Saturday, July 18, 2015

National Day Parade 2015 Mobile Column National Education NE NE2 show

Planning to photograph the National Day Parade 2015 Mobile Column rehearsal today? Look out for the commemorative Golden Jubilee Mobile Column Patch (above) worn by all NDP 2015 Mobile Column participants.

The patch that adorns the uniforms of  Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Police Force is special because it marks one of those rare occasions (can't think of any other actually) when the same patch is worn by the SAF and Home Team.

The Golden Jubilee Mobile Column patches were presented to the Mobile Column team last Saturday at their form-up point during a simple ceremony attended by SAF veterans and their families.

Some 170-plus SAF and Home Team vehicles are due to stage their first run to the Padang today following the road closures in the city centre from 12 noon.

Many thanks to the NDP 2015 Media Relations Committee for these images.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Republic of Singapore Navy RSN Littoral Mission Vessel a game changer in warship design

[Spoiler alert: If you feel having all eggs in one basket compromises warship survivability and don't want to read a long post, simply mull over the last paragraph.]

Flat screen displays at every desk. Headsets and microphones for the team. Bespoke shoot/don't shoot scenarios with weather, threat matrix and area of operations as menu options.

What looks like the ultimate multiplayer team game has served a far bigger purpose. This naval battle simulation lab (simlab) led to a game changer in warship design when the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) decided to place all key command functions in a single work area.

The Integrated Command Centre aboard RSN Independence-class Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs) is built according to a new operating concept.

Admittedly, it sounds risky. But this is precisely why RSN warfighters invested immense time, effort and conceptual studies in subjects such as cognitive task analysis, group dynamics and work processes aboard fighting ships before the 80-metre long LMV achieved its design freeze. From 2011 to 2013, the RSN worked with Singapore's defence science community to plan the LMV from a clean sheet of paper. More than 1,800 works hours were spent on interviews alone to find out how warships are navigated, assess how the crew fights and examine how the health of the ship's vitals like the engines and electrical subsystems are monitored.

The LMV simlab built by the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), the national authority for weapons acquisitions, emphasizes that the change in design philosophy was not a decision taken lightly.

The simlab is complemented by a full-sized wooden mock up of the Integrated Command Centre, which brings together the Bridge, Combat Information Centre (CIC) and Machinery Control Room. Click here for more.

At the simlab, RSN warfighters were put through realistic scenarios fighting a ship in congested waterways within sight of friendly and hostile shorelines and island groups. Closed up for action stations for missions that lasted up to four hours at a stretch, the RSN warfighters practised fighting a ship exactly as they would on a real deck.

All stations had to report readiness state when ordered to do so by the Principal Warfare Officer (PWO). The surface situation picture was closely monitored, with friendly, unknown and hostile contacts dutifully reported as per normal.

When the situation turned nasty, the warship would reach out and touch someone with the LMV's warload. This included non-lethal options like the water monitors and long range acoustic devices located aft of the GRP superstructure, to a selection of naval guns from 12.7mm heavy machine guns to the fast-firing 76mm Super Rapid gun.

Not every day promised a radiant sunset. The LMV simlab was used to simulate rough seas, rain or haze to challenge the crew in detecting, tracking, identifying surface craft around the ship, by day or in the dark of night.

What works for Singapore's LMVs may not be the preferred solution for warships assigned other roles in other maritime environments. The Integrated Command Centre's layout came about after various configurations were tested and analysed closely. The LMV is designed for the RSN's specific operational requirements, which as the term suggests, is unique to the Singapore Navy's concept of operations for fielding these warships in peace, during a period of tension and in war.

While warship survivability weighed heavily on the minds of the LMV project team, the ability of the crew to sail, fight and manage the warship together was deemed essential for wielding information as a weapon.

The decision to house the warfighting elements together as seven "clusters" - engineering, navigation, command, surveillance, weapon, network and mission module - in the Integrated Command Centre with a 360-degree view on 02 Deck was arrived at after numerous hours in the simlab. It resulted from close consultation with warship designers from Swedish shipyard, Saab Kockums AB, which designed the LMV hull and cast the Kockums komposit superstructure (click here) in Sweden before shipping the composite superstructure modules to Singapore.

The clear cut solution would have been to design and build the vessel along conventional lines with bridge, CIC and MCR located in different parts of the vessel.

But the LMV team recognised that fighting a ship in the littoral zone, which is the part of the sea close to land, in congested waterways calls for a radical rethink of warship design philosophy.

Indeed, naval encounters have underlined the importance of close coordination between a warship's crew and its electronic eyes and ears for a better sense of its battlespace.

In May 1982, the Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Sheffield, was hit by an Exocet missile after reportedly shutting down its radar to prevent interference with the destroyer's satellite communication system as the warship was patching a phone call to fleet headquarters. The destroyer was essentially blind during those vital moments when the anti-ship missile was inbound, when her ability to sense-make was compromised to allow the ship to use her satcoms without interference.

In July 1988, an Iranian Airbus on a scheduled commercial flight over the Persian Gulf was shot down by the United States Navy cruiser, USS Vincennes. The disaster stemmed from the CIC team operating close to land amid busy shipping and air lanes. The US Navy ship mistook the Airbus as incoming F-14 Tomcats and initiated the launch sequence which killed 290 passengers and crew aboard the airliner.

In October 1992, the United States Navy aircraft carrier launched two Sea Sparrow missiles at the bridge of the Turkish Navy destroyer, TCG Muavenet, after command decisions were communicated wrongly in the carrier's CIC to the Sea Sparrow missile team during a two-sided night encounter exercise. The Sea Sparrows, notionally an anti-aircraft missile system, hit the Muavenet on the bridge, killing the Captain and some of his crew. Once again, a sophisticated warship not lacking in sensors, could have benefitted from better sense-making and decision support systems.

When the LMVs are deployed for operational patrols, time will tell if the design philosophy tested and debated vigorously by the LMV project team for years will prove to be an astute decision.

The Integrated Command Centre is indeed a radical departure from the norm. It is a game changer that will prove its worth if real life mimics the many naval encounters tested in the simlab.

Even if a wrong call was made, the LMV has something else to count on because the RSN, Saab Kockums and the defence scientists appear to have hedged their bets. If you've a chance to visit the real LMV, head to the First Deck, walk from Frame 46 to Frame 52 and tell me what you find. :-)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

National Day Parade Combined Rehearsal 3 CR3: Leisure Park Kallang irks with "no" notice

Air show: A C-130 Hercules from 122 Squadron peels off from the city area with Fokker 50s from 121 Squadron keeping station off its wings. In the  background, we see a KC-135 from 112 Squadron leading a G550 AEW aircraft and its escort of F-5S/T Tigers. Coordinating air movements in Singapore's tight airspace is the job of dozens of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) personnel whose part in the National Day Parade goes largely unseen by the public.

Rapid dominance: Fresh from its first practice run around the Padang, Leopard 2SG main battle tanks from the 48th Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR) lead Bionix 2 AFVs en route to the staging area next to the Leisure Park Kallang shopping mall. 

It was a wet start to National Day Parade (NDP) rehearsal preparations early this morning after a Sumatra squall drenched hundreds of Mobile Column participants and messed up the Red Lions' morning parachute jump practice.

The thunder and lightning in the real world was matched by a storm in cyberspace, triggered apparently by a notice from a shopping mall that banned "NDP uniform personnel" (sic) from its premises.

Pasted at the entrances to the Leisure Park Kallang mall, which is next to the car park used as a staging area by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team personnel whose 177 vehicles (not counting reserves) form the NDP 2015 Mobile Column, the notice unleashed a cyber storm against the mall's management.

The notice didn't stay up for long. By mid-afternoon, it was apparently taken down.

Alas, the damage had already been done.

The early morning rainstorm that swept across the island may well have left many Mobile Column personnel drenched. Dripping wet, some may have sought the comfort of the mall's washrooms or atrium to dry off. And if the mall's management did not like the sight of SAF and Home Team personnel dripping wet and ruining its ambience, it should have sought a more amicable way of resolving the issue.

Being private property, the mall's management enjoys full freedom of action dictating who can enter its esteemed premises. It is, however, puzzling why it posted the notice as any thinking person would see that its words have far wider ramifications than simply keeping soggy boots and dripping uniforms out of  the shopping mall.

National Day Parade Mobile Columns have used the car parks around the National Stadium as a staging area for decades.

Indeed, some eateries in the area - off the beaten track and somewhat quiet on weekdays before the advent of the Stadium Circle Line MRT station - saw the combined rehearsals as a boon to their respective businesses. To be fair, such rehearsals were a bane to business owners as road closures may have driven away some customers.

But such rehearsals are transient. In the case of the NDP Mobile Column, the assembly of SAF war machines and Home Team assets resurfaces at the car park only once every five years. It is a rare sight whose presence should be celebrated and not chastised.

One would hope that the management of Leisure Park Kallang should, by now, be used to the business cycle that results from NDP rehearsals. They ought to have adapted accordingly and adroitly to shifting sands - as one would expect astute business folks would.

Not only is the Mobile Column no stranger to the area, neither are rainstorms that drench NDP participants.

In fact, records show it rained buckets during the NDP 2010 Second National Education show. On that wet Saturday morning, there was even a flash flood that damaged some of the private cars belonging to Mobile Column participants. But there was no cause for terse notices barring NDP uniformed personnel from the mall. Click here for the 2010 report.

Marketing campaigns aimed at making customers come back again and again could be one way of keeping the SAF and Home Team audience as one's customers long after the NDP is over.

Singaporeans love freebies. So why not encourage NDP personnel to collect receipts/stamps/stickers/whatever on a loyalty card from CR1 all the way to the 9 August 2015 parade and win something? What about tiered discounts? How about a lucky draw? How about special sales of stuff NDP personnel would need or want -  like snacks and water?

With a creative touch, the hundreds of SAF and Home Team personnel become a captive audience and can be enticed to come back to support the tenants in the mall.

Alas, the "No" notice its irksome because it fans hostility when a shopping mall should display customer-centric hospitality. It breaks a golden rule in customer relations by starting a notice with the dreaded word "No".

Don't forget: Families members and well-wishers of SAF and Home Team personnel are known to visit them at the staging areas in a show of support. More poorly-worded notices from Leisure Park Kallang and Singaporean shoppers are likely to brand the mall as a social pariah.

What's more, the notice damages the mall's future customers. Bear in mind that the full-time National Servicemen who are part of this year's display were probably in lower Secondary the last time we saw the car park crammed with military, police and civil defence hardware. How do you think any school-going teens who see that notice will feel, knowing that they will one day serve NS themselves or have a brother who will do so?

Rub them the wrong way and they will take their money to spend elsewhere.

This year marks Singapore's 50th year of independence. That independence is underwritten by the SAF, which has SAF50 on its calendar albeit in a more modest, localised form.

Give SAF and Home Team personnel the respect they deserve.

For the record, the NDP 2015 Mobile Column did well at Combined Rehearsal 2 on 27 June 2015. From the first vehicle to the last, the time taken to leave the car park was 45 minutes - a marked improvement from the one hour and 40 minutes clocked for the first departure during CR1 a week earlier.

The departure from the staging area is no Daytona circuit. It is not a clarion call for a speedy departure. But the improved timings do indicate that the Mobile Column team is working more cohesively by achieving attaining a smooth and safe execution of its assigned tasks.

Boomz: Leopard 2SG tank crew from 48 SAR face off with military enthusiasts who photographed the Mobile Column in transit to the Padang for CR3. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Try before buy: Republic of Singapore Navy wooden Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) mock up is one of its kind

Whether or not you like warships, a visit to the Republic of Singapore Navy's Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) mock Integrated Command Centre is likely to take your breath away.

To see the full-sized replica of the area where RSN warfighters steer, fight and monitor the LMV out at sea, one first has to climb seven flights of steel stairs bolted to the side of a building to get to the top floor. The climb is worth it because the Singapore Navy has never had anything like it before.

The mock up of the LMV - the RSN's latest warship type - is housed in an otherwise nondescript building at Singapore Technologies Marine's yard at Benoi Basin that is named, plainly and unimaginatively, as C Workshop.

We're at the top floor of the highest point of the cavernous C Workshop, whose high roof was purposefully designed tall so ST Marine shipbuilders can mix and match assorted components sheltered from sunshine and rain to form the semblance of a ship. The architect who planned the workspace in the C Workshop's attic must have been working on a shoestring budget, because there is no passenger lift to the area.

Visitors who brave the 98 individual stairs enter an area called the Mould Loft.

While catching one's breath and as one's eyes adjust to the indoor lighting from the bright sunshine outdoors, we see a clean work area with LMV line drawings you cannot photograph before coming upon the centrepiece of the Mould Loft.

Wooden wonder
It is hand-crafted entirely from plywood and is an amazing piece of handiwork.

All parts which are supposed to move can actually do so and we soon see barrels of the 25mm Typhoon gun and the Hitrole 12.7mm guns at crazy elevation and azimuth, thanks to visitors with itchy fingers who cannot resist some touchy feely. The diopter can pivot and swing, just like a real one. The LMV mock up faithfully recreates the workspace, windows, doors, bridge wing and interior fittings of the real bridge superstructure.

If submitted for the Singapore Biennale, this would instantly qualify as an objet d'art par excellence.

If ST Marine didn't pay the mock up's builders well enough and they decided to go into the furniture business, the craftsmen would probably make a killing.

The RSN has never had anything like this done for any previous class of  warship designed and built in Singapore, said Military Expert 5 Tang Chee Meng, Principal Engineer for the LMV Project Office, RSN.

Forget computer-aided design and all the funky software which allow naval architects to design warships on a desktop. The LMV mock was hand made to test and refine design concepts from the LMV project team.

Try before buy
Just as a show flat allows potential home buyers to try-before-buy, the wooden wonder in ST Marine's Mould Loft was painstakingly built by four exceeding talented craftsmen in just two months to allow the LMV project team to see and experience what the Integrated Command Centre would look like.

Placement of screens, the elbow room between work stations and bum wriggle room that divides the phalanx of flat screen displays used to furnish the air and sea situation picture have been tried out and modified in the past year and a half, said Lieutenant Colonel Chew Chun Chau, Head of the LMV Project.

The result is a floor plan for an Integrated Command Centre that the LMV's future users have seen, tested and commented on, long before any of the warfighters even stepped foot aboard the real thing.

The first real LMV, RSS Independence (15), was launched this morning at ST Marine's Benoi yard by Mrs Ivy Ng, the wife of Singapore's Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen.

This unprecedented attention to detail stems from a radical departure from previous warship design templates which dictated that the spaces where sailors sail, fight and monitor the warship's vital signs should be placed in separate compartments. On the Independence-class LMVs, the bridge, Combat Information Centre and Machinery Control Room are housed in the Integrated Command Centre to "achieve greater operational effectiveness and efficiency, especially during maritime security operations", said LTC Chew.

The wooden mock up gives designers firsthand experience seeing how floor space and work processes can be optimised.

This replica is complemented by yet another mock-up somewhere else in Singapore. This LMV replica is an interactive mock up where computer screens at battle management stations actually work and where the view outside the window is a computer simulation of the LMV's future work environment.

Working quietly and without fanfare and out of the public eye, the LMV project team has used the mock ups to stress test ideas and warfighting concepts. All this effort to give Fleet RSN a smarter, faster and sharper way of hunting and killing hostile forces in the littoral zone close to shore and in confined waterways.

Today, the wooden mock up was finally declassified and put on show. It is a sight to behold.

Starboard bridge wing forrard, showing the Oto Melara Hitrole 12.7mm remote weapon system in B-gun position.

Commanding Officer and Principal Warfare Officer duty station, with mock ups of the 46 inch touch screen.

Looking aft, with the work stations for various functional areas, called clusters, laid out exactly as in a fully fitted LMV.

Looking forrard in the Integrated Command Centre. Paper printouts mimic the displays and control panels that the LMV crew would use on a real ship.

Starboard bridge wing, aft: The water monitor (front left) and Long Range Acoustic Device with integrated Xenon light have been faithfully recreated out of plywood. These devices can move in the same manner as the actual devices. The level of  craftsmanship seen on the LMV mock up is commendable.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

RSN Specialised Marine Craft (SMC): Faster than anything bigger, stealthier than anything faster

Faster than anything bigger, stealthier than anything faster, the Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) Specialised Marine Craft (SMC) semi-submersibles are in a class of their own in the Singapore Armed Forces arsenal.

Designed and built in Singapore, SMCs have been protecting Singapore’s maritime interests since 2009. But these compact craft were largely unknown till the first Combined Rehearsal (CR1) for the National Day Parade when the 22-metre craft made a surprise appearance mounted on a KAMAG K25 trailer as part of the RSN's contribution to the Mobile Column.

There’s a bigger surprise in store for defence buffs. The SMC seen during CR1 and CR2 may be a sanitised version of the SMCs used by the RSN.

This much was clear in a video featuring the SMC that was posted by the RSN on its Facebook page over the weekend. The teaser, just 43 seconds long, showcased what appeared to be an SMC of a different design from the one seen at the two Combined Rehearsals.

The RSN currently has three SMCs on active duty and plans to add five more over the next two years.

Working our way from foc'sle aft, you may have noted the following:
  • Oto Melara Hitrole 12.7mm gun in stealth mounting in place of the 7.62mm GPMG remote weapon system
  • Superstructure of a different design
  • Navigation radar mounted on what appears to be a retractable mast
  • Different arrangement for the vents/air intakes on the aft superstructure
  • A mast amidships with radar reflectors 

Sleek and futuristic-looking even out of the water, the SMC comes into its own out at sea.

The high-speed craft's published speed "in excess of 30 knots" is a modest understatement of how fast her twin Hamilton waterjets can propel the 22-metre long SMC in open water.

"The SMCs are deployed for base defence and force protection. They will also operate alongside the (Fearless-class) Patrol Vessels/(Independence-class) Littoral Mission Vessels to deliver swift, flexible and decisive responses against maritime security threats," said a Ministry of Defence Fact Sheet on the NDP 2015 Mobile Column.

Taken at face value, the SMCs might come across as just another surface platform in HQ Fleet.

But it is unlike any other in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and has few peers in any navy.

Indeed, the Defence Technology Prize Team (Engineering) Award secured by the SMCs designers back in 2006 and the tight lid MINDEF/SAF imposed on any image or mention of the SMC's warfighting potential, provide telling hints on how special this craft really is.

If off-the-shelf solutions were an easy answer, the joint team from the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), DSO National Laboratories and Singapore Technologies Marine need not have bothered with conceptualising the SMC in partnership with RSN naval warfare planners.

The SMC design points to extensive efforts at creating a high-speed marine interceptor that can hunt and kill its quarry undetected.

The SMC's low observable design makes it ideally suited to complement Halmatic VSVs (at 60+ knots, the VSVs are the SAF's fastest vessels) fielded by SAF Commandos for unannounced visits behind enemy lines, possibly in the dark of night.

As more than 10 years have elapsed since the kick start meeting that resulted in the SMC, it's a pretty safe bet that the SMC design and CONOPS has matured substantially in the past decade or so. The SMC design defence observers scrutinised at close quarters during the NDP rehearsals stems from a project started about a decade ago for a naval craft whose in-service date harks back to 2009.

Have things evolved since then in Singapore's weapons laboratories? *ponders*

Indeed, follow-on projects to the vanilla "SMC" presented to the public may already be on the water, awaiting the lifting of the veil of secrecy imposed on these new fast semi-submersible craft.

Don't count on seeing the new designs anytime soon though. Perhaps at SG100?

Compare and contrast: The SMC on the trailer is the one the Republic of Singapore Navy will showcase as part of the NDP 2015 Mobile Column. The one on the water is believed to be an operational example. Diifferences are apparent in the comparison of bow (above) and stern (below) perspectives.

Oto Melara Hitrole 12.7mm gun with a stealth covering. Note the gun well on the operational SMC, which is notably absent in the "SMC' to be shown on National Day 2015. Remote Overhead, Light Electrical)

Specialised Marine Craft (SMC)
Length: 22m
Breadth: 5.5m
Draft: 1.2m
Height above waterline: 2.5m
Range: 200nm
Speed: "In excess of 30 knots"
Crew: Four personnel
Weight: 40,000kg
Armament: Oto Melara Hitrole 12.7mm

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RSN Navy Day 2014, semi-submersibles. Click here