Sunday, February 2, 2014

An emerging rival to challenge the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) mystique

This is fiction.
You couldn’t hope for better weather for a visit by VIPs. Overhead, a clear sky flecked with light clouds made the wet weather programme redundant as it was evident not a drop of rain would touch the ground - at least for the duration of the visit. A light breeze combined with a cooperative sun that seemed less of a scorcher than usual gave the hosts picture perfect conditions as everyone in the air defence squadron waited anxiously for the Chief of Air Force (CAF) and the Mexican Air Force General to arrive.

The only glitch - if you could call it that - was the inability of the Generals’ entourage to drive all the way to the top of the Hill 286.

“It’s okay. We walk,” said the Mexican General sportingly, gesturing uphill as the glitch sent accompanying junior staff officers into a tizzy. As the entourage fell in line for the hike, the procession of military men and women was a caricature of the levels of command in the air force, with ranks thinning out in seniority the further one was from the head of the procession. Apart from junior staff officers (defined as Majors and below for this secret visit) who flitted about energetically up and down the line with comms sets abuzz, barely able to keep still, darting about like hyperactive pond skaters as they fretted over the itinerary, everyone else seemed to enjoy the impromptu hike. 
The Mexican nodded appreciatively as a tour guide shared the history of the missile site, which was first crowned by Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), then Improved Hawks and now, a Spyder SAM fire unit.

Every step up that skinny road that snaked its way up Hill 286 rewarded the VIPs and their retinue of hangers on with an elevated view of the urban sprawl that stretched out like a concrete blight, grey and drab with toy-like buildings jostling for space with the greenery from beyond the fence line of the forested sanctuary which hid the air force SAM site. Hoisted from the humdrum of street level activity and with the entourage maintaining a respectful silence in the presence of the two air force Generals, the tour guide’s narrative and banter between the VIPs seemed unusually amplified.

The missile site was an architectural oddity unlike any other hillocks in the Pasir Laba area. Parts of the hillside had been scalloped out to hold a concrete pad which was recessed partly into the hill and backed by reinforced concrete retaining walls to form a sort of half bowl. With your back to the hill, one had an unobstructed view all the way to the horizon and up to the heavens. Hill 286 was crowned by a ring of these strange pads, such that the  field of view from these half bowls looked out at every compass bearing. These bowls gave an all-round view but were dug far enough from one another that a lucky strike wouldn’t take out all of them at the same time.

As the narrator explained that these structures were launch pads for now extinct Bloodhounds, the entourage filed past the concrete voids like tourists visiting particularly interesting ancient ruins, relying on their imagination to visualise what the place may have looked like when studded with Bloodhound SAMs.     

Part tourist, part nature buff (there were more trees in the vicinity than his entire neighbourhood combined) but a military professional through and through, the Mexican General’s trained eye noted that the British defence planners did a damn good job picking the site for air defence systems.

As the narrator droned on, the General mentally worked out firing arcs (not needed for vertical launched missiles), made a note of the number of concrete pads built at the site and gazed across the thin sliver of water shimmering in the distance that was the Strait to imagine how the site would look like from the other side of the border.

The briefing on the SAM system itself was more a formality.

Formality or not, the host squadron could not simply go through the motions. Some fighter pilots you could smoke. But not today’s audience. Not when you have a CAF who grew up with air surveillance radars and air defence missiles as his tools of the trade and knew the specifications of these war machines more intimately than the birthdays of his own principal staff officers. Not when the visiting CAF was a seasoned pro who likewise knew these systems inside out. One statistic mouthed wrongly or (horrors) forgotten in mid speech, a tactical situation ineptly described could prove a career ending move.

The static display guide stepped up and did his show, well aware CAF and almost his entire air staff was within earshot, listening intently to the facts and figures that dropped from his lips as the static display was explained.

As the Mexican knew the war machine’s specifications by heart, he used the session as an opportunity to observe how familiar his hosts were with the said system and popped the obligatory question or two so that conversation didn’t freeze in awkward silence.
The General was a seasoned pro, a consummate soldier-diplomat whose every gesture, carefully calibrated speech and smooth, urbane mannerisms were polished by charm school, seasoned by years of his own observations from the time he was a junior lieutenant serving battle hardened chiefs in his air force who served as role models on how a General should walk the talk. Above all, the General also packed a natural talent that saw him emerge leader of the pack in one of the world’s most respected air forces and one of the most competitive command trees in the military realm.

Constantly self-aware he was on show during such visits, mindful to make polite chit chat with the servicemen and servicewomen who hosted him by making (genuine) enquiries about their National Service vocation and role in the squadron, intuitively watchful for the camera so that his demeanour and body language (smile and make eye contact, no hands in pockets) would be just right when the camera was lifted to capture the moment (arms usually pointing at something or arrayed in a thoughtful pose), the General looked and played the part to perfection.

His audience was awestruck.

Further briefings were in store as the General was whisked through the fantastically named Super Gate to see yet more air force war machines. This country, the distinguished visitor noted, had introduced the same frontline assets as his air force faithfully and (it would appear) unquestioningly - as if the order of battle was the model answer for how a small state’s air power capability should look like.


Since the earliest days of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have made a noteworthy and positive influence on the Republic’s defence ecosystem. Phrased simply, there are more than a handful in the SAF who venerate the IDF.

To say the SAF holds the IDF in high regard would be an understatement. Elements of the SAF seem almost awestruck by the Israeli war machine.

The Israel Air Force appears beyond reproach in doctrine, warfighting ability and order of battle composition, all of which have contributed to a combat record few air arms can hold a candle to.

IDF Armour appears to be a powerful and formidable pace-setter, the model answer for all your battlefield problems, the gold standard by which the SAF Armour Family aspires to benchmark itself against, the go-to guys who can help formulate the armour force of the future.

Positive impressions formed during the 1967 Six Day War, when IDF instructors were attached to the fledgling SAF, spawned the stuff of legend years later after Israel’s citizen soldiers, their backs literally to the sea, beat back and defeated the combined might of the Arab armies during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The IDF’s battlefield successes evidently left lasting impressions on the SAF’s earliest batches, so much so that when these junior officers rose to positions of command later in life, the IDF’s stock rose in tandem. It appears that the knowledge and experience of Israeli warfighters is worth paying for and there is a growing IDF alumni who have benefitted from the IDF's vaunted reputation.

The IDF’s star has shone brightly ever since. Its image has been fortified, polished by successive wars that have introduced and enthralled successive generations of Singapore’s citizen soldiers to the IDF standing as battle victors.

Be that as it may, there is another armed force in Israel’s backyard that has successfully challenged the might of the IDF - and lived to tell the tale. These are the military forces of Hizbollah, the Party of God in Lebanon.

Israel has an unbeatable air force? Hizbollah has none.

Powerful IDF armour that are kings of the battlefield? Hizbollah had apparently not bothered matching the IDF’s armoured firepower, track for track, barrel for barrel.

Instead, Hizbollah’s strategists appear to have decided to meet Israel asymmetrically using powerfully-armed infantry fighting with a home ground advantage, trained to swarm around critical contacts of interest at the right place and time before moving like ants to successive lines of fortified defences.

In the two years or so needed to make a new Israel Air Force pilot combat-ready, Hizbollah needs a mere 15 minutes or less to train a novice to launch a MANPADS.

IDF Armour, which commands heavy investments in simulators and training time to induct fresh Israeli full-time national service men and women in armoured warfare, is countered by Hizbollah anti-tank units who need a fraction of the time and resources to learn how to kill AFVs.  

You may view their use of homemade rocket artillery as indiscriminate and amateurish, but the swarms of rockets fired at Israeli populated areas have forced the Jewish state to invest inordinate amounts of resources to deal with this menace.

As Israel’s economy is no powerhouse, the manner in which Hizbollah has built its arsenal has touched many pain points in its arch enemy. As Israel reacts to the Hizbollah threat, Hizbollah strategists must be keenly aware that it has secured the Initiative in the military balance in a way that no conventional Arab armed forces has ever achieved.

Make no mistake: the IDF is still a lethal weapon and a formidable deterrent.
But that decades old deterrent that Arab armies failed to crack has apparently inspired a new generation of strategists and tacticians in Hizbollah’s ranks who have rewritten the playbook for meeting the IDF in battle.

They too deserve our attention and respect.

This is also fiction
The tiny cups of aromatic coffee made the home visit worthwhile. And the delicious spread of home cooked dishes coming out of the impossibly small Lebanese kitchen beat the best of the Nasi Arab restaurants along Bukit Bintang hands down.

The discussion between the menfolk had a wonderfully conducive setting and soon, the carpeted sitting room gurgled with conversation that flowed freely and sincerely among new found friends.

"How is Zaina?," asked the GGK Major.

"Zaina, she is recovering well. Alhumdullihah," said her father, a one-time teacher who in recent years had found a new trade, not by choice but by circumstance.

Malaysian officers from MALCON were there to pay a farewell visit to the family to see how the little girl the MALCON medics saved from a road traffic accident was faring. The girl's positive outlook cheered their hearts as the MALCON officers were fathers themselves. It was a perfect way to wind up their tour of duty in Lebanon.

The small talk flowed from one topic to another with no set agenda, as conversations usually do at such social gatherings. As the guests were military men, the spotlight inevitably feel upon their tour of duty in Lebanon and their impressions of the country.

"May I ask...," the GGK Major ventured in between another cup of coffee, "May I ask how your family coped during the war?"

The former teacher knew his trade well. He was was used to summarising key points for a lecture and delivering his thoughts in a logical sequence while keeping his audience engaged. His story riveted the MALCON officers. They were more than engaged. His story enthralled them all.

In two minutes, they learned that he stepped forward to volunteer with Hizbollah as a militiaman, making him a citizen soldier in the fullest sense of the word . Within 10 minutes, they found out he was no rank-and-file man. His exposure to math and physics and innate leadership skills placed him in command of a Hizbollah ATGM unit.

A quarter of an hour after he began recounting his war service, table utensils placed strategically in the make believe battlefield supported by animated hand gestures recreated the Hizbollah versus Israel Defense Forces battles that were fought out in the dusty streets of Lebanese border towns as tank gunfire was answered by ATGM attacks. This was literally a table top battle, an impromptu lecture in anti-tank tactics in urban operations and the arcane subject of points of vulnerability of Israeli armour delivered to an appreciative audience.

The MALCON officers did not need to know how to knock out the vaunted Merkavas. Their Metis M ATGMs would take care of that - as proven by the Hizbollah. They were keenly interested in how Hizbollah managed to fight and survive under a sky seemingly infested with enemy UAVs.

And so, the grateful father, teacher-turned-combatant and now combatant-turned-teacher again obliged the Malaysians. He explained that the idea that UAVs have an all-seeing eye just because they buzzed the sky out of reach of small arms fire had been debunked time and again during the fight towards the Litani River.

The value of battlefield decoys was sketched out, the importance of having a deception plan as integral to one's mission planning was underlined as the experienced MALCON officers soaked in the lessons from the war veteran. The father's wartime experience fighting the IDF was one of many picked up by MALCON during their time in Lebanon. Some stories they gathered up by chance (as in this instance). Others were actively sought out and gathered by seasoned information gatherers and diligently relayed to Kuala Lumpur to help shape and validate MAF CONOPS.

The MAF's tour of duty in Lebanon was truly worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

If your little fictional vignettes have any truth to them, then we are already victorious. The IDF might one day destroy Hizbollah, but Hizbollah can never destroy Israel, given their tactical and operational postures. They can harass and annoy Israel, taking a continual toll in lives and treasure, but never defeat them -- they have completely surrendered the strategic initiative. This is the problem with the "poison shrimp" doctrine we used to have -- it is a doctrine predicated on defeat and failure, a scheme to delay death, rather than secure life.

If the IDF has reduced their foes to this, instead of the endless tides of armour, infantry and aircraft they used to threaten them with, then they have secured life for their nation and are victorious. Continual harassment by rockets and the occasional kidnapping or terrorist outrage is far preferable to enemy divisions pouring over the border. One is a nuisance, the other is an existential threat. It is perfectly right that they have optimized to defeat the latter at the expense of the former.

The IDF should feel good about themselves for what they have achieved. If we have done the same, then so should we.

If your purpose is to address any complacency in our own thinking, then please do -- that is always worth doing. We should never imagine we are invincible or that our potential foes are stupid or pushovers. But we should not lose sight of our goal -- securing life for our nation. We must optimize against the greatest threats first.

Anonymous said...

woah, that is 1 good comment...

Anonymous said...

Who needs battlefield victories ?

Anonymous said...

The IDF and political leadership bungled the 2006 war. From 2000 till 2006 almost the whole IDF were preoccupied with fighting terrorist type of combat, so much so that they neglected training for conventional combat.

The operational reservist ICT consist mostly of "how to fight terrorist" type of in-camp-training. So much so that when they were activated for the 2006 show down, they forgot how to fight a conventional combat. They actually forgot how to fight a conventional war!

The armoured combat team went out on patrol still thinking "how to fight terrorist" mode, expecting scuttle bug skirmishes. What happen next jot em to the core, the "terrorist" this time, were able to mount a coordinated strike using RPGs and their commanders were directing the fight thru' mobile phones and SMS's - on the public civilian telephone network!

The armoured column went on patrol without armoured combat engineer support, which is a standard conventional fighting doctrine, they forgot... remember they have not been training conventional fighting skills for some 5,6 years of ICT. When the lead Merkava was hit, the armoured column was a sitting duck! There was no organic armoured combat engineer support! They forgot to “indent” for ACE support and the boys were killed.

Anonymous said...

Asymmetry. Yin and Yang. Not easy to train a conscript force even for such a professional and seasoned out fit like the IDF, what more SAF.

SAF is right to focus on overmatch as a strategic thrust. But with falling TFR, the manpower strength has to be augmented with technology as force multiplier and new evolving fighting concepts that harness man and machine. Yin-Yang, Symmetry-Asymmetry. Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Commandos, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance ? Not easy to implement throughout army wide, maybe the bulk of the Army still concentrate on conventional fighting, a special forces formation (orbat up to division level) to be curved out for this type of warfare? Can train to be nimble enough but at the same time also possess “hard” follow-on forces for punch!

The IDF came to grip with the reality of the 2006 campaign as more and more analyses were release into the open source. They admitted they were beaten and to learn from this. Even the Hezbollah leadership praised the IDF for admitting defeat and wanting to learn and better themselves. The former cautioned his guerilla fighters not to be complacent but learn from the IDF!

Anonymous said...

For all the might that the IDF posesses to inflict severely upon the Palestinians, alas this has made the Palestinians more resolved and astute in their mind and spirit to reclaim their homeland. The moment a Palestinian child is born into the world he/ she is being brainwashed of the evil of the Zionist ( not the Jews ).

While the Berlin Wall is history, the Zionist began to surround themselves with walls, thus acknowledging that no amount of arsenal can annihilate the Palestinians.

If the IDF "feel good about themselves", does this reflect the feeling of every Isreali citizens on the ground?

The Zionist shudder the thought of peace in the region, for if when peace is finally achiieved , this will be the beginning of the deconstruction of Isreal, not by arms and ammunitions, but by the regenaration of the Palestinian's economic and political power.

FinalFive said...

Your best post yet. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Read unconfirmed report that RSAF is buying 6 A330MRTT, to be officially announced in the coming Airshow.

Curious choice?

Anonymous said...

For those who served in that hill where bloodhounds used to sit. We called it Mickey Mouse hill.

charlton said...

israel though small, but it aint as small as singapore. my uneducated view is that Israel is able to absorb a few inaccurate rocket strikes, kidnaps etc and still progress but it might not be so for sngapore, it might be a risk for too great for investors.

ah seng said...

Dear Charlton. Nobody would ever risk attacking us, we have experienced commanders, strong troops and good defense budget.

It's just a matter of time before we easily invade another country (eg. our northern neighbor) and annex some land. :P

However, we do face some logistic problems - how do we transfer some of our equipment from abroad (like taiwan, states, etc) to the war zone in johore...

ah seng said...

Dear Charlton. Nobody would ever risk attacking us, we have experienced commanders, strong troops and good defense budget.

It's just a matter of time before we easily invade another country (eg. our northern neighbor) and annex some land. :P

However, we do face some logistic problems - how do we transfer some of our equipment from abroad (like taiwan, states, etc) to the war zone in johore...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you can associate yourself with Israel, afterall the Chinese are the Jews of the East. "Experienced commanders" What experience? Field Training, overseas training? Dont make me laugh! The boastful comments here make me laugh, as though these champions has seen combat and know what make men tick in action! Just because we buy expensive war equipment makes us unbeatable.

Dont forget we are a conscript army, Many SIR/GDS men are Malay chaps which i note, are less likely to chao keng than a pampered Chinese boys away from their mommies. There is a Chinese saying, Good iron do not become nails, Same goes for soldiering.

You can bullshit the folks with nonsensical yarns of what will happen in combat with our neighbours up north. Trust me, people these days are smarter and educated and wont shed their blood and lives for worthless political goals, of which the masters selfishly gave little back. perhaps you the bespactcled photograph warrior can do the fighting, yeah right!

As an added note, i think i should highlight to some of my friends with military blogs up north. With their connections they can ban you from entering their military events, as evidently you are revealing their TTPs and equipment purchases and have the audacity to mock them with exaggerated bravado with ur bullshit noir stories.

Im not some guy up north, but a pissed off Singaporean who is sick and tired of the charade and wayang the military and our politician portray, We might be militarily strong, but ideologically weak. You expect us to fight up to the Mersing Line while Pappies screw us from the back? Please. :)

Have a good one.

Anonymous said...

Ah Seng,
To overcome your logistic problem, DHL, FedEx and even our Pos Laju can be of help!

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit exaggerated to say we were enamoured by IDF after Yom Kippur War - Israel was one hair's breadth from defeat in 1973 Yom Kippur War. The war of 1978 help create Hizbollah (more potent than the PLO), and recent wars are at best a draw. If we follow their strategies and tactics, we may very well repeat their blunders.
I doubt if IDF (or 'Mexican') general still come to SG in uniform. The trainers left in the 1970's. We mostly buy weapons and intel-gathering equipment from IAI, Rafael etc (they do send consultants, military retirees as advisors, but I'm doubtful they'll send active high-ranking personnel)

Anonymous said...

While we are doing the MAF - Hizbollah comparison, it is important to consider the vast difference in the strategic context. One, can the MAF as the armed forces of a nation state with all the related concerns truly be like Hizbollah? Given Malaysia's context, it only need to look at the Philippines to see what is the consequence. Two, if the MAF cannot be like the Hizbollah and given the MAF's resource constraints, what are its force structuring choices? It may find it difficult to be equally good in and invest to have a military well trained and equipped for conventional warfare and yet be equally proficient in the type of insurgency/asymmetric combat that Hizbollah excels in. Three, does Malaysia aspires to be a pariah state? If it does, then the MAF can indeed go full asymmetric by ignoring LOAC and collateral casualties. But I dont suppose it can. Just as we should we get carried away mirroring the SAF's potential prowess using the IDF as a benchmark, we should likewise avoid doing the same for the MAF - Hizbollah comparison. A sovereign state with concerns over sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that seeks to be a respected member of the international community and not a pariah have a limited space in structuring its armed forces.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia = a pariah state = Hizbollah

Anonymous said...

Dear anon@0849,
You left me gasping for air in trying to read your state of mind!

Anonymous said...

"The missile site was an architectural oddity unlike any other hillocks in the Pasir Laba area. ... noted that the British defence planners did a damn good job picking the site for air defence systems."


Thanks for the suggestion or notion that the selection of MSC was the brainchild of British defence planners.

Having read your earlier post on the Bloodhounds, I would not have thought so, considering the British had their Bloodhounds "in one basket" during the entirety of their presence here. I thought the decision to disperse and to pick the sites was a Singaporean or Mexican idea.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11.40am,

"I doubt if IDF (or 'Mexican') general still come to SG in uniform. The trainers left in the 1970's. We mostly buy weapons and intel-gathering equipment from IAI, Rafael etc (they do send consultants, military retirees as advisors, but I'm doubtful they'll send active high-ranking personnel) "

This would be hard to imagine. Systems like the Spyder and G550 are so new that it would be hard to expect any IDF retirees to have the necessary expertise. The vendors alone cannot be expected to answer all the complex questions involving logistical support, tactical employment and so on. Active personnel are almost certainly around along with the procedures to conceal them.