Monday, June 22, 2015

National Day Parade NDP 2015 Mobile Column gets down to business at Combined Rehearsal 1

Place a Singapore Combat Engineers M3G amphibious rig on the road and the vehicle will happily cruise along at more than 60km/h.

Place the M3G on water and the vehicle can transform itself into a bridge or a ferry, depending on the required tactical situation. As a ferry, the water-jet propelled M3Gs has an agility that belies its size. It can pivot on the spot, move sideways, forward or astern at a respectable 7.5 knots (14km/h).

But place the same vehicle in a civilian car park, make it negotiate twists and turns and the M3G cannot wait to hit the open road.

With just metres to go before the car park exit, the M3G found this proverbial "last mile" tough going indeed. Ahead lay a convoy of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines which had a date at the Padang for first Combined Rehearsal for this year's National Day Parade (NDP).

Waiting behind the M3G were even more SAF and Home Team vehicles that formed the NDP 2015 Mobile Column. These queued patiently as they waited to exit the assembly area by that single road. If there was ever a single point of failure, this was it. One inoperable vehicle, an engine out or a flat tyre at the wrong spot would have thrown the CR1 timetable out of whack.

For now, the M3G driver had to get his vehicle out of this tight spot with absolutely no rough driving allowed. You see, the M3G's paintwork had been cleaned up for CR1 and it would be many moons before the amphibious vehicle would hit the water again - at least not till after NDP 2015.

With safety a top priority for the Mobile Column team, the M3G was never far from help. Road marshals and safety officers offered advice to the driver and vehicle commander, with a flurry of hands windmilling this direction and that, clutching imaginary steering wheels as they sought to guide the driver out of his predicament.

It was no easy task. The car park was designed for civilian cars and mini buses, not a left hand drive vehicle like the M3G which is 13 metres from nose to tail, making it longer than the 12-metre single deck public buses.

Even after five rehearsals in Tuas South, the ground situation at Stadium Drive presented situations that were not covered in the Mobile Column 2010 AAR.

Since NDP  2010, a road divider had appeared outside the usual vehicle assembly area. This sliced the room to manoeuvre for A-vehicles and machines with a long wheelbase. The result: Back and forth movements by respective drivers as they sought to clear the 90-degree turn out of the car park onto Stadium Drive, with some of the larger vehicles making it out only after mounting the kerb.

A speed bump just after the mouth of the car park exit was an added hinderance but proved no match for SAF war machines who clawed their way out, grinding the road surface into loose stones.

Metal sign posts along the car park exit were the bane of vehicles that needed those extra inches of breathing space. Mind you, SAF war machines are scratch resistant in combat. But planting a scratch or a dent or a blemish on shiny warpaint just before Singapore's Jubilee Parade is a strict no-no for the Mobile Column team.  

So easy does it.

With some guidance from SAF Regulars, lots of patience and adjustments to the CR1 timetable, the 160-plus SAF and Home Team vehicles made it out of the car park in about 1 hour 40 minutes. Do the math: Even if just 20 per cent of the vehicles were inconvenienced, the knock-on effect would add minutes to the time needed for the first afternoon run to the Padang and back again to the assembly area. In 2010, the team had time to execute the first run, then head back for some down time before returning to assemble along Nicoll Highway. At NDP 2015 CR1, delays robbed the team of that rest period.

That respite and time out of the sun would have been much appreciated by Mobile Column personnel. Remember that not everyone in the Mobile Column has the luxury of waiting in an air-conditioned vehicle. The personnel on motorbikes, in open MB204 scout jeeps and the Light Fire Attack Vehicles do not complain. And never forget the Malay Muslim servicemen who are fasting during Ramadan. You won't hear a word of complaint fall from their lips and they will serve with pride, but make no mistake: having them bake in the blazing afternoon sun is not everyone's idea of Care for Soldiers.

It should have been faster -  but that's speaking with the advantage of hindsight.

It could have been smoother - but aren't multiple rehearsals staged to condition participants for the real thing?

One would trust that the Mobile Column team is analysing last Saturday's rehearsal to avoid a replay of the situation where the 160-vehicle convoy lay at the mercy of a single car park exit. This certainly wasn't the case in NDP 2010, which was the last time we saw a Mobile Column roll past City Hall steps.

In 2010, SAF and Home Team vehicles streamed onto Stadium Drive from not one but three exits. The A-vehicles and vehicles with a long wheelbase were given as straight a run as possible out to Stadium Drive. The vehicle parking spots were chosen with care to expedite their deployment. What's more, the Flyer Light Strike Vehicles from HQ Guards were not left in the open sunshine to bake, but had their parking area shaded by a large, fixed canopy at one end of the car park.

The lesson in vehicle placements and deployment sequence has relevance to military professionals far beyond the NDP season.

If one cannot handle the smooth deployment of military assets in peacetime, please ponder what might ensue during operations when military vehicles have to commence their line of advance in convoy, on time and under fire. Without proper handling, training and precise planning, it would be a shambles.

Gallipoli taught military professionals the importance of military logistics such as the combat loading of war materiel - last in/first out and that sort of thing. Seen in a far more modest context, the planning and execution of a successful NDP Mobile Column speaks volumes of one's ability to marshal and deploy combat power from a cold start.

To be sure, almost every Mobile Column team has surpassed their steep learning curve to deliver a show that the nation appreciates.

Do better at CR2.


just eugene. said...

A must-follow period every 5 years. Excited to see the new AEV in action, though i still miss my CEV fondly. The former is a mean & sophisticated monster.

Delta Whiskey said...

Hi David,
I'm quite interested in checking the next CR out; what time do they usually move off from the Kallang carpark?

lee sze yong said...

lack of institutional memory is often an issue. No easy answers though...

David Boey said...

Hi DW,
If you're there before noon, you should be in time to catch them move out for the first run. The bridges across Nicoll Highway offer good vantage points for overhead views.

Good hunting.


Delta Whiskey said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the heads-up!