to happen. There's no need to discuss further because we are waiting for your prophecy to materialise.

You can fantasise about the invisible Sg hand in Malaysia all you like (forgetting every foreign venture must have local ownership) or some Hitlerite war of aggression like you said two days ago.

Life goes on here.

Anonymous said...

Why angry le? I read malaysian news with popcorn tub in hand everyday. Hehe

Anonymous said...

To Anon Jan 21, 1.47pm, several examples were provided in another post. It is clear that the Malaysian press and politicians and defence publications routinely demonizes Singapore as the enemy. We will therefore respond in kind. Change your conduct and we will respond in kind as well.

Anonymous said...

To Anon Jan 21, 2014, 5.26 PM. I also read the news everyday. Waiting for Mahathir to say a few snarky words at your idol's passing.

That one no need to wait so long. And it won't only be Malaysians who are happy. Many Singaporeans too...

Anonymous said...

Urmm....Mr Lee is a recognized global statesman. Dr M is a kampong hero. See the difference? Mind your words Malaysian!

Sgreans might disagree with some of his policy. But both opposition and PAPers give him credit for bringing Sg to wear it is today.

Anonymous said...

His son is not warlike like you. He might increase military cooperation between the two countries. Ties have been improving the further the two pass into history. :)

Anonymous said...

^ Rosmah like shopping in sg hubbies listen to wifeys.

Anonymous said...

At least he has a wife. Do you?

Anonymous said...

Sorry bro. Im not people like you. Try another?

Anonymous said...

Leaving your population undefended as a strategic burden for the enemy is good military tactics but bad political strategy. The generals will appreciate how it slows down the enemy and forces him to devote forces to CMR, but the political leadership will hate how destroys the credibility of the government. The government demonstrates right out that it is unable to defend the people and is willing to leave them to the mercy of the enemy to act as a speed bump. If this is really what the Malaysian generals have planned, I wonder if they have cleared it with those upstairs. Even if this tactic wins the war, it is likely to lose the peace.

I am sure that we have threatened to blare this point full blast through every possible media outlet in the event the Malaysians try to use this tactic -- the threat may deter their political leadership. As soon as we cross the border, if the Malaysians melt away and refuse to give battle to us (so we can employ our technology to the fullest), we will just say right out that their government has failed as the protector of their people and make sure that every single Malaysians hears and knows this. We will claim that the generals and politicians have callously abandoned the people to the enemy to save their own hides. No bomb we could drop could hurt their political leadership more than that.

So I am a little sceptical that this would happen. I am sure they might try this in extremis, but it is a double-edged sword.

Anonymous said...

"Urmm....Mr Lee is a recognized global statesman. Dr M is a kampong hero. See the difference?"

Mahathir inherited a much more primitive hinterland and brought it up to not as high a level as Singapore, within half the time LKY was in power. Whereas LKY inherited the most developed city in East Asia at the time of Singapore's independence.

12:27 AM:

A people can hate their government while loving their country, they will do the best to defend it, considering the invaders' race and religion differ from their own. It is the same with Singapore.

Yes, a strategy of trading space for time will lose the credibility of the population. But if the other choice is, as you put it, to lose to Singapore's strength in conventional battle, it is the least bad alternative. And as you say, Singapore's military superiority is so great that there is no point to starting a war at all.

On a higher level, why is it that so many Malaysians are not outraged at the state of their country, their government? It is because they share responsibility for making, tolerating, depending on it a little too much. This is the government they have put in power, this is the armed forces the government has put in place.

Anonymous said...


Think about it, if what you say is correct, then Palestinians, Chechens, Kurds, Timorese, Mujahideen and dozens of other insurgent movements would have given up the fight long ago. These movements' ideals are nationalist, religious or both. And despite incompetent governments, overwhelming odds -think pitiful supplies, harsh climates and little food that you can scarcely imagine- or both, they have fought for decades with no shortage of will.