Tuesday, August 6, 2019

National Day Parade NDP 2019 10th anniversary of waterborne Presidential Gun Salute

One round away: Gun detachment 3, made up of gunners from the 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery, fires a blank round during the noon dry run at Marina Bay on 3 Aug 2019. The guns will fire towards Marina Bay Sands (MBS). A good spot to see the guns in action is Merlion Park as you can see the loading of the rounds and the gun flash will be framed by the iconic MBS towers.

This year's National Day Parade (NDP) will mark 10 years since the traditional 21-gun salute to the President was first fired from water. We joined men and women from the 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery (24 SA) and 35th Battalion Singapore Combat Engineers (35 SCE) at last Saturday's NDP Preview 2 to see what goes on behind-the-scenes as they practised the Presidential Gun Salute.

It was a special moment at NDP 2009 when Singapore army self-propelled M3G rafts sailed into Marina Bay with 25-pounder guns aboard. NDP spectators had never seen anything like it.

At the time, Marina Bay Sands was a big construction site filled with cranes, scaffolding and building equipment. There was no Gardens by the Bay. The Marina Bay Financial Centre (see below) was still being built. Looking at the bare and incomplete work sites at a time when Singapore was just recovering from its worst recession in 2008, it took a leap of faith to imagine what the future would look like when the work was finally done.

Sea view: The 21-gun salute was fired from the water for the first time at NDP 2009 by gunners from the 21st Battalion Singapore Artillery. The 78-metre long PGS raft was then made up of six MG3 rigs with five 25-pounder guns. See how the skyline has changed in 10 years! 

The waterborne gun detachments created some NDP magic for Singaporeans in a tough year. With its new approach for executing the gun salute, the Singapore army showed that it was not afraid to break away from the tried-and-tested template to try something that was bold, novel and exciting to watch.

It would have been so easy to fire the 21-gun salute the way it had always been done. It was much simpler to deploy a battery of six 25-pounders on land with the British-made guns lined up neatly in a row to fire in sequence at the battery commander's order.

What started as an innovative idea for using German-made M3G amphibious bridging vehicles to carry the guns that fire the 21-gun salute has turned into a hit with NDP spectators.

With many spectators literally counting off every round that is discharged, the gunners tasked to fire the 21-gun salute at NDP 2019 know their fire has to be swift and precise. And while the show looks pretty much the same as the one 10 years ago, many ideas have improved the way the gun salute is carried out, enhanced system redundancy and safety. The time spent launching the rigs is also treated as an informal exercise to refresh raft building skills.

The National Day experience for the Presidential Gun Salute (PGS) team starts and ends in darkness. More than 60 artillery personnel and combat engineers are involved in this segment. Aside from the gun and raft crew, the vocations of the men and women range from drivers to signalers to armament technicians who work on guns much older than themselves. 

The 25-pounder guns will take about three minutes to fire 21 blank rounds. Load. Fire. Unload. Reload until the 21st round. It sounds simple. But the time taken to prepare for the gun salute makes the PGS one of the longest from start to finish among all the NDP show segments.

The M3Gs deploy hours before showtime because the combat engineers need time to join individual vehicles (which are called rigs) into rafts by coupling the rigs side by side. Time is also needed for a practice run to rehearse the close coordination that is needed between M3G crew, the gun detachments and the cue master at the parade venue (which the M3G raft cannot see). Once assembled, the M3Gs wait for the signal to swing into action and appear where they are needed at precisely the right time.

The PGS team leaves camp before dawn and will not return till early the next morning. Once out of the gate, the team will spend more than 20 hours outfield.

For combat engineers from 35 SCE, their day begins at 4am when M3Gs leave camp for the Kallang River. Now a predawn departure at that unearthly hour means the crew have to wake up hours before to complete first parade tasks on their M3Gs to check their road and mission readiness. So they book in on Friday evening. This means many of them have not had a full weekend with their families since Combined Rehearsal 1 began in mid-June. On top of the NDP rehearsals, the PGS team have their usual training and operational commitments to meet. But that's army life.

The 13.4m long four-wheeled Mobility 3rd Generation rig (M3G) is considered an outsized vehicle. In peacetime, they observe Dracula timing on public roads. Six M3Gs (five to form the floating bridge plus one spare) travel in a convoy with yellow safety lights pulsing steadily after midnight and before sunrise when traffic is light. Army Ford Everest SUVs act as front and rear scouts as the convoy moves across Singapore literally from the northern shore to the southern coast. It's a night drive of about 20km and the clock is ticking as the M3Gs have to be in the water by a certain time.

In a separate convoy movement, Land Rovers tow 25-pounders (four to be deployed on the M3Gs plus one spare) from camp for a date with the M3Gs at Kallang. So while the NDP 2019 Mobile Column saves time by storing most of its vehicles in a car park near the F1 Pit Building, the 25-pounders must be moved for every rehearsal as these guns need to be serviced by armament technicians during the week to keep their firing mechanism, breech block and barrel in top form.

Power Projection: An M3G from the 35th Battalion Singapore Combat Engineers moves carefully towards the Kallang River launch site, guided at all times by ground marshals who watch out for pedestrians on the public footpath. Once in the water, the combat engineers transform the 27-tonne wheeled vehicle into a self-propelled raft (below) by coupling it with another rig.

Combat engineers from 35 SCE used last Saturday's launch to practice for their upcoming ATEC evaluation. Note that the crew are in helmet and load bearing vest.

Every transition from land to water by the amphibious rigs is an opportunity for the crews to hone their rafting building skills. Last Saturday, each M3G crew member wore a load bearing vest and helmet along with a life jacket to launch and couple the rigs as they would during a river crossing exercise. With ATEC on the horizon, the M3G crews take every opportunity to practice and fine tune their raft building skills as the unit wants to score well in the evaluation.

Captain Chew Hong Rui, a company commander with 35 SCE, said the process of launching and coupling the rigs during the NDP rehearsals demands the same skills and attention to safety as during an army exercise. The M3G crew members comprise the rig commander, a pilot (who steers the raft on water), one deckhand (who assists with the stowage of deck cargo) and a bridging operator (who drives the M3G). The crew look out for one another's safety and that of their passengers/cargo.

Out on the water, the M3G crew watch out for navigation hazards like narrow lanes under the bridges and shallow water, remain vigilant for fire risks from the blanks and the diesel generator that powers the lights, ensure that the guns are strapped down tightly, stay alert for river craft especially tour boats that tend to stray close to the rafts for tourists to take pictures, watch out for lightning risks, man overboard risks, heat stroke hazards, the effects of river current and wind on the M3G... in other words the combat engineers are kept very busy.

Schottel pump jets roar into action as the completed five-bay raft does a pivot turn.

Powerful waterjets churn the water as the M3G raft squeezes between narrow spans under the Benjamin Sheares Bridge.

As for the 24 SA gunners, one challenge is getting to know how to use the 25-pounder guns. The guns have an 88mm wide barrel that fires a 25-pound shot (hence its name) and date back to British colonial times. Captain Willie Lim, a 24 SA battery commander, said the full-time national servicemen found the guns easy to use. "These guns are very mechanical and very basic and are not as complex as the artillery guns that are in service," he said.

Gunners from the battalion, which operates Safari and Arthur battlefield radars used to direct artillery fire and hunt for enemy guns, go through intensive training from a core of Singapore Artillery gunners who are the subject matter experts on these old guns. Among the 24 SA gunners involved with this year's PGS are signallers and radar operators. Despite the long hours of training and burnt weekends, a number of these gunners volunteered to extend their full-time national service to be with the PGS team on National Day.

The Singapore Flyer ferris wheel frames Gun 1 (far right) and Gun 2 as the raft heads towards Marina Bay.

The 25-pdr gun detachments man the guns the moment the raft leaves the Benjamin Sheares Bridge and have no time to admire the Marina Bay skyline. This is the Gun 2 crew from 24 SA.

A 25-pounder gun detachment is made up of a crew of six: a gun commander, a gun layer who sits to the left of the barrel, a loader to the left of the breech, two ammo handlers and a detachment second in-charge (2IC) who operates the breech. The blanks are brass shell casings with powder bags inside. To avoid misfire, each shell must be placed carefully into the breech before the breech block is closed using a lever. Even with careful loading, blanks sometimes fail to fire and the PGS battery must be ready to keep up the rate of fire. If a gun has an IA during the 21-gun salute, the next gun will be ordered to fire immediately so that the 21-gun salute tempo sticks to the timetable.

Apart from the gun layer who is seated, all gun crew members maintain a high kneeling stance with their right knee (left knee for 2ICs) on the deck. The gunners have to remain motionless for several minutes in this position as they await the gun firing commands - not easy with their body weight placed on one knee on a hot and vibrating steel deck with the M3G engine purring beneath it.

Command group: A moment of intense concentration as the 21-gun salute is executed. CPT Willie Lim (second from left, holding handset and walkie talkie) is in touch with the 21-gun salute cue master while CPT Chew Hong Rui (far right) keeps the raft 50m away from the Merlion. To guard against comms failure, CPT Willie has three separate ways to talk to the cue master at all times. He also carries three power banks just to be safe.

CPT Perly Kweh (reserve gun position officer) and Master Sergeant Melvin Ling (battery sergeant) seen on the centre rig. The practice run has been completed but the gun crews will remain in this position until they cross the Benjamin Sheares Bridge, where they will stand down. 

The raft moves off from Kallang riverside at 12 noon sharp. Having sailed with big ships like aircraft carriers and small craft from missile gun boats down to FCEPs, I can say that the M3G is by far the strangest watercraft I have been on. Imagine standing on a floating platform that is so close to the water the waves wash up against the deck. Many parts of the deck have no railings so you keep some distance from the side of the moving craft and stay away from the foaming wake churned up by the Schottel Pump Jets (i.e. waterjets). Thanks to waterjets that swivel beneath each end of the M3G's boat-like hull, each craft can pivot on the spot. Even when five M3Gs are coupled to one another, the entire floating structure can move at a respectable speed of 2.5m/s.

The raft you will see at NDP 2019 is one rig shorter and has one gun less than the one seen in NDP 2009. That's because the army shortened the waterborne PGS configuration from NDP 2014 to give the craft better manoeuvrability. Before recommending the shorter PGS raft configuration, staff officers considered the increased boat traffic on Marina Bay reservoir and the bigger footprint for the floating fireworks battery. Artillery staff officers calculated that four guns gave more than enough buffer to sustain the rate of fire even if a fault occurred and showed that a four gun detachment still projected the right presence to spectators. It's moments like this that show the army's desire for continuous improvements, with its people constantly looking for ways to do things better.

We follow the same route as the Duck Tours boats. It's standing room only on the M3G raft and with nothing above our heads, we have a splendid view of the city skyline as the raft cruises into the bay. Unlike a proper boat, the raft has no bridge. There's no nav radar, just the Mark 1 eyeball on a watercraft that can hit nearly 5 knots. Since the raft moves on its long axis, one isn't sure if the long side of the raft is the "bow" or should it be the narrow end like a normal boat? Two combat engineers standing on the extended ramps guide the pilots by radio and hand signals. Measuring 65m from end to end and 13m in width, the pilots must swing the raft to pass between the narrow bridge spans. The pilots observe the hand signals, glance around to clear the blind spot and ease off or advance the throttle accordingly to turn the raft so that its narrow end enters the bridge span first. The M3G is amazingly agile and can move on its long axis or on its narrow end with no loss of speed.

The western end of the Benjamin Sheares Bridge near MBS is the form-up point for the gun detachments and the pilots are ordered to hold the raft in position. The 24 SA gunners take up position around their guns and stand at ease from this point till until the return journey. Everyone in position and all set? The voyage resumes. Diesel engines rumble, decks vibrate in response as exhaust from air vents hiss furiously. Waterjets whip the water into a mass of foam and the raft enters the bay majestically with gunners standing by their gleaming 25-pounders.

It takes 18 minutes from the time we cast off till we reach the firing point 50m off the Merlion. Upon reaching the Merlion, the raft throws up rooster tail wakes on either side to turn a full 180 degrees. This manoeuvre points the gun barrels away from the crowd. The next move comes from the Padang, which no one on the raft can see. It is up to the command group to coordinate the firing precisely.

The command group with CPT Willie (arty), 30, and CPT Chew (combat engineers), 27, stand next to the pilot on the centre rig. A 24 SA gunner with a handheld laser range finder takes periodic measurements so that the 50m safety buffer is maintained.

Depending on how you see it, CPT Willie looks like he's running an active stock market or a bookie in a betting ring. He's got a signal handset in one hand, a walkie talkie in the other and has a mobile device placed on a special mount on the pilot's console. It's part of the fail safes that will keep the PGS battery in touch with the unseen cue master at the Padang at all times.

As an artillery officer in charge of a STrike ObserveRs Mission or STORM battery, CPT Willie knows full well the value of precision fires. With the PGS timed to the second, it's up to the STORM battery commander to issue orders so that the guns speak at the precise moment. Nothing shoots unless he issues the order and thousands of spectators around the bay and the whole of Singapore will be watching. No pressure.

Teamwork between the gunners and combat engineers is crucial for a successful shoot and the officers carry out their tasks wordlessly, almost by telepathy and an innate ability to sense what is required.

It is only a practice shoot but you can sense the tension onboard. No one speaks unnecessarily. There's no idle chatter except for precise updates that are required for safe navigation or fire control orders. The Schottel Pump Jets no longer thrash the water into hissing foam and the raft is kept in position by gentle spurts that ruffle the water's surface. If you listen hard enough, you might even hear excited chatter from the onlookers that crowd the Merlion - at which point you adjust the foam ear plugs again to save you eardrums. Firing is about to commence!

In front of us, the four gun detachments continue baking under the sunshine. Now come the firing orders that CPT Willie shouts into the handset.
Battery Sedia!
Battery Take Post!
The 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery will fire a 21-gun salute.
The ammo handlers gently pass a single blank round from the rear to the loader while in high kneeling position.
The round is inserted into the polished breech and the detachment 2IC snaps it shut.
At my command!
Battery Stand By... Down 1, Down 2, Down 3, Down 4.
Gun 1 Standby. Gun 2 Standby. Gun 3 Standby. Gun 4 Standby. 
Gun 1.... Fire!

The gloved hand of the gun layer depresses the firing lever and the first round is discharged successfully with a thunderous roar that echoes around the bay. At the command group, a gunner presses a clicker to count off the rounds fired. Their job isn't done till the final round is fired.

Though these are just blanks, the combat engineers stay alert as the repeated blast from the muzzles has been known to cause the raft to drift out of position. Swirling eddies in the water show that the Schottels have been at work.

Last shot out, the PGS battery prepares to stand down.

Battery make safe!
Battery cartridge only, unload!
Battery Sedia!
Battery Senang Diri!

The deck rumbles again as diesels roar to life. The raft cruises steadily towards the Benjamin Sheares Bridge again where the gunners stand down. Freed of her ceremonial duties, the raft merrily picks up speed and heads for the home bank trailing five white wakes.

On National Day itself, the combat engineers will embark the Land Rovers to tow the guns off, then decouple the rigs. All this will take place in the dark, out of sight from the public and the cheering NDP spectators.

Grateful for the time and hospitality from the NDP 2019 Presidential Gun Salute team and MINDEF MCO for making the embed happen. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Singapore unveils unmanned Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle AFV

Light of day: Infographic that explains some of the additional sensors fitted to the unmanned Hunter AFV overlaid on a screenshot of a MINDEF Singapore video. This is a pre-production prototype Hunter that has some design differences compared to the 88000 MID series Hunters.  

I am your father: Meet Project Ulysses. This unmanned M-113 served as the testbed for technology and concepts that led to Singapore's unmanned Hunter. Project Ulysses was led by DSTA Land Systems and done in partnership with the GINTIC Institute of Manufacturing Technology. Note how the LIDAR sensor has been considerably miniaturised, thanks to 20 years of tech development.

Twenty years ago, Singapore's Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) Land Systems department led a project, codenamed Ulysses, to develop an unmanned armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) testbed. A highly modified M-113 armoured personnel carrier was used for the 1999-2004 field trials.

Named after the legendary traveler from Greek mythology, Project Ulysses lived up to is name and brought Singapore's defence science community into the new and uncharted area of unmanned ground vehicle technology. Apart from cameras and external sensors that festooned its hull, the M-113 was fitted with a drive-by-wire kit, an e-stop and a position/orientation sensor. If these features sound familiar, take a look at the Hunter AFV specifications released last month.

The robo M-113 was declassified in late 2016 for an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of Singapore's Defence Technology Community (DTC). This was the SGDefence Exhibition and it was held from 4 to 8 November 2016 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

As the M-113 carried technology that dated from the turn of the century, the state-of-the-art looked admittedly dated and bulky in an era where most visitors carried smart phones. Those not in the know made comments about how antiquated it looked, how sensors would not stand up to the rigors of combat and so on without fully understanding that the testbed had been in cold storage for some 15 years. Moreover, the M-113 served as a concept demonstrator that allowed DSTA and GINTIC engineers to test and validate their ideas. It was akin to showing your handphone or desktop computer from 2004 at a 2016 exhibition.

The practice of showcasing old stuff to hint, signal or suggest extant capabilities is not new. Singapore did the same with a TV-guided glide bomb in 2004, with the testbed munition unveiled decades after it was tested in the 1980s from an A-4 Skyhawk. Defence cognoscenti should be able to join the dots and figure things out for themselves. The general public and skeptics will learn when the time is right.

For Singapore's unmanned AFV, the curtain was lifted yesterday.

Weeks after Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen commissioned the Hunter AFV, the minister released a new easter egg. It appears in the video of his visit to ST Engineering yesterday as an innocuous text overlay which video editors call a super.

I read the super a few times - slowly and carefully - to see that it was not taken out of context before tweeting about it last night. Am happy to see that the unmanned Hunter AFV has been finally declassified.

Armour fans may recognise that this development opens up a whole new ball game in terms of tactics, techniques and procedures for armoured vehicle operations. It's quite exciting to read about, don't you think?  ;-)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Hunter infographic from ST Engineering

If you know nothing about the Singapore Army's Hunter AFV, this infographic from ST Engineering will will quickly bring you up to speed.

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).