Wednesday, December 31, 2014

10th anniversary of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) Operation Flying Eagle Boxing Day tsunami relief mission

Ten years ago today, I sent sail from the Republic of Singapore Navy's Tuas Naval Base aboard RSS Endurance with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) tsunami relief mission to the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

At the time, our destination was unknown as was the duration of the then-unnamed operation. In time to come, Singaporeans came to know about the assignment as Operation Flying Eagle (OFE).

Am sharing some OFE pictures here for the first time. What's remarkable about the pictures is the fact that they were taken at all. I had stepped aboard Endurance without a camera because the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said so and I had no intention of flouting their security protocols. I complied (with 20:20 hindsight, this was stupid) and was assured by MINDEF and my newsroom that a photographer would soon join me en route.

As things turned out, the assignments editor couldn't tell the difference between Aceh (the Indonesian province) and Banda Aceh (the capital city of the aforementioned province) and happily despatched a photographer to BA where we would link up.

Alas, Endurance steamed past BA en route to Meulaboh as the Indonesians had said her help was more sorely needed at that part of the Sumatra coastline.

And so, off I went embedded with the SAF for the largest humanitarian without any camera to capture life on the sidelines. 

As luck would have it, several kind-hearted servicemen soon got wind of my predicament. A camera magically appeared on my bunk with instructions that I was not to tell the OFE management where it came from as the device was contraband. So that secret has stayed safe with me for the past 10 years.

Even so, opsec rules were strictly observed. Not a single picture was taken in the ship's Ops Room or Radio Room, or in the then hush-hush bunks located below the tank deck even after I was more or less allowed to roam Endurance without a press escort. 

OFE was the fourth and last SAF operation I was assigned to cover as a journalist. The 26 days outfield also marked the longest stint with an SAF operation.

This small photo essay is a tribute to the TNI and SAF operation which helped stabilise Meulaboh during those dark days. I treasure my time with the OFE team, the opportunity to work with the TNI up close and remember those who did not live to see 2005's sunrise. Ten years on, we honour their memory.

Aboard RSS Endurance with the chock and chain crew. Am fourth from left in this picture. Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Singapore Army personnel volunteered to assist loading and unloading RSAF helicopters as the tempo of air operations, which saw frequent arrivals from thirsty cargo-laden helos, made such work energy sapping. During one of my first embeds with the Navy, an RSN officer taught me that the greatest threat aboard ship is fire. He narrated what synthetic fibres would do to a wound during a flash over and the precautions one should take. Since then, I have resolved that I would not be the weak link in the host ship during an operation and my shipboard gear includes the whole anti-flash ensemble comprising hood and elbow-length gloves, flame-resistant coveralls, safety boots and other stuff. 

The seaside scene at Meulaboh coastline, close to our landing beach. A surau was the only structure that remained standing on the narrow sliver of land that jutted out to sea from Meulaboh town. This area took the full force of the advancing tsunami. Within days of the tsunami, the area was infested with houseflies which even reached the tank landing ships (LSTs) anchored offshore.

En route to Meulaboh, the crew aboard Endurance moved cargo and vehicles to clear a helo landing spot. This allowed the tank landing ship to serve as a lily pad for thirsty Super Pumas flying in from Medan. At this point in time, landing spots had yet to be cleared on the Indonesian mainland. During this phase of the operation, the tank landing ships were referred to as Helicopter Landing Ships. It was a baffling acronym for purists who consider such vessels landing platform docks (LPDs).

Maids of all work, RSN fast landing craft shuttled to and fro between shore and mothership from dawn to dusk. Some operations often stretched into the night. The Fast Craft Utility and smaller Fast Craft Equipment Personnel were vital for the logistics over the shore effort as the gradient of the beach at Meulaboh made direct beaching impractical. The TNI's Frosch-class LSTs, designed for landing in the Baltic, had to rely on RSN FCUs and FCEPs to land their cargo and personnel. Cooperation and coordination between TNI and SAF forces in Meulaboh was exemplary.

A Combat Engineer Tractor from the Singapore Army goes to work ashore. Such vehicles swam ashore from the LSTs. They were complemented by LARC V amphibious lighters. Sadly, I was unable to photograph a LARC V while in Meulaboh. :-(

A Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinook moments before touching down on an improvised landing zone built by the TNI and SAF. Aboard the heavy-lift helicopter, aircrew specialists were kept busy constantly scanned blind spots for obstructions, people or animals (like water buffaloes) who might get in the way. Unloading cargo-laden helos at such sites was labour intensive (see below) as this was conducted without the benefit of fork lifts. Soon after this picture was taken, your's truly joined the unloading team.

An RSAF Super Puma gingerly approaches an improvised landing pad made of earthworks compacted by shovel, boots and an overworked bulldozer from the Singapore Combat Engineers. The comparison with helicopter operations from Vietnam to Borneo springs readily to mind. Super Pumas were thirsty birds after making the overland flight from Medan across the mountain range to Meulahoh. Before such strips were carved out of the debris-strewn landscape, these helos conducted hot refuelling aboard the LSTs. This explains the urgency in clearing at least one landing spot for a Super Puma. To my eternal regret, I failed to cash in a standing offer from the HASG info ops team to see the devastation from the air. *sigh*

RSS Endurance is framed from the forward ramp of a fast landing craft. This was my home for 26 days from 31 December 2004 to 25 January 2005. In December 2003, I reported on the first SAF deployment to the Persian Gulf - codenamed Operation Blue Orchid - from the same ship. Familiarity with the ship's routine helped immensely during the adjustment process as one got used to the naval discipline aboard the 141-metre ship.

As with most ship Commanding Officers, the one for Endurance had his quirks. Her CO, Colonel Li Lit Siew, hated dust and made every effort to keep Endurance spick and span. Bunk inspections, led by her indefatigable Coxswain and an unsmiling Guards RSM, were a sight to behold. Yes, things flew in the bunks to the accompaniement of parade square drill instructions and notes scribbled on the confounded clipboard. The initial shakeup was unleashed on the houseguests aboard the LST as the Navy sought to bring the Singapore Army soldiers in line with RSN regimentation and discipline. They succeeded, eminently.

A TNI soldier stands guard at the beachhead with two Republic of Singapore Navy LSTs offshore. The rapport and friendship established between Indonesian and Singaporean military forces during OFE enabled the two forces to quickly bring a semblance of normalcy to the coastal town. Meulaboh had been hit by a double whammy of a powerful earthquake and devastating tsunami.

Senior officers on the starboard bridge wing of RSS Endurance pay homage to the Indonesian victims of the Boxing Day tragedy, and salute their counterparts from the TNI as the warship left Meulaboh for her voyage home. Pictured below are the wreaths jointly laid by the TNI and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in Meulaboh during a remembrance ceremony.

Throughout OFE, we drank from Cactus brand bottled water whose tagline was "Life Goes On". It was indeed a poignant reminder for all those in Meulaboh on how they should deal with the post-tsunami catastrophe.

No distance too far: The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) search operation for AirAsia Flight QZ8501

As Singaporeans settled down to enjoy the last Sunday of 2014, Lieutenant Teenesh Chandra, 26, rushed to Lebar Air Base from his family home. Duty called. There was a urgent mission to fly. Air Asia Flight QZ8501, en route from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore with 162 souls on board, was reported missing early that morning.

Singapore's offer to assist Indonesia in its search for the missing airline turned a quiet Sunday into buzz of activity for the dozens of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) personnel who were mobilised for the search operation.

Maps and weather charts for the Java Sea were consulted. Aircraft were fuelled and made ready for flight. RSAF aircrew and groundcrew stood at instant readiness to fly. 

After that burst of activity, then came the wait.

The order to launch came some four hours later after Indonesian authorities accepted Singapore's Sunday morning offer to join search parties.

Destination: Java Sea 
Mobilised in the morning to standby to fly, C-130B 724, an upgraded Hercules tactical airlifter from the RSAF's 122 Squadron, was wheels up by around 5pm from Paya Lebar Air Base. The Hercules took off from Runway 02, banked left towards Pandan Reservoir, then turned southbound over the Singapore Strait. Dark clouds, heavy with rain, screened 724's departure from Singapore as she dashed for the Java Sea on her mercy mission.

Mercy mission: This graphic, published by The Straits Times on Tuesday 30 December 2014, shows search boxes assigned to Singapore on Day 1 of the search. Indonesian authorities have since redrawn the search areas into some 13 boxes. The distance the RSAF has to fly to reach the assigned search area is clear. 

Since Day 1 of the search for AirAsia QZ8501, Singapore has been assigned the southernmost search boxes, some 700km away from Singapore, by Indonesian authorities. The search area is about 50 times the size of Singapore. To search effectively means scouring the sea at low level. This meant that each aircraft can cover only about 15% of the search box during the nine hours of flying because the search has to be meticulous.

To put it another way, the search box for the RSAF is closer to Surabaya than it is to Singapore.

As a contributor to what would evolve as a multi-nation Search and Locate operation, our Air Force carried out its mission with quiet determination. RSAF personnel were united by a common resolve to find the missing AirAsia airliner, her passengers and crew, and to do so as quickly and expeditiously as possible.

Military Expert 1 (ME1) Vernon Goh, an RSAF Engineer from 817 Squadron, was among those who stepped forward to volunteer for the search mission. He was one of the 12 "scanners" who flew onboard an RSAF C-130 Hercules during the Search and Locate operation. In an RSAF Facebook post, ME1 Vernon said:"We took turns at the windows for about one hour each time, because the windows were high and we had to stand to look through it. We did this for about six hours, hoping that we could find something to help the families of those on board AirAsia QZ8501. It was tough as we were just looking at the endless waters, but we endured because it was important to us."

No distance too far
Assigning the RSAF search boxes farthest from Singapore meant that our C130 had to fly a longer distance to reach the area of operations. As more fuel is used, this means ithe search aircraft's time on station is shorter - even with long-range fuel tanks under each wing. 

Althought a Hercules can stay aloft for more than half a day, something has got to give when the aircraft has to fly farther to reach its area of operations. In this case, it was time spent performing the actual search. 

But Indonesian authorities must have had good reason how foreign search assets such as ships and planes are assigned. This is because when lives are at stake during a mercy mission, politiking and bureaucratic roadblocks must give way to good sense, expediency and a sense of urgency. Indonesian assets could also have been at work in search boxes closer to Singapore and changing gears midway during the operation may be more complicated than it appears.

Missions such as this are done under intense public and media scrutiny. As a consequence, once the dust has settled, people are likely to scrutinise what was done and assess how things could have been done better.

As search boxes are combed by air and sea assets, the reports sent by such assets aid authorities in compiling a picture of the area they are searching. Even reports of zero sightings are valuable. Such nil returns help authorities verify the areas where nothing was found. Without such nil returns, authorities would have to keep guessing which grid squares may hold clues to the location of the missing airliner.

So every contribution counts. 

And when lives are at stake, every additional moment that an aircraft can use to scan its patch of sea contributes to the overall mission success.

And when help is needed, it is indeed heartwarming to know the professionals in our Air Force are dependable, capable and willing to get on with their assigned mission, even when the distance seems far and mission challenges complex.

Our hearts go out to the next of kin of the people onboard AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Singapore Defence Budget 2015: Investing in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as our defensive shield for peace

Stung by two destructive world wars last century, Western nations now keep a wary eye on any war machines that can reach out to wreck their capital cities.

Strategic weapons such as cruise missiles and long-range nuclear bombers are monitored and curtailed by international treaty, though no defence planner has any illusions their world will ever be rid of such threats.

Tactical weapons, strategic effect
For a tiny city state like Singapore, just about 40km long and 20km wide at its widest point, the deployment of tactical weapons can exert the same frightful strategic effect once our tiny island comes within the range ring of such war machines.

Examples of tactical weapons that can unleash destructive firepower to pulverise Singapore city include long-range heavy artillery (52km when firing extended range full-bore base bleed rounds), rocket artillery, tactical fighters loaded wall-to-wall bombs (these go a long way with aerial refuelling) or a man-of-war primed for shore bombardment.

Arms treaties alone offer no security. Tactical weapons are treaty-compliant as their modest range, when measured against the standards of European battlefields or trans-continent warfare envisaged by the United States, make them immune to non-proliferation talks scribed for western nations.

For us, our insurance against such destructive firepower comes from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

The SAF's firepower alone counts for nothing if not for drawer plans that prescribe the swift and decisive application of force. We must know the strategic centres of gravity that can destabilise, degrade or de-fang the enemy's war fighting potential. We must have a menu of options for our smart munitions; a list of objectives and enemy units for manoeuvre forces to gun for, encircle and destroy.

Above all, we must be able to tell false starts from the real thing, and have the collective will to do the necessary if and when the balloon goes up.

Beyond national hubris and jingoistic statements, strategic thinkers abroad must have no doubt as to the SAF's capacity to execute its mission resolutely, if our national survival is ever at stake.

Strategic conundrum
Herein lies the strategic conundrum facing the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF defence planners: How to build a credible military deterrent without alarming the neighbours. This is especially so during halcyon times (like now) when diplomats are all smiles and courtesy.

For MINDEF/SAF, the approach to long-term defence planning should continue to be grounded on a capability-based and not a threat-based approach. This approach isn't mere word play.

A capability-based approach focuses our strategic narrative on the wherewithal that the SAF should acquire so that it can deal with a host of situations, present-day and emerging, within the means provided by a Defence Budget capped at six per cent of our Gross Domestic Product.

Spread across a growing MINDEF/SAF wish-list that is multi-spectrum, the sum allocated to our Services will never be enough to cover all our bases.

So we have to prioritise and allocate resources on a best-effort basis, reduce wastage through better productivity and find smarter ways of doing things.

Even so, as regional economies thrive, we can expect them to increase their defence spending. Concomitant with the rise in defence dollars is the enlargement of their respective arsenals. And the bigger stable of war machines means more things MINDEF/SAF needs to ponder over.

Money can solve most woes as there are counter measures and counter-counter measures you can buy to deal with conventional arms.

Negating the threat(s)
With foresight, one could conceivably introduce a network of capabilities that negate the destructiveness of hostile firepower.

With the right technology, you could look above and beyond your border for a better sense of over-the-horizon threats. A more frequent update rate from indigenous overhead assets would be a game changer for defence planners. In time to come, they can scrutinise overhead imagery within hours, rather than wait for two days for another satellite pass. This means we can decide and act more decisively and prudently, filtering signals from the noise, discerning false alarms from emerging danger.

This can be complemented with active defence systems which can knock down artillery projectiles, thereby providing a measure of active defences to protect the island during the vulnerable phase when the full force potential of the SAF is mobilised for action.

This active defence shield, a sort of iron dome if you will *wink*, can be integrated with the sharp end of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Singapore Army's counter-battery radars to find, fix and finish off any tube or rocket artillery fired towards the island. Installed at strategic approaches to Singapore, the active defence can provide 160 360 coverage against all comers.

Present-day active defences are never 100 per cent full-proof. This is why continuing efforts at hardening our island nation through the home shelter programme adds more resilience to our ability to soak up attacks, then strike back decisively.

As surveillance technology matures, the addition of gap-filler radars, aerostats and better algorithms that guide active defence batteries should further negate the ability of enemy commanders to simply target the little red dot and get away with it.

Defence diplomacy
The Lion City's firepower must be matched by defence diplomacy that helps regional players understand our strategy of deterrence better.

We also need to spend more time pondering the impact on deterrence should neighbouring countries attempt to densensitise us with regular yet benign deployments of their new toys.

In doing so, regional planners tasked with drafting their own drawer plans must realise how far we will allow military posturing to unfold before decisive action is taken.

At the same time, the authors of the doomsday scenarios need to understand one another better for a better sense of what qualifies as theatrics and a clear, no-BS understanding of what constitutes a threat. These points of view are two sides of the same coin.

In the coming year, as new capabilities are unveiled, we should hopefully see more brisk activity in this continuing education process at understanding the SAF's value as our defensive shield for peace.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shot heard around the world: Daesh (Islamic State) downs first coalition warplane, pilot captured

It was a shot heard around the world.

Hours after Daeseh militants claimed they had shot down a Royal Jordanian Air Force warplane over the Syrian city of Raqqa, internet search engines were kept humming with fresh updates on the identity and life history of the captured pilot.

As the rest of the world waits to usher in Christmas, the captured Jordanian pilot, said to be First Lieutenant Moaz Youssef al-Kasabeh, faces a fate worse than death.

He has become the centrepiece of Daesh's info ops campaign, which is apparently maximising the propaganda value of his capture. Going by how Daesh has treated its prisoners, the end game for the first pilot in IS hands isn't likely to be pretty.

For newsrooms around the world, starved of diary events as the corporate world winds down for Christmas and the New Year, this development is likely to become a fixture on their bulletins tonight and in tomorrow's newspapers.

It has already gained traction in cyberspace, just hours after Daesh militants claimed they shot down the warplane - the canopy of the downed plane (above) indicates it is an F-16 -  with a MANPADS. Whether the single-engine jet fighter was brought down by enemy action, mechanical failure or pilot error, this event marked the first time a coalition warplane went down in Daesh territory.

So on the basis of news value alone, the "first" flagged for this event has caught the attention of newsrooms worldwide. And rightly so.

Add to this the dramatic pictures pumped into cyberspace from Raqqa, which apparently show al-Kasabeh soon after his capture and the riveting, made-for-TV story literally writes itself. It's just the thing that newsrooms need on a slow news day. This has helped Daesh corner world attention.

From what we can tell, Raqqa hasn't been bombed back into the Stone Age. And comms links with the outside world seem to work well enough for those images to be piped to the internet and thence to smart devices for a worldwide audience. Commonsense tells you that if those updates can get out from Raqqa, so can all sorts of other bulletins and instructions to sympathisers plugged into cyberspace.

If the account painted by Daesh can be verified, the downing of the jet after weeks after coalition airstrikes sends a clear and unmistakeable signal that IS has yet to be de-fanged. Indeed, the militants in the pictures hardly look on the brink of surrender nor malnourished due to the siege around their base.

Daesh has shown it can absorb intense punishment from the combined air armada put together by the Arab armies and western forces - including nuclear-armed states. The concentrated air power unleashed by coalition forces would have put some armed forces in our neighbourhood out of business. And yet Daesh continues to fight on with a tenacity that is noteworthy.

Armed forces who rely principally on air power as the linchpin of their deterrence strategy should take note of the speed and the effectiveness with which the opposing force's propaganda machinery cranks into action to exploit the PR value of captured airmen. Mind you, that value gains a multiplier in the event of captured airwomen.

Happy time: The Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot (first from left) said to have been shot down by Daesh waits in line to meet his King, and is seen on parade (below).

The importance of sanitising one's profile in cyberspace cannot be overemphasised. This episode once again highlights how social media accounts such as facebook will be mined for images and nuggets of information, to be tweeted and rebroadcast as fast as one can type.

Armed forces professionals may think nothing of such images during peacetime, but such images can easily be exploited to hurt one's loved ones or test the mettle of one's comrades when individuals are catapulted to media attention during a crisis. The question that begs asking is how one's armed forces can stand up to such theatrics when that moment comes unexpectedly.

In addition, the shoot down shows the disproportionate effect that setbacks - real or perceived - in an air campaign can have on the public psyche and world opinion.

The mental image of warplanes hitting hard with relative impunity, day and night with shock and awe, comes crashing down the moment the first pictures of a downed warplane start circulating in cyberspace. When captured pilots are paraded as war trophies, the limitations of air power as an instrument of war become stark, even unnerving. We saw this as long ago as Gulf War 1, when Royal Air Force Tornado pilots who were in the vanguard of coalition air strikes against Iraq were shown on Iraqi TV news, apparently battered and cowed into submission.

Now, we have a non-state actor whose playbook does not include long-term rehabilitation of POWs.

If past is prologue, we may have just seen a dead man walking.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

New acronym for Islamic State may soon take root in Singapore

A new acronym, Daesh, looks poised to soon become part of defence conversations in Singapore. 

It's an Anglicised shorthand for an Arabic phrase that stands for the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria", better known as ISIS, ISIL or simply IS.

The acronym has been embraced by Western nations now ranged against the Daesh, as well as Arab nations whose cultural sensitivities have made them attuned to how the IS public relations machinery loathes that term because it sounds like an Arabic word for stomping out something underfoot.

For those not already acquainted with Daesh, the term represents an armed entity whose structure and ethos must be understood yet not feared, tracked but not antagonised because drawer plans for defeating this entity will prove elusive. This is especially so because our notion of deterrence and how Daesh sees deterrence from its worldview are divergent. What we think would deter under a rational actor model of strategy may not apply in the case of Daesh strategists because their militants are undeterred by a "swift and decisive response" and may, indeed, seek it in their quest to become Shahids.

In time to come, it is likely that Daesh will be used interchangeably with "IS" by the defence leadership in Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Once the ball starts rolling, the mainstream media too will adopt the term in its reports of MINDEF/SAF affairs and so the term will take root in the local defence eco-system.

Or so we think.

As we do so, we must recognise that injecting a new term will prove difficult, especially when numerous local media reports have already referred to Daesh as IS. It will be difficult to undo mindsets now that the Islamic State has developed what marketing gurus call brand equity. What's more, the term Islamic State rolls off the tongue more effortlessly and far more evocatively than Daesh - which could prove a tongue twister especially for folks confused as to whether the "e" should remain silent or not.

Remember that two decades after MINDEF/SAF tried to junk the term "reservist" with the clunky moniker, Operationally-Ready National Serviceman (NSman), the term "reservist" still refuses to die.

And even among better informed defence journals, the acronym RSAF conjures visions of a "Royal Singapore Air Force" flying top cover over Her Majesty's Realm in the Far East.

With Committee of Supply speech writers due to swing into action after the year-end holiday season to prepare drafts for next year's Committee of Supply debate over the (expanded) Defence Budget, it will be interesting to see how fast, how deeply and how readily the term Daesh takes hold in Singapore.

With the SAF contributing military forces for the international effort against Daesh, MINDEF/SAF must soon fall in line with the shop talk adopted by Arab and Western forces fighting the same armed entity. If we don't do so, quotes from defence watchers may confuse people as to whether we are fighting one and the same armed entity in the same military operation.

And so, Daesh is IS. Or IS it not? 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Crisp and clear: Overhead imagery to boost defence awareness

When you can look around the neighbourhood once every 90 minutes instead of once every two days, such awareness represents a game-changer in the way the defence eco-system does its stuff.

Defence planners would be wise to up their game before the assets are shot in orbit over the Equatorial belt because forewarned does not instantly translate to being forearmed.

Lines of reporting and scenario templates must be refreshed in order to maximise the early warning afforded by overhead imagery.

Early awareness counts for nothing if sentinels are asleep at the switch or signs of danger are misread, mistimed or misunderstood.

The radar station guarding Pearl Harbor did its job as advertised. But the radar operators misread the blips that appeared on their screen that fateful Sunday on 7 December 1941 as approaching B-17 bombers on a ferry flight from CONUS. They turned out to be the first strike from Japanese naval aviation.

The Royal Navy warships that sailed into action from Singapore on 8 December 1941 knew full well they were under scrutiny by the picket line of search aircraft that tracked Force Z as it sailed north in the South China Sea. But those at the helm pressed on regardless. They were perhaps emboldened by the fact that no RN capital ships had been sunk by the combined might of two European air  forces in the past two years of war in the Mediterranean theatre where warships were hounded and pounded on the passage to and from Malta and Egypt. So what harm could a supposedly inferior Asian air force inflict in the warships, particularly in an area of operations with friendly shores on British Malaya and Borneo?

The 90-minute refresh rate for overhead imagery is a window of opportunity which shrewd opponent(s) could exploit ruthlessly. Camouflage could conceal. Decoys could deceive. Deception ops could befuddle or desensitise. Every effort would be invested to rob one of such prescience. Overhead assets are virtually untouchable. Base station receivers are not (ditto radars) and could be molested in ways limited only by the creativity of the human mind.

At the heart of the matter are questions that hang over what one should do should danger be detected and you move quickly from Five to One. 

Launch on warning? Do so and one risks reshaping the geo-political landscape with conflict resolution elusive and long standing enmity all but guaranteed in the event of a false positive.  

Launch on impact?  Better cross one's fingers that active and passive defences can withstand the initial onslaught. 

And if a go-order is approved, will this be a full scale all-out effort or some half-hearted light and sound show that does nothing more than rankle the neighbourhood? 

Awareness of potential pitfalls are a first step in scaling up scenario templates and theoretical models to factor in that 90-minute window of opportunity.

That first step has already begun.

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