Monday, May 29, 2017

Singapore Army unveils Rafael Spike SR missiles

Lethal weapon: A RAFAEL Spike-SR missile, mounted on a tripod and connected to a simulator, was unveiled for the first time at the Singapore Army Open House 2017, which was organised by Headquarters 6th Combined Arms Division.

The Singapore Army has introduced the Rafael Spike-SR (short-range) as the new generation anti-tank guided missile for its infantry battalions.

The Spike-SR made its public debut at the Singapore Infantry's display at the just-concluded Army Open House 2017 (27-29 May 2017).

Issued at Company level, the Spike-SR has replaced the long-serving (and lethal) Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle (RR) as a Company support weapon.

In a Singapore Army infantry battalion, the Spike-SR complements the MATADOR (Manportable Anti-Tank Anti-DOoR). The single-shot, 90mm MATADOR is issued at a scale of two tubes per seven person section.

Designed with a launch-and-leave capability, the Spike-SR is said to give anti-tank gunners the ability to reach out and touch something up to 1km away. However, the quoted maximum effective range for the weapon, according to open source reports, is said to be 1,500m. Minimum engagement range is said to be 50m - the length of an Olympic-length pool.

Training of Spike-SR operators is augmented by a desktop simulator. This presents the image seen by gunners in the weapon's thermal sight (white/black hot options) and can be programmed with tactical scenarios that call for operators to work as an integrated fire team by recognising a threat vector and commanding the appropriate response/firing solution.

At the Spike-SR display, Senang Diri experienced a mock engagement of an MBT using this weapon. Digits on the left hand controlled the zoom function for the thermal sight. The right hand was used to initiate lock-on while the thumb was used to depress the firing button. Guided by an instructor, the simulated tank target several hundred metres away was destroyed at the first attempt.

According to some reports, the missile is able to engage static or moving targets. A variety of warhead types can be used to optimise the blast effect on targets.

Weighing just 200 grams shy of 10kg, the Spike-SR is not a handy weapon. The Carl Gustav 84mm RR is heavier, weighing in at around 15kgs unloaded lighter at about 8.5 kgs empty [Note: The 8.5kg weight refers to the M3 model of the 84. The one used by the SAF weighed around 15kg. The sentence has been amended accordingly.]. Each "84" launcher must be served by two operators - firer and loader - whereas the Spike-SR is essentially a single operator weapon. This crew size does not include the detachment commander, who would usually perform range finding and IFF functions to avoid blue-on-blue encounters.

In addition to the launcher's weight, fire teams must also carry 84mm rounds, each of which weighs upwards of 3kgs per round.

The Spike-SR accords a precision fire capability to AT teams to an Infantry COY.

However, the merits of a precise, single-shot weapon (Spike-SR) versus a less-accurate weapon (84mm RR) that nonetheless packs a lethal punch where the rounds land (not to mention the versatility of the RR with the wide range of munitions available) is likely to provide fodder for spirited debates among military buffs.

Spike-SR is one of a number of Spike missile variants fielded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Malaysian Army scales up for the anti-armour fight

Show of force: Soldiers from 7 RRD on parade earlier this year, with this contingent armed wall-to-wall with RPG-7 launchers. Photo: Malaysian Army News.

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The strength of a conventional army rests with its defence manpower who are optimised for war.

Trained, organised, equipped and supported for land warfare, the table of organisation and equipment (TOE) for a conventional army is also its weakness.

Army units cannot easily change the way they are armed or structured. Unit commanders cannot, for example, decide to dump a weapon and field another in its place, or reorganise their men under another hierarchical structure.

Such organisational inertia means that operational deployments for most army units are come-as-you-are affairs. You go to war with what you have, and hope that the training and capability of one's armaments, and fighting spirit of the troops, will outperform the enemy.

The history of warfare contains many examples of armies that were forced to modify their TOE in response to stalemates on the battlefield that had exacted enormous costs in terms of manpower, equipment and also morale.

During WW1, the German army's Stoßtruppen - stormtroopers - made a name for themselves as shock troops who were the force of choice for assaults upon fortified trench systems defended by wire and MGs, and covered by artillery fire.

At the Battle of Stalingrad in WW2, infantry and mechanised infantry units were found ineffective during fighting in built-up areas. As a result, German pioneers (i.e. combat engineers) were organised into assault units. Their TOE included weapons such as flamethrowers. Instead of bolt-action rifles that were standard issue in normal infantry battalions, the assault troops went into action liberally armed with machine pistols and grenades to maximise the volume of suppressive fire that fire teams could bring to bear.

And as the Red Army closed in on Berlin during the closing days of WW2 in Europe, the Soviets turned the tables on the Wehrmacht by unleashing assault troops on a massive scale. Troops organised into "shock armies" broke the back of the once-powerful German Army, which had been bled white by years of combat on multiple fronts.

More recently in Lebanon, the forces of Hezbollah that clashed with the Israel Defense Forces appear to have found a reply to the armour-heavy IDF. Light infantry armed with anti-tank weapons (issued at a scale well above that for a normal infantry unit), covered by fire teams with automatic, belt- or magazine-fed MGs and grenade launchers have proven hard to eradicate when fighting from prepared positions with numerous secondary and tertiary fire positions.

In our neighbourhood, the Malaysian Army has made clear how its infantry could face an armoured threat: With a profusion of anti-tank weapons, backed by a concept of operations for delaying, disrupting and destroying armour-heavy units.

Photo: Malaysian Army News.

Soldiers from Batalion ke 7 Rejimen Renjer DiRaja (Mekanise) paraded earlier this year armed with plenty of RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers. This instance was probably more for the camera, because any infantry unit thus armed would tip to the side of diminishing returns in terms of the sustainability of anti-tank firepower. 

The reason for this is simple: The RPG-7 is a not a single-shot weapon. This means that the weapon's efficiency (as opposed to effectiveness, which is contingent on the warhead, gunner's skill, effect of crosswind and distance to target, among other factors) is optimised with a supply of additional grenades to sustain the expected rate of fire discharged during one or multiple contacts.

What is clear to anyone who has been following the Tentera Darat Malaysia's (TDM) modernisation is the Malaysian army's increasing awareness of, and response to, emerging armoured threats.

Even if the parade by 7 RRD was intended for the camera, one takeway is the TDM's awareness that the normal TOE may need to be tweaked in order to break the momentum of an armoured thrust.

With light MGs and automatic grenade launchers issued at section level, backed by RPGs to do the heavy-hitting, a Malaysian army section can quite possibly give a good account of itself against an armoured opponent. The density of anti-tank fire that a Malaysian army section can bring to the fight has increased markedly; more so if RPGs were issued at a higher than normal rate during a hot-war.

Show-and-tell: Introduction to the Malaysian Army's Pakistan-made RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher in 2007. Ten years on, Malaysian infantry battalions have made noticeable improvements in their ability to deal with armour-heavy opponents.

In the 12 seconds or so that it takes a trained RPG gunner to extract a fresh round, remove the protective plastic end caps, insert the round and align it with the grove of the launcher, cock and shoulder the weapon, take aim and discharge the round, the other members of the section can lay down suppressive fire to make open hatch operations a hazardous undertaking.

Moving up the firepower scale, the TDM's inventory of heavy anti-tank guided weapons and anti-material rifles is also noteworthy.

Even without the fancy stormtrooper label, the Malaysians have everything it takes to orientate their infantry for the anti-armour fight.

If you need an example of a thinking soldier, look north.

Army Open House 2017 extended for one more day

The Singapore Army has extended the Army Open House by a day, thanks to overwhelming response to this one-in-five-years event.

Please note that the Dynamic Defence Display show will take place at 10am. Last show at 3pm.

Announcement below from Singapore Army Facebook -->

[Army Open House 2017 public days extended to 29th May, Monday]
Due to overwhelming response and positive feedback, the Army Open House 2017 public days will now be extended to 29th May, Monday from 9am to 8pm.
See you at the Army Open House 2017 @ F1 Pit Building!
Join the Army Open House event page for more details & get the latest information: , or download the AOH17 app from:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Things to see and do at Army Open House 2017

Peekaboo: Look out for a new Singapore Army armoured vehicle that will make a special appearance at Saturday morning's Dynamic Defence Display (10am start time).

Waiting for you: Part of the sprawling static display of Singapore Armed Forces war machines.

Water world: The Singapore Army's M3G amphibious rigs forming up on the Marina Reservoir.

Dynamic Defence Display
Showtimes at 10am and 4pm.
Tip: Seats on the spectator gallery are limited. Would recommend being at AOH2017 when it opens, get your seat and enjoy the view of the Marina Barrage. Pick the lower seats as these bring you close to the action. Keep your eyes on the deregistered car on the display ground. With a Leopard 2SG main battle tank the first performer let loose, it's fairly obvious what the tank will do to that doomed car.
Look out for: The Special Operations Force (SOF), Army Deployment Force (ADF), Belrex Protected Combat Support Vehicle, Higuard Protected Mobility Vehicle, Ford F550 ambulance are among the vehicles featured for the first time.

Just for Saturday morning's show, look out for the special performance by the Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

Battle Rides
You will need a mobilephone to register to ride on one of six types of Singapore Army vehicles. Four types of vehicles to choose from to ferry you around on land, while the LARC V and M3G raft will host you on water. You will be informed of your time slot via SMS.
Tip: Book your preferred time slot early, then take your time to browse through the exhibits.

Static Display
The NGAFV is expected to join the static display on Sunday.

You may want to take pictures of the Apache attack helicopter. The fleet is due to undergo an upgrade and the improved machine will have different stub wings.

Army Formations display
It's the place to find out more about the Singapore Army. It's packed with weapons and hands-on opportunities. It's a place to get out of the sun (and rain). It's got neat souvenirs. It's air-conditioned. Need we say more?

Level 2
Don't forget activities on Level 2. The large decals on the window tell you what to expect (see above). Good place to park active children. Kiddy rides, photo booths, shooting galleries, a chance to practice flying drones, "Night Walks" with night vision devices are among the highlights. Ask the AOH2017 ambassadors (in red shirts and green army slacks) how to get there.

Share your thoughts on National Service these circular handouts. Your feedback will be opened in 50 years' time at NS100.(Photo: Singapore Army Facebook)

For more:
Singapore Army Facebook

AOH2017 events page

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Busy week for Malaysian and Singapore armies in winning hearts and minds

Panzer strike: Mechanised infantry from 19 RAMD (Mekanise) engage targets in a coordinated attack, supported by gun and mortar fire from armoured personnel carriers. (Photo: Malaysian Army News)

Outgoing: An Astros rocket artillery launcher joins armoured platforms and 105mm light artillery on the firing line at Gemas. (Photo: Malaysian Army News)

Tank killers: Anti-tank gunners from 19 RAMD (Mekanise) fire a volley of rocket-propelled grenades down range. (Photo: Malaysian Army News)

Siap sedia: Troops from the Singapore Army's Army Deployment Force go on show during Tuesday's rehearsal for the Army Open House Dynamic Defence Display.

This week has been noteworthy for Tentera Darat Malaysia (Malaysian Army) and the Singapore Army - two land forces whose destinies will forever be intertwined.

On Monday 22 May 2017, TDM staged its annual firepower exercise, Latihan Kuasa Tembakan (LKT), at Kem Tentera Syed Sirijuddin in Gemas to demonstrate the capabilities of the TDM's principal assets. The LKT took place in front of spectators that included Malaysian media and defence attaches accredited to the Federation.

On Tuesday 23 May 2017, the Singapore Army held a sneak preview for the media for this weekend's Singapore Army Open House 2017 (AOH 2017) with new capabilities such as the Safari weapon locating radar system and a new armoured platform making their show debut.

If you believe the defence of Malaysia and Singapore is indivisible, then these public demonstrations by land forces from both countries are welcome. Having soldiers showcase what they are trained to do contributes to building a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the work of land warriors from both sides of the Causeway.

Malaysia's LKT was impressive. Given the expanse of ground at the firing range in Gemas, the Malaysians put on quite a show although the firing was mainly academic, just like during range practice. Warplanes and helicopters from TUDM and PUTD (Malaysian Army Air Corps) also made their presence felt, rearranging the landscape with freefall bombs and unguided rockets.

But there was no opportunity to demonstrate the interplay between firepower and manoeuvre, or how information can be exploited to coordinate the timing and delivery of ordnance with the precision and volume of fire to maximise shock effect during operations.

In Singapore, the Dynamic Defence Display, staged with Singapore's city skyline as a backdrop, placed far more constraints on the Singapore Army. There was no live-fire component. Neither was there any chance to showcase precision firepower, manoeuvre and information. Movement was confined to having individual platforms like the Leopard 2SG main battle tank and Terrex infantry carrier vehicle perform slalom turns and sudden braking - typical motor show stuff - more for the benefit of the camera.

Even at large-scale war games, it is not easy showing observers all the moving parts involved in land battle at the level of grand strategy or operational art. Instead, what observers typically see are tactical-level executions - a component of an Armoured Battle Group moving into action, an artillery battery letting loose, a bridging unit deploying its assets and so on.

That said, the armies of Malaysia and Singapore have done what they can to reach out to stakeholders.

First and foremost among these would be their respective home audience. The rakyat in both countries need to be informed, updated and reassured from time to time on the capability, ability and readiness of its warfighters to do what's necessary during a hot-war scenario.

Defence information officers from both armies will probably agree that this task is neither straightforward nor easy.

Malaysians and Singaporeans have enjoyed decades of peace. This has inevitably contributed to vigilance fatigue, which tends to breed complacency.

Even with the impressive slew of pictures and videos from the light and sound show in Gemas, and with the Singapore Army likely to enjoy a brief spike in public awareness thanks to the upcoming AOH 2017, such publicity is transient.

When the guns have fallen silent in Gemas and the AOH team packs up at the end of the show, people in Malaysia and Singapore will swing back to everyday issues that command their (limited) time and attention.

Even so, one can be assured warfighters from Malaysia and Singapore will remain vigilant, 24 by 365, protecting their respective borders against all comers.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Singapore Armed Forces Commandos Special Operations Force (SOF) at Army Open House 2017

High alert: Commandos from the Singapore Armed Forces Special Operations Force take centrestage during a rehearsal for the Dynamic Defence Display. Spectators will be able to photograph SOF troopers armed with H&K 416 5.56mm assault rifles and H&K MP7 4.6mm machine pistols. Of special interest is the attachment of silencers on all weapons.

Island defence: Special Operations Force (SOF) troopers, supported by Army Deployment Force troopers (foreground) equipped with ballistic shields, prepare a forced entry.

Let's Roll: The Special Operations Force demonstrate how they mount up on a Ford vehicle equipped with the Mobile Adjustable Ramp System (MARS) and Side Assault System (SAS). The vehicle is one of the few left-hand drive vehicles in the Singapore Armed Forces inventory. 

A demonstration involving the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Special Operations Force (SOF), like the one rehearsed yesterday for this weekend's Singapore Army Open House 2017 (AOH 2017), will herald the first known public display by the once-classified Commando #specialforces unit.

The SOF was such a tightly-guarded secret that it was deployed for operations even before the unit was publicly acknowledged.

On 26 March 1991, SOF operatives stormed Singapore Airlines flight SQ117 at Changi Airport. The hostage-rescue mission saved 123 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus A310 that was serving the KUL-SIN shuttle flight.

Four Pakistani hijackers had threatened to kill one hostage every 10 minutes unless their demands were met.

The hijackers gave Singapore authorities five minutes to respond.

We responded by the third minute by sending in the SOF to settle the issue.

Codenamed Operation Thunderbolt, the storming of SQ117 marked the first known instance when the SAF resolved a hijacking with deadly force. 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. 

The SOF are among the highlights of this year's Army Open House, which is organised by the 6th Singapore Division.

While the SOF has been declassified, it is thought there are other closed units within the SAF whose capabilities, readiness and commitment are needed to help settle issues, should the need arise.

For more on AOH 2017, visit these sites: 
Singapore Army Facebook page


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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

See the Very Slender Vessel from the Singapore Armed Forces SAF Commandos at Army Open House 2017

You won't find many Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines with a sexier name than "Very Slender Vessel".

With its sleek profile and enclosed, aircraft-style pilot house, the VSV looks fast even when sitting on dry land.

This VSV, which flew a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) ensign from its staff, is believed to be operated by the SAF Commando unit at Hendon Camp in Changi.

The SAF describes the VSV as a "fast interdiction craft that is designed to punch straight through waves, rather than going over or through the top of them".

Measuring 16m long and with a width just 2.4m wide - less than three M-16 rifles end-to-end - the VSV could quite possibly be employed for high-speed runs to insert/extract Commando teams from contested shores, usually under cover of darkness.

Armament fitted to the VSV seen at the sneak preview of the Army Open House 2017 comprised a CIS40AGL 40mm automatic grenade launcher and a 7.62mm GPMG.

It's best defence, however, is speed.

The VSV is thought to originate from British shipbuilder, VT Halmatic Marine. This company traces its roots to Vosper Thorneycroft, whose motor torpedo boats were well-known for their speed and hitting power.

According to the AOH 2017 info board, the wave-piercing craft is capable of "more than 40 knots". This seems a rather modest way to state the VSV's published speed of around 60 knots.

The SAF has operated VSVs for more than 10 years.

The vessel's debut at this weekend's Army Open House 2017 is believed to have been made possible with the arrival of more advanced means of executing "fast interdiction", with such assets still kept under wraps.

Catch the VSV at the Singapore Army's Open House 2017 this weekend.
For more, visit the Singapore Army Facebook page:

Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle expected to debut at Singapore Army Open House along with new ARV

The Singapore Army is expected to unveil a new tracked vehicle at this weekend's Army Open House 2017 (AOH 2017), a free event that will be opened to the public this weekend at the F1 Pit Building.

At a sneak preview this afternoon, one vehicle in the lineup of "performers" for the Dynamic Defence Display segment - a kind of soft introduction to some of the Army's vehicles and mobility demo - remained covered by a green tarpaulin.

The vehicle is all tracked and appears to conform to the profile of the Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle first seen last year.

We won't spill the beans so do come back to this site in the next few days for more.

On a less speculative note, one of the Next Generation AFV's stablemates goes on show at AOH 2017. The vehicle is the Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) variant of the new, yet-to-be-named AFV family that was designed and built in Singapore by Singapore Technologies Kinetics.

Like the cannon-armed Infantry Fighting Vehicle variant, the ARV has an all-round camera function. This allows its crew of three armoured engineers to carry out recovery operations from within the vehicle under full armour protection with hatches closed.

Specifications are sparse. The new ARV is said to be 6.9 metres in length and is fitted with a front-oriented winch with a 25,000 kg capacity. The vehicle is so new it did not appear to have a MID numberplate.

For more on AOH 2017, do visit the Singapore Army's Facebook page:

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Malaysian Army and Australian Defence Force wind up war games in Shoalwater Bay

The Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in Australia, at which the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) conducts war games such as Bold Conqueror and Orion, has just hosted another army from our neighbourhood.

Malaysian mechanised infantry completed a joint exercise with Australian Army troops today, according to online reports from Tentera Darat Malaysia (Malaysian Army).

The five-day exercise (18 to 22 May 2017) at Rockhampton involved soldiers from Malaysia's 12 Rejimen Askar Melayu DiRaja (Mekanise) and the 7 Rejimen Renjer DiRaja (Mekanise) and the 8/9 Royal Australian Regiment, which is based in Brisbane.

The 12 RAMD (Mek) and 7 RRD (Mek) come under the command of the Kuantan-based Briged ke-4 Infantri Mekanise (4 Bgd Mek), which in turn reports to Markas 3 Divisyen (HQ 3rd Combined Arms Division).

The exercise is designed to raise the level of interoperability between the two armies and provides exposure to staff officers from both sides to plan and execute conventional warfare manoeuvres. Such interaction contributes to fostering closer defence relations between personnel from both sides - who also train together under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

The exercise involved map planning and tactical marches across unfamiliar terrain (for the Malaysians) and included a segment that saw troops from both sides assault a built-up area.

The deployment to Queensland state exposes Malaysian soldiers to pretty much the same map grid references and terrain used by the SAF for Exercise Wallaby. However, staging war games in the month of May - which is autumn in Australia - provides a cooler climate to operate in compared to the exercise window allocated for the SAF (which is during the Australian summer).

Astute Malaysian staff officers who have trained in SWBTA and on home ground would probably be able to compare and contrast differences in terrain in Australia and Malaysia. This could lead to a better appreciation of the limitations in realism for land warfare manoeuvres and the battle cycle practised at both locations.

The time and effort deploying to SWBTA would also give the Malaysian Army a firsthand understanding of the logistics involved in making such a move, as well as the ability of SWBTA to host large-scale manoeuvres.

The Malaysian Army's 4 Bgd Mek has had a packed war game schedule recently. Last week, mechanised infantry from the brigade conducted war games in Kuantan in Pahang State and in Dungun, Terengganu, to test, assess, validate and refine its concept of operations for Network Centric Operations (NCO).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The militarisation of Indonesia's Riau islands and its impact on the Singapore Armed Forces SAF

There are many Singaporeans who are so familiar with Peninsular Malaysia that they can find their way around the country without a map. Perhaps you are one of them.

But ask them to look south, towards Indonesia's Riau archipelago, and that's where most Singaporeans will be flummoxed.

Many will be hard-pressed to name any island beyond Batam and Bintan. This is terra incognita for the average Singaporean.

In time to come, it may be worth paying closer attention to the geography south of Singapore because the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) is expected to scale up its presence in the Riau islands.

It is already happening, albeit at a slow pace that has nonetheless seen the number of TNI defence assets and tempo of their activity creep up over the years.

For example, the Tutuka air defence exercise has seen TNI warplanes make their presence felt whenever they operate from Batam's Hang Nadim airport.

In October 2014, the TNI warplanes that intercepted a Singapore-registered propellor-plane on a training flight off Borneo were scrambled from Batam.

During the Tutuka exercise in 2015, military flights originating from Hang Nadim once again caught Singapore's interest.

Last October, the TNI's war games in the Natunas, codenamed Angkasa Yudha, were supported by Indonesia Sukhoi Su-27/30 and Lockheed-Martin F-16 warplanes - its most advanced fighter aircraft - operating from Batam. The war games were widely publicised in the Indonesian media.

Alas, with Singaporeans generally ignorant of the Riau neighbourhood, firepower demonstrations like these tend to go unnoticed by an apathetic Singaporean public.

Mind you, this includes a vast number of citizen soldiers.

We ought to take note because ties between the TNI and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are longstanding, multifaceted and mutually beneficial for military personnel from both countries.

Among the many war games that the SAF conducts with foreign armed forces, it is the bilateral naval exercise, Eagle Indopura, that holds the record as the long-running bilateral military exercise (it started in 1974).

Both armed forces have also established a practice of sending their more promising officers for each other's courses. Apart from the professional knowhow gained, scores of TNI and SAF officers have also deepened their understanding of their neighbour. Such personal experience contributes immeasurably to fostering better bilateral ties between ASEAN's largest and smallest members - and not just in the defence arena.

When Indonesia raises its defence posture in the Riau chain, the strategic narrative for doing so could point out the strategic location of these islands. These sit astride some of the busiest sea lanes in the world, which are used by about 1,000 ships daily (Malacca Strait and Singapore Strait) and through which about a third of the world's trade and about half its oil passes.

Basing fighter jets in Batam will also enable the TNI to respond more quickly and effectively to situations in the South China Sea.

Indonesia need not justify to anyone where and when it will deploy the TNI. For a archipelagic nation whose length is as is vast as the continental United States, and where the uptick in economic activity will eventually see the TNI better funded than the SAF, we should expect the TNI to take on a higher profile as its arsenal expands.

Any move by Indonesia to upsize its military presence south of the border will present the SAF with yet more opportunities to interact with the TNI.

However, a permanent presence of TNI war machines will also pose a different dynamic to Singapore's deterrence posture, force readiness and response plans.

As the so-called Growth Triangle has fallen off the radar of investors in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the economic wherewithal of the Riau islands has likewise not featured prominently (if at all) in recent investment efforts staged by the Lion City to court foreign investors. The fading of the Growth Triangle idea should not mean that the Riau islands should similarly fall of the radar for defence planners.

And if Singapore falls within range of land-based war machines on Batam, say for example, rocket artillery, we ought to leverage on ties with the TNI to better understand the rationale for moving such firepower to the island.

We  need to keep a close eye on the winds of change that may herald a cooling of Indon-Singapore relations. The 2014 spate that arose after Indonesia announced that one of its warships would be named after two TNI Marines, who were convicted of bombing MacDonald House in Singapore during the Confrontation, prompted both countries to reassess the tenor of their friendship.

From time to time, factors outside the defence orbit have unsettled even the best intentions from the TNI and SAF to bring bilateral exchanges to a new level.

The stalled Defence Cooperation Agreement is one example. Signed by defence ministers from both countries in 2007, it awaits ratification by the Indonesian parliament. As a result, training facilities such as the Siabu Air Weapons Range - once the most advanced instrumented area in Southeast Asia for war games involving war planes and helicopters - has been kept in suspended animation after a promising start in the 1990s.

We have to be cognizant of future unknown-unknowns - to borrow terminology famously used by former United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - that could strain TNI-SAF ties.

Forward-looking policy makers should recognise and think through scenarios involving this patch of Indonesian territory, if TNI assets in the Riau chain are someday enlisted for political shadow boxing.

Look south; know thy neighbour.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

For long and distant service: JMSDF Admiral explains JS Izumo's Singapore stopover and deployment to regional sea lanes

Flying the flag for Japan: Rear Admiral Yoshihiro Goka, Commander, Escort Flotilla One, flanked on his left by Captain Yoshihiro Kai, Izumo's commanding officer, and Commander Hirotaka Okumura, commanding officer Sazanami, aboard Izumo at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, 13 May 2017. 

When Japan's largest warship, the Izumo, left its home port on 1 May 2017 for distant seas, her departure was described by some reports as a show of force.

The warship and the destroyer assigned to escort her, carrying some 700 sailors in total, arrived at Changi Naval Base on Friday afternoon (12 May'17). Singapore is the first port call on her 100-day journey, which is the largest deployment of Japanese naval power to the region since the Second World War.

Analysts have been abuzz over the intended audience for this demonstration of naval power. The timing of the deployment also fuelled speculation as maritime security in the Sea of Japan and the debate over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have been hot topics recently.

Some thought the deployment was directed at the North Koreans. But after early reports on Izumo's role in escorting an American naval supply ship and speculation she might team up with the United States Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, the Izumo is long past the Korean peninsula.

As she ventured south, others thought the Izumo's journey through the South China Sea was meant to send a signal to China.

At 248 metres long (almost five Olympic-length swimming pools) and displacing 27,000 tonnes when fully loaded, the Izumo is more than just a big ship.

With a flight deck and an island superstructure offset to the right side of the warship, Izumo has the form and function one would expect from an aircraft carrier. This class of warship is operated by a handful of Asian navies - Australia, China, India and Thailand - and is viewed as a symbol of naval power, prestige and influence.

The Japanese are keenly aware of the signature Izumo could inadvertently project and the brochure on the ship is devoid of any suggestion it is an aircraft carrier. Izumo is described officially as the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) - itself a navy in all but name - "largest and most sophisticated destroyer".

In his first interview since arriving in Singapore, the JMSDF admiral leading the Izumo and her escorting destroyer, the Sazanami, downplayed speculation over her deployment. The interview was conducted aboard JS Izumo, berthed at Changi Naval Base, on Saturday 13 May 2017.

Rear-Admiral Yoshihiro Goka, Commander of Escort Flotilla One, outlined these reasons for the deployment.

First, the Izumo's visit to ASEAN countries is meaningful from a Japanese perspective and timed with the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping, which was formed in August 1967. Describing her deployment as a "great honour and opportunity" to reach out to friends in the region in this milestone year, the admiral said ASEAN members are among Japan's closest trading partners.

"The ASEAN people are a great partner for Japan. We provide great support for each other." the admiral said.

Second, RADM Goka's 25-year career at sea has impressed upon him why "the ocean should be free for everyone to use". Choosing his words carefully and without naming any maritime state, the admiral described the seas as a "public area". As such, he contends that "everybody has the right to use the public area".

He  noted that maritime links are vital to Japan as about a third of the world's trade transits regional sea lanes. Furthermore, almost all the oil and gas that Japan imports is delivered by tankers who use the region's maritime highways.

"One third of the world’s maritime trade passes through the South China Sea. Japan and many of countries benefit from freedom of the seas and maritime trade in the South China Sea. Japan Defence Minister Inada has expressed the 'Vientiane Vision' as a guideline for ASEAN-Japan defence cooperation last November.In accordance withVientiane Vision, open and stable seas based on rule of lows is important for peace and stability in the region. We look forward to contributing to regional peace and stability with all-ASEAN Navies by participating this fleet review and defence exchanges with port visit nations," said RADM Goka

"This is a very important area where mutual support is needed," he added.

The Izumo's role in naval diplomacy ties in with her port visit here.

On Monday, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) will stage the International Maritime Review as part of celebrations commemorating its 50th year. The JMSDF warships are among 30 warships from 20 countries taking part in Singapore's first ever maritime review at Changi Naval Base. Interactions with officers and men from different countries will allow the JMSDF to share more about its role even as the Japanese learn about foreign naval forces.

The third reason underlines the pragmatic nature of the Japanese. Being far from home takes the 700 JMSDF personnel aboard Izumo and Sazanami out of their comfort zone. Sending the Izumo away for about 100 days, with air and naval operations taking place in unfamiliar sea lanes, exposes the crew to fresh challenges and is a valuable training opportunity

"When we train around Japan, it is easy to get support," said RADM Goka. "However, deploying for a long time and long distance overseas will allow us to test how to train our people and maintain the equipment. That is a challenge."

So there you have it: The deployment is calibrated to demonstrate Japan's support for the 50th anniversary of ASEAN and will also test the mettle of sailors and airmen as Izumo embarks on her furthest and longest voyage from Japan.

With more than two months to go before Izumo returns home, the Izumo's journey to regional destinations, all the way to the Indian Ocean is likely to be closely-tracked by analysts.

All will be eager to see if the Izumo was sent by Tokyo to project its hand of friendship, or whether it is indeed a show of naval power projection.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Royal Thai Navy aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Naruebet arrives in Singapore for RSN International Maritime Review

The Royal Thai Navy's flagship, HTMS Chakri Nareubet (911), arrived in Singapore waters off Changi this afternoon around 1430 Hotel.

In doing so, the RTN and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force made history: The occasion marked the first time that two aircraft carriers from Asian countries are in Singapore at the same time.

Alongside Berth 4 at the Republic of Singapore Navy's Changi Naval Base, the JMSDF ship Izumo (DDH183) arrived on Friday afternoon around 1500H.

Both carriers are here for the RSN's 50th anniversary celebrations and the International Maritime Review.

HTMS Chakri Nareubet is seen below framed by Izumo's bow. The Thai navy's flagship was smartly presented as she sailed into CNB. Her crew manned the rails in their dress whites and part of her helicopter air group was visible on deck.

HTMS Chakri Nareubet (911) meets RSS Endurance (207) off Changi Naval Base.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What happens if the Singapore Armed Forces SAF deterrent value is diminished

If you are asked to choose between a fighting force equipped with armour, warplanes and attack helicopters and one that is numerically inferior and made up predominantly of light infantry, which side do you think would prevail in combat?

Might is right?

Not always.

Look at recent encounters around the globe (particularly the Middle East and Afghanistan) and you will find bands of resolute combatants - who do not fear death and in some cases seek it - who have bested better-armed, professional armies.

On paper, the table of organisation and equipment for these professional armies eclipses that of their opponents, often little more than foot soldiers who drive into battle in civilian 4x4s or captured vehicles.

Small unit action in places like Syria and Yemen has shown that superior firepower alone will not determine the outcome of battle. And looking pretty on parade is no indication of one's prowess in battle (or lack thereof).

These tactical successes are forcing a rethink of the concept of deterrence.

For us in Singapore, the firefights that resulted in battlefield reversals for professional armies are worth a look on two counts.

First, because it forces us to rethink what constitutes a credible military deterrent.

Second, when war machines rendered inoperable in foreign battles are similar to the types fielded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the successful weapons and tactics deserve close scrutiny.

Deterrence is the linchpin of Singapore's defence strategy. The mission of the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF is to "enhance Singapore's peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor".

When professional armies are whalloped by irregulars whose offensive power rests with what they manpack or mount on light vehicles, this puts to test the idea of deterrence built around professional armed forces trained, organised, equipped and supported for high intensity warfare.

The irregulars know this. 

They actively share their tactical successes on social media to reach eyeballs far from the scene of combat. This explains the profusion of videos and images on the internet that show combat footage of war machines being put out of action.

In 21st century warfare, a weapon strike becomes a Hollywood moment with video or camera lenses focused on target to capture the moment of impact. This makes claims of a kill more credible and raises the propaganda value of a successful engagement. It also sustains the shock effect of the kill long after the smoke has cleared. Information is thus wielded as a "weapon" to fortify homeground morale or to unsettle one's opponents. Even in foreign language videos overlaid with folksy Arabic tunes, one does not need subtitles to figure out the key messages being propagated.

This tussle for hearts and minds exerts an impact on deterrence that can be played out on several fronts.
a) Misreading victories trumpeted by irregular combatants as indications that the conventionally-structured armed forces of one's neighbour can be similarly beaten with meagre resources. This diminishes the value of deterrence because the other side does not fear the military power ranged against it or underestimates its potential.

b) Manipulating tactical successes by irregular combatants to convince one's countrymen that one's own armed forces are more combat capable and effective than they actually are. Perpetuating this point of view could embolden a country with a smaller and less advanced armed forces, giving it the moral fibre needed to weather a prolonged period of tension. Doing so blunts the deterrent value of a strong and combat ready armed forces.

c) Specific to Singapore's context, there is a possibility that foreign defence observers who watch the Lion City may disregard the deterrent value of the SAF. This could lead to them downplaying capability demonstrations staged at critical junctures. In doing so, they may miss key signals from MINDEF/SAF that coincide with shifts in the strategic landscape. During the Malindo Darsasa 3AB war games staged by the combined armies of Malaysia and Indonesia in Johor in August 1991, the airdrop by MAF and TNI paratroopers some 20km from Woodlands on National Day saw the open mobilisation of SAF armour units publicised by Singapore's TV and newspapers. There was no Facebook or Twitter in those days, and no online editions of newspapers. So the evening television news and newspaper coverage were the main channels for publicising that it was not business as usual for the SAF, having stepped up its force readiness posture.

The cognitive dissonance arising from the situations outlined above underlines the importance of a proper Info Ops plan to assess how others may perceive the SAF. This is especially important as developments in warfare in far flung areas of the world may inadvertently prompt others to relook Singapore's military potential.

For situations (a) and (b), simply rolling out new or hitherto unknown SAF capabilities would not suffice as foreign observers may shrug off the deterrent value of such platforms or systems. 

Even the Israel Defense Forces is grappling with this dilemma. For example, their once-vaunted armoured forces face an uphill task reclaiming their reputation as a weapon of war after various marques of the Merkava were destroyed by Hezbollah in Lebanon. One does not think that Hezbollah anti-tank teams are losing any sleep over the possibility they may some day face Merk 4s in combat.

A more effective approach would involve building one's credibility in Info Ops in peacetime, and to invest efforts to inform and educate stakeholders to help them understand and appreciate what the SAF is all about. Open houses for the public, exchanges of military personnel, joint dialogues and exercises, as well as visits between armed forces personnel contribute to confidence building and also to deterrence - assuming the takeway from foreign observers is that the SAF is a force to be reckoned with.

One should not treat this takeaway as a given.  

When one reads accounts of how Turkish Leopard 2 main battle tanks were wrecked in Syria, of how Apache attack helicopters from Saudi Arabia were shot down over the Arabian peninsula and accounts of how naval forces have been on the receiving end of asymmetric attacks involving fast craft rigged with explosives or massed attacks by small boats, it is clear that advanced war machines are not regarded as threats, but targets.

Precisely why the sons of the Ottoman Empire fought less resolutely is open to debate. One could argue that they were not fighting for their homeland and felt the mission was not worth dying for. Ditto for Saudi forces who seemed to have abandoned their war machines on several occasions, many almost intact, rather than fighting it out.

Tactical dispositions of Turkish and Saudi units were also not complemented by overwatch of surrounding areas with near and far fire bases. As a result, Saudi bivouacs on hill crests ended up as the beaten zone for automatic fire or ATGWs in one-sided encounters. Turkish armour operating with closed hatches seem to have missed seeing incoming guided munitions on many occasions.

Turkish AH-1 Cobras and Saudi AH-64 Apache attack helicopters have also been filmed being brought down by MANPADS. 

There are tactical lessons that can be distilled from such encounters. 

When one considers that the weapons of choice - ATGMs and MANPADS - are also found in this region, there's all the more reason why we need to sit up and take note.

There is another dimension to the concept of deterrence. 

This lies with the importance of being aware how we are perceived by others, and being self-aware never to overstate our own capabilities.

Just as we fret over the possibility that foreign observers could bookmark case studies to show why the SAF is not to be feared, there is a danger we may fall prey to our own propaganda.

We walked that road in pre-war days before the outbreak of the Pacific War drummed home the lesson about hubris and complacency.

That is a hard lesson we would do well to remember.

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Republic of Singapore Navy RSN Littoral Mission Vessel LMV RSS Independence to make show debut at IMDEX Asia 2017

One distinguishing feature of the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Victory-class Missile Corvettes is the enclosed mast that stacks the EW suite with surveillance radars.

The 28-metre tall mast achieved a tricky balance between giving sensors maximum height (to extend their surveillance horizon) while managing the complexities of electromagnetic interference.

While the design worked fine from an engineering/technical standpoint, it made the MCV top heavy.

When a pair of MCVs encountered heavy weather in the South China Sea, one MCV lost her Sea Giraffe radar after it toppled off the swaying mast in rough seas. Had this occurred during operations, the MCV would have been out of the fight.

From an operational standpoint, the Project S design could do better. Experience with S taught us to be cognizant of compromises and shortcomings that may arise, no matter how good an idea may sound on paper.

When the RSN's latest fighting ship, RSS Independence, goes on show later this month at IMDEX Asia 2017, the Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) design is likely to stoke the interest of many discerning eyes.

Among the unique features aboard the Independence is the Integrated Command Centre which places key staff for steering, fighting and managing the warship, in a common workspace in the superstructure. This design philosophy goes against the grain of conventional warship design, where the warship's armament and sensors are usually managed from an enclosed room within the hull to minimise vulnerability to enemy action.

Foreigners touring the Independence for the first time may walk away with the feeling that the LMV has traded efficiency in command and control for combat survivability. Instead of a windowless, watertight and darkened workspace tucked below the main deck where command centres for most warships are found, the workspace aboard the Independence is quite the opposite.

It is surrounded by windows, is not compartmentalised and sits on the 02 Deck of a superstructure made of composite material. And as the LMV name implies, this is a warship expected to fight in littoral waters. In the RSN's context, close to shore - quite possibly a hostile one during operations.

As demonstrated in naval engagements elsewhere, warships that stray within the range rings of guided munitions such as anti-tank missiles cannot expect the enemy to hold back. It is quite clear that a warhead designed to penetrate armour can inflict a hefty amount of damage to warships, which in this day and age, are not armoured to the same extent as surface combatants were during WW2.

The LMV's innovative (RSN's choice of words) design has triggered many interesting discussions over the wisdom of this approach. From seeing the demonstration in the simulated battlespace simlab at Depot Road, to Indy's launch at Benoi Basin and the briefing at the wooden mockup, right up to the visit to Indy at Changi Naval Base in April ahead of her commissioning, plus the unattributable background chitchats, all have contributed to a deeper understanding of why the LMV will not prove a pushover in combat.

This is because the LMV is designed to embark mission modules - containerised equipment that can be added/removed from the ship - to upsize the warship's armament and sensors should the need arise. Space and weight has also been reserved at other parts of the ship for key functions to be replicated there, should the need arise.

The LMV is also designed to fight as a networked system. Enough said.

One thing about RSN warships: Singaporeans are not in the habit of "showing hand".

When I was assigned to sail aboard the tank landing ship, RSS Endurance, during her first mission off Iraq, my berth was in the sick bay as the ship was "full". Apart from her usual complement, she carried a ship protection team and additional personnel for VBSS for Operation Blue Orchid 1. All in, more than 120 pax.

A year later, when I was again assigned to sail with Endurance for the Boxing Day relief mission, I was told the ship would sail with more than twice the OBO complement. If the ship was so full that the embedded media team was shoved to the sick bay, then where would all the additional personnel sleep? I had visions of sleeping bags on deck.

Those who know the Endurance-class would know the ship is built to embark a sizeable number of troops and the triple-decker bunks in a certain part of the ship were a feature shown to us for the first time.

Be that as it may, the Endurance has other tricks up her sleeve which, till today have not been publicised. A notable one being the number of waterjet-propelled fast landing craft each LST can actually carry.

Long story short: Look beyond the obvious when thinking about the LMV Independence.

The capabilities of this new class of warship should become clear some day.

Then again, perhaps not?