Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hybrid Warfare spells new paradigm for Singapore

Open fire: The 16-hour blaze at CK Building in Tampines consumed three floors of the building and saw the largest deployment of Singapore Civil Defence Force assets and personnel. Picture by SCDF

Three separate events this past week - the breach of a police road block, a fire and a bank heist update - underline Singapore's fragility in the face of determined adversaries.

By extension, these incidents help explain the need for, and importance of, sustained commitment to building up Home Team assets alongside those that serve the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

First: The road block breach. This took place around 11pm on Tuesday night (16 Aug'16) when a car sped through a police road block in Sembawang. This triggered a 10-minute chase involving a police car and two police motorbikes. It ended after the car collided with a taxi and a van at a red light.

"Following the accident, the male driver put up a violent struggle and assaulted the Traffic Police officers in an attempt to evade arrest," said a police statement. This case was apparently drug-related.

The lesson here: Security cordons like road blocks are not puncture-proof. Current police protocols which call for suspects to be apprehended allow vehicles to bash through police lines. This is quite unlike the situation when stricter protocols are imposed to safeguard events like the Shangri-La Dialogue. In the latter, drivers who ignore police warnings and breach road blocks come under fire immediately.

Second: The fire. The blaze at CK Building in Tampines was billed as the largest fire handled by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) this year. The blaze was put out after a 16-hour effort by fire fighters. Here are the assets involved.

TNP Infographics by Cel Gulapa

The lesson here: If a single building involved that many personnel and assets, imagine the situation if an entire industrial estate was afire. Singapore is often seen as a concrete jungle. But outside the orbit of Home Team and MINDEF/SAF planners whose brief is to prepare for the worst, few Singaporeans may realise how easily our concrete jungle can be put to the torch.

The conflagration could be accidental. The spark could be lit by arsonists. Or real estate could come under fire from air strikes, naval bombardments or artillery barrages. The end result will be the same: Over-taxed civil defence forces that will have to confront multiple situations simultaneously and sustain the pace for hours on end.

Under such circumstances, the question "How much is enough?" becomes moot. Singapore will have to steel itself to situations where large fires are left to burn themselves out during a large-scale arson attack or hot-war scenario because civil defence resources will be stretched thin.

Third: The bank heist update. Remember the robbery at the Standard Chartered bank branch at Holland Village on 7 July'16? The alleged robber was said to have fled to the Thai capital, Bangkok, soon after he was said to have relieved the bank of tens of thousands of dollars with a single threatening note. We learned today that Thai authorities have said the alleged robber cannot be extradited to Singapore.

The lesson here: Despite high alerts and multiple layers of security at Singapore's border checkpoints, our security forces are effective only when they know what or whom to look out for. The alleged robber breezed past security checks with valid travel documents and got away before police investigators put together his identity. In a nutshell, he beat the OODA loop and slipped through the dragnet even as investigators sought to Observe, Orientate, Decide and Act.  

As Singapore's security planners from the Home Team and MINDEF/SAF face up to the threat of Hybrid Warfare, we must be cognisant that assets and well-trained personnel alone will not suffice to keep us safe.

Hybrid Warfare entails aggressors who aim to beat the system by thinking out of the box. This often entails assaults using assets or tactics that flout civilised norms of warfare.

In the case of the road block, it is clear that suspects who want a fast getaway can penetrate security cordons constrained by strict shoot/don't shoot rules of engagement (ROE) during normal situations. Not all roadblocks are guarded as strictly as the Shangri-La Dialogue. But it's a challenge knowing when to go on heightened alert when firearms can be discharged to stop a breacher and when normal, peacetime ROEs should apply to protect the wider public from the prospect of road blocks turning into free fire zones. Assailants hold the Initiative, having the flexibility of choosing the time, place and method of attack. Security forces must therefore be able to adjust their ROE posture rapidly.

Defence-minded observes mulling over the CK Building fire would realise how stretched SCDF assets and personnel will be when pitched against large-scale arson attacks. It goes without saying that a hot-war scenario will also place more demands on SCDF resources than it can realistically meet. The bottomline: A multi-layered approach to fire fighting and damage control in the heartlands and industrial parks anchored on fire wardens and volunteers who can hold the fort amid chaos.

Several decades of efforts under the Total Defence banner have given rise to a large cadre of volunteers all across Singapore. In coming months, as the SG Secure movement gains traction, growing numbers of volunteers trained, organised, equipped and briefed on how to deal with civil defence scenarios will contribute to mitigating Singapore's inherent vulnerability as a densely populated city-state.

The StanChart robbery emphasised how well-planned situations can evade even the best border security. We have to be prepared for unknown subjects (unsubs) involved in acts of aggression against Singapore residents to hatch a getaway plan that will beat the OODA loop.

Alas, dealing with unsubs with a getaway plan is a preferable option to handling individuals or groups with no getaway plan. In the latter, they will hold their  ground to the last bullet or the last blast and the end results could be far worst.


Chew said...

Remember Mat Selamat? Singapore's most wanted fugitive and terrorist with a limp?

After his escape "a massive manhunt comprising personnel from the Singapore Police Force, the Gurkha Contingent, the Singapore Armed Forces, the Police Tactical Unit and the Police National Service Key Installation Protection Unit were deployed in the vicinity of the area immediately after the escape. They were later aided by members of the Singapore Guards and the Singapore Armed Forces Military Police Command, before the operation was wound down over 17 hours later without success in locating the fugitive, who was believed to be unarmed."

I wondered then and I still wonder, if for all of Singapore's much vaunted efficiency and security, it seemed to have failed when it came to the crunch. Wayang?

Unknown said...

If - if- the sprinklers in that building had extinguished or stopped the spread of fire, there would not have been a conflagration.

The reported presence of aerosol cans should not add to the fire load.

Were the air-conditioning ducts dampered the moment smoke detectors inside were triggered?

Were all the fire doors closed during the fire?

Were the sprinkler pumps in working order?

Were the water tanks and valves opened for the sprinklers to work?

These are the questions to ask.

As for the Selamat case, the official report on the Whitely road facility was so full of holes. Already perforated for scant reading.

The Observer said...

I think there is a systemic flaw in how our defence agencies carry out operational planning and validation. There is a perverse culture within the entire civil service of only wanting the bosses to see the good things. So exercise scenarios are highly canned and carried out with guaranteed success - wayang as pointed out in another comment. This is unhealthy. The point of validation exercises is not only to prove oneself right, but to identify critical flaws as well. Our defence planners and leaders need to be mindful that failing an exercise is not taboo.