Thursday, December 31, 2015

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training deaths in 2015

Two Armed Forces (SAF) personnel died in the line of duty in 2015 - same as the number reported for 2014 - according to statements from Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

MINDEF/SAF continue to drive home the Safety First message among sailors, soldiers and airmen. As new cohorts of mainly teenaged full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) are inducted into the SAF every year, this effort must be a sustained push as even a momentary lapse may result in a tragedy.

In a tiny city-state like Singapore where almost every household has had a family member serve the SAF, and in a society where the high urban density and highly-networked society amplifies news, every loss is keenly felt.

That said, the all-out effort to improve training safety is noteworthy. 

In 2009, when 10 SAF deaths were logged, the MINDEF/SAF have jointly invested immense efforts at improving training safety. This saw a dramatic slide in fatalities in 2010, which saw the SAF end the year with zero fatalities.

In 2011,  the SAF reported three fatalities.

In 2012, the number doubled to six deaths.

In 2013, the SAF reported one death, though at least five instances of near misses took place in 2013. These include servicemen who were hospitalised due to cardiac arrest, some 300 suspected Norovirus cases at the Basic Military Training Centre on Pulau Tekong and an incident involving a Republic of Singapore Air Force pilot who was involved in a hard landing in a United States Navy T-45C Goshawk trainer in Florida.

Every fatality is one too many.

For 2016, let's all resolve to make our workplace a safe one.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Singapore's TeLEOS-1 satellite can serve Total Defence as eye in the sky

In a country where civilian assets such as trucks, planes and ships can be requisitioned for national defence, it should come as no surprise that there’s a part for space-based assets in Total Defence.

Singapore’s TeLEOS-1 satellite, now in orbit some 500km above the Equator, takes pictures with a 1-metre resolution when it passes the neighbourhood once every 100 minutes or so.

If you need a gadget to exemplify “see first, see more”, this is it.

When it comes to the ability to see above and beyond one’s border, the satellite is hard to beat.

The eye in the sky provides superior overwatch when applied to reconnaissance missions in support of maritime security and safety, Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief and environmental activity verification. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the many defence-linked recce applications for TeLEOS-1 too, should its optical sensors be focused on the right stuff.

But this commanding view comes with caveats: Acts of nature (cloud cover or the all-too-frequent thunderstorms) and acts of man (haze, camouflage, concealment, decoys) are potential spoilers that could foil one’s ability to achieve comprehensive awareness.

TeLEOS-1 can be viewed as another asset in Singapore’s multi-layered surveillance network that is quite literally multi-spectrum. These assets range from miniature UAVs launched by hand, F-16C/Ds with recce pods, ground-based radars big and small to airborne early warning assets such as the G550.

In time to come, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will presumably enlist TeLEOS-1’s lofty view of the region to provide yet another tier to its surveillance network.

The ability to update satellite images of the region every 90 minutes or so - rather than days - will be a game-changer for defence planners. This refresh rate will enable defence planners to better discern - sense-make in MINDEF/SAF-speak - the security situation around our city-state. 

But to fully maximise the satellite’s recce capabilities, TeLEOS-1 must be integrated with other surveillance assets and a rigorous process for analysing, interpreting and disseminating situation reports based on these satellite images.

Sense-making is sometimes more art than science. This explains why our defence eco-system needs to nurture a base of experienced operators who can fully exploit the potential of our new eye in the sky.

It may sound cliched but People are our greatest asset as our head start lofting a bespoke eye in the sky will eventually be closed by neighbouring countries once they too acquire such a capability. Treasure and nurture them well.

You may also like:
Time to evaluate need for RSAF Space Command. Click here

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Forging Sabre 2015 XFS 15 is proof of concept for Singapore's deterrence strategy

Six moving targets - the same number found in a typical rocket artillery battery - were destroyed at the same time by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) during its Forging Sabre war games.

To observers able to join the dots, the SAF capability demo in the Arizona desert during Exercise Forging Sabre 2015 (XFS 15) revealed far more about Singapore's ability to take apart an opponent than its press statements were prepared to say:
  • The distance covered in the area demarcated for the combined live-fire exercise (CALFEX) was about 20 times the size of Singapore or more than 100km at its longest stretch.
  • The duration of the most complex CALFEX battle cycle tested the SAF's ability to sustain a high tempo of operations over several days.
  • The battlespace in the XFS 15 exercise arena included targets such as a battery's worth of simulated transporter-erector-launchers (TELs), opposing forces (OPFOR) of high-performance warplanes and enemy SAMs. 
  • When one looks at the XFS 15 war game scenario, the ingress and egress routes on the simulated battlespace, number and arrangement of kill boxes, coordination of "last mile" guidance using Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicles and Singapore Army Commando long-range recce patrol (LRRP) teams for target designation, and applies the exercise template to the geography around Singapore island, the results are indeed revealing.
Above all, XFS 15 - the fifth evolution in the long-running series that started out at Twentynine Palms, California, back in 2005 - demonstrated that the SAF's drawer plans are far more than paper plans. From the first XFS till today, each war game marks a progressive and noticeable step up in size, scope, capability, complexity and rigour of the all-out conventional war scenario played out by Singapore's fighting forces.

XFS allows MINDEF/SAF to show-and-tell
To be sure, war games previously hosted elsewhere such as High Noon and Ulysses have demonstrated the SAF's ability to marshal and deploy land and air units in large numbers across sizeable distances in two-sided encounters.

Live-fire exercises under the Firelight series allowed air defence units to practice the sensor-to-shooter kill chain, giving the air defence teams confidence in operating their weapon systems under simulated battle conditions. But the exercise venue made it awkward for MINDEF/SAF to say much, if anything, about what was done there and why. Furthermore, the scale of these war games and level of integration during the CALFEX  phase pale in comparison with what the United States has allowed Singapore to execute in CONUS during XFS.

The XFS series draws upon lessons learned from military exercises that take place in selected ASEAN nations, Australia, France, India, New Zealand and Sweden as well as training arrangements that have led to interactions with countries in the Asia-Pacific Rim and beyond. Each defence partner's contribution has proven invaluable and (hopefully) beneficial to both sides.

And so, the spotlight is turned on the XFS war games every two years or so. This is done to show observers how far the SAF has progressed in integrating land and air units and in sustaining the battle cycle during complex manoeuvres.

Singapore's ability to drop bombs from warplanes is not new. Back in the 1970s, Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Hawker Hunter fighter ground-attack aircraft could create a big bang with their British-made 1,000-pound general purpose bombs. In the 1980s, the RSAF added Paveway laser guided bombs to its arsenal and Maverick missiles that were guided either by a television camera in the missile's nose or an infrared seeker that homed in on a target's heat signature.

What's different at XFS is the ability to bring it all together.

At XFS 15, the validation of battle concepts for finding and finishing off a battery of six rocket launchers will set the stage when the kill chain needs to be scaled up. Simply put, if you know how many assets it takes to knock out six moving targets, you would be in a better position to work out how many assets are needed to engage multiples of six.

The light and sound show from a live-fire exercise is always a Kodak moment. The smoke, flame, sound, fury and shock effect that come from war machines and ordnance discharged is always a sight to behold. But there is a key difference between simply discharging warshot and maximising the combat potential and destructive power of the war machines in one's arsenal.

The unsexy parts would draw a yawn from most people: Defence scientists creating software that plots flight paths of outgoing artillery shells and missiles so battle planners can deconflict the space used by air units with the firing lanes of artillery units. Decision-making software that prioritises and allocates battlefield targets. The painstaking process of scanning satellite imagery to pluck out targets. All these contribute to the success of XFS but are difficult to showcase to the general public.

Indeed, there are few armed forces in the region that dedicate as much attention to the art and science of integrated warfare as the SAF.

Proof of concept
No plan survives first contact with the Enemy (or plural). War games like XFS allow proof of concept for doctrine at various levels of execution, principally the level of operational art and tactical engagements where individual platforms duel with enemy assets, under time pressure and under enemy fire to complete the kill chain.

The SAF's capability demo and desire to make its muscle-flexing widely publicised - as seen by the coterie of local and foreign press courted by the XFS media plan - could be both reassuring and alarming.

Sentiments evoked depend not so much on which side of the border one stands on, but more on one's personal outlook towards the tiny city-state and its posture of deterrence through strength and readiness. 

In and by itself, tiny Singapore's citizen's armed forces is in no position to threaten the politico-military status quo, the all-important caveat being that state actors do not attempt to use military power against the island nation.

Should push come to shove, the XFS scenario may well go "live", with the SAF ranging over an area 20 times the size of Singapore to hunt and kill the military assets that could hurt us.

At XFS 15, the SAF showed what it could do when the gloves come off.

The knock-out punch delivered against the OPFOR and simulated battle targets, by day and night, by many striking as one, is compelling evidence that tiny Singapore's deterrence strategy is underpinned by a playbook that is workable, rehearsed and devastatingly effective.

Related posts to help you join the dots:
This post explains why we should guard against third parties who may exploit the drawer plan to their own advantage. Click here

This post explains the need for deft diplomacy for a small country like Singapore. Click here

This post explains why armed forces need to be given free play should deterrence fail. Click here

XFS 13
This post outlines Dynamic Targeting demonstrated during XFS 13. Click here

XFS 13 battle management command post. Click here

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to guard against false flag operations during POT

In the thriller, Sum of All Fears, a period of tension (POT) between military units from NATO and Russia is exploited by non-state actors who stage false flag operations in a bid to start World War III.

Life imitated art in the Ukraine early in 2015. In disputed regions of the vast steppe, unidentified third parties are said to have attempted to fracture the fragile truce by exploiting the lack of trust between two armed forces during a POT. In some cases, they succeeded and Russian and Ukrainian forces ended up trading fire.

If and when the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is spring-loaded for action during a POT, we must be aware of the peril from third parties who may aim to move us from a readiness state of 5 to 1.

The precursors for action are not hard to fathom.

With the right uniforms and war machines but wrong allegiances, it is entirely conceivable that false flag operations could implicate military units on either side of the border for initiating a casus belli.

This is why allegations of civil servants and even armed forces personnel from nearby countries being part of a non-state actor have raised eyebrows here. Defence observers who think through the downstream implications of official authority abused would realise the potentially catastrophic results to both sides.

So we know the peril. What then are possible solutions?

As in the Sum of All Fears, it is the ability to sense-make dangerous situations that wins the day.

Massive firepower, however inspiring the light and sound show appears to the camera, counts for nought until and unless the destructive potential of war machines can be applied in the right place, right time and on worthy targets.

It is therefore vital for the SAF to build its battlespace awareness to a level of prescience above and beyond what the threat(s) may use against us.

In theory at least, forewarned is forearmed.

From Changi Point to Tuas, the 42km distance across this island can be easily traversed by an extended range full-bore base bleed round fired by a heavy artillery piece. Rocket artillery some 100km away and shipborne cruise missiles from even further can reach out and touch us within minutes. This is how small and vulnerable we are.

Should the worst happen and we find our tiny island in the beaten zone of incoming ordnance, then one must have the confidence that active defences will provide the proverbial iron dome above our heads.

Passive defences count too. Such specialised infrastructure - hardened above ground or dug deep underground - will provide some measure of resilience as we soak up the initial onslaught.

And then strike back? Perhaps. But maybe not if our appreciation of the situation points to a nefarious and deliberate bid to force the SAF into action.

Being prepared to act involves more than being mission-ready.

In some scenarios, it will demand that we know when to stand down and when to keep our powder dry.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

China-US tift over the South China Sea will demand deft diplomacy from Singapore

There will be no winner if China and the United States clash in the South China Sea, only losers, victims and targets among regional countries.
Which label Singapore is accorded will depend heavily on deft diplomacy, personal ties and goodwill banked over the years by Singaporean leaders and statesmen in both Asia-Pacific powers.

If you challenge yourself to ponder the improbable, how severe would the worst-case scenario look on your list of improbable outcomes? And how would Singapore fare if the improbable really does hit us?
Jaw jaw or war war, one thing is clear: Close ties nurtured between Singapore, China and the United States will be stress-tested and Singapore cannot be a bystander even if we wish to sit out the storm.
This is because the Republic would appear on any analysis of places and bases in the South China Sea region. The Chinese military would no doubt be fully aware of Singapore’s role in sustaining the US military posture in the region. As for the US military, we are more than a port of call. This means Singapore will feature in studies conducted by military strategists from both China and the US.

Strategic lily pad 
American air and naval logistics units in Singapore provide supplies such as food, fuel and ammunition to the US military that extend their staying power when operating in regional air and sea lanes. The US logistics units located in Singapore include Commander Task Force 73 (CTF 73), which operates from Sembawang Wharves, and Air Mobility Squadron Detachment 2, which is housed at Paya Lebar Air Base.
Every year, CTF 73 is said to move more than 8,700 tons of ammunition for US Navy warships in the region. The US Air Force's Detachment 2 unit at PLAB allows US warplanes to use Singapore as a strategically-located lily pad to refuel, resupply and as a crew rest stop for American air power as it stretches its wings across the Asia-Pacific.
Since 1992, the arrangement for Singapore to host US military logistics units has sustained the American presence in the region, which has had a stabilising effect for the region. Since the arrangement took effect, Singapore has served as the swing around point for US Pacific forces headed to various wars in the Middle East and Horn of Africa. The Lion City also served a pivotal role in various humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, providing succour to US ships and planes carrying relief to South Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

If one ponders the improbable should China-US relations heat up, what sort of turbulence would this arrangement face?
Weathering the storm
China is unlikely to sit quietly if such support to US forces is continued, or worse, ratcheted up in scale to underpin US military operations in the region.
On the other hand, the special relationship between Singapore and the US will come under strain if the Republic is no longer a lily pad for American military forces.
Any meddling with the peacetime status quo by Singapore is likely to provoke a response from either side. Indeed, former US President George W. Bush's firm stand on the global war of terror, immortalised in the phrase "you are either with us or against us" is likely to swing into play when Singapore is forced to show its hand.
There is no model answer, no easy precedent to lean on should Singapore's position in a China-US clash put us to the test. Indeed, the web of relationships in the diplomatic and military spheres is complex.
We need to count on astute interventions by our diplomats and leaders – many of which take place away from the public eye - should the improbable happen and we suddenly find ourselves under close and intense scrutiny by both powers.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Politics blunts the potential of airpower during crisis

Skyfall: Destruction rains from the sky as Russian Backfire bombers unload iron bombs over Syria in a demonstration of global reach, global power.

It used to be that the mere threat of aerial attack would have the Enemy think twice before doing anything rash. Not anymore.

We have in Syria and Iraq a non-state actor who has endured and continues to defy the aerial might of Arab air arms, NATO air forces and airpower unleashed by the superpowers - mentioned in order of lethality.

And yet, it continues to stay in business and takes every opportunity to cock a snook at attempts to bomb it off the face of the planet.

Indeed, recent world events have shown that airpower has done nothing to detect, deter or defend against the expansion of the non-state actor's operations in Europe and Africa.

If Giulio Douhet were alive to witness this, would his theory of  airpower be influenced in any way, shape or form? Probably not.

This is because the apparent impotence of airpower stems from politics and not the potential of war machines to conduct politics by other means, from the Air by day and by night.

If allowed to persecute the Enemy the way North Vietnam was hammered by successive Linebacker raids, if the gloves came off and strategic bombing was constrained more by weather conditions, aircrew availability and stockpile of bombs than by concerns over collateral damage, if airpower planners could shape the battlespace the way German cities were reshaped during WW2, the story - truth be told - would be vastly different.

One must recognise that airpower must be allowed to unleash its full-force potential when the decision is made to go from troubled peace (during a Period of Tension, for example) to war.

Target sets meticulously mapped out and updated by generations of airpower planners must be addressed systematically and ruthlessly with the aim of achieving conflict termination on one's terms. When the time to talk is over and the time to act dawns, one must act decisively and allow aerial firepower full flight.

Alas, such is easier said than done.

Pen & Sword: Royal Jordanian Air Force ground staff pen messages on bombs as a prelude to air strikes in Syria after a captured Jordanian F-16 pilot was burned alive. The publicity accorded to such missions has since evaporated.

We have seen how an angry Jordan promised aerial retribution early this year after one of its pilots was burned alive. After the burst of news stories that resulted from all that sound and fury, Jordanian military responses appear to have shied away from the media limelight.

We are today witnessing a resurgent Russia remind the world that Mother Russia's heavy bomber forces and cruise missile inventory is well-stocked and ready for business.

But cut out the agitprop and we have a situation where the once frightening war-winning potential of airpower appears to have been blunted.

The current situation is germane to the people who work at Gombak Drive because it dilutes perceptions on the effectiveness and efficacy of airpower as an instrument of war.

Deterrence can be compromised should the failure of shock and awe in the Middle East lead to miscalculations that Singapore's ability to lead and shape the air campaign will be similarly diminished. With deterrence at the core of Singapore's Total Defence effort, we had better take notice of how the info ops game is being played by all sides engaged in the Middle East theatre.

During a POT, such strategic miscalculations could embolden hostility rather than force a step down in tension even when foreign defence professionals discern that the Singapore war machine is clearly mobilising for operations. Why? Because the misguided, the naive and the self-deluding may think they too can weather the coming storm.

What then can one do?

By continuing the conversation among professional military circles, one can propagate awareness of Singapore's ability and determination to defend itself and leave no doubt that Autostrike is real, tested and good to go, empowered and en masse. Drip feed combat power under a weak, vacillating island defence plan? Not for us.

Whether such awareness translates to Respect depends very much on our success in convincing foreign defence watchers that the light-and-sound show executed by our fighting forces during war games such as Forging Sabre, Wallaby and Bold-this-and-that provide telling signs of what's to come should push come to shove.

This task of awareness-building has become even more challenging amid growing misperceptions that more than a year of aerial effort has failed to negate the threat from the non-state actor in the Middle East. If airpower was unshackled from political constraints, the situation today would look starkly different.

The conduct of RSAF air operations in war is a complex one. Info ops that support the Air Force in peacetime is Complex 2.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Runaway US blimp makes the news as RSAF prepares for aerostat ops

A radar-equipped United States Army blimp that broke free from its moorings at the Aberdeen Proving Ground yesterday set off a chase involving ground units and two F-16 warplanes.

The dangling mooring cable apparently knocked out power lines as the blimp drifted across residential areas at low level. Am certain there's a lesson or two here for the Republic of Singapore Air Force unit entrusted with aerostat operations.

Extracted from a Reuters report titled "Runaway U.S. military blimp wreaks havoc in Pennsylvania", dated 28 October 2015:

"A high-tech U.S. military blimp designed to detect a missile attack came loose on Wednesday and wreaked havoc as it floated from Maryland into Pennsylvania, dragging more than a mile of cable and knocking out power to thousands.

The U.S. military scrambled two armed F-16 fighter jets to keep watch as the massive blimp traveled into civilian airspace after coming untethered from its base at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a U.S. Army facility 40 miles northeast of Baltimore.

Pentagon officials said they were unsure why the 242-foot-long blimp broke free at 12:20 p.m.. Military officials wrestled for hours over the best way to safely bring it down, but eventually it deflated on its own."

The blimp, part of a $2.8 billion Army program, landed in a rural, wooded area in Exchange, Pennsylvania, a community outside Bloomsburg, about 150 miles (240 km) north of the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

John Thomas, a spokesman for Columbia County emergency management agency, said there were no reports of injuries but had no more details about the landing.

Pennsylvania police and military officials guarded a wide safety perimeter around the blimp, which settled amid farmland in the remote area. Residents, including members of an Amish community, watched them work under steady rainfall.

The blimp's travels caused widespread damage, officials said. At one point, 30,000 Pennsylvania residents were without power, the governor's office said.

"The tether attached to the aircraft caused widespread power outages across Pennsylvania," said a statement from Governor Tom Wolf's office.

The blimp's travels were a sensation on social media, with hashtags like #Blimpflood and #Blimpmemes ranking among the top trending topics. At least two Twitter parody accounts sprung up, gaining nearly 2,000 followers in just under two hours.

The attention was unlikely to be welcomed by the Army, which calls the program the Joint Land-Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System,or JLENS. The program was restructured after it overran cost estimates, the Government Accountability Office said in 2014.

The program is comprised of two blimps, each 242 feet long. The second blimp will be grounded until the military inspects it and finishes an investigation into the unmooring, said Navy Captain Scott Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. military's North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

The system itself is still in a testing phase. Manufacturer Raytheon Co's website says it would become part of the defenses that help protect the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.
Raytheon's website says the blimps are meant to be tethered to the ground by a "11/8 inch thick super-strong cable," which should withstand 100 mile-per-hour (60 kph) winds. Electricity runs up the cable and powers the radar, the website says.
NORAD said the blimp became untethered while at an altitude of 6,600 feet, far below its maximum recommended altitude of up to 10,000 feet.
By early afternoon, it had climbed to 16,000 feet as it traveled into Pennsylvania.
NORAD said the system was designed to defend against threats beyond cruise missiles, to include drone aircraft and "surface moving targets" such as swarming boats and tanks. More here
You may be interested in:
When the balloon goes up. Click here

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Urban legends abound on the Singapore Armed Forces' true fighting capabilities

Show-and-tell: Developed in the 1980s by DSO National Laboratories but unveiled only in 2004, this TV-guided glide bomb was used to point observers to the growth trajectory and capabilities of Singapore's guided weapons engineers. It is understood that the weapon's development cycle involved testing of the optical seeker on a UH-1 and an actual drop test from an A-4 Skyhawk. A big leap for Singapore - though it should be remembered that German scientists pioneered such technology some 40 years earlier during WW2.

Mention Herakles in a Republic of Singapore Navy naval base and sailors within earshot might assume one is referring to the air/surface search radar on Formidable-class stealth ships.

Repeat the H-word within the fence line of another Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) base and those in the know might invite you to come stir coffee.

Have or don't have? Heaven only knows.* 

Urban legends about the SAF's true size and strength have captivated defence observers - professional and amateur, local and foreign - for eons.

Most of the time, such gossip is shared in hushed tones and passed on like a preciously hoarded gem. The "I heard" prefix that heralds yet another SAF myth is almost never followed up by photographic evidence that would prove or disprove rumours whether or not *insert your weapon of choice* actually exists in SAF colours. 

It's worse online where anonymous and purportedly reliable sources add more spice to the mix. But you already know that.

From Alexis (aka C******) to Zebra, the depth and breadth of defence know-how said to come under so-called project names is fascinating to track. 

In doing so, two principles apply: Validity and Accuracy. As a rule of thumb, an observation that is accurate may not necessarily prove the validity of a hunch/theory. There have been numerous accurate sightings of equipment under trial which people assume eventually entered SAF service, lending credence to urban myths about what's actually in our war chest. But more spadework is needed to validate/invalidate such reports.

As for the guiding principle on Accuracy: No hypothesis can be valid unless it is accurate. It is as simple as that.

But even wildly inaccurate urban legends serve a purpose in deterring those who wish Singapore harm because one is never quite certain what may pop out of the box. 

It is important to appreciate that all this guesswork might swing against our interests should foreign planners hedge against uncertainty. They could do this by buying more, buying better and buying frequently to up-arm and up-size themselves to strengthen their firepower.

And so, a delicate balance needs to be maintained between allowing urban myths to gain traction to create strategic ambiguity and not giving foreign players the ammunition to use urban myths to boost their own arsenals.

It is a tricky business.

Even as regional defence forces are coaxed towards the path of transparency through assorted arms registers, one must be savvy enough to delink idealism with reality. That which is theoretically achievable under ideal world conditions may not sit comfortably with real world realities. This is defence real politik.

We deter by making it clear our interests will be defended, however pitifully small our real estate, air and sea space may be to outside observers. 

Statements alone will not deter or protect. It is the demonstrated ability to blunt, parry and deliver counter strikes of our own, repeatedly and resolutely, that will. Responses that the other side does not anticipate or train for may lead to the proverbial knockout blow, which explains why secret edge capabilities need to be remain in the shadows. 

When the occasion calls for it, tantalising glimpses are given by MINDEF/SAF. Such occasions provide astute observers with telling clues of what they are dealing with. 

We saw this tease-and-tell during the 3G SAF Tech X exhibition in 2004. At that public defence exhibition, Singapore unveiled a TV-guided bomb that was developed in the 1980s by its defence community.

While armchair defence observers pooh-poohed the old tech (it was unveiled decades after it was drop tested in the South China Sea), professional eyes would see an indigenous guided weapon capability that unearthed more questions than answers. What is the state of Singapore's present-day GW capability? What other operational GW munitions customised for the SAF are in service? Besides guided weapons, what else has the defence eco-system been busy with in the intervening years?

If the story is told in full some day, these projects would showcase the work done by some 5,000 defence scientists and engineers who form the bedrock of Singapore's defence engineering capability.

Depending on which side of the border you live on, their story would either knock your socks off.... or keep you wide awake at night with worry.

* Have.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pictures of new Singapore Armed Forces URO VAMTAC 4x4s

A new four-wheel drive vehicle is set to be unveiled by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soon.

Images of Spanish-made URO VAMTAC ST5 4x4s bearing MID numberplates taken in the Jurong area were contributed by a Senang Diri reader today.

VAMTAC is the acronym for Vehículo de Alta Movilidad Táctico, which is Spanish for "High Mobility Tactical Vehicle". The VAMTAC ST5 is sometimes referred to as the Spanish Humvee.

The MID-plate ST5s look set to fill the role of Ford Everest OUVs and Mercedes-Benz MB290GD "Minimogs" as these light vehicles are phased out of SAF service.

The ST5s are expected to be configured for various roles with armed and unarmed variants serving principally with the Singapore Army.

In our immediate neighbourhood, VAMTACs are also fielded by the Malaysian Army.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Singapore Armed Forces and defence eco-system deploy for Exercise Wallaby 2015: Hopping into action soon!

Hornets nest: Six Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16D+ warplanes from 145 Squadron taxi at Rockhampton Airport on Friday 16 October 2015 after deploying across the Australian from Darwin Airport. Picture by Kayanne Hardsman from the Central Queensland Plane Spotting blog. Click here for more.

Ever heard of Budyonnovsk? We haven't either.

When Russia deployed warplanes from the airbase at Budyonnovsk to Syria, defence analysts worldwide were wowed by Russia's ability to marshal and deploy airpower at long-range. The distance covered: 1,800+ km.

As you read this, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has sent warplanes and combat helicopters from Singapore to the Australian town of Rockhampton in Queensland for tri-Service war games, codenamed Wallaby. The distance covered: 5,700+ km.

So just what constitutes "long-range" is relative.

We take Exercise Wallaby for granted because it has been staged so often that even journalists find it hard squeezing a newspoint for this annual test of the SAF's ability to fight and manoeuvre as an integrated force across a distance several times the size of Singapore island.

But just getting there is a feat of arms for the SAF.

While in Rockhampton, the land, air and naval elements involved in the various Frames of the exercise and component exercises under the Wallaby umbrella must put the mantra "raise, train and sustain" into action.

Many SAF units will be closely watched not just by safety officers. The ability of the battle staff to plan, deploy, manoeuvre and fight by day and by night - sometimes using live ordnance in close proximity with ground and air elements - will be closely watched by Army Training Evaluation Centre (ATEC) assessors who will use Wallaby as a test of their combat readiness.

To have the war game compromised by forgetting a vital spare part or decision-making tool so far from home would bring the show to an abrupt and embarrassing halt. To fly or sail to Shoalwater Bay Training Area with a gypsy caravan of all your barang(2) would make your unit a laughing stock among more seasoned warfighters who arrive in-theatre with what they need, a bit extra for stretch missions and nothing more.

With big shots from Level 5 due to visit the exercise in the coming weeks, it is crucial that this year's Frames learn from past deployments. Wallaby virgins need to learn fast about the value of, and discipline needed, to put into effect what other armies would call an "expeditionary force".

Contrary to what most observers see, Wallaby is more than an SAF show.

The SAF's experience during Wallaby will be shared by defence scientists and engineers from Singapore's defence eco-system. They will use the opportunity to see, firsthand, how modifications to various weapon platforms and systems stand up to rough handling by our soldiers under harsh conditions in the Australian outback.

Many homegrown weapons, such as the Bionix 2, owe their design refinements to the mileage clocked while on long and distant service during Ex Wallaby.

Full-time National Service, Operationally Ready NSmen and Regulars who took part in Wallaby Frames from yesteryear have collectively laid the foundation from which the present-day SAF can learn from.

Uniquely Singapore
Singapore's Wallaby experience is unique. We are forced to commit to this long-range deployment due to the shortage of training space in Singapore.

Thanks to defence diplomacy, we have made friends beyond our immediate neighbourhood who are willing to allow a foreign country to conduct what amounts to a unilateral exercise involving live ammunition on home ground. That Singapore has been allowed to do so beyond the ASEAN 10 in far-flung places such as Australia, France, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the United States is testimony to the strength and extent of strong ties between our respective armed forces.

At a more tactical level, the Wallaby experience will be remembered by newbies who have never trained there before. No Singaporean son or daughter who has ever travelled by convoy during Wallaby will forget the dust stirred up by SAF vehicle columns or the stark temperature difference from pre-dawn to noon in the outback.

For some of our NSFs, getting to Wallaby will mark their first aeroplane flight.

At night, stars will crown the Australian sky.

May the Exercise Wallaby 2015 team make full and proper use of time granted by our Australian friends to train realistically and come home safely. And should push come to shove, to put in practice what we've practised during land warfare manoeuvres like Bold Conqueror to deal the knock-out blow swiftly and decisively and make stars dance in front of their eyes.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Failure of Israeli military deterrence against lone wolf attacks holds pertinent lessons for Singapore

With one side promising death if deterrence is challenged and the other desiring death by challenging deterrence, you have a tragic confluence of factors that will only see both sides bleed.

This past week, as Israel paused to reflect on the anguish of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, death called on yet more Israeli and Palestinian families as spiraling violence claimed more victims.

As the First Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) modelled its deterrence posture from the Israeli playbook, the situation in the Middle East holds pertinent lessons for us even if the 3rd Gen SAF's playbook has since evolved.

So despite the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Iron Dome anti-missile batteries, Merkava MBTs and a potent air combat force spearheaded by the F-15/F-16 combo, elements bent on causing harm to Israel have not been deterred. These IDF tools of war have stayed silent as violence flared in Israel.

The threat has emerged in the form of lone wolf attacks. These were staged by individuals who made the personal decision of self-sacrifice. Their weapons of choice can be found in your household - kitchen knives for stabbing and keys to automobiles used for ramming pedestrians.

One could argue that the IDF defence posture is not tailored against home spun threats. Indeed, you could say tackling such attacks comes under the firing lane of homeland security agencies and not the military. While such hair-splitting makes great catnip for defence watchers, one should not run away from the fact that a strategy of deterrence that claims to protect one's national interests must evolve as threats evolve and not cherry pick the time, place and circumstances to justify the theoretical. Otherwise as the body count rises, your deterrent value will ring hollow and lose credibility.

With the IDF deterrence posture unchanged and the desire by Palestinians for martyrdom undiminished, closure is unlikely to come anytime soon.

Indeed, some Israeli commentators have even broached the idea of a third Palestinian uprising (Intifada) as violence begets violence.

While peace remains elusive, the lessons from such unsettling times are many and thought-provoking.

The fact that teenage Palestinians have featured prominently in street action indicates that antipathy towards the Israeli has cascaded several generations ever since grandad opposed the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. As teenage Palestinians face off with teenage IDF national servicemen deployed for homeland security duty, the seeds of hostility have been seeded among future leaders from both sides. Without a landmark change in attitudes, this guarantees that the cycle of violence will be perpetuated yet again in the next generation.

The emergence of lone wolves and the IDF's failure to counter this threat red flags the futility of military deterrence in the traditional sense when pitched against actors who ignore the script. While state actors may pull back after recognising warning indicators and calculating loss exchange ratios in a full-on clash between armed forces, this calculus is alien to lone wolves.

Indeed, recognising that their attacks are mostly one-shot affairs, a military unit may be viewed as a target and not a threat by elements bent on extracting maximum damage from their freelance action. The tipping point comes when individuals can be influenced to step forward to undertake what are ultimately one-way trips against the aggressor. For certain 800-series SIRs in the Singapore Army orbat, it is worth pondering the end-game under such scenarios.

The contemporary Israeli solution rests with retaliation against which the perpetrator cannot counter (since such elements would have passed on after the one-way mission). We see this played out during raids which flatten the homes of family members linked to individuals who have attacked Israeli interests.

In many instances, the brutality of such action outweighs any appreciable military or para military advantage because it takes place after the fact. So an attack on Israelis is staged, the attacker is identified and the bulldozers go in. All it does is exacerbate the spiral of violence and seed even more resentment among the community at the receiving end of the sledgehammer.

In an area of operations dominated by high-rise dwellings, the impracticality of razing homes is obvious. And so the shock effect is lost. The alternative, which involves evicting families and housing them elsewhere, echoes the establishment of new villages during the Malayan Emergency when vulnerable elements of the community would be fenced in behind barbed wire and under armed guard.

Such operations require copious manpower to administer because the interned community needs to be fed, watered and cared for. In this digital media age, any semblance of a concentration camp setting would set the internet alight and trigger the loss of the moral high ground.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis this week that there is no "magic solution" to the week-long violence by lone wolf attacks.

"We are in the midst of a wave of terror," said Mr Netanyahu."There is no magic solution and the actions (Israel is taking) will not yield instant results, but with methodical determination we will prove that terror does not pay and we will defeat it."

And so, that tragic confluence of factors continues.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Action needed, not just words

In recent days, much ado has been made about the need for, and importance of, alternative voices to speak out for you.

The minority in the House have indeed spent their tenure productively. They have taken to the floor during every opportune topic that serves their interests while electing to remain silent on awkward issues where their arguments or logic prove weak.

Let us be clear that while alternative voices can speak out, their scattered presence in the House makes them utterly irrelevant when the time comes to vote on matters that truly matter to you and I.

They do make their voice heard. Often vociferously, sometimes logically, always futilely because that handful of dissent doesn't matter.

Alternative voices do not necessarily translate to alternative action. Know the difference.

The point to be made is that Singaporeans need to filter out the lofty, empty promises from candidates claiming to be change agents for all things unpopular, untimely or unrealistic that the G wants to shove down our throats.

By all means choose the better candidate or team. Slick slogans aside, do so with your eyes wide open on what those alternative voices can realistically do for you beyond hollow rhetoric.

Debate over $1 billion price tag for E-2C Hawkeyes
Back in 1984, the then MP for Anson, J.B. Jeyaretnam, made clear his reservations about Singapore's plans to buy four Grumman E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft for $1 billion. It was then our most expensive defence purchase.

The flying radar stations were deemed necessary as eyes in the sky to give the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) early warning of airborne intruders and the time needed to get Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes up in the air.

The SAF requirement for AEW pre-dated the combat record of such assets in hot-wars fought by overseas air forces that validated the value of such assets in air combat.

Still, at $1 billion a pop, it was a political hot potato.

A spirited debate ensued in the Singapore Parliament over the need for, timing and wisdom of this purchase.

To be sure, the late JBJ gave a good account of himself. He maximised his airtime in Parliament, even though his arguments against and knowledge of air operations were not particularly illuminating.

Hot air
All that hot air counted for nothing because the RSAF still got its E-2Cs.

So while the Hansard attests to the intensity and ferocity of the debate, it did absolutely nothing to change the RSAF's growth trajectory. Those Hawkeyes still came home to roost.

Along the way, there was an earnest attempt to ensure a balanced budget and people-friendly programmes. A year after that budget debate, Singapore fell into recession (scrimping on the E-2Cs would have done absolutely nothing to steer us clear of that slump) - highlighting Singapore's exposure to the global market economy.

Helplines were extended to Singaporeans and our economic posture adjusted along the way. Beyond the rhetoric, who was there to spearhead all of that?

Survive and thrive
After the Asian financial crisis, after the bust, after the 9/11 attacks rattled the world, during and after the deadly SARS crisis, who led, who assured and who helped this tiny city-state navigate dangerous episodes?

When our national budget is adjusted every year, such tweaks are made independent of, and not because of, the clarion call for change from alternative voices in and outside the House.

Yes, there have been fruitless trips up blind alleys with botched policies. Admittedly, there have been foot in mouth moments. The hue and cry such issues raise among thinking Singaporeans - and there are many outside the orbit of political circles - often serves as the trigger for the G to stop, take stock and modify its stance where necessary.

It is this ability to adjust and adapt to changing conditions that has helped our accidental nation, ejected from the Federation 50 years ago, to survive far longer than expected.

Separate the wheat from the chaff.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Cut the defence budget? Freedom is not free.

4 December 2022 update:

Pukul Habis: Available from Amazon sites that serve your location. "Look Inside" function on some sites shows sample pages.



Canada: Look Inside

France: Look Inside

Germany: Look Inside

Japan: Look Inside



United Kingdom: Look Inside

USA: Look Inside

All eyes will be on Singapore on Polling Day next Friday. 

As Singaporeans assess the future leaders for their country, the world will assess the country’s future with these leaders.

Who we elect into Parliament will shape world opinion on the Little Red Dot’s ability to thrive and survive and the risks we face as a city-state – the smallest of the ASEAN 10. And world opinion matters greatly.

We vote with our hearts and with our minds.

World opinion votes with its feet.

Any signs of uncertainty for businesses in Singapore, any whiffs of insecurity or indications that the new leadership is weak or incompetent will prompt investors to relook their stakes in our sunny isle. 

And with alternatives aplenty not just in our immediate neighbourhood but beyond, this will spell trouble for Singapore. This is a hard truth you cannot run away from.

Larger neighbours blessed with abundant natural resources, bigger populations and a distinguished ancient history have borne the brunt of the economic realities once world opinion takes a dim view of the country’s security, survival and success.

Look north. A net exporter of oil and gas, huge hinterland and sizeable population compared to Singapore, bursting with natural resources and with sea and air ports that are no less strategically located than the Little Red Dot. Ponder the pitiful decline in their currency, the steady erosion in foreign direct investment – money that is unlikely to return to the Federation anytime soon – and ask yourself what gives your precious Singapore dollars the value it deserves? 

It is confidence, both locally and abroad, that the Lion City led by able leaders will continue to be a safe, stable and secure place for homemakers and businesses alike. Such confidence doesn’t spring forth out of thin air. 

Friends and frenemies know this place will be resolutely defended by its citizen soldiers. 

This is why investors will put their money where their mouth is by setting up companies in Singapore even when opportunities beckon from far larger neighbours. Even as we score, the economic game doesn't swing our way all the time. Remember Seagate? Once one of the largest employers here, it has since moved abroad to a more competitive business address.

The system isn't perfect (which one ever is?) but we are adaptable, pragmatic and never shy away from ditching unworkable plans, programmes and processes when planning parameters are proven wrong. 

The sense of security stems from a track record of more hits than misses and a determination to prove that our collective journey to nationhood wasn't a fluke.

Rob observers of that sense of security and an unsettled world opinion will rethink Singapore’s place in world affairs.


Because nobody owes us a living and freedom is not free.

Choose wisely.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cut Singapore's defence budget?

4 December 2022 update:

Pukul Habis: Available from Amazon sites that serve your location. "Look Inside" function on some sites shows sample pages.



Canada: Look Inside

France: Look Inside

Germany: Look Inside

Japan: Look Inside



United Kingdom: Look Inside

USA: Look Inside

Seven years after the essay below was penned, the fundamentals that underpin Singapore's stability, growth and prosperity remain unchanged.

We can chart our own destiny - progressive, retrogressive or destructive, whichever way you really fancy - because the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) buys us the time and space that allows Singaporeans to decide our own course(s) of action. 

Think things through carefully.

A strong and silent keeper of the peace
Tue, Jul 01, 2008
The Straits Times

EVEN as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) marks SAF Day this evening with a parade, a sizeable number of military personnel will remain on guard - the vigilant lions protecting the Lion City.
David Boey

EVEN as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) marks SAF Day this evening with a parade, a sizeable number of military personnel will remain on guard - the vigilant lions protecting the Lion City.

But many Singaporeans may be unaware of this, believing all's well. Apart from the threat transnational terrorists pose, the lack of a clear and present danger from a hostile nation might seduce them into viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses. Such naivety would not only be wrong, it 
would also be dangerous.

During a study visit I made to Malaysia last year, a senior Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) officer shared with me an episode in Singapore-Malaysia relations that he said occurred during a period of tension.

According to the officer, the MAF was put on alert in late 1998 as politicians on both sides of the Causeway argued over the status of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint at Malaysia's railway station in Tanjong Pagar.

News articles from the period chronicle the public exchanges, but say nothing of the defence postures that the SAF and MAF adopted during this period.

Kuala Lumpur's unwillingness to acknowledge its heightened military preparedness - which military officials on both sides privately acknowledge did occur - was an astute move.

It indicated a tacit acknowledgement on the part of Malaysia's defence officials that they could not allow the CIQ issue to flare into a casus belli. The full force potential of the SAF when mobilised renders it a formidable opponent.

There were other telling signs that bilateral ties were not well during that period. These included Singapore's decision to conduct two open mobilisation exercises in September and October 1998. Records indicate that the SAF rarely calls up its manpower in successive months.

It should be noted that such open mobilisation exercises - overt call-ups of defence manpower broadcast over television, radio and in cinemas - are probably complemented by silent mobilisations. 

Few beyond Singapore's defence establishment would be aware of this.

The CIQ episode resembles an earlier episode in Singapore-Malaysia relations when military power was flexed in a show of force, apparently to intimidate the tiny island nation.

Operationally Ready National Servicemen who served in 1991 would recall the joint Malaysian-Indonesian military exercise, codenamed Malindo Darsasa 3AB, that occurred that year. It involved an airborne assault by paratroopers in southern Johor.

If the name of the airborne assault, codenamed Pukul Habis (Malay for 'Total Wipeout'), as well as the choice of a drop zone just 18km from Singapore, were not sufficiently provocative, the scheduling of the airdrop on Aug 9th - Singapore's 26th National Day - most certainly was.

The SAF's response was measured and confident. It triggered an Open Mobilisation on the eve of National Day, a fact that was reported extensively in the local media.

The move was calculated not to escalate tensions. But it signalled also Singapore's determination not to welcome a Trojan horse on its doorstep.

Such episodes cannot be kept secret from NSmen, of course. But because they were deliberately kept low key, many Singaporeans were probably unaware of the full picture. Consequently, they may have failed to see the relevance of a strong military.

Singapore has warm and friendly ties with its neighbours. It will often go the extra mile to keep things on an even keel with them. But Singaporeans should understand and accept that there are always undercurrents in bilateral relations.

Those who wonder about the relevance of the SAF should ponder how these past episodes might have panned out if Singapore had yielded to military pressure.

A strong and vigilant SAF is Singapore's hedge against trouble. Singapore's formidable military arsenal - and, more crucially, the fighting spirit of its citizen soldiers - are guarantors of peace.
The writer is this newspaper's former defence correspondent.

Dare we let down our guard?

By David Boey
For the Straits Times
Feb 2009
Defence Spending
When Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel are called upon to defend their country, there would be few - if any - Singaporeans who would question the relevance of Singapore's military strength.

But the SAF's readiness and the commitment of its soldiers, sailors and airmen should not be taken for granted. The combat capabilities currently deployed took years of steady investments to raise, train and sustain.
Consider the Commando Special Operations Force (SOF) that stormed Singapore Airlines flight SQ117 at Changi Airport on March 26, 1991 and saved 123 passengers and crew. Four Pakistani hijackers had threatened to kill one hostage every 10 minutes unless their demands were met. They gave the Singapore authorities five minutes to decide what to do. Three minutes into the countdown, the SOF settled the issue by killing all four hijackers.
The operation, codenamed Thunderbolt, marked the first time the SAF resolved a hijacking with deadly force. The operation also marked the first occasion when an SAF unit was deployed for operations even before its existence was publicly acknowledged. The veil of secrecy over the SOF was lifted only on Feb 20, 1997, nearly six years after the SQ117 rescue and some 13 years after the SOF was formed in April 1984.
Among the Singapore Army's fighters, SOF troopers are probably the most expensive soldiers to train, organise, equip and support. Yet the Ministry of Defence argued that they were a necessary investment.
A year after the elite unit was formed in 1984, independent Singapore endured its first economic recession. But the unit's development continued unabated, nevertheless. Had Mindef opted for was financially expedient rather than what was operationally prudent, the SQ117 rescue - executed years later - might have had a very different outcome.
Two operations flown by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) further demonstrate how defence capabilities can be called upon decades after they were first established.
The RSAF set up 122 Squadron to fly C-130 Hercules medium-lift tactical airlifters in 1977. The squadron's years of experience in flight operations, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief flights around the region, paid off in October 1990 during Operation Nightingale, when two C-130s flew medical supplies to Jordan. Iraq had invaded Kuwait that August and 122 Squadron was tasked to deliver 23 tonnes of medical supplies to the United Nations Disaster Relief Organisation in Jordan.
The second operation occurred in July 1997, when 122 Squadron evacuated more than 400 Singaporeans from Phnom Penh when the security situation in the Cambodian capital deteriorated. Two waves of air evacuations were carried out during Operation Crimson Angel using C-130s protected by commandos.
As these examples show, it may take decades for people to appreciate the value of defence investments. However, the lack fo such investment can become apparent in a much shorter tie. This is because hostile elements can be quick to exploit gaps or shortcomings in Singapore's defences.
Take the piracy problem which plagued Singapore's defence planners in the 1980s. Attacks by sea raiders at places like East Coast Park, West Coast Park and Tuas made the headlines in the 1980s, showing that sea robbers had found loopholes in Singapore's seaward defences. Singapore paid the price for an ill-defined maritime strategy.
The situation today is markedly different. Round-the-clock surveillance of Singapore's territorial waters by naval patrols ans sensors like radars, air surveillance by shore-based Fokker 50 maritime patrol aircraft and cooperation with regional navies send a signal of Singapore's determination to safeguard its shores. But attacks recorded in nearby sea lanes prove that pirates continue to prowl regional seas. Strip away the assets of the Republic of Singapore Navy and the sea robbers will surely return to our shores. Dare we take that chance?

A balanced budget
The operations cited above do not mean that Mindef should command an unlimited budget. Neither should one expect our nation's elected representatives to be mute witnesses to the SAF's transformation into a 3rd Generation fighting force.
Questions on financial stewardship will ensure that Singapore gets the maximum bang for every defence dollar that is spent. Defence planners should indeed explain how the 6 per cent of GDP that Mindef spends is spent wisely.
However, it is important to ensure that long-term defence capabiities are protected, no matter what the short-term economic conditions. Capability erosion could easily come about through cyclical variations in defence spending.
One must appreciate that combat capabilities for the SAF's land, sea and air units take years to attain full battle readiness from the time new hardware is introduced. Indecisive defence funding would onot only send a weak deterrent message, it could also hamper Singapore's defence posture through less realistic training or less capable defence equipment
The writer was Straits Times defence correspondent.

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