Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Malaysian Armed Forces MAF senior commanders with unique pedigree

The Malaysian Army stands to gain handsomely from the unique pedigree of its Chief of Army, General Dato' Sri Zulkiple bin Haji Kassim, as it shapes up for future defence challenges.

Zulkiple is one of the few officers who have risen to the Malaysian Army's pinnacle position of Panglima Tentera Darat (PTD) whose career history counts experience at both parachute and mechanised infantry units.

But Zulkiple's unique pedigree does not stem from army units he led as he moved up the ranks. Instead, it is Zulkiple's tenure leading airborne and mechanised infantry units during their formative years that is noteworthy.

Zulkiple was Commanding Officer of Batalion ke-17 Rejimen Askar Melayu Diraja (Para) in 1994. That same year, then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed redesignated Briged 10 Infantri Malaysia as 10 Briged (Para) as a nod to the unit's elite status as the army's Pasukan Atugerak Cepat (PAC, which means Rapid Deployment Force).

In 2003, Zulkiple was appointed commander of the Pahang-based Briged Keempat Infantri Malaysia (Mekanize). His posting took place at a time when the Malaysian Army's first mechanised infantry brigade was making inroads into transforming infantry battalions into fully mechanised units, with concept of operations (CONOPS) being formulated for fighting units equipped with tracked and wheeled armoured personnel carriers.

Leading these units during the formative stages of new CONOPS has earned Zulkiple a perspective that few others can match. This is because he would have seen, firsthand, the conceptualisation, implementation and refinement of new ways of fighting.

Along the way, Zulkiple would have been appraised of the thinking underlying the PAC and Mekanize fighting concepts, as well as the upsides and downsides to various courses of action. In so doing, Zulkiple would have been put through the intellectual process whereby strengths and weaknesses of shaping and deploying Para and Mekanize units for certain missions were discussed, role played and then operationalised from initial operational capability to full operational capability. If you have spoken to senior Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) commanders, you will realise their CONOPS formulation is not without intellectual rigour.

This is about as close to knowing thyself as one could ask for. And this is why Senang Diri is of the view Zulkiple has a unique pedigree.

Over at Markas Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM), the career history of the current Panglima Tentera Udara (PTU), General Dato' Sri Hj Affendi bin Buang, has also charted an interesting trajectory.

In his younger days, Affendi flew the A-4PTM Skyhawk fighter-bomber as operational pilot and was an instructor on the type before transiting to the MiG-29 TUDM Technical Team in 1994. He is recognised as one of the pioneers who introduced the MiG-29 into service and was one of the founding members of the "Smokey Bandits" MiG-29 aerobatic display team during his tenure commanding 17/19 Skuadron, which flew the type.

As TUDM Director General for Operations and Exercises during Cope Taufan 2014, Affendi earned a unique perspective working in partnership with the United States Air Force (USAF) to plan and execute the war games. This serial of Cope Taufan made the news as it marked the first USAF deployment of the F-22 Raptor to Southeast Asia. During Cope Taufan 2014, TUDM pilots flew with and against F-15s and F-22s during dissimilar air combat training (DACT), gaining invaluable insights as a result.

What's more, Affendi's term as Panglima Angkatan Bersama (Joint Force Commander) and Panglima Operasi Udara (TUDM Chief of Air Operations) involved planning for Eksesais Paradise 2/2015.

Affendi therefore knows the ethos and thinking behind the Paradise deployment as he has seen TUDM practice its movement across the South China Sea for out-of-base operations. Senang Diri had previously written about Eks Paradise and its role in sharpening TUDM's ability to cross deploy to Sabah and Sarawak quickly should Malaysian air warfare planners deem a strategic pivot necessary. Click here

South of the Causeway, how have things turned out on the leadership front?

The Singapore Army's leadership development has been affected somewhat by political factors.

In March 2011, the Singapore Army had to backfill leadership appointments left vacant after then Chief of Army (COA), Major-General Chan Chun Sing, and Commander Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Brigadier-General Tan Chuan-Jin, resigned to enter politics. Within a span of weeks, the Singapore Army had lost two senior commanders.

What happened next was unprecedented. We witnessed a general who had hung up his uniform for the Admin service, Brigadier-General Ravinder Singh, recalled for duty as COA. Singh left the SAF a second time in 2014 with the rank of Major-General.

At the time, the Singapore Army's carefully-curated succession plans were thrown off-track, albeit temporarily.

With 20/20 hindsight, Singh's tenure as COA did not disappointment.

Interestingly, the wide range of experience amassed by Zulkiple and Affendi was enabled by their longer military career. Zulkiple is 58 years old and Affendi, 55 years of age. This makes the two Malaysian Service chiefs much older than their SAF counterparts. But the ATM's approach to leadership development is different from the SAF's. Correspondingly, the result of a longer career runway is wider exposure to a range of experiences and, in the individuals cited, greater depth in professional knowledge.

The lesson here is that the Malaysian Armed Forces does not stand still when it comes to transforming the armed forces to place it in a stronger position to execute its mission. And it would be a grave strategic mistake for anyone to underestimate their potential, resolve or ability to do what they need to do.

As one Malaysian observer put it:"The last round of senior promotions has elevated officers who are aggressive and with strong operational background. Since their elevation, they have pushed their men hard to improve readiness and increase competency to compensate for the tight equipment budgets."

Postscript: With apologies to Markas TLDM for not showcasing PTL. Had written previously about the admiral in the post, Malaysian Navy's 15 to 5 transformation effort. Click here

You may also like:
Malaysian strategy for trading space for time. Click here 
Malaysia launches Operasi Piramid. Click here
Malaysian military ops that made the headlines. Click here
Malaysian defence blogs and magazines. Click here
Malaysian innovations in defence. Click here

Friday, July 21, 2017

Comments on the expansion of the Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF Tengah Air Base

Extract from The War Against Japan, Volume I, The Loss of Singapore
Chapter XXI, page 353, Singapore Airfields Untenable

"Towards the end of December 1941 a number of special landing strips had been constructed to relieve the congestion that would obviously arise in the event of a withdrawal to the island, and to provide dispersion for the Hurricane fighters. The plan had been to construct two strips in southern Johore and five on Singapore Island. Priority for labour had been given to Air Headquarters for this purpose, but the constant air raids caused civilian labourers to desert. By the end of January only two strips had been completed though others were in the course of preparation. Their existence, whether completed or not, provided the enemy with possible landing grounds for airborne troops - a threat which could have been countered only by detailing special detachments to guard them. Since no troops could be spared for this purpose all five strips on the island had to be made unfit for use. In addition all other open spaces which might possibly be used as temporary landing grounds were covered by obstructions."

Comments on the expansion of Tengah Air Base
The move to upsize Tengah Airbase, ahead of the closure of Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) from 2030, demonstrates the importance of air power to Singapore’s defence because a substantial tract of land has been entrusted to the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

One can imagine that the MINDEF/SAF strategy is to maximise the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) ability to generate and sustain air power by adding as many military runways as we can onto our land-scarce island. 

Augmented by public roads that can be converted into Alternate Runways, having more runways would frustrate attempts at crippling our air force as hostile forces would be faced with a larger number of runways to deal with.

It is all a numbers game. Runways are fixed assets whose locations can be pinpointed by GPS. But the existence of more locations from which the RSAF can launch and recover warplanes means that an adversary would likely require a sizeable number of satellite-guided munitions to knock out runways effectively. This is because fighter jets can take to the skies by using a fraction of a runway’s total length. As for combat and transport helicopters, these rotary-wing assets have practised operating out-of-base from locations such as golf courses.

Aerial sights: Royal Air Force aerial reconnaissance photograph showing Kallang airfield (bottom left) and Paya Lebar landing ground (top right), which was constructed by the British as an alternate runway. The landing ground sits on the present location of Paya Lebar Air Base.

British military planners who surveyed Singapore Island to identify possible locations for Royal Air Force airfields did such a thorough job that the three of the four sites are still used by military/commercial aviation today.

Even with four military airfields - Tengah in the west, Seletar in the north doubling as a seaplane base (then the largest east of Suez), Sembawang close to the Royal Navy dockyards and Kallang in the south (also a seaplane base) - the RAF was keenly aware of the vulnerability of its runways to artillery barrages and aerial attacks. As the Japanese closed in on Singapore from the north, belated efforts were made to construct as many as five landing grounds on Singapore to serve as alternate runways. Two more were planned in Johor Bahru.

According to the British official history of WW2, only two landing grounds (LGs) were completed just prior to the invasion of Singapore. While the LGs are not named, Senang Diri understands these are Tebrau in Johor, built by New Zealanders from Number 1 Aerodrome Construction Squadron, and Paya Lebar landing ground. The latter was developed in the 1950s as Paya Lebar Airport, which opened in 1955.

The landing strip at Changi (above), built by POW labour during the Japanese Occupation, evolved into RAF Changi after the war. It was handed over to the Singapore Air Defence Command after the British withdrawal and renamed Changi Air Base. The site was redeveloped into today's Changi Airport following the relocation of RSAF assets to Paya Lebar Airport, when was transformed into a military airbase and renamed Paya Lebar Air Base.

Nearly a century after the British military study of Singapore, the approach to protecting airpower on Singapore by maximising landing strips and by fielding strong fighter/anti-aircraft defences remains essentially unchanged.

Attempts at making runways inoperable will be frustrated by the RSAF's integrated ground-based air defence network, which has a missile density unmatched in Southeast Asia to counter aerial threats flying at very low level to medium altitude. These armaments can be complemented by sea-based air defences, principally the Aster missile batteries on Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class stealth frigates deployed as an advance air defence screen.

In addition, the RSAF Air Power Generation Command (APGC) has raised, trained and sustained squadrons adept at executing rapid runway repairs, day or night, even on terrain seeded with area denial munitions such as mines or UXBs.

Tube artillery shells and unguided rocket artillery munitions do not have the accuracy required to knock out a runway. This means more guns are needed for every runway targeted, which in turn makes enemy artillery a bigger, more vulnerable target. An adversary with a modest artillery force may have to prioritise its targets, which robs the adversary of the ability to counter all RSAF air bases at the same time. 

In coming years, one can expect to see substantial redevelopments to the additional land allocated to Tengah Air Base.

The runway at Murai Camp, which is now home to the air force’s drone squadrons and has its own runway, is likely to go along with the 2,500m long, six-lane wide Lim Chu Kang Road. A second runway and new taxiways are likely to be constructed on the acquired land, along with hardened shelters to house RSAF warplanes. Bear in mind that when the British operated Tengah, the air base had three runways that criss-crossed one another.

A second runway and new taxiways (which can also serve as alternate runways) at Tengah means the RSAF would be net positive, even with the loss of PLAB and its two taxiways.

The RSAF previously operated from Changi Airport’s Runway 3, which is now closed to facilitate construction of Terminal 5. The addition of a future military runway at Changi, without additional airstrips (new runway plus tacxiways) at Tengah, means the RSAF’s runway balance sheet would be net negative as the PLAB runways would not have been replaced.

MINDEF/SAF has indicated it will avoid such a situation with the latest land acquisition.

Note: As a member of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) Main Council and ACCORD Educational Institutions council, the writer was briefed by RSAF APGC on Exercise Torrent VII and witnessed the exercise unfold. The writer has attended five of the seven war games in the Torrent series.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Unique Singapore Armed Forces CONOPS arise from SAF's specific operational requirements

Among the countries in Southeast Asia with an integrated air defence network, Singapore is unique as its air defence shield is an all-missile affair with no triple A.

Among the regional armed forces with artillery guns, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is the only one that has standardised its tubes to a single calibre.

Do we know something that other warfighters don't?

There was a time when Singapore Artillery battalions fielded four different munitions in various calibres (105mm, 120mm, 155mm,160mm) for tube artillery. Today, streamlining its warshot to 155mm shells and associated charges simplifies the job of resupplying arty units during operations.

The tradeoff, however, is the loss of operational flexibility conferred by the different firing characteristics of a diversified artillery arsenal.

The Giat 105mm LG1 light guns once used by the Singapore Artillery, for example, may pack a more modest throw weight compared to 155mm guns. But the Project F guns were more heli-portable and, ergo, more mobile in the field compared to the 155mm Project R lightweight SP howitzers, which cannot move far or fast enough on their puttering APUs (essentially modified farm tractor engines).

Tailoring the sharp end of the SAF to our specific operational requirements often calls for concept of operations (CONOPS) and warfighting configurations like no other.

Our all-missile air defence shield - with Aster and I-HAWK at the high end, down to the C-RAM system and VSHORADS at the other end of the spectrum - and decision to bet on a single artillery calibre are uniquely Singaporean solutions to fighting on and from the geographical template of Singapore island.

As we forge ahead with our own solutions, the ability of the end-users who will operate the weapon platforms and systems (Ops) and the defence science and engineering community (Tech) to talk and collaborate smoothly cannot be overemphasized. Ops-Tech integration is vital for the SAF's ability to be a smart user of defence solutions.

The Vietnam War taught United States air warfare planners to relearn the value of gun-armed fighters. The F-4 Phantom, then America's premier air defence fighter, was redesigned to include 20mm cannon slaved to a lead computing gunsight to make up for the lack of guns on early model Phantoms.

During the Falklands/Malvinas war in 1982, Britain's Royal Navy learned the hard way that the lethality of missile-armed warships was far from what weapons makers had forecast. Long-range Sea Dart and Sea Slug missiles, and short-range Sea Wolf missiles could, in theory, have kept marauding Argentine fighter-bombers at bay. But a combination of good flying at low level, supported by relays of aerial refuelling tankers and the use of terrain masking saw RN surface combatants like the Antelope, Ardent, Coventry and Sir Galahad fall victim to bomb attacks of the kind last seen during WW2.

Losses like these debunked the theory that missiles alone could keep warships safe from air attack. Air defence guns operating under local control (30mm and 40mm) were installed aboard RN frigates and destroyers post-Falklands.

Ops-Tech integration
A healthy Ops-Tech framework does not entail one side or the other kow-towing to the other side. Far from it. Disagreements will arise from time to time, and one can expect points of view to be delivered robustly.

Stringing everything together is the ability and readiness for all parties to listen to, assimilate, assess and accept/debunk alternative notions or points of view, and to do so rationally and with no rancour.

Easier said than done, particularly when strong personalities on project teams are involved.

Enter the SAF two-sided war games. The use of instrumented ranges, tactical engagement systems (TES) and simulated engagements on computer can play meaningful and (one would hope) impartial roles for validating new warfighting methods. The underlying assumptions and parameters that frame war readiness exercises must be well thought through and credible, and the failure of blue force encounters during two-sided FTX or TEWT must be embraced in the right spirit.

Established and reputable armed forces learn their lessons from the crucible of war.

One doubt the SAF wants, or can afford to, go down that same road.