Friday, March 21, 2014

Not business as usual for Indonesia-Singapore defence relations

Pawn stars: Like good soldiers, these TNI re-enactors playing the role of convicted terrorists Usman and Harun at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue take their orders from influential cukongs in Jakarta who will never bother befriending these troops. The recently unearthed Usman-Harun issue has undone decades of work by far-sighted defence officials from Indonesia and Singapore who recognised the value and merit in the two neighbours forging ahead together.

Maybe it was a cheap shot directed at unsettling Singapore.
Maybe it was another example of Indonesian behaviour that should be seen at face value with no ill intent, no ill will and no malice intended.

Or it may have been staged because Indonesia’s Korps Marinir (Marine Corps) has absolutely no other national heroes in its long history.
Whatever the case, Indonesia’s decision to have two of its marines walk side by side, dressed up in 1960s-era uniforms this past week emblazoned with the names “Usman” and “Harun” indicates that the Usman-Harun warship naming episode is, quite literally in this instance, far from dead.

The act of bringing the duo back to life caught the attention of the Indonesian press, who photographed the re-enactors at the Indonesian Navy booth at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue. This event, held this past week at the Jakarta Convention Centre, attracted a global audience, many of whom saw a model of the warship named KRI Usman Harun alongside the marines dressed up as convicted terrorists.

Coming so close on the heels of the atmospherics over Jakarta’s decision to name a new warship after two Indonesian marines convicted and hung in Singapore for murdering civilians during the 10 March 1965 MacDonald House bombing, the picture is understandably newsworthy.

More than anything, that single image published by Tempo says succinctly - in far less than a thousand words – that the twin ghosts of insensitivity and disrespect that haunt Indonesia-Singapore defence relations have yet to be exorcised.
The lack of sensitivity that plunged defence dealings between Asean’s largest and smallest members into deep freeze are an unfortunate and recent phenomenon.

If you visit the National Museum in downtown Jakarta, you will find an exhibit on the MacDonald House bombing therein that tells Indonesia’s perspective to a dark episode in Indonesia-Singapore relations that claimed three civilian lives and injured many other civilians. Blood was shed - pointlessly and without warning - after the marines bombed the office building during Konfrontasi, the undeclared war with Malaysia, of which Singapore was then part of.
Usman and Harun were convicted and hung for murder in 1968, but were feted as heroes when their bodies were flown back to Jakarta. Bilateral ties went into limbo until 1973,  when then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesian President Suharto agreed that it was time to move on. Accepting the advice from then Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Lee Khoon Choy, former PM Lee sprinkled flower petals on the graves of the two marines as a gesture that ties should move forward.

The MacDonald House bombing has, nonetheless, been recognised by generations of Indonesian leaders in the political and defence spheres as a sensitive episode best left in the past. Why? It remains tender ground because heralding one’s perspective to this issue would inevitably affect the feelings and sensitivities of the other neighbour. The individuals hailed by Indonesia as heroes for following orders are viewed by Singapore as murderous terrorists. If Korps Marinir re-enactors want to be historically accurate, their caricatures of Usman and Harun should have worn civilian attire as this was how the two dressed in their cowardly attack on a non-military target during an undeclared war. In the eyes of civilised nations, this is an undeniable act of terrorism. It is a big deal when a neighbour openly celebrates such blood lust as there is nothing to suggest history would not repeat itself.
For decades, defence and political officials from both sides pledged to move on as the issue had been closed in 1973. Singapore sought to see the Tentera Nasional Indonesian (TNI, Indonesian armed forces) in a different light, despite international condemnation throughout the decades that echoed TNI abuses from one end of the archipelago (Aceh) to the other (Irian Jaya). For years, the TNI was an international pariah, arms sales to Jakarta were banned by some countries and TNI officers were shunned by others.

But the SAF was prepared to engage with the TNI, as the armed forces the SAF had first hand experience working with showed us a different side from the butchered image painted by human rights groups.
An official from Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) recalls how a MINDEF entourage was whisked quickly past the Usman-Harun exhibit during an official visit, with semi-apologetic exhortations of “This way Pak” as their Indonesian hosts hurried them to other parts of the museum. This gesture was noted as an effort on the part of the Indonesians not to unnecessarily agitate the Singaporeans, even unintentionally.

In decades past, our two countries have benefitted immensely from close and meaningful relations, which include interactions that take place aware from the media’s limelight such as specialised training for TNI warships and close collaboration with successive generations of high-ranking Komandan Gugus or Dangus (Force Commanders) from the Indonesian Navy’s various commands.

The Usman Harun episode has, alas, made many in Singapore see the side of the TNI that we hoped we would not be forced to see. Recent theatrics engineered by some players in Indonesia are textbook examples of statecraft that is insensitive, petty and bullying. Such behaviour is perhaps fuelled by a massive inferiority complex arising from Singapore’s success story. We should expect more mischievous stunts as some elements in Jakarta turn a blind eye to the hard work of many TNI officers, men and women at nurturing defence ties by exploiting the Usman Harun episode for their own agenda.

Indeed, none other than Indonesian defence minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro was quoted by the Indonesian media for commenting that there was “no problem” with the presence of the two marines at the event.  

The relationship between the TNI and SAF is in limbo. Ties that took decades of joint effort to establish and mature have now been set back many years.

It is not business as usual.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Search for Malaysia Airlines MH370: A look at RSAF C-130 flights callsigns Rescue 65 and Rescue 66

Mission ready: A C-130H from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) 122 Squadron is prepared for her long, 10-hour overwater flight at Apron Charlie, Paya Lebar Air Base, on 9 March 2014. Straits Times picture by Desmond Lim.

The following post is unique to Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) search and locate missions flown using C-130 Hercules aircraft with the callsigns Rescue 65 and Rescue 66. What is not unique are the challenges flying such long duration flights overwater, far from land, in all weather conditions. Men and women from 13 countries face much the same challenges in the unprecedented, multinational search for the 239 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. The dedication and commitment to a common purpose of the SAR teams from all nations is praiseworthy.  

There are no signs that point to IGARI, the aeronautical waypoint that Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 is said to have passed before she vanished mysteriously last Saturday (8 Mar 2014).

Getting to the search areas near IGARI that Malaysia has assigned to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) involves flying some 700km from Paya Lebar Air Base in a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft configured for search and locate duty with observer stations, lift rafts and smoke markers. Once there, the Hercules would begin a meticulous aerial sweep of the sea at low level, orbiting the search boxes for hours on end.

Air Force men and women aboard two C-130s, callsigns Rescue 65 and Rescue 66, have been flying such missions this past week.

Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 start their work day
It's a tough way to earn one's pay. Even so, there's been no let up in the mission tempo. Every call to duty has been answered. All assigned flights have taken off as scheduled and returned to base safely.

From engine start to engine shutdown, each mission could easily stretch 10 hours - or more. Flying is just one part of the deal. The RSAF engineers and groundcrew from 122 "Condor" Squadron responsible for getting the two airlifters mission ready start their work day well before sun-up and will stand down hours after sunset.

It is arduous work. And we can be grateful for the Air Force's men and women who answered the call to action promptly and have been sustaining the effort every day since Saturday.

Working in concert with colleagues from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Team RSAF has been planning, supporting and flying search and locate flights last Saturday, when 122 SQN was activated for the search. The squadron sent one C-130 aloft from around noon that day to help Malaysia.

Acknowledging a Malaysian request for more assets, Singapore raised the number of C-130s assigned for the aerial search to two aircraft. This afternoon, the RSAF despatched an additional SAL aircraft to the Malaysian-led search. A Fokker 50 Mark 2S Enforcer from 121 "Brahminy Kite" Squadron will be forward deployed at Butterworth for search duty in the Malacca Strait and Andaman Sea.

Eyes in the sky: Observers aboard an RSAF C-130 search and locate flight scan the surface of the South China Sea as part of a multinational search led by Malaysia for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Straits Times picture by Desmond Lim.

C-130 Project Hxxx upgrade shows its worth
Looking out of the front office of Rescue 65 as the C-130 overflies the South China Sea after dawn, one sees shimmering waters heaving under a gentle swell. The vista is stunningly beautiful with a deep sea blue from horizon to horizon. It is a featureless seascape; unmarked but not uncharted.

What one sees as featureless sea, the flight management system of Rescue 65 charts as airways and waypoints. Names alien to laypersons but familiar to aviators - names like AKOMA, BITOD, ENREP and IGARI - chart invisible waypoints over an otherwise featureless sea that guide aviators along airways in the sky.

The upgraded cockpit is a result of the RSAF's C-130 upgrade, now underway as Project Hxxx, that helps reduce the flight crew's workload with better cockpit displays, upgraded autopilot and weather radar displays, among other refinements.

On upgraded C-130s, the job of navigating the aircraft is aided by a flight management system that speeds up calculations and presents the flight path clearly. This gives the pilots extra bandwidth to concentrate on achieving their mission without getting overly bogged down flying the plane to its objective.

Not everything has been changed in the name of upgrading. The circuit breaker board on the right side of the cockpit retains its 1970s charm with a bewildering mass (to outsiders) of switches and dials. The cockpit display panel also has a fair number of old-style dials, affectionately called steam gauges, that have been retained because they do the job well even as flat screen displays lend a modern touch to the cockpit of the RSAF's upgraded C-130s.

The upgrade hasn't put C-130 navigators out of a job. Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 each have one onboard and the navigators are kept busy supporting the mission even as the aircraft are guided en route by GPS.

Once in their respective search boxes, the pilot-in-command runs the show as he or she sees fit. A ladder search is usually done. This search pattern is named after the flight path of the search aircraft because the track it traces as it flies several nautical miles left and right during its advance on a certain compass bearing results in a flight path looking like the rungs of a ladder.

Flying out of sight of the nearest landfall, the glaring sun bakes Rescue 65 as the minutes tick by... slowly. This is going to be a l-o-n-g 10 hours. But the crew is thankful for the clear weather and calm sea as they much prefer it to darting about in low clouds and rain over an agitated sea.

As the full-time National Servicemen who volunteered to join Rescue 65 soon discover, staring out at the expansive ocean is hard on one's eyes. On commercial airliners, passengers can choose to pull down the window shades as the glare can be harsh and blinding. On Rescue 65, the observers have no such luxury. And so they scour the surface of the sea, looking out for signs of the MAS airliner in shifts that last around 20 minutes each. The observers do so amid the unrelenting din from the four Rolls Royce turboprops whose whistle-like buzz will produce the constant droning, the deafening, irritating background noise and energy-sapping vibrations throughout their journey that no ear defenders or ear plugs have ever shut out successfully.

Capable of airlifting some 42,000 pounds of cargo, Rescue 65 is considered relatively light with the flight crew of five and less than 10 observers/scanners in the main cabin. The C-130 proves surprisingly agile when her pilots coax the aircraft into a sharp bank like a fighter plane while orbiting a contact of interest - a floating piece of debris that the observers photograph with determined persistence.

People who need a quiet environment to work need not apply. Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 are certainly not the place for desk-bound office types.

Call to action
Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 leave PLAB before dawn to maximise their time in the search box during daylight.

As dawn breaks over Singapore, the C-130s are already well on their way towards the South China Sea. Over the  past week, Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 were hard at work in their search boxes throughout daylight hours in Singapore, toiling out of sight of Singaporeans alongside multinational search teams. Enjoyed your lunch break? Lunch for SAL crews is simple finger food or whatever you can balance gingerly on your knees, wolfed down as the engines drone on. Toilet breaks are done in the main cabin behind a modesty screen.

By the time Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 see Singapore again, the evening rush hour is just tapering off and most of Singapore is winding down another day.

For 122 Squadron, having the aircraft on ground presents RSAF engineers and groundcrew the opportunity to turnaround the C-130s.

Under the glare of floodlights at Apron Charlie, they will carry out maintenance checks and refuel the thirsty aircraft. The work will continue overnight before the launch cycle starts in the wee hours of a fresh work day when 122 SQN will report to HQ RSAF: Rescue 65 and Rescue 66 ready for duty.

And then it begins.... all over again (",)7  *salutes*

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Statement by TUDM Chief on Berita Harian report on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

Panglima Tentera Udara (Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force), General Tan Sri Dato'Sri Rodzali Daud, issued the following statement late last night (11 March 2014). The statement corrects a report in Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper that ascribed remarks on the air turn back of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 towards the Malacca Strait to PTU.

We reproduce PTU's statement in full.



1. I refer to the Berita Harian news article dated 11th March 2014 on Search and Rescue Operations in the Straits of Malacca which (in Bahasa Malaysia) referred to me as making the following statements: 

The RMAF Chief confirmed that  RMAF Butterworth airbase detected the location signal of the airliner as indicating that it turned back from its original heading to the direction of Kota Bahru, Kelantan, and was believed to have pass through the airspace of the East Coast of and Northern Peninsular Malaysia.
The last time the plane was detected by the air control tower was in the vicinity of Pulau Perak in the Straits of Malacca at 2.40 in the morning before the signal disappeared without any trace, he said.

2. I wish to state that I did not make any such statements as above, what occurred was that the Berita Harian journalist asked me if such an incident occurred as detailed in their story, however I did not give any answer to the question, instead what I said to the journalist was “Please refer to the statement which I have already made on 9 March 2014, during the press conference with the Chief of Defence Force at the Sama-Sama Hotel, Kuala Lumpur International Airport”.
3. What I stated during that press conference was,
The RMAF has not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back on a reciprocal heading before the aircraft vanished from the radar and this resulted in the Search and Rescue Operations being widen to the vicinity of the waters of Pulau Pinang.

4. I request this misreporting be amended and corrected to prevent further misinterpretations of what is clearly an inaccurate and incorrect report.

5. Currently the RMAF is examining and analyzing all possibilities as regards to the airliner’s flight paths subsequent to its disappearance. However for the time being, it would not be appropriate for the RMAF to issue any official conclusions as to the aircraft’s flight path until a high amount of certainty and verification is achieved. However all ongoing search operations are at the moment being conducted to cover all possible areas where the aircraft could have gone down in order to ensure no possibility is overlooked.

6. In addition, I would like to state to the media that all information and developments will be released via official statements and press conferences as soon as possible and when appropriate. Our current efforts are focused upon on finding the aircraft as soon as possible.

Thank You


Chief of Royal Malaysian Air Force

Released On:

11 March 14
Kuala Lumpur

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reuters story claims Malaysia Airlines MH370 was last seen in Strait of Malacca

Have noted the Reuters story below. If verified, this would mean the main body of air/sea assets searching the South China Sea is looking in the wrong place.

A switch from the east to west coast of  Peninsular Malaysia will see the multinational search team swing past Singapore en route to resuming their search in the Malacca Strait and Andaman Sea.

The passage of these vessels past Singapore might see foreign nations request access to the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Changi Naval Base as part of force sustainment efforts. Ships are typically self-sustaining as far as fresh water is concerned. Tinned, dried and frozen provisions can last for some time, but fresh vegetables degrade after about five days even with refrigeration. The ships would also need to top up on fuel.

TLDM welcome to call at CNB
In the event that the missing plane is found in the South China Sea (SCS) and search activity is concentrated off the east coast of Malaysia, Singapore should consider favourably any requests by Malaysia to use CNB as a pivot point to sustain her search in the SCS. Having Malaysian ships stage out of CNB would save about 18 hours' sailing time from KD Lumut, the Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia's (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy) naval base in Perak, to the eastern approaches in the Singapore Strait.

TLDM warships (KD Lekiu, KD Kasturi and KD Terengganu) called at CNB during the Eksesais Malapura naval war games in late February 2014. We should welcome TLDM's presence in CNB again - especially during this difficult time.

Missing Malaysian plane last seen at Strait of Malacca-source

By Niluksi Koswanage
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The Malaysian military believes an airliner missing for almost four days with 239 people on board flew for more than an hour after vanishing from air traffic control screens, changing course and travelling west over the Strait of Malacca, a senior military source said.

Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for the Chinese capital Beijing.

At the time it was roughly midway between Malaysia's east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 35,000 ft (10,670 metres).

"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.

The Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia's west coast.

Earlier on Tuesday, Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper quoted air force chief Rodzali Daud as saying the Malaysia Airlines plane was last detected by military radar at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday, near the island of Pulau Perak at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca. It was flying at a height of about 9,000 metres (29,500 ft), he was quoted as saying.

"The last time the flight was detected close to Pulau Perak, in the Melaka Straits, at 2.40 a.m. by the control tower before the signal was lost," the paper quoted Rodzali as saying.

A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was being checked.

"This report is being investigated by the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) and the search and rescue team," the source said. "There are a lot of such reports."

The time given by Rodzali was an hour and 10 minutes after the plane vanished from air traffic control screens over Igari waypoint, midway between Malaysia and Vietnam.

There was no word on what happened to the plane thereafter.

If the reports from the military are verified, it would mean the plane was able to maintain a cruising altitude and flew for about 500 km (350 miles) with its transponder and other tracking systems apparently switched off.

Malaysia has extended the massive search operation for the plane to the Malacca Strait after initially focusing on the South China Sea.

(Additional reporting by Anuradha Raghu and Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Updated list of SAR assets

This latest census excludes search and rescue assets staging from Vietnam. The census counts embarked helicopters as part of the SAR team.

Please email me if you have details of Vietnam's contribution or named ships from the countries mentioned below.

Aircraft: 32 aircraft fixed and rotary-wing

11 x TUDM
1 x TLDM
5 x APMM (Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency)
1 x PDRM (Polis DiRaja Malaysia, Royal Malaysian Police)

2 x Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion

1 x Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion

2 x Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 Hercules
1 x RSAF S-70B Seahawk (aboard RSS Steadfast)

1 x Royal Thai Navy MPA
1 x Royal Thai Navy Super Lynx

1 x Tentera Nasional Indonesia MPA

1 x United States Navy (USN) P-3C Orion
4 x USN Seahawks (aboard USS Pickney, USS Kidd)

Ships: 48 ships in-theatre or en route
16 x TLDM
13 x APMM

19 foreign vessels comprising:
8 x People's Republic of China, 1 Coast Guard, 3 SAR vessels, Jingganshan, Mianyang, Haikou (expected in Gulf of Thailand Tues morning), Kunlunshan (en route with 2 x helos),

3 x Republic of Singapore Navy - RSS Steadfast, RSS Vigour, MV Swift Rescue

1 x Royal Thai Navy

5 x Tentera Nasional Indonesia; 2 x BARSANAS SAR ships to deploy
2 x United States Navy - USS Pickney, USS Kidd (as of 10 Mar'14)

Investigation into MAS Flight MH370 should mobilise media and netizens to launch worldwide appeal for info

After the Little India Riot in Singapore last December, Singapore authorities could have done more to tap crowd-sourced intelligence to help piece together what happened that fateful night, just like how the Boston police mobilised all Bostonians as crime fighters after last April's Boston Marathon Bombing.

That faith in the public furnished United States investigators with invaluable leads - and we all know how that story ended.

We learnt an important lesson in information management from these incidents and would like to share this perspective with our friends in Malaysia as they reconstruct the last moments of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370.

Whatever the intentions of the two (or more?) individuals who boarded MH370 with improper immigration documents, it would not be a breach of operational security (opsec) if images of the individuals concerned are shared with the public via the media.

* If the individuals had accomplices, their co-conspirators would doubtless be forewarned that Malaysian authorities have uncovered their modus operandi for boarding the MAS airliner (note: this does not mean we know how the airliner went missing). This means that publicising their faces would not compromise opsec in any way as any co-authors to the deed already know who the two individuals are.

* If there is nothing more sinister than an immigration offence, then widespread publicity would not hurt anyone - not least because the two individuals along with 237 other people on MH370 are still missing.

Photo bomb
What do people do at airports when sending off their loved ones?  Many take pictures. Some shoot video. Inevitably, other people are captured in the background. Look at what happened during the Boston Marathon.

Malaysian authorities should seriously consider telling the public which check-in counters at KLIA were used for MH370 and the counters for neighbouring flights flanking the MH370 counters. Don't just give counter numbers. These are meaningless to people who visit airports only occasionally. Sketch it out on a floor plan which the media or netizens can circulate. An immediate, nation-wide appeal for information should then be broadcast. This would urge people who were at KLIA on Friday evening to scour their picture libraries and submit their images/video footage to PDRM.

It is true that travellers who took the flights that originated from KLIA late Friday night or early Saturday morning would have been scattered all over the planet. These travellers are out of reach of Bernama. But they are well within reach of the Internet and the appeal for help can go worldwide, round-the-clock, instantaneously. When word gets out, your search turns into a global face hunt.

What could result from all this? Possibly masses of meaningless selfies, family pictures, inane videos of happy travellers who enjoyed their stay in Malaysia.

Quite possibly, you may get nothing.

But if there is even a smidgen of chance that the two immigration offence suspects could have photo bombed someone's pictures unintentionally, then that image would be worth something to investigators.

Along the way, the publicity may trigger memories from teksi drivers, hoteliers, retail staff, bus drivers.... you get the picture. These collective memories - meaningless as standalone snapshots of what certain individuals did at some point in time - could help investigators retrace how they got to KLIA and what they did in Malaysia.

A respected force
As a police force, PDRM has an awesome reputation that is resoundingly endorsed by its record of  successful cases solved. Its best investigators doubtless know what needs to be done to find out what happened to MAS Flight MH370.

But as Singapore has learnt, help from the Rakyat and the media can provide telltale signs of what happened. These are small pieces to the puzzle that help you join the dots.

One other key lesson we learnt is that crowd-sourced intel has a shelf life because people's memories turn fuzzy over time. There is also a real risk that people may delete images that are not nice enough because other people are in the frame or because it wasn't composed well enough.  Such shots could prove invaluable, indeed priceless.

This is why any appeal for help from the Rakyat or media should be initiated as soon as possible after investigators are sure they have nailed down the faces of the individuals who spirited themselves onboard using improper immigration documents.

Low cost, potentially high returns. Isn't this worth a try?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Summary of Singapore Armed Forces assets joining forces with ATM

20:15 hrs update
Panglima Angkatan Tentera (ATM), Jeneral Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, updated the media on assets deployed for the search for MAS Flight MH370.

Aircraft: 26 aircraft fixed and rotary-wing
5 APMM (Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency)
1 PDRM (Polis Di-Raja Malaysia, Royal Malaysian Police)
1 United States
2 x Royal Australian Air Force (1st due midnight tonight, 2nd on Monday morning)
1 Royal Thai Air Force MPA
1 x RTAF Super Lynx
2 x Republic of Singapore Air Force (see below)
1 x Tentera Nasional Indonesia MPA

Ships: 40 ships
13 foreign vessels comprising:
1 United States Navy
3 People's Republic of China
3 Republic of Singapore Navy (see below)
5 Tentera Nasional Indonesia
1 Royal Thai Navy 

13:15 hrs update
Summary of Malaysian and international assets involved in the search for MH370. Information from Panglima ATM "live" press conference. PATM noted the assets listed below exclude those from Vietnam.

Aircraft: 22 aircraft fixed and rotary-wing
5 APMM (Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency)
1 PDRM (Polis Di-Raja Malaysia, Royal Malaysian Police)
1 United States
1 Royal Thai Air Force
2 x Republic of Singapore Air Force (see below)

Ships: 40 ships
13 foreign vessels comprising:
1 United States Navy
3 People's Republic of China
3 Republic of Singapore Navy (see below)
5 Tentera Nasional Indonesia
1 Royal Thai Navy

Possibility of aircraft turn back. ATM forces searching in Malacca Strait and landward side of Peninsular Malaysia.

Summary of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) assets deployed for largest joint operation with the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM,  Malaysian Armed Forces):

Republic of Singapore Air Force
1 x S-70B Seahawk, naval helicopter aboard Steadfast
2 x C-130 Hercules

Republic of Singapore Navy
1 x RSS Steadfast, stealth frigate
1 x RSS Vigour, missile corvette. Includes Scan Eagle UAV
1 x Swift Rescue, submarine rescue vessel, includes deep-diving submersible
Naval Diving Unit aboard Swift Rescue

This morning, as Singaporeans woke to a bright and sunny Sunday, two Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) warships raced northeast at best possible speed.

The Navy men and women who serve aboard the stealth frigate RSS Steadfast and the missile corvette RSS Vigour had spent much of Saturday preparing their warships for fast and urgent duty after a Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Boeing 777-200 with 239 POB disappeared without a trace off Vietnam.

The RSN activated its standby forces while Singapore slept. Duty personnel were mustered before dawn and off they went.

Even as the warships were prepared for operations, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) raised its C-130 Hercules search teams from one aircraft to two, thereby helping Malaysia cover more sea space, more quickly by expanding the search grids.

The speed at which the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has responded is commendable. The cooperation between ATM and SAF is unprecedented.

From mere spectators, SAF personnel will soon be in the thick of the action some 700km northeast of Singapore as search and rescue teams get closer to pinpointing what happened to MAS Flight MH370.

What we do not see are Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) staffers working quietly behind the scenes with their Malaysian counterparts and the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore to put together what is shaping up to be Singapore's biggest contribution to a Malaysia-led operation.

Hardware aside, MINDEF/SAF is keenly aware deployed forces will need psychological support should search and locate evolve into the grim search and recovery phase. Such specialised skill sets are being assembled as you read this.

Embarked aboard Steadfast is a S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) 123 Squadron. Her date with her mothership was made possible by Air Force engineers and groundcrew from Sembawang Air Base who are responsible for keeping these birds mission-ready. Those mission orders have been received and acknowledged and the bird has flown the coop.

Mothership and NH are fresh from the Eksesais Malapura naval manoeuvres with the Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy), during which a TLDM Super Lynx cross decked aboard Steadfast. The interoperability showcased during Eks Malapura will now be put to the test for real as search operations unfold in the South China Sea.

Empty berths in Tuas Naval Base, where Vigour is based, and Changi Naval Base, where Steadfast and the submarine rescue vessel, Swift Rescue, are usually found, now stand empty.

All are presently underway, trailing wakes of white water as they race northeast to join forces with TLDM units.

We wish them well.

Submarine rescue vessel Swift Rescue heads to Malaysia at best possible speed

Source: RSN Facebook. Click here

The submarine rescue vessel Swift Rescue cast off from Changi Naval Base this morning, joining Republic of Singapore Navy warships now en route to join forces with the Royal Malaysian Navy in their search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

More to come.

Search for MH370 a signal moment in Malaysia-Singapore defence ties

The amount of resources - military and non-military - Singapore mobilised at no-notice after 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 disappeared without a trace yesterday speaks volumes of the close ties and shared destiny between the Malaysian Federation and our city-state.

Not a single Singaporean soul was aboard that MAS airliner. It does not matter. Singapore's response makes it abundantly clear that Malaysia's national crisis is a seismic event which we will not turn our back to.

As Malaysians count on the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) and the Federation's finest to spearhead the search for the missing, it is clear the full weight of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is backed by strong political will to assist our closest neighbour in its time of need.

Key leaders from both sides of the Causeway from Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) downwards have spoken with one another. Service chiefs of our respective air and naval forces have touched base.

These are more than diplomatic niceties during crisis time. It is a signal moment in Malaysia-Singapore defence relations that emphasizes that when it matters, the ATM and SAF can work together in a real and substantive way, with our combined orders of battle offering immense resources for the task at hand.

Yesterday, a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 Hercules joined mercy flights flown by Malaysian aircraft and helicopters.

And there's more to come. Things are stirring in the SAF.

Now that defence ministers from both countries have a better grasp of what needs to be done and what Singapore can offer, more SAF assets are being marshalled and deployed to work with the ATM.

Hundreds of men and women in the SAF have had their weekend truncated. Scores of civil servants who imagined a breather after budgets for key ministries were passed in Parliament last week have received a sharp reminder what public service is all about. Many will be at work today, the unseen hands that will push assets northward to join the massive search for the MAS plane.

As the world waits for signs of MH370 and steels itself for news which could swing either way, the combined, coordinated resources of ATM+SAF and multinational forces will help in the search for answers.

In doing so, our respective military forces are reaping the dividends from decades of joint war games, personnel exchanges, visits and courtesy calls between the ATM and SAF.

Make no mistake. We have had moments in our collective history which could have given outside observers the impression that the two bickering neighbours are fated to be forever at loggerheads with one another, always competing and unwilling to give ground - much like soccer night between our national teams.

And yet, at moments like this, Malaysia and Singapore stand shoulder-to-shoulder, eyes riveted on a common mission, hearts driven by a professional desire to get the job done; the Tiger and the Lion demonstrating unity in spirit - semangat bersatu - in this joint endeavour much like how Singapore's state crest captures the essence of togetherness with the national symbols of our two countries.

Malaysia is not alone in this crisis.

Indeed, there are many in the Lion City who absorbed news of the MAS airliner and feel, grief struck, that we lost one of our own.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Malaysia Airlines MH370 incident: RSAF C-130 Hercules involved in aerial search

22:00 hrs update
Malaysian Defence Minister Dato' Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has reportedly accepted an offer by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Singapore's Minister for Defence, to deploy the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) submarine rescue vessel, Swift Rescue, in support of Malaysia's search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 MH370 (registration 9M-MRO).

Swift Rescue has a helipad for a medium-left helicopter (Super Puma or Seahawk). The search grids for the missing airliner are about a day's sailing time away from Changi Naval Base, where Swift Rescue is usually berthed.

It is possible Swift Rescue will work alongside the Tentera Diraja Laut Malaysia (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy) SubMarine Escape and Rescue (SMER) support vessel, Mega Bakti.

The Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) and the SAF have enjoyed close and meaningful ties recently. Closer defence relations between the two forces have led to cross deployments of warplanes (RSAF F-16s to Kuantan and TUDM Hawks 200s to Changi Air Base) and, more recently, the cross decking of naval helicopters on each other's warships during the Eksesais Malapura naval war games.

Senang Diri understands the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has placed other assets on a short notice to move. See earlier post below. Stayed tuned for more.

18:08 hrs update:
The next hour will prove critical for search and rescue (SAR) teams looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines airliner Flight MH370.

The approaching sunset, which is estimated at 7:19pm for Kuantan and 7:23pm for Kota Bharu, will make it more challenging for SAR teams once darkness veils the South China Sea.

Searches can continue after nightfall, but darkness will crimp the tempo of search parties even if they are equipped with night vision equipment.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 sent aloft around noon today can, in theory, stay airborne for several hours past sunset.

But much of its search pattern is expected to take place at low level, with observers looking out from the cockpit glasshouse and possibly, a lowered cargo ramp at the rear of the aircraft for signs of the missing MAS Boeing 777-200.

Having despatched one C-130, it is thought a second (or more) aircraft will be placed on high alert. The second aircraft gives HQ RSAF a standby asset as it takes the place of the first C-130 which is now deployed to look for MH370.

A CH-47SD Chinook, the RSAF's largest helicopter, would also be on standby for flight operations 24/365. The Chinook's 650 nautical mile range (1,204 km) means the helicopter can fly a fair distance into the South China Sea on missions of mercy.

In addition, a Super Puma/Cougar is on standby as you read this, though this bird has shorter legs than the Chinook.

RSAF Fokker 50s have also been despatched for SAR/SAL missions.

Since 2010, Team RSAF has conducted 86 SAR missions.

Should there be a need to conduct an underwater search at Malaysia's request, the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) submarine rescue vessel, Swift Rescue, could be a possible candidate for such a task. The special mini submarine carried aboard Swift Rescue could help search parties scour the seabed at close  range. The mini sub is capable of diving to a depth of 500m - which is more than enough for operations in the South China Sea (average depth 80m).

Underwater sensors embarked on the Navy's four Bedok-class Mine Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs) could also help with such a search. Should the need arise, the ability of the MCMVs to detect and identify underwater anomalies, whether on the seabed or tethered objects, can be applied to non-defence underwater expeditions too.

It is worth remembering that when France embarked on a massive search for Air France Airbus A330 Flight 447, which went missing over the South Atlantic, she deployed a nuclear submarine to help detect signals from the airliner's  flight data recorder (i.e. black box, which is usually painted bright orange).

We wish the multi-national search teams well in this last hour of daylight on 8 March 2014.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of MH370.

Earlier report posted at 15:06 hrs:
A Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 Hercules from 122 Squadron took off from Singapore around noon today, tasked to search for and locate the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which had 239 passengers and crew onboard.

The mercy mission is being coordinated between the RSAF, Singapore Rescue Coordination Centre and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

As its name implies, the SRCC brings together air and sea search and rescue assets that stage out of Singapore, an island republic that sits astride some of the world's busiest shipping lanes and at the heart of air lanes that criss cross the South China Sea region.

Among other things, the SRCC has the expertise to use data on ocean currents and wind direction to predict the spread of the debris field. Such data can help aerial search parties in their mission.

For example, the Air France Airbus A330 Flight 447 that went down over the Atlantic in June 2009  left a floating debris field that included an object as large as the plane's vertical stabiliser.

If an airliner ditches under pilot control, the forced landing can prove survivable for passengers. Examples include the crash landing of Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 Flight 961 and US Airways Airbus A320 Flight 1549.

The missing MAS, Flight MH370, was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared off Vietnam.

The C-130 is a medium range tactical transport that can perform a wide spectrum of roles such as airdropping troops and equipment, air-to-air refuelling, search and locate and medical evacuation missions.

RSAF C-130s can stay in the air for as long as 15 hours and have a maximum range of 4,800 nautical miles (8,890 km). This brings the area in which MH370 is thought to have gone down well within the C-130's search radius.

The RSAF's C-130 fleet is being progressively upgraded by Singapore Technologies Aerospace under Project H to modernise some of the flight deck consoles and enhance the transport aircraft's survivability against MANPADS.

Pilots and aircrew with 122 SQN have flown operational missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Arabian Gulf region.

This is an evolving story. More updates to come.

Malaysia assembles SAR forces after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappears off Vietnamese coast

16:45 hrs 8 Mar'14 edit: Amended all references to a crash pending official confirmation from Malaysia.

Malaysian authorities have sent two Airbus Helicopters EC-725 Caracal (aka Super Cougar. Caracal is a desert lynx) helicopters and at least one Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia (APMM, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency) Bombardier CL-415 flying boat as the vanguard of a search and rescue team tasked for operations at the crash site of to find the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) airliner Flight MH370.

The MAS Boeing 777-200 disappeared over the South China Sea off Vietnam early this morning (8 March'14) en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing The flight was due to arrive in Beijing at 6:30am this morning.

Media reports indicate MH370 had onboard a total number of 239 passengers and crew - comprising 227 passengers (including 2 infants) and 12 crew members.

The passengers were of 14 nationalities - citizens from:
1. China - 152 plus 1 infant
2. Malaysia - 38
3. Indonesia - 12
4. Australia - 7
5. France - 3
6. United States of America - 3 pax plus 1 infant
7. New Zealand - 2
8. Ukraine - 2
9. Canada - 2
10. Russia - 1
11. Italy - 1
12. Taiwan - 1
13. Netherlands - 1
14. Austria - 1

The flight was a codeshare with China Southern Airlines.

Based at Kuantan, the EC-725s serve with the Tentara Udara Diraja Malaysia's (TUDM, Royal Malaysian Air Force) dedicated Combat Search and Rescue unit, Number 10 Squadron.

While Vietnam's eastern seaboard lies outside the area of responsibility for Search and Locate (SAL) coverage provided by the Republic of Singapore Air Force for the Singapore Flight Information Region, we should stand ready to assist Malaysia if need be.

We wish Gading every success in their mission. Stout hearts.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Airbus Defence and Space confirms Singapore order for six A330 MRTTs

Bravo Airbus. Now you can pop the champagne. Next time, try to know your customer better :-)

Opinion: Images on the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fact Sheet issued by the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) on 6 March 2014 after Singapore Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, spoke in Parliament were apparently chosen to show the MRTT's ability to conduct mid-air refuellings using the boom/receptacle (for RSAF F-15SG and F-16C/D/D+) and hose and drogue methods (for RSAF F-5S/T and F-35B Lightning II "Next Generation Fighter Jet"). DM's speech did not indicate the number of A330 MRTTs ordered. Click here for the MINDEF fact sheet.

 “We are greatly honoured by the selection of the A330 MRTT by Singapore. The decision confirms the A330 MRTT’s status as unquestionably the world’s most advanced tanker/transport aircraft as well as its pre-eminent suitability for the Asia-Pacific region.” -  Domingo Ureña Raso, Head of Military Aircraft, Airbus Defence and Space

Singapore selects Airbus Defence and Space A330 MRTT Multi Role Tanker Transport

Singapore places firm order for six aircraft.
7 March 2014
Airbus Defence and Space has been selected by Singapore to supply six A330 MRTT new generation air-to-air refuelling aircraft for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
The aircraft will be delivered under the terms of a firm contract which has already been signed.
Singapore’s choice of the A330 MRTT makes it the sixth nation to select the type following Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom which have ordered a total of 28 aircraft, and India which is in the final stages of contractual negotiations for six aircraft. A total of 17 aircraft are currently in service with the first four nations.
The A330 MRTT is derived from the highly successful A330 commercial airliner and proven in-service as a tanker/transport with multi-role capability.
Airbus Defence and Space Head of Military Aircraft, Domingo Ureña Raso said: “We are greatly honoured by the selection of the A330 MRTT by Singapore. The decision confirms the A330 MRTT’s status as unquestionably the world’s most advanced tanker/transport aircraft as well as its pre-eminent suitability for the Asia-Pacific region.”
About A330 MRTT
The Airbus Defence and Space A330 MRTT is the only new generation strategic tanker/transport aircraft flying and available today. The large 111 tonnes/ 245,000 lb basic fuel capacity of the successful A330-200 airliner, from which it is derived, enables the A330 MRTT to excel in Air-to-Air Refuelling missions without the need for any additional fuel tank. The A330 MRTT is offered with a choice of proven air-to-air refuelling systems including an advanced Airbus Defence and Space Aerial Refuelling Boom System, and/or a pair of under-wing hose and drogue pods, and/or a Fuselage Refuelling Unit.
Thanks to its true wide-body fuselage, the A330 MRTT can also be used as a pure transport aircraft able to carry up to 300 troops, or a payload of up to 45 tonnes/99,000 lb. It can also easily be converted to accommodate up to 130 stretchers for Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC). To-date, a total of 28 A330 MRTTs have been ordered by four customers (Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom), with one (Saudi Arabia) having already placed a repeat order.
About Airbus Defence and Space
Airbus Defence and Space is a division of Airbus Group formed by combining the business activities of Cassidian, Astrium and Airbus Military. The new division is Europe’s number one defence and space enterprise, the second largest space business worldwide and among the top ten global defence enterprises. It employs some 40,000 employees generating revenues of approximately €14 billion per year.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Singapore Armed Forces: Protecting Singapore in 2030

"We build the SAF for an uncertain future with unknown risks and new challenges. But MINDEF is confident that as long as we have the strong support of members of this House and Singaporeans, who are strongly resolved to defend ourselves and willing to invest in building these capabilities, the SAF will be able to preserve our peace and protect our sovereignty." - Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, Singapore 

Fight Current, Fight Future
By Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, Singapore
Summarised from DM's statement delivered on 6 March 2014 which wrapped up the debate in Parliament on the FY 2014/15 Defence Budget. Parliament passed the S$12.56 billion budgeted for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

What are we building up the SAF to be like in the future? Let me illustrate with a schematic of what the SAF might look like in 2030. It will be an SAF with all parts highly connected. Which means that whether it’s the fighter pilot in the air, the sailor out on the oceans or the soldier on land, each will be able to see the big picture, and beyond that, speak to each other to jointly target threats and orchestrate responses. Let me repeat that: Whether it’s the fighter pilot in the air, the sailor out on the oceans or the soldier on land, each will be able to see the big picture, and beyond that, speak to each other to jointly target threats and orchestrate responses. It's sound simple but is very difficult to do. This concept of a networked force is now a reality, and the SAF, a front-runner in realising its full potential.

In 2030, our F-16s will be upgraded with the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which are more precise and can see further, and have more precise air-to-ground munitions. Together with the F- 15s, they will be able to defend our airspace. In addition, we would have acquired our next generation fighter aircraft. We are not ready to decide yet because our F-15s and F-16s serve us for the near term and medium term.

We will also have in place air defence capabilities with the deployment of the SPYDER and ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems. In other words, a layered air defence.

Our current KC-135 aerial tankers will have been replaced by the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which we have decided to acquire. You will be familiar with the A330 because you fly in these commercial planes. The MRTT can hold 20% more fuel than the KC-135 and will extend the range of our fighters through Air-to-Air Refuelling. The MRTT can also double up as a cargo and troop-lift aircraft to deploy troops and equipment to overseas sites further away as we have done in HADR operations.

For our Navy, two Type-218SG submarines will be in operation, together with our two Archer-class submarines. Our Frigates, operating with their Sikorsky S-70B Naval Helicopters, and our new Littoral Mission Vessels, will form the mainstay of our surface fleet. The Naval helicopters have proved to be effective and versatile for a wide range of missions, and have validated their usefulness in the Gulf of Aden counter-piracy missions. The SAF has therefore decided to acquire two more Naval helicopters. The SAF has also found the multi-role Landing Ship Tank to be an effective workhorse in our relief efforts following the Indian Ocean Tsunami. However, even as they were effective, they were limited by their carrying capacity. We are therefore studying carefully the need for larger LSTs that can carry more helicopters as well as more cargo.

The Army in 2030 will certainly be more mobile. In the next 10 years, the number of units that will operate on wheel or track platforms will almost double. So whatever we have, it will be double the number in the next 10 years. This includes more Terrex Infantry Fighting Vehicles, to deal with threats in the increasingly complex urban environment. In addition, we are linking them to UAVs, such as the Heron-1, to ensure that they can see far better and act more decisively. The upgrading of our current Bionixes will also have been completed and this will be operationalized by 2030.

By 2030, we expect that future systems will be part and parcel of the SAF. Possibilities include multiple micro-UAVs for individual soldiers - some  of you may have seen on Youtube the gyrocopters that are swarming - or even robotic mules that can carry very heavy loads and follow soldiers autonomously.

We will continue to test these capabilities in realistic terrain and scenarios. For example, in Exercise Forging Sabre 2013, we deployed our widest range of platforms and precision munitions to date, including F-15SG and F-16 fighters, Apache and Chinook helicopters, and the HIMARS.

The following weapon platforms and systems were shown in the infographic on current and future SAF sketched out by defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen. Note: All hypotheticals, illustrations and renderings of Future systems are for illustrative purposes only and should not be taken as representative of the final fielded product. 

SAF in 2030:
Next Generation Advanced Combat Man System
Opinion: Enables Singapore Army ground forces from the smallest tactical units to network securely, in realtime and in all weather with sensors and shooters from the army, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). This allows individual combat teams to bring into play the firepower of the SAF decisively, giving SAF warfighters killing power that goes above and beyond their individual weapons.

Type 218SG submarine
Opinion: Two Type 218SG submarines from Germany's HDW yard will serve alongside two Swedish-made Archer-class boats. All RSN subs are expected to feature Air-Independent Propulsion in 2030, which means the boats can run silent and run deep for extended periods of time. This should reduce the likelihood of detection compared to diesel-electric boats which need to snorkel close to the surface periodically to recharge their batteries using noisy air-breathing diesel engines.

Littoral Mission Vessel
Opinion: Eight 80-metre 1,150 tonne LMVs are now being built by Singapore Technologies Marine.
Engines: Two MTU Series 4000 diesel engines driving two propeller shafts.
Guns: One OTO Breda 76mm Super Rapid, one RWS, two 0.5" CIS 50 MGs, two 7.62mm GPMGs
Sensors: Gunfire control system for the A-gun will come from Sagem of France. The integrated sensor mast will mount a Thales Netherlands NS 100 E-/F-band shipborne pulse-Doppler naval surveillance radar.
Stern slip machinery: Boat handling system by Norwegian Deck Machinery (NDM) whose stern slip Launch and Recovery System will serve a pair of RHIBs.
Other equipment: Two water monitors, two long-range acoustic devices (LRAD)

Upgraded F-16
Opinion: The F-16C/D/D+ multi-role fighters are numerically the most important fighter type in the RSAF. Fighters that emerge after a Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) will carry an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which allows each warplane to detect, identify, track and engage contacts in a larger volume of airspace unmatched by mechanically scanned radars. Click here for an earlier blog post on the RSAF F-16 MLU project.

Airbus 330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport
Opinion: Top officials from Airbus were left red-faced at the Singapore Airshow 2014 fielding persistent questions from defence scribes who suspected Airbus was about to announce a MRTT customer (read: Singapour). This stemmed from a weak understanding of the Singapour market, which traditionally leaves major acquisitions for MINDEF/SAF to announce. Such tidbits are never shared during champagne wine and cheese sessions at air show chalets or press conferences.

Six MRTTs are thought to have been ordered. If confirmed, the number is noteworthy as the full force potential of the RSAF's future MRTT fleet should see a 50% increase in the Air Force's ability to refuel F-15SGs and F-16s in mid-air compared to the current fleet of four KC-135R Stratotankers.

If the F-35B is eventually fielded, the MRTTs would also need to mount pods to tank up these fighters which still use the hose-and-drogue method of AAR.

The MRTT, paired with heavy-lifters from civilian contractors, could see the SAF increase its ability to airlift heavy assets overseas over longer distances and in a shorter time. Singapore's response to the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand in February 2011 was instructive as the rescue team had to wait two days for Singapore Civil Defence Force vehicles carried aboard C-130 to reach the team.

Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
Opinion: More stuff from the labs of Singapore's secretive DSO National Laboratories. A number of drone concepts like NATALEE are known to have taken to the air, launched from land and naval platforms, but have yet to make their public debut even after years of field trials. The innovative LALEE would have been a game-changer but the project was stillborn owing to reluctance from the United States whose defence officials feared Singapore would leapfrog what US firms were then capable of delivering. Pity.

Aster 30 SAM
Opinion: The anti-aircraft missile with the longest reach in the RSAF's Ground-Based Air Defence arsenal, the Air Force's future Aster 30 SAM batteries will complement the anti-air warfare capabilities of  Sea-Based Air Defences mounted on six Formidable-class FFS.

By 2030, the RSAF's C-RAM assets should have long been disclosed (hopefully). Networked with Spyder SAMs and future MANPADS, the RSAF's  integrated air defence shield in 2030 should continue to pose a potent and effective counter to future manned fighters and UAVs.

The Future:
Next Generation Fighter Jet
Opinion: Otherwise known generally as the Joint Strike Fighter and specifically as the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, this "Next Gen Fighter Jet" could form the fixed-wing air element for the first RSN warships built keel up as air-capable vessels.

MINDEF/SAF is known to have had paper plans to convert NOL vessels as improvised helicopter carriers since the early 1990s under a concept called HOSTAC, which means Helicopter Operations from Ships Other Than Aircraft Carriers. The plans would be operationalized under the auspices of MINDEF's innocuously-named Resource Planning Office as well  as the Defence Science & Technology Agency and local shipyards.

These warplanes will allow the SAF to deliver air power on and from the sea, thereby posing a headache to enemy planners as they would have an additional element to counter apart from swarms of manned fighters emerging from fixed air bases on mainland Singapore.

Next Generation Landing Ship Tank
Opinion: Singapore watchers should be familiar with this proposed piece of kit :-)

Bionix Upgrade
You didn't see me at SA.
But you could catch me in SA.
Onboard systems give my masters superior SA. 
What am I?

Not hell on wheels
But terror on tracks
Advanced armour brings you there and back.
Project A won my creators the DT prize.
Project B ís not just a BX in another guise.
I do not exist - for now.
But should I aim at you in time of war
Run for your life before I roar.

Unmanned Systems:
Opinion: Strange. A strong, credible defence for Singapore is supposed to allow people on this island to sleep well at night. But the many classified projects Singapore's defence scientists and engineers are working on behind the veil of secrecy is enough to keep one up all night in excited contemplation. Here's a glimpse of what's to come.


Unmanned Ground Vehicle

Unmanned Underwater Vehicle

Out later today: Fight current, Fight future

Look out for our special report on the Defence Budget 2014 after 12:00 Hotel.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

6 March: Singapore Parliament to debate the MINDEF Budget 2014

The Singapore Parliament is due to debate the Defence Budget this Thursday, 6 March 2014.

The budget for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) comes under Head J of the Committee of Supply.

Look out for the forward looking  scenario generating storyline narrative statement from Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen.

We guess that the Committee of Supply will live up to its name this year as there's probably some serious muscle coming our way.

[Timed for publication at 20:30 Hotel 4 March 2014]