Sunday, June 30, 2019

On track for a good show: The Singapore Armed Forces trains for the National Day Parade 2019 Mobile Column

Leopard 2SG: The crew of Leopard Three (81178 MID) at the National Day Parade 2019 Mobile Column Combined Rehearsal 3 (CR3) on 29 June 2019. From left, Second Lieutenant Darius Tan (platoon commander), Corporal First Class Chua Yu Hao (driver) and Corporal Sherman Tan (gunner). Absent: CPL Michael Raj (loader). 

After working hard with the rest of the National Day Parade 2019 Mobile Column participants at a dozen combined rehearsals, Leopard tank commander Second Lieutenant Darius Tan will complete two years of full-time National Service with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) about a week before the actual parade.

But the 22-year-old Leopard 2SG main battle tank (MBT) platoon commander from the 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR), is not going to let his operationally-ready date become a show stopper.

Darius will extend his NS to lead his tank platoon - technically as an operationally-ready NSman - on 9 August as the Mobile Column salutes the nation at City Hall and on the following day when the 171-vehicle convoy splits up and moves out from the city to the heartlands.

The commitment and team spirit demonstrated by Darius is not unique among Mobile Column participants. Talk to the people from the SAF, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Police Force whose vehicles form the moving display. Listen to their stories and you will find many more instances of men and women determined to give their best so that the NDP 2019 Mobile Column retains its reputation as a crowd pleaser.

Saturday activities with family and friends are put on hold from now till National Day as the full dress rehearsal season moves into full swing. With 646 people on the vehicles and another 415 supporting the Mobile Column segment, the tally of family gatherings missed, absent parents at birthdays, skipped outings with friends, postponed dates and cancelled movie appointments is not small.

They are there rain or shine for the rehearsals. They put in hours of work maintaining the vehicles, perfecting vehicle movement timetables and practising contingency plans so that the 14 minute 30 second drive past in front of City Hall is executed to perfection, with panache and pinpoint precision.

The Mobile Column team does not want to disappoint because they know Singaporeans love their NDP.

Though National Day celebrations unfold every year, the Mobile Column does not. It usually makes an appearance every five years when the parade is held at the Padang, the open field in front of City Hall that serves as show centre. Celebrations at the Padang to mark Singapore's bicentennial year and 54th birthday this year explain the off-cycle Mobile Column, which was last seen at NDP 2015. The rarity of the display, which people have to wait up to five years to see, tells you why expectations run high for every Mobile Column rehearsal.

Weeks before the actual parade and with vehicle formations still a little loose, the combined rehearsals in the city have nonetheless begun attracting spectators.

At Combined Rehearsal 3 (CR3) last Saturday, people lined the form-up point (FUP) at Suntec City, filled the streets outside the cordoned area and loitered at overhead bridges to see SAF and Home Team assets. The NDP Mobile Column has suddenly emerged as a sought-after backdrop for social media.

And the crowds will only get bigger the closer one gets to the actual parade.

Senang Diri joined 48 SAR at CR3 to experience a Mobile Column rehearsal firsthand.

Our tank is one of 12 Leopards from 48 SAR that will lead the 1.3km long convoy. On the radio, our tank identified itself as Leopard Three. The crew is a young team with Darius as tank commander. Driver Corporal First Class Chua Yu Hao and gunner Corporal Sherman Tan are both 20. Loader Corporal Michael Raj is 22, like his PC.

The 30-something MBT is older than its all-NSF crew but has been modernised to keep it fighting fit. The tank came from the German army and was refurbished in Singapore to bring the Leopard 2A4 to Leopard 2SG standard. The "SG" is a special Leopard variant with modifications unique to Singapore. The tank's protection and mobility was improved and a locally developed battlefield management system (BMS) installed. The BMS consists of a compact flat screen and ruggedised computer that displays tactical information to the tank commander. Singaporean defence engineers enhanced the computing power of the L2SG for the tank commander to maximise the many functions on the BMS.

At the Nicoll Highway FUP,  the L2SGs were arranged as six closely-spaced pairs. In parade formation, two Leopards travel one behind the other, to be followed by five pairs of MBTs. Leopard Three is the tank on the right of the first pair of MBTs. Our assigned duty station is the loader's position, which is the left position on the turret with two hatches. For the embed, loader CPL Michael vacated the position for this civilian.

We're at the junction outside Suntec City where Bras Basah Road meets Raffles Boulevard. It's a busy crossing that's not quite Shibuya but there's a steady stream of pedestrians who stop to photograph the sight of tanks in the city. Traffic lights continue to flash their commands but with Nicoll Highway closed to city-bound traffic, nobody pays heed.

Open hatch: The view from the Leopard 2SG loader's hatch.

Looking out from the open loader's hatch, one has an elevated all-round view. A Leopard tank is not small. With the add-on armour that extended the turret protection some distance from the original welded steel turret, the turret roof and extended turret bustle is all one sees of the 55,000kg steel beast. The Rheinmetall 120mm gun protrudes front and centre. Because the additional armour modules have concealed the length of the barrel, the gun looks unusually stubby from this perspective with the bulge of the fume extractor obscuring what remains of the barrel when the gun is at rest. Looks are deceiving because a well-trained gunner can place a shell right on target from several kilometres away.

The author was introduced to Leopard Three and its crew at the Mobile Column FUP outside Suntec City. As it's the start of the Great Singapore Sale and the last weekend of the June school holidays, the place is teeming with shoppers who brave the blazing sunshine and humidity to snap pictures with the Singapore Army's war machines. The junction in the heart of the city is unusually quiet for a Saturday as roads have been closed to civilian traffic and the conversation with the crew takes place like a normal meet-and-greet at an Army Open House.

With the SAF running the NDP Executive Committee, it should come as no surprise that the Mobile Column is run like a military operation. There are SOPs and rigid safety instructions to follow. Terrain matrices of the area. Radio nets. Satellite photos. Hotwash and AARs to debug issues.

As was the case with Mobile Column rehearsals of yesteryear, the assembly of the Mobile Column during CR3 as the force was amassed could not be hidden from the public. Many civilians came, took pictures and posted them on social media long before the vehicles went into action. People who loitered on the other side of the fence could take all the pictures they liked unimpeded. The force build up was done in full view of everyone.

The order to start engines resulted in the sound of tooting horns that rippled down the convoy as drivers tapped their horns twice before starting their engines. The powerful MTU diesel on Leopard Three rumbled to life. Soon, a heat haze and streams of bluish diesel exhaust smoke veiled the engine decks of the column of waiting tanks. For the crew who stood in open hatches, it was always good to be upwind of the neighbour's exhaust.

Our move-out time was 12:50pm but engines were started much earlier to warm up the vehicles and to allow the crew to check for last minute glitches. There is air conditioning inside the tank but with sunshine pouring in through two open roof hatches, one barely felt it. Yu Hao (driver) and Sherman (gunner. Think of the WW2 tank) are already at their post and will stay there for the next hour, out of sight to the public.

The 48 SAR team took its safety brief seriously. All aboard, including this civilian who was linked via CVC helmet intercom with the Leopard Three crew, had to go through the comms check, practise vehicle overturn drills, know what to do if the e-horn sounded. There was also a reminder to drink plenty of water - a tricky instruction considering that there's no opportunity for a pee break once aboard - so just enough was consumed to avoid passing out from the heat.

As showtime approached, cue masters displayed the notice to move using handheld signs for the convoy leader to see. The same message was sent by radio. In the lead is an NSman, Lieutenant Colonel Chin Chee Whye, who serves as Mobile Column Commander. In civilian life, he teaches mathematics at the university.

After baking in the open hatch for more than half an hour, the sight of the cue master who held up white signs with big black lettering that said "3 Minutes to Go" and then "One Minute to Go" brought a sense of relief and a flutter of excitement.

Darius had some advice for Yu Hao (driver) and Sherman (gunner) on the tank's alignment during the drive past and the gun salute. One could sense that the tank crew was likewise excited before going into action.

"Driver release parking brake."

When ground marshals stopped pedestrians from crossing Nicoll Highway and the sound of the rough road surface sandpapering plastic showed that marshals had started shoving the orange and white traffic barriers out of the way, we knew it was time to go.

The way forward was clear and the morning calm at the traffic-free road was long gone. The sound of purring diesels, the whir of fans from the air-cooled tank engines and the whistling note from the MTU exhaust made radio comms and hand signals the preferred mode of communication with the tank crews.

A ground marshal raised hands for the countdown. Three. Two. One. Go! LTC Chin's lead Leopard lurched forward with a grunt. The lead tank clattered down the road towards the Padang with diesels roaring, followed closely by the second tank.

It was our turn. The terse command "Driver move forward" saw Leopard Three move off. Rubber pads on the tracks contributed to a smooth ride, creating a sound like the one you hear when driving on a concrete car park ramp with parallel grooves. Leopard Three rumbled down the road as grilles from the anti-shaped charge cage around the tank hull and turret rattled briskly.

Driving instructions were short and sharp - "Driver slow down." "Driver right." - and to have the wind in the face even at 15km/h was invigorating. If Yu Hao floored it, the Leopard could easily hit 70km/h but for now, slow and steady was the way to go as we approached the call forward area.

Moving in daylight with no civilian traffic and with ground marshals as guides and armour all around, one felt immensely safe. That said, the tank crew had to stay sharp - NDP 2010 Mobile Column rehearsals accounted for three road kerbs that had to be rebuilt after they were kissed by the army's A-vehicles.

The approach to St Andrew's Road, the road that runs past City Hall, brought us to the next waiting area. Here the convoy reassembled in parade formation before being called forward by cue masters. This call forward area was Release Point 2, the last chance for glitches to be identified and remedied, or for contingency plans to kick in.

Some tanks gave feedback that the plastic barriers were placed too close to the lanes and restricted their mobility. The single row of barriers at CR2 was doubled at CR3. Ground marshals fixed it.

According to the plan, the air force would go in first. After low flying aircraft and helicopters did their stuff, the heavy ground assets formed by the Mobile Column would move in next with armour as the vanguard. The air segment was practised on paper by the Exco and there was no actual flying for the early afternoon dry run.

Release Point 2 outside St Andrew's cathedral is the same stretch of road where 12 AMX-13 light tanks waited for their go-signal at the 1969 National Day Parade. This marked the public debut for Singapore's first tanks.

Leopard Three was about to retrace that historic journey. Like the AMX-13s, our Leopard 2SGs would travel against the normal flow of traffic to salute the President on the steps of City Hall. Incidentally, the only tanks that rolled past City Hall in the same direction as the traffic flow were Imperial Japanese Army tanks (see below) soon after the Fall of Singapore in 1942. But we digress.

Darius had last minute instructions for the driver and gunner.

Many things must have kept the tank commander busy at this critical juncture.

In command of Leopard Three, he had to ensure it was all systems go. The driver Yu Hao had to keep the tank aligned when he could hardly see the road's lane markings. He had to watch engine RPM to stay at the recommended speed. At the same time, he had to keep in formation with the tanks in front and the one to the left - all this while peering through the periscopes and driving closed hatch. The driver's station on a Leopard tank is a tight fit. He lay almost flat from a harness that was suspended from the hull roof (to reduce landmine and IED injuries) and there was no room to move around. Lights from the control panel and daylight from the periscopes provided scant illumination for the driver in his lonely position. For those with anxiety issues locked in an enclosed space, the job of a Leopard tank driver is not for you. 

If the tank stalled, Yu Hao would have to quickly decide if it could get moving and report the situation to Darius. The tank commander would then have to make the split second decision to press on (if it could restart) or call for support - a recovery effort using the single Leopard ARV that trailed the 12 L2SGs would take about seven minutes and throw the NDP show timetable out of sync. And if that ARV stalled...

Huddled at his gunner's station in the turret basket, Sherman had to listen carefully for the cue to start the gun salute. This manoeuvre depended on every gunner performing the sequence at exactly the same timing.

For a national event telecast "live" to Singaporean households and webcast worldwide, every decision was a time critical one. Darius and his team had to show that Armour, which was trained to think and decide on the move, would not hold everyone back because a single glitch in the Mobile Column would have a knock-on effect on the entire show sequence. It was a heavy responsibility that many NSFs - not just from the SAF but also the civil defence and police - took on enthusiastically.

Darius did his best to reassure the crew with last minute advice.

The cue master along St Andrew's Road communicated with tank commanders using extreme means. Either very loudly with a loud hailer or silently with hand signals as tank commanders often had trouble hearing conversations with the noise from the tank engines and the CVC helmet blocking out ambient noise.

Ahead of us, the parade contingents marched on the Padang one after another.

Once the Mobile Column was released, there was no calling it back.

That point of no return was fast approaching. Again, the cue master raised his arms. In the turrets, tank commanders and loaders stiffened as they prepared to go on show.

The cue master raised both arms. One could see his extended fingers go down one after another. We were seconds away from release. Last digit gone. It was time to go.

Leopard Three had the chance to show what it learned from hours of training in camp, at Tuas and the previous two Saturday CRs.

The strategic intent of showing the army's capabilities boiled down to individual crews doing as they were trained. Tactical control was left to tank commanders like Darius once the column got moving. Even so, the final outcome was in the hands of NSFs, many fresh out of their teens, whose training and dedication would help decide on mission success or otherwise. This is why training has been intense, over and above operational commitments.

Station keeping was good. The drive past was smooth at 15km/h. The formation looked nice and tight.

Listen for the signal. "Up!". Twelve tank gunners counted out "One thousand, two thousand, three thousand..." and the gun salute sequence began.

Gunners raised the 120mm gun barrel to full elevation, then traversed the turret right 30 degrees. They made a mark on the turret ring to show exactly where the gun should stop. Guns were dipped to full depression and kept there as the armoured column rolled past the saluting dais. Recovery after the salute was the reverse. Gun up. Swing left to face the front and recover to zero elevation.

In the turret, Darius and the other tank commanders snapped a salute.

Behind the tanks came streams of armoured infantry mounted on Bionix IFVs and the whole host of army assets that a combined arms force would use in combat. Assembled differently with Intel and Commandos up front, with Combat Engineer bridging support close behind and then the tanks, the Mobile Column assets would tell you a different story.

But this is a peacetime show, though with some imagination you could join the dots and figure things out.

After all that waiting, the actual drive past by Leopard Three at City Hall was over in moments. Once past City Hall, Darius guided Leopard Three as the tank formation split up to return to the FUP.

The CR3 dry run was over. But the Mobile Column would reassemble and go through the whole sequence all over again for the evening show. And then next Saturday and the one after that, all the way to August 9.

For now, however, Leopard Three could shut down and rest.

Many thanks to MINDEF MCO, the Singapore Army and 48 SAR CO LTC Wu Jianmin for hosting. LTC Wu is concurrently Chairman, Mobile Column Committee on the NDP 2019 EXCO.

48 SAR is the Singapore Army's only NSF MBT battalion but it has an interesting record. The pioneer batch distinguished themselves 10 years ago at a friendly shooting match with US Marine tankees (see below). NSmen are transferred to NS SARs where they remain active for 10 years. This explains the growing stable of Leopard 2 tanks required by the army.
Singapore Army News, September 2010

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen commissions Singapore Army's Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV)

First of the hundreds many: Singapore's Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, commissions the Hunter AFV into service by ceremoniously placing the number plate on a combat variant. Looking on are Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Melvyn Ong (in khaki beret), Chief Armour Officer Brigadier General Yew Chee Leung and Chief of Army Major General Goh Si Hou (nearest camera). At more than 6 feet tall, Dr Ng towers over most Singaporeans so note the size of the Hunter.

Formed up: Dr Ng inspecting troops from the Singapore Army's armoured regiments at Armour's 50th anniversary parade yesterday at Sungei Gedong Camp, Home of the Armour.

Infographic source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

Glass cockpit: Commander's station at the Integrated Combat Cockpit of the Hunter AFV.

At the parade marking the Golden Jubilee of Singapore's armoured forces this afternoon, defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen commissioned the Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) as the Singapore Army's M-113 replacement, capping a 13-year project as technology finally caught up with the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) vision for a fully digitised AFV that can wield information as a weapon.

The Hunter marks a milestone for the Singapore Army. The AFV's ability to see first and see more will give the army more options for dealing with enemy combatants from beyond the line of sight once the Hunter's capabilities are fully optimised.

The five Hunter variants - Combat, Command, Bridgelayer, Recovery and Armoured Engineer - bring several first to the army's armoured regiments and have features that make this new class of AFV unique among Asian armies.

Sensors on the platform give the crew of the fully tracked, drive-by-wire AFV a 360-degree view around the vehicle. At the heart of the fully digitalised combat platform is the latest iteration of the battlefield management system. It's called ARTEMIS and was developed by the city-state's defence scientists and engineers to improve the Hunter's situational awareness day and night, in all weather and for non-line of sight (NLOS) applications.

At first glance, the AFV appears to follow a conventional layout for contemporary armoured infantry fighting vehicles with the floor plan divided into three functional areas, viz driver, fighting and troop compartments.

The driver's compartment is up front at the left alongside the engine. A well sloped glacis reinforced by spaced armour maximises protection over the forward arc. The driver is provided with a flat screen display showing the camera feeds from 13 cameras that form the all-round surveillance system. The compartment is capped by a single rearward opening hinged hatch with two attached periscopes, with a third side facing periscope mounted on the hull.

The fighting compartment is in the centre while the troop compartment for eight fully equipped infantry is at the rear.

On the 30mm cannon-armed Combat variant shown to the media, the fighting compartment was fitted with a two-person Integrated Combat Cockpit with the vehicle commander (VC) seated on the right  and the gunner on the left. The VC's station is fitted with a top hatch and a single front facing periscope while the gunner has two periscopes.

The periscopes serve as back ups as the primary sensors are inside the fighting compartment, reflecting HQ Armour's revised CONOPS for closed hatch operations. The VC and gunner face three touch screen flat panel displays with drop down menus that can show sensor, weapon status, navigation and vehicle data. The following abbreviated functions were noted by Senang Diri on two different Hunters (the interpretation of the short forms is ours): SUR (surveillance), SIGHT (hunter-killer sight), WPN (weapon), BMS (battlefield management system), DEF (defensive aids, smoke grenades), NAV (vehicle navigation system), DRV (driving data), TRG (online training manuals), HUMS (vehicle health & usage management system).

DSTA engineers programmed the touchscreen functions to be intuitive and user friendly. It is said that users can access any required function with three clicks or less. During pre-commissioning trials, one group of soldiers figured out how the system worked without prior training.

Switches to arm/safe the cannon, coaxial MG and 76mm smoke grenades launchers are found on the panel below the centre screen. Beneath this lies the panel for the Spike anti-tank guided missiles, two of which are carried on a pop-up mount (see above) on the left of the remote controlled weapon station (RCWS).

The VC and gunner each have a two-handed multi-function control handle to control the weapon station or vehicle itself, with the VC said to be able to take over steering of the Hunter if need be.

Mention was made of a laser warning system (LWS) of unspecified origin. The LWS is designed to tell the crew when the vehicle has been illuminated by a laser beam so that they can take appropriate action. During operations, the lasing of a vehicle usually presages the arrival of an incoming laser guided munition.

A new acronym, ARTEMIS, was introduced during the media preview. ARTEMIS is short for Army Tactical Engagement and Information System and is also a clever reference to the goddess of the hunt. (Incidentally, the name Hunter acknowledges another aspect of SAF operations but we won't go there.). ARTEMIS is the latest version of Singapore's homegrown battlefield management system that is the catchall term for the operating system that fuses sensor data from the platform and SAF assets in the vicinity to give the Hunter crew a clear appreciation of the battle situation around their vehicle.

We like the touchscreen function that shows the field of view from any position on the battlefield, with red shading indicating areas visible from the selected geographical position. The ability to automatically plot a route to avoid enemy positions or exposed terrain, and share the route to other AFVs on ARTEMIS should enhance dynamic mission planning among armoured units on the move. We believe that GIS mapping was used to compile these digital maps, which should prove useful for navigation in unfamiliar terrain.

The Combat variant's main armament, a Rafael Samson 30 RCWS, is fitted directly above the fighting compartment. As the gun mount has no deck penetration and is automated, this frees space beneath it as there is no need for a turret basket for the crew.

As with contemporary vehicles that ferry troops into battle, Hunter has a single rear  ramp that is lowered for troops to enter or debus from the vehicle. The ramp also has a single hinged door. Four seats are placed on each side of the troop compartment with troops seated facing one another. The seats fold down when needed and have four-point restraints. Two roof hatches, hinged to open forward, are provided for the troopers seated next to the rear ramp.

Despite the Hunter's larger dimensions compared to the M113 it replaces, space inside the vehicle is tight. No reloads are carried for the 30mm cannon as the estimated 230-round war load is deemed sufficient for the anticipated contact rate before the need arises for a resupply stop.

The Hunter is air-conditioned and has LED "cove lights" placed beneath the air ducts throughout the cabin. But no periscopes are provided for the troop compartment and embarked armoured infantry must rely on the single flat panel screen for the section commander (first seat on the right hand side nearest the fighting compartment) for some idea of where the vehicle is headed.

Hunter has no auxiliary power unit and the engine must be left on to power up the AFV's sensors and combat cockpit.

Brigadier General Yew Chee Leung, Chief Armour Officer and Commander 25th Division, said: "The Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle is the centrepiece of the army's next generation transformation. It is the first fully digitalised vehicle in our army and it incorporates smart and digital technologies catered to our modern-day soldiers who are increasingly tech savvy.

"The Hunter AFV has many enhanced capabilities. It has greater firepower, survivability and mobility and it features for the first time an integrated combat cockpit within the vehicle that enhances our networked warfare capabilities.

"The Hunter AFV is locally developed by our army together with DSTA together with our defence partners. It is designed for our local soldiers to enhance their training and to make training intuitive and the vehicle simple to operate."

Fact File: Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV)
The Hunter is a next generation drive-by-wire tracked AFV that will replace Singapore Army M-113 armoured personnel carriers. The Hunter was designed and made in Singapore by the Singapore Army weapons staff, Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Engineering Land Systems. The project began in 2006 with the aim of delivering a digitised AFV with enhanced capabilities for the next generation army. Several prototypes were developed before the final design freeze. Hunter was commissioned into service on 11 June 2019 by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, at the 50th anniversary parade of the Singapore Army Armour formation. As of 11 June 2019, five variants were announced. These variants are Combat, Command, Bridgelayer, Recovery and Armoured Engineer. Hunter will make its public debut at Singapore's National Day Parade on 9 August 2019.

First Hunter unit: 42nd Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment in 2020. Core group training starts in 2019 for first batch of Hunter instructors and officer cadets.

Hunter Combat variant
Crew: 1 vehicle commander, 1 driver, 1 gunner, up to eight dismounted troops with full equipment

Length: 6.9m (22.6 feet)
Width: 3.4m (11.2 feet)
Height: 3.4m
Weight: 29.5 tonnes
Power-to-weight ratio: 24 hp/ton

Max speed: 70km/h (43.5 mph)
Range: 500km (311 miles)
Vertical obstacle: 0.6m (2 feet)
Trench: 2.1m (7 feet)
Maximum front slope: 60%
[Addendum 12 June 2019 23:00H: Hunter cannot swim.]

Rafael Samson 30 Remote Controlled Weapon Station with Orbital ATK 30mm cannon (230 rounds), ST Engineering Land Systems 7.62mm coaxial general purpose machine gun (500 rounds) and up to two Spike ATGMs. No 30mm and ATGM reloads are carried.

Fire control
DSTA integrated combat cockpit with three touchscreen digital controls tied to the Army Tactical Engagement and Information System (ARTEMIS) and a commander open architecture panoramic sight.

Defensive aids
8 x 76mm smoke grenade launchers.

You may also like:
Eight things to note about the Singapore Army's new AFV (posted in July 2016). Click here

First pix of ARV variant of the new AFV (posted in May 2016). Click here

Tidbits on the Singapore Armed Forces (posted in February 2016). Click here

The old and the new #tank (posted in January 2016). Click here

Guide to SAF MID number plates. Click here

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Book back cover featuring the Malaysian navy submarine Tunku Abdul Rahman & Tun Sharifah Rodziah

This is the cropped final artwork for the back cover of the fictional story. It shows a Royal Malaysian Navy Scorpene-class submarine, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman, with the Malaysian navy sea base, Tun Sharifah Rodziah, lurking in the background.

Front cover will show the Royal Malaysian Air Force as the story has a tri-Service element involving all arms of the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM).

Here's an extract from the fictional story that makes first mention of Tun Sharifah Rodziah. The characters and dialogue have been omitted. PL-TSR teams up with KD Tunku Abdul Rahman in a later chapter as the action builds. 

Follow the book updates on Twitter @senangdiri

The South China Sea
As Regiment 52 raced south with its Astros rocket launchers, a Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy) asset in the South China Sea also headed for its deployment area off Johor but at a more sedate pace. 

Under a clear tropical night sky studded with stars, the TLDM asset travelled by dry tow, carried piggyback aboard a commercial transport ship that steamed towards Johor at 14 knots.

It had taken the heavy lift transport about a week to sail from Semporna off the eastern coast of Sabah to the South China Sea. Such was the urgency of the deployment that the ship sailed non-stop. By dawn, she would have arrived at journey's end.

The TLDM asset was something of a floating paradox. It was used by the Malaysian navy but it was not a warship. The asset had no pennant number unlike most naval platforms but came under the TLDM order of battle. Even with her haze paint scheme that was the same shade as Malaysian warships, the floating structure might have passed as just another oil rig.

Her full name in Malay was Pangkalan Laut Tun Sharifah Rodziah (PL-TSR) - Sea Base Tun Sharifah Rodziah – and she was named to honour the wife of a former Malaysian prime minister. The floating sentinel moved steadily towards her assigned action station off Johor’s eastern seaboard codenamed Daerah Maritim 7 or Delta Mike Seven. 

Her assigned mission: To keep an eye on one of the world's busiest sea lanes that led from Singapore harbour to the South China Sea, observe and report all surface activity and signal Markas TLDM (Royal Malaysian Navy HQ) with regular updates.

Her anchor point in Delta Mike 7 was a strategic location as all shipping lanes that linked the Singapore Strait with the South China Sea fell well within her radar horizon. Once the mat at the base of the platform's tubular legs was ballasted fully and anchored to the sea floor, PL-TSR commenced sentry duty by tracking and reporting every vessel movement within her area of operations.

Tun Sharifah Rodziah served as gate keeper to the enemy’s attempts to break out from Singapore straits into the South China Sea. It was a heroine’s job because the sea base was right in the path of the naval task groups on the warpath. 

Although the Malaysian navy sailors knew that they were sailing into a political storm, they were blissfully unaware that their voyage took them right past a fledgling storm of the meteorological sort. The fair winds and following seas so cherished by sailors was due to winds that blew in from Siberia into Southeast Asia for several months every year. This was a seasonal phenomenon that the Malaysian sailors experienced during the Northeast monsoon.

During the voyage in the South China Sea, the TLDM sea base and her transport vessel came within a hundred nautical miles of a mass of unstable air off Sabah. Known by weathermen as a Borneo Vortex, the area of turbulence raged beyond the horizon as a spectacular lightning storm. The vortex swirled undetected out of reach from the transport vessel’s weather radar.

Within days, a strong and persistent cold surge from Siberia would swirl round the Borneo Vortex to form a far more sinister weather pattern that challenged weather theory and severely disrupted military operations.

End of extract

Related topic:
Malaysian Army tank transporters go into action. Click here

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Malaysian Army Kompeni Angkut tank transporters go into action

[Note: The following is a fictional account of how the Malaysian Army might send its MBT tank squadrons south on the Malay peninsula. I thank the various parties who helped educate me on the tactics, techniques, procedures and terminology. I used my imagination for the rest. I hope the story describes the process with reasonable accuracy. This is an extract from a much longer writing project on Markas ATM. It was a joy researching and writing about the ATM. Thank you for the trust and friendship. To all celebrating: Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf Zahir dan Batin.]

There are several Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) units that people have never heard of. This is not because the units are secret but because their role is so ordinary and the media hardly writes about them as their work appears unexciting.

Kompeni Angkut is one example. Its name, which is Malay for Transport Company, sums up in a simple and direct manner the role it serves under the Malaysian Army’s Kor Perkhidmatan Diraja (KPA, Royal Logistics Corps).

If you’ve never heard of Kompeni Angkut, you’re in good company because neither have many Malaysians.

Despite its low profile, this transport company performs a vital role. The unit transports Malaysian Army equipment like main battle tanks using huge 15-tonne tank transporters, delivers soldiers by the thousands and moves tonnes of ammunition, water and stores across Malaysia with its fleet of specialised trucks. 

Put simply, Kompeni Angkut is staffed by transport planners, drivers and mechanics who job of moving things from A to B comes under the grand sounding title of military logistics. 

Kompeni Angkut supported the Malaysian Army’s deployment effort south with an interesting pairing of war machines. In doing so, the men and women from these companies debunked the notion that logistics units operated in rear areas safe from firefights at the front. 

The Malaysian Army’s longest and heaviest soft-skinned vehicle (and the one with the most wheels, with 20 in total), the Iveco Eurotrakker tank transporter, was sent south of the Malay peninsula carrying the army’s heaviest and best protected armoured vehicle, the upgraded PT-91M Pendekar MBT.

Just past midnight, Markas ATM (Malaysian Armed Forces headquarters) issued the notice to move to the tank transporter units. 

Logisticians from 11 Kompeni Angkut  (Askar Wataniah), which was a Territorial Army unit, rushed south from the middle of the peninsula where scores of upgraded Pendekar MBTs from the Federation’s first tank unit, Rejimen Kesebelas Kor Armor Diraja (11 KAD) lay waiting for the call to action. The tank squadrons were dispersed under cover in hideouts which the tank crew called “hides”. 

Each tank transporter made its own way to its assigned hide, with the drivers guided by GPS coordinates. Once they left the safety of paved roads and entered jungle paths or plantations, the pitch black environment and rough terrain tested the driving skills of the weekend soldiers as their mammoth 20-wheelers bashed through thick underground and the wheels churned up unpaved paths turned to mud by the unrelenting thunderstorm.

Looking up from their tank hatch, the Pendekar tankees could not see the sky as each hide was sited under the protection of thick canopies within tropical jungle, palm oil or rubber plantations. For good measure, a camouflage net was propped over each tank using bamboo poles. Enemy sensors scouring the area would find it hard to spot the tanks as they were obscured by layers of foliage. Thermal sensors were of little use either as the MBTs were cloaked with special heat absorbing padding that minimised their infrared signature.

When fully fuelled, the Polish-made tanks could have easily driven themselves to the forward edge of battle area. But the Iveco tank transporters did the job faster without wearing out men and machines or draining their fuel tanks. The aim was to deliver the 11 KAD tank squadrons fit to fight close to the FEBA, fully fueled and loaded with ammo.

More importantly, tank crews travelling with the Ivecos arrived fresh for battle. A ride in the air-conditioned tank transporters was a much better way to travel to the war zone as long road marches cramped in a hot, noisy and uncomfortable tank as it clattered along the road inevitably resulted in crew fatigue.

As no one could be sure when the atrocious weather would clear, there was no time to waste. 

Every minute saved could bring the MBTs one kilometre closer to the front. The compact battleground at the Johor front, which was small compared to terrain in Europe and the Middle East,  made a 150km convoy movement a strategic manoeuvre that could tilt the military balance decisively. The deployment of tanks from 11 KAD south, paired with the southward push by wheeled Gempita 8x8 and Astros rocket artillery batteries that self-deployed, could turn the tide of the battle in Johor if the MBTs could suddenly appear at the weak spot identified on the frontline and rupture the enemy’s forward line. 

And so, 11 Kompeni Angkut (AW) made best use of  every second.  

Tank transporter drivers braved the freak storm that created an unexpected window of opportunity for Malaysian army convoys to move on open roads without interference from enemy aircraft.

Extreme weather brought a welcome respite for Malaysian Army transport planners who struggled to find a way to move 11 KAD south undetected when the enemy controlled the air. 

The freak storm was a game changer. Thick banks of rain clouds drifted across the peninsula, drenching the land with torrents of rain driven by howling winds that cleared the skies over Johor of enemy fighters, helicopters and UAVs. With the enemy air force suddenly grounded by the ferocious weather, the tank transporters raced south while they could.

It was an opportunity Markas ATM welcomed gladly.

One after another, Iveco Eurotrakkers in northern states untouched by the war emerged from the tank hides for a night transport mission. 

Breaking cover in the darkness beneath a blanket of intense rain, the Ivecos swayed from side to side on deeply rutted dirt tracks, each loaded with a 48-tonne tank, their long trailers creaking and groaning in protest as the tank transporters moved out from their hiding places in the Malaysian belukar (bush).

Drivers from 11 Kompeni Angkut had to work quickly as enemy air strikes were not the biggest threat to the operation. The drivers aimed to reach the road network before the downpour flooded the nameless tracks and turned the unpaved dirt tracks into muddy rivers that could leave the heavily laden Ivecos stranded once the axles were stuck in soft mud.

Safe on firmer ground, tank transporters drivers revved their mighty machines into gear and moved south at best possible speed. With diesel engines roaring and exhaust pipes trailing streamers of smoke, the Iveco tank transporters set off independently after collecting the tanks from widely dispersed hideouts. The tank transporters drove towards convoy assembly areas along the North-South Highway as sheets of rain lashed the roads, the raging thunderstorm creating near whiteout conditions that challenged the skill of every driver.

The men and women from 11 Kompeni Angut were undeterred.

Road movements were speeded up by grouping the massive tank transporters into convoys escorted by Kor Polis Tentera Diraja (KPTD, Royal Military Police Corps) motorcycle outriders who swept expressways and trunk roads to move aside - sometimes forcibly - civilian traffic that might block the swift passage of the tank convoys.

With headlights switched on, hazard lights flashing and the two revolving amber lights at the top of the driver’s cabin blinking their warning repeatedly, the Ivecos hurried south as civilian traffic gave way respectfully by moving to the side of the road. 

Malaysian Army tank transporters punched through curtains of rain, the steel chains securing the tanks to the semi-trailers rattling briskly, the window wipers sloshing off sheets of rainwater that cascaded down flat windshields of the Ivecos as watery veils stirred up by the long vehicles chased the convoy through the pre-dawn murk.

With every Malaysian Army tank transporter used to move MBTs, civil resources were mobilised to support the transfer of lighter tracked AFVs like the Adnan APCs, self-propelled mortars and ATGM carriers.

If marshalling and deploying army vehicles from all over the peninsula was a challenge, so was the task of finding enough drivers and vehicles to move the heavy weapons. Army drivers pulled from other army divisions found themselves at the wheel of a mixed bag of civilian tractor-trailer combos, pulling flatbeds and lowboys in all colours and configurations.

Malaysia’s HANRUH total defence plan cranked into action, moving the Federation from a peacetime posture to its highest state of war readiness.

The Malaysian Army driver of a requisitioned prime mover was about to start the engine of the civilian truck when he saw a note placed next to the gear shift where the driver would not miss seeing it. The civilian driver who handed over the truck to the army had a message for the new driver.

The hand-written message from the civilian driver was scrawled in Bahasa Malaysia on the back of a torn sheet of calendar paper. It said briefly: “Pantang berundur” (Never retreat).