Thursday, February 28, 2019

Malaysian Army to mark 86th anniversary with 10-day Eksesais Satria Perkasa in Peninsular Malaysia

Striker, Destroyer: Malaysian armour led by a PT-91M Pendekar main battle tank trundles south during Eksesais Satria Perkasa Siri 5/2016. The upcoming Satria Perkasa Siri 1/2019 exercise will practice plans, processes and procedures for rapid cross-country deployment of Tentera Darat units using the federation's road network and FELDA estate tracks. Source: Berita Tentera Darat

Malaysian war machines are on the move in large numbers, but there's no cause for panic folks.

The Malaysian Army celebrates its 86th anniversary tomorrow (1 March 2019) with a parade and display of military equipment in the northern town of Sungai Siput in Perak.

The movement of some 2,000 troops and a sizeable number of combat vehicles to the northern state of Perak for the anniversary sets the stage for the Malaysian Army's 10-day war game, codenamed Satria Perkasa (Mighty Knight), which is due to take place from Saturday (2 March'19).

The upcoming war game will be the largest land warfare exercise staged by Malaysia this year. You can expect the manoeuvres to boost the Malaysian Army's profile as a steady stream of mainstream and digital media reports planned by the Markas Tentera Darat's (Army HQ) PR staff are said to be in the pipeline. These will provide daily updates on various facets of the exercise such as men and women involved, the military assets that have been committed and the tactical scenarios encountered by Malaysian warfighters.

A spike in the number and frequency of social media updates by the Malaysian Army, especially images of the exercise posted by its online news portal, can be expected during the course of the exercise. The burst of publicity will complement the kinetic phase of Satria Perkasa as it will test how the army's news-gathering apparatus and SOPs can support Markas TD in the information domain. 

Since January this year, senior commanders from Markas Tentera Darat have conducted readiness inspections of units in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia in the lead up to Eksesais Satria Perkasa. At least seven such visits were publicised in the Jan-Feb period. Units featured in Eksesais Satria Perkasa pre-publicity include the Penang-based Markas 2 Divisyen (which marked its 50th anniversary this month and has an area of responsibility that covers the northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu), 6 Briged and 6 RAMD, the crack 10 Briged (Para) rapid deployment force based in Melaka as well as a host of combat engineer, signals, transport and workshop units in Sarawak under 1 Divisyen.

Satria Perkasa's scenario involves activating and deploying Tentera Darat units across the peninsula to counter an unspecified threat from the north. The Malaysian Army has advised the public not to be alarmed should they see military convoy movements around the peninsula from 2 March to 11 March'19.

Source: Perak Today.

Commander 2 Briged, Brigadier General Datuk Mohd Nizam (above) said at a recent media briefing:"The exercise will start in Sungai Siput and move towards Gerik. During this time, kampung residents will see many military vehicles on the road. It has a fictional scenario where the enemy has taken a part  of our territory and we are given the responsibility of driving them away. I hope that the public will not panic because this is not a real scenario. It is only an exercise."

The 2016 instalment of the exercise allowed 4 Briged (Mekanize) to practice deploying its tank and APC assets across distances of 150km on federal roads and FELDA plantation tracks.

Swift Strike: Malaysian armour practiced deploying 150km by tactical road march during Eks Satria Perkasa Siri 5/2016. Source: Berita Tentera Darat

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Defence information tidbits keep Singapore Armed Forces watchers on their toes

Thought-provoking: An intriguing poster from Singapore's DSO National Laboratories featuring an RSAF Lockheed Martin F-16D.

When buying war machines from a country that tells all with full disclosure, are there no more military secrets to hide?

There undoubtedly are and it would be premature and ill-advised for armed forces to discard security classifications without thinking through long-term repercussions.

While sharing the type and number of war machines supplied gives observers an idea of what's in the arsenal, such data does not tell the full story. Assessing combat capability goes above and beyond merely counting hardware.

A thorough assessment of combat capability therefore encompasses a slew of inputs, the nature of which often treads on sensitive ground where one needs to navigate with care or risk stirring coffee with sometimes unpleasant civil servants.

Broadly speaking, these factors give observers an deeper understanding of how ready the war machines are to do their job if the button is pressed.

Are war machines ready to roll to carry out their mission or is the tank/fighter jet a workshop/hangar queen? The answer delves into hardware issues (reliability, availability, maintainability, durability etc) and heartware matters (commitment to defence from individual warfighters, unit esprit etc) because having a machine in tip-top mechanical condition counts for nothing if citizen soldiers are no-shows during a mobilisation.
How capable is the logistics support for sustaining operations? Resupply rates for POL and war shot and the methodology for sustaining operations cannot be easily discerned from the orbat. In addition, warfighters sometimes take a leaf from commercial operations, as was the case some years ago when the Republic of Singapore Air Force sent a team overseas to observe how cargo for air freighters was sorted. These sort of innovations are not reflected in orbat numbers.

What (if any) modifications have been made to customise the war machine to one's specific operational requirements and battle conditions? Placed side by side, weapon platforms that have benefited from capability enhancements often look identical externally to vanilla platforms.

How will the weapon be organised for battle? Once shipped, the decision on the scale and distribution of the weapon is one that the customer alone decides.

Countries that source equipment from the European Union and the United States must be prepared to see information on their purchases eventually appear in the defence press. Armed forces that traditionally keep their cards close to their chests must therefore adapt quickly and accept the reality that the arms trade today aspires to be more open than yesteryear.

Gone are the days when defence journalists will accept vague lines such as "weapon ABC was sold to an undisclosed Southeast Asian nation". Today, expect the scribes to dig deep, dig often and join the dots in an effort to see the big picture.

For the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), greater transparency in the global arms trade can contribute to deterrence particularly in situations where third parties (i.e. the supplier) disclose capability enhancements that might be awkward for the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) or SAF to say as the public signature or optics would be quite different. So while observers know that the arsenal is expanding, information on other aspects of the arms purchase should be safeguarded with a robust military security apparatus. When observers are left with a fuzzy and indeterminate notion of one's true strength, it is this strategic ambiguity that cautions scenario planners not to miscalculate lest their underlying assumptions are incorrect.

This week's Defense News story, "German documents reveal Singapore received more Leopard 2 tanks" (click here), is an example of how observers learned about the republic's upsized Leopard tank fleet even when officialdom said essentially nothing.

Journalist Mike Yeo noted in his story on additional deliveries of German-made MBTs to Singapore: "According to the register of conventional arms exports released by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Singapore received 18 Leopard 2 main battle tanks in 2017, adding to the seven tanks the German government said it exported in 2016.

"The additional delivery in 2017 brings the total number of tanks received by Singapore to more than 170.

"It’s unknown how many tanks were ordered or what variant of was delivered. It is also unknown if this latest batch of tanks are brand new or refurbished secondhand vehicles, although the former is unlikely given production of the Leopard 2A4 has ended."

Moves to acquire more Leopard 2s through small incremental purchases that result in the total headcount creeping up steadily mirror earlier examples where small weapon purchases grew and grew over years, if not decades. It is an example of defence creep where the population of proven platforms and systems grew steadily, often out of the public eye. The AMX-13 light tanks, A-4 Skyhawks and F-5E/F Tiger IIs are examples of retired SAF war machines that started with modest numbers on the orbat but gained noteworthy critical mass, thanks to defence creep.

Whether by accident or design, the release of an image in August 2017 showing F-15SG Strike Eagle tail numbers that were out of sequence (click here) from previous bulk buys gave SAF observers insights into the RSAF's growing F-15 family. Like air surveillance, the task of information management is a complex one :-)

It's a tricky balance between being open lest potential opponents underrate one's capability and keeping some capabilities under wraps to catch other people by surprise. But let's be clear that every credible military force has trade secrets to protect - and for good reasons too.

One can expect occasional tidbits from European arms registers and arms notifications to the US Congress on weapon sales, not just on what Singapore acquires but what armed forces in the neighbourhood are buying too.

Absolute numbers aside, it remains to be seen how the Army's upsized fleet of more than 170 Leopard 2 tanks will be grouped for combat. Will they be cannibalised for spares or does the larger main battle tank force presage more transformations from the Army that might lead to the establishment of an armoured division and a rethink of current divisional estab as birth rates dwindle?

Is it Easter already?

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