Saturday, March 28, 2015

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights practice Missing Man formation; part of SAF tribute to LKY

Aerial salute: RSAF Black Knights practice the Missing Man formation over the Padang, a day ahead of the State Funeral procession for Singapore's first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Tomorrow afternoon (Sunday 29 March 2015), as Singapore lays its first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, to rest, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will pay a final tribute to our founding father.

As the State Funeral Procession with Mr Lee's body files past the steps of City Hall for the last time, four Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16C Fighting Falcons will fly a Missing Man formation over the Padang. The warplanes are part of the six-aircraft RSAF Black Knights precision aerial display team.

This afternoon at around 13:02H, the Black Knights quartet thundered over the city LKY and the Pioneer Generation of Singaporeans built. The RSAF warplanes came in roughly on a heading of 303 degrees, height 1,500 feet, trailing white smoke and made everyone at the Padang look skyward as the sound of freedom echoed throughout the city centre.

It was a rehearsal for Sunday's State Funeral. But the sight was still a poignant one to the thousands of people who stood their ground amid a light tropical shower, patiently waiting their turn to bid a personal farewell to Mr Lee.

Tomorrow will mark the second time the Black Knights will fly a Missing Man formation. The manoeuvre entails aircraft flying in loose Finger-four formation, with one pulling up in a steep climb leaving the formation with a missing man.

This aerial salute is deeply symbolic to aviators. The Missing Man formation has been passed down through aviation history as the highest mark of respect for a lost comrade and is traditionally flown during funerals or memorial services.

We last saw the manoeuvre performed by the Black Knights during the Singapore Airshow in 2008. In that year, the RSAF gave an aerial salute to one of its combat pilots, the late Lieutenant Colonel Casey "Mongol" Tan, who had died of cancer.

I am grateful to MINDEF/SAF, particularly Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou, and the Air Staff, for working hard behind the scenes to include the Missing Man formation as part of White Star. Thank you for so kindly giving due consideration to public feedback and the community's wish for giving Mr Lee a dignified send off.

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team #RememberingLKY

Am proud of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) and Home Team's contribution to State Funeral arrangements.

In and around Parliament House in recent days, we have seen the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Home Team carry out what's needed speedily and safely, with dignity as well as a deep sense of professionalism and pride.

Behind the scenes, extensive security arrangements have been made to keep potential harm at bay and deal with it should the worst happen.

Later today, the SAF will make its presence felt at Parliament House.

Stay tuned for more.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LKY funeral rehearsal

Singapore mourns for its first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (1923 - 2015).

Preparations for the funeral of Singapore's founding father are moving into high gear.

Seen here are Mercedes-Benz G Wagens from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) configured as Gun Carriages for 25-pounder guns. These vehicles have replaced Land Rover Defender 110s as the vehicle of choice for State and Military Funerals.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Know your A, B+, B, B-, C, D: Career boosters & career killers in MINDEF/SAF

In the corporate rat race, simply doing the job you were hired for and doing it well won't get one far.

Ranking and banding sessions tend to lean towards showpiece projects which claim to underscore the versatility of the assessed candidate, their ability to multi-task and deliver under deadline pressure.

Those of us familiar with people management processes will recognise that no assessment process is perfect. So one has suck it up, roll with the blows and learn how to play the game by learning how to profile oneself to higher ups. It's all par for the course and isn't all bad.

In the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), competition for the limited number of top positions breeds keen competition among the rank-and-file during ranking season. This is no different from the private sector and could arguably be seen as less draconian than the hire-and-fire practices on civvie street.

Not for nothing has the term hentak kaki (a Malay footdrill command for march in place) permeated the lexicon of corporate Singapore. Unlike a profit-driven enterprise, weak performers in a military organisation can cruise from one work year to another by doing the bare minimum expected for their job grade with little fear of dismissal.

More career-oriented individuals, however, will spare no effort gunning for that elusive A grade (but will settle for a B+ once reality bites).

When playing this game, there are career enhancers and also career killers.

The appraisees readily recognise this, which leads some people to seek fair means or foul all ways and means to polish their career prospects. Some become pop psychologists, wielding concepts such as the "recency effect" to influence how they speak and behave in front of their superiors. This is done with a view to carefully calibrating how they are seen in the eyes of the higher-ups. The strategy is to cruise through the work year with minimal effort (and ergo, output), only to crank up the pace when ranking season is around the corner to maximise awareness of how the individual shines compared to his/her peer group.

In a way, some individuals in MINDEF/SAF - particularly the scholars - are set up for success. This is because there are projects and there are Projects. This brings us back to the topic of how showpiece projects or "CCAs" are routinely used to sort out the A, B+, B or B- material in each cohort.

Some deliverables will command a higher profile than others. Some projects, important though they may be to our nation's defence, cannot command the same whirl of publicity as, say for example, any of the National Day Parade sub committees. And projects executed to a set template are arguably less onerous or dicey than greenfield projects scripted from a blank sheet of paper.

As with projects that seek to deliver something tangible by a certain timeline, operational deployments are yet another benchmark for sifting the wheat from the chaff. Again, not all operational deployments are cut from the same piece of cloth.

There was this instance when a night out by Singapore Army officer buddies turned sour after the conversation drifted to a debate on which deployments were more challenging. Nothing conclusive was reached and the strength of friendships dating back to OCS days was tested that night. Truth is: there is no model answer as all deployments have their inherent challenges.

Such disagreements underscore the futility of adding an operational deployment to one's SAF resume as a career highlight. This is because simply ticking the box for having been there/done that in no way implies an officer/WOSPEC who has not had the opportunity for an overseas tasking is any less capable. It is vital that MINDEF/SAF ranking board members can tell the difference.

Trophies and high scores bagged by COs are another point of pride - justifiably so. But an astute ranking board will be tempered with the awareness that there is a not insignificant talent pool of officers and WOSPECS who will never win a Best Unit trophy nor can they brag about their ATEC scores not for lack of ability, but because these units don't officially exist....

Apart from "CCAs" and professional contributions, one cannot ignore the impact that the personal life of SAF officers play in the people management process.

There are ample anecdotal examples of individuals who were chucked by the wayside due to personal indiscretions which are viewed dimly by Level 5. Drink driving offences, office flings and other personal foibles have destroyed, shot down or sunk promising (?) careers in the Singapore Army, the Republic of Singapore Air Force and Republic of Singapore Navy. Cross the line and no amount of passive armour, chaff/flare dispensers, high G turns, active/passive ECM or EOD bomb suit will save one's military career. Yes, even without a shooting war, SAF careers can come to grief. So navigate with care.

Indeed, one has the impression that military professionals in MINDEF/SAF nursing hopes for a high CEP must tread a narrow path when it comes to life out of uniform.

This begs the question just what sort of individual qualifies as a high potential in MINDEF/SAF eyes? With Singapore's limited talent pool, is our justifiably (?) rigorous people management process executed at the price of killing off some careers prematurely? Will our moral high horse ultimately undermine MINDEF/SAF by culling the war horses based on yardsticks that may or may not have a direct bearing on success in combat?

To their credit, some of these fallen stars - if you pardon the expression - have pulled themselves together and contribute meaningfully in their new careers.

Real talents are never afraid of venturing outside and can look after themselves.

Indeed, many from the MINDEF/SAF alumni have proven this to be the case. Good for them.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hoax posting of Lee Kuan Yew's death a lesson in media manipulation

Recipe for media manipulation:
* Pick a breaking news event where the inevitable appears likely.
* Take one seemingly legit screen shot.
* Add a terse line that mimicks Singapore Government prose.
* Factor in the tight timelines in newsrooms racing to beat one another to report breaking news.
* Sit back and watch the end result.

Last night's (Wednesday 18 March) confusion over whether or not former Prime Minister Lee  Kuan Yew had died is an example of the speed with which hoax postings can take a life of their own.

We've been ingrained not to believe everything one sees in cyberspace.

And so, when the mainstream media - particularly a foreign satellite TV channel - updated its viewers with a breaking news announcement of LKY's "death", the effect on Singaporeans waiting with bated breath was electrifying.

Screen shots were swapped via Whatsapp. And the PMO website probably saw a spike in traffic as netizens refreshed the page repeatedly for fresh leads.

This episode is instructive particularly for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Communications (an upsized and reconstituted Public Affairs Directorate) because it shows how mainstream media organisations can be duped by info ops.

In the case of the LKY episode, all the damage control that took place in Singapore (the Prime Minister's Office said it lodged a police report) could not undo the impressions that had already taken root in the minds of countless viewers who had caught the erroneous report and not the follow-up correction.

At best, news bulletins are updated hourly and there's a chance the newsroom would correct the error.

At worst, the nightly news bulletin is a once-off affair like the 9pm English News bulletin in Singapore. Such a situation gives legs to nuisance postings because people anxious for updates may think a hoax masquerading as an official media statement, is the most updated situation report.

When the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) goes into operations, an anxious Singapore waiting for news of how its citizens army fares in battle may be similarly duped. The knock-on effect on home front morale can only be imagined for a society where national resilience is a work-in-progress. This is particularly the case if casualties have been exaggerated or overstated by malicious hoax postings,

During WW2, the Germans claimed repeatedly to have sunk the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal. They eventually did via submarine attack. But the baseless claims had to be resolutely defended by the British info ops machinery lest it dent morale at home.

Fast forward to another war, this time in the Falklands/Malvinas islands where the Argentines claimed to have sunk the RN carrier, HMS Invincible. An Argentine A-4 Skyhawk unit even went to the extent of painting a kill marking (see above) of the carrier's silhouette on one of its warplanes.

Military ops are fraught with uncertainty. Some operations, such as those involving airmobile units, are riskier than others and the loss exchange ratio is sobering to contemplate.

Hostile forces familiar with one's drawer plan could conceivably come up with their own where deception ops are used to shake and rattle morale on home ground. As with the LKY episode, this could take the form of plausible-sounding statements which are then unleashed upon an anxious yet unsuspecting audience.

Even if one's Public Relations (PR) machinery isn't asleep at the switch, the time and effort taken to correct misconceptions would put MINDEF/SAF in reaction mode. This puts us one step behind, always in catch up mode to every rabbit pulled out of the hat.

The one who fires first need not necessarily enjoy a first-mover advantage. That advantage will be eroded if Singaporeans are savvy enough not to take things at face value and trust the official media channels. The scam's value is further weakened if Singaporeans have the resilience and confidence that the SAF will prevail even if the setback is subsequently proven as correct.

Look around you.

Mull over those thoughts and ask yourself if we're there yet.

And your answer is.....

Monday, March 16, 2015

SG50 Jubilee Weekend: No leave windfall for the SAF, Home Team and essential services

Now that Friday 7 August 2015 has been declared a Public Holiday in Singapore, chances are leave application systems in companies around the island will be bombarded with requests by staff eager to stretch a long weekend into a super long one.

Just four days of Annual Leave applied from Monday, 3 August, to Thursday, 6 August, would grant one leave of absence for 10 days away from the office.

But as staff call up their respective leave entitlements to punch in those hot dates, spare a thought for the thousands of others who will remain at their post.

That number is not small.

There's no holiday for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team.

Essential transport services like buses and trains will have to be kept  running. Hospital staff will have their usual case load to attend to. It will also be business as usual at our ports and airports and border crossing points.

As for the list of museums, parks and recreational facilities which promise free entry to Singaporeans that Jubilee Weekend - staff at such premises cannot possibly grab the opportunity to go for a 10-day vacation.

Add to this the retail, food and beverage outlets, hotels, plus utilities (power, water, sanitation) and the number of staff who have to remain on duty swells into the tens of thousands.

For the SAF and Home Team, that Jubilee Weekend will be a security operation like no other. It is clearly a high signature event which has to be kept safe and incident-free as best we can. The Jubilee Weekend duty roster is likely to include the full panoply of SAF crisis management and response assets. This includes the usual suspects such as CBRE, SAF Medical Corps, Military Police Command, Island Defence Group and many others working behind-the-scenes to keep things in check. There will also be the complement of Alert Red Force units, including battalions staffed by Operationally-Ready National Servicemen, who will be on alert that weekend.

Apart from enhanced Island Defence operations, the SAF is integral to SG50 celebrations anchored upon the 9 August National Day Parade.

Word has it a flypast made up of some 50 fixed and rotary-wing machines, including a Singapore Airlines A380 airliner, is on the cards.

The Mobile Column is also expected to make a comeback after a five-year absence. This year's moving display of military might and Home Team assets is said to be the biggest ever. (Tank fans will have to wait possibly another year before the New Vehicle makes its appearance. Be patient,)

All that hardware will need scores of ground crew and maintenance personnel. These professionals will be tasked to ensure their charges are show ready on the big day (and during the Combined Rehearsals leading up to NDP50).

Add up the numbers and you'll realise the number of Singaporeans who cannot enjoy that Annual Leave windfall is not small.

The many happenings during the Jubilee Weekend will call upon a sizeable number of people who will not have any holiday to enjoy. They will remain at their post to do what has to be done.

And for that, Singaporeans should be grateful.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why the sale of F-35 JSFs to Singapore continues to elude Lockheed Martin

Singapore's FY 2015 $13.12 billion Defence Budget was passed with not a word on whether the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) would finally wear Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) colours

Among Singapore watchers who study the RSAF's order of battle closely down to the last tail number, it is only a matter of time before the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will seal the deal. This expectation stems from awareness of the lack of warplane candidates that can carry the RSAF into the next decade and beyond, as well as the present-day reality that the RSAF's F-5S/T Tiger II fleet cannot go on flying forever. Project M****, which gave the F-5 a new lease of life in the 1990s, has served its time.

And so, if cyber chatter is to be believed, the F-35 will be next. Or will it?

The growth trajectory of the RSAF's fighter fleet assumes the next candidate will be a manned fighter. Hardly any F-35 proponents or opponents flag out the possibility of the RSAF eventually fielding Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs) as a complement to manned fighters.

If one looks at the trend in other parts of the world, the evolution of Unmanned Air Vehicles eventually, indeed inevitably, graduates from a platform that can only furnish persistent awareness day and night to an armed UAV that can not only see but persecute targets within the range ring of embarked weapons.

Granted, most of these are A2G engagements.

But add another 10 years or so from the current state-of-the-art in UAV technology and what are you likely to get? Quite possibly, an air platform that is not only unmanned but autonomous with the range, reach and the smarts to fly A2A missions with an agility unmatched by manned fighters (which are G-limited not by engineering constraints on the airframe but by what the pilot can take before G-LOC incapacitates him/her).

Forward-looking air warfare planners must therefore hedge their bets by asking if a new warplane costing some $200 million apiece is really worth the investment or would a sizeable number of locally-developed UCAVs make a better complement.

The deterrent edge of these new and expensive fighters is questionable because there are many ways to clip their wings other than meeting them head-on in air combat.

Airbase relocations
The possibility of fielding of an upsized drone fleet by the future RSAF would tie-in with the rethink concerning RSAF air bases on mainland Singapore. Plans to relocate Paya Lebar Air Base after 2030 have already been announced.

A wild hypothesis: If another airbase eventually makes way for future development, how would the future RSAF maintain its ability to generate and sustain airpower with manned fighters alone? Drones could account for a reduce airbase footprint because of the wider range of launch options vis-a-vis manned fighters.(As an aside, the WW2-era German Natter was designed to be launched vertically by rocket boosters, which gave it the ability to operate without runways. But recovery of the fighter and pilot by parachute proved tricky.)

The addition of STOVL-capable fighters will reduce the RSAF's dependency on long runways. In this regard, pundits have singled out the carrier-capable F-35B as the most likely of three F-35 variants that Singapore is keen to buy.

One must ask if the short take-off and vertical landing capability is tied to a desire to reduce the RSAF's vulnerability to surprise attacks on its airbases, or does this capability stem more from a desire to increase the RSAF's ability to launch and recover air power from the sea?

One would think it is more the latter. This is because the expanded range of options to deliver the RSAF's airpower at anytime from anywhere will force hostile entities to watch out for air attack from all compass points.

This means the F-35 story cannot be read in isolation as an air force story alone.

Look to the Republic of Singapore Navy, ask yourself where it is heading in terms of air-capable platforms (not just the Endurance-class LST replacements but the one after that), ponder what could be taking place inside our defence R&D labs are you'll have a possible answer to why we are taking so long with that F-35 announcement.

Check Six!