Monday, January 27, 2020

Eight SARS measures that you may soon see in Singapore to fight novel coronavirus

Chances are you've already seen people on the streets of Singapore wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from airborne germs. Fears that the novel coronavirus would lead to a SARS-like pandemic has changed our way of life virtually overnight and overshadowed the Lunar New Year long weekend. 

Here are eight measures last seen during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that are likely to make a comeback (some already have).

1. Contactless greetings
The 2003 fight against SARS popularised contactless greetings where people acknowledged one another without shaking hands. A nod and a smile, palms pressed together were all widely-accepted substitutes that prevented inadvertent cross contamination. We didn't have wide screen smart phones and clever memes back in 2003. Probably won't take long for some creative minds to think of something people could flash digitally to say Hi or Bye.

2. Threat velocity
SARS struck suddenly and caught many Singaporeans unprepared. I covered my first SARS story one quiet weekend when I was asked to interview passengers from a Singapore Airlines flight that was quarantined in Frankfurt, Germany, after reports that some passengers were stricken by a mysterious illness. I remember the gaggle of Singaporean reporters at Changi Airport Terminal 2 joking that we should interview the passengers from behind the arrival terminal glass panels by writing questions on pieces of paper or using an extra long boom mike (the kind used by TV studios that hang a microphone on a long pole). Seventeen years on, I don't recall ever having met those passengers as they were taken for checks by health authorities. From a slow start, SARS soon turned deadly in Singapore. Looking at the novel coronavirus, we must be prepared for a steep escalation in threat velocity.

3. SARS deaths
The first SARS patient was hospitalised on 1 March 2003. On 25 March, Singapore had its first SARS death - Patient Number 1's father. Singapore reported its first Wuhan novel coronavirus case on Thursday 23 Jan 2020. We pray for a good outcome (25 days from 23 Jan is 17 Feb 2020). 

4. Split office
Business continuity was the buzzword during SARS. Companies did so by splitting the workforce and having staff work from separate locations. I was one of the journalists who covered the SARS crisis in 2003. Our newsroom was separated into three teams: work from News Centre in Toa Payoh North, work from the SPH office in Genting Lane and work from home. You can imagine the news editor's utter dismay when she learned that journalists from different papers who worked from Toa Payoh North and Genting Lane inevitably met one another at press conferences. Worst, some continued to meet after work - which defeated the whole idea of preventing the spread of the SARS virus by isolating the work force.

5. Travelling with windows down
During SARS, some commuters who travelled in taxis did so with windows wound down for better ventilation. When I saw a taxi on the way to Changi Airport last Saturday with a window half down, it brought back memories of SARS 2003 when people wound down taxi windows to avoid breathing in recycled air-conditioned air inside enclosed car cabins. In today's context, you might see private hire vehicles moving around with windows slightly down too.

6. Dialects made a comeback
Ever since the Speak Mandarin Campaign took root, one hardly heard local dialects on national television in Singapore. SARS changed this. I recall local celebrities on TV translating health advice to dialects like Hainanese, Teochew and Hokkien to maximise the effectiveness of public health messages. We may soon need to do the same again. Oh, and we had a SARS Hotline too. 

7. Sticky problem
Some places like  hospitals and government buildings gave coloured stickers to visitors to indicate that the walk-ins had been checked for signs of fever (which could indicate SARS). Pedestrains could tell they were near a place with SARS checks as traffic lights and lamp posts were plastered with dozens of discarded stickers, making them look measle-like especially when round red stickers were used. Some of the stickers that indicated the wearer was OK were nicely done. I might have kept a sheet or two of these SARS stickers. I hope my collection will not expand in 2020.

8. South Korea and Japan
Proving that SARS wasn't an Asian disease, South Korea and Japan were relatively untouched by SARS. My colleagues and I wondered why. Kimchi? Wasabi? Genetics? Who knows? Those who had been to these countries believed that good hygiene may be a reason why they beat SARS. [I had yet to visit S Korea and Japan in 2003. Only did so in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Yes, the Koreans and Japanese generally practice very good hygiene.]  


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Confirmed imported case of Novel Coronavirus in Singapore

Same but different: SARS 2003 versus Singapore's preparations against coronavirus 2020

This week's news of the flu-like illness caused by the coronavirus has rekindled memories of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which was also caused by a pathogen from the coronavirus family.

Many things have changed in Singapore since 2003 that make this island better prepared if we have to endure another SARS-like fight. Here are five key changes:

1. Social media
Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and more. These social media platforms didn't exist in March 2003 when Singapore reported its first SARS case. In an emergency, such platforms can be used to spread information in an instant across the community in near realtime. Remember how call tree reporting was done in 2003 and how you would do it today? An app like WhatsApp can hook up an entire office or school or community, allowing people to stay in touch in ways never imagined during our first fight against SARS.

2. Information access
We had handphones in 2003. But back in the day, state-of-the-art meant being able to SMS on your Nokia without looking at the key pad. Today's touch screen mobile devices are not only smarter and more capable. Hooked to the internet, your smart phone gives you access to a lot of information should you need it.

Knowing what we're up against is an important first step in conquering one's fear of the unknown. But social media plus smart devices is a double-edged sword. One should expect false alarms with fake news spread either unwittingly or maliciously, which brings to mind why Digital Defence was added as the sixth pillar of Total Defence.

3. Seasoned population
People over the age of 20 are likely to remember their personal experience during the SARS crisis 17 years ago. Whether it is something simple like temperature checks in primary school, it doesn't matter. What is valuable is Singapore's collective experience having been through a pandemic and learning hard lessons from the episode, which killed 33 people in 2003. While it was hard to Keep Calm and Carry On when we first met SARS, Singaporeans should be more assured now that we have had the collective experience and SOPs for dealing with epidemics.

4. Tested SOPs
The SARS-like scenarios tested during business continuity exercises may sound like preparations to fight the last war. They are indeed scripted for the possible re-emergence of SARS-like situations. Precisely such a scenario looms near. Compared to 2003 when we were caught off guard, Singapore is better prepared thanks to years spent testing, refining and investing in drawer plans for nation-wide medical emergencies.

5. WOG
As a system, the whole of government resources (WOG) are more tightly integrated and well-oiled compared to 2003. Remember that we didn't even have the Cabinet post of Coordinating Minister, which was relatively new in 2003. It started (after the SARS crisis) with the Coordinating Minister for National Security post in August 2003 to spearhead counter terrorism efforts and has since matured and evolved.

Singapore now has three Coordinating Minister posts to improve the way civil service and national resources are harnessed - for National Security, for Infrastructure, and for Economic and Social Policies. Incidentally, the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, played a key role in the SARS fight as Health Minister in 2003.

The WOG machinery has been set in motion, so let's see how this coronavirus episode plays out.

You  may also like:
Singapore's defence innovations during the 2003 SARS crisis. Click here

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and DSTA defence innovations during the 2003 SARS crisis

4 December 2022 update: 

Pukul Habis: Available from Amazon sites that serve your location. "Look Inside" function on some sites shows sample pages.



Canada: Look Inside

France: Look Inside

Germany: Look Inside

Japan: Look Inside



United Kingdom: Look Inside

USA: Look Inside

A respiratory illness in Wuhan, China, has raised concerns that it might spark another worldwide pandemic like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2003.

SARS killed 33 people in Singapore in 2003. The crisis, which lasted from March to July 2003, forced upon Singaporeans behavioral changes like temperature taking in schools and work places, decentralised work arrangements and saw shopping centres emptied out as people stayed home and tourists stayed away.

Senang Diri recalls three homegrown defence innovations that made an impact in Singapore during the SARS crisis.

Innovation 1: Infrared Fever Scanning System (IFss)
Asked for a sensor that money couldn't buy, defence engineers from the Sensor Systems Division, Defence Science  & Technology Agency (DSTA) and Singapore Technologies Electronics (ST Elec) created a fever scanner from scratch. One week after the request by Singapore's Ministry of Health, the DSTA and ST Elec team had their prototype fever scanner ready. It was the world's first infrared-based system for screening large groups of people.

DSTA engineers designed this unique sensor, which was developed and made in Singapore, using radar principles.

A DSTA paper on the IFss said: "Screening a large group of people for fever is similar to the radar detection problem. In the case of the radar, it has to scan a large surveillance space for very few targets. The radar must be able to distinguish RF echoes of real targets from clutter noise. One way is to narrow down probable targets in two steps. Like the Radar Double Threshold Detection Scheme, the IFss uses a two-tier detection concept to screen a large group of people for fever. The first decision point is the detection of individuals with high skin temperatures and the second decision point is the confirmation that the subject has an elevated body temperature using conventional clinical thermometers."

Pressed for time as the SARS crisis was a national emergency, the sensor lacked a sexy name and was simply called the Infrared Fever Scanning System (IFss).

Innovation 2: Unique test material

Speaking of sex... when I received a tipoff about a feel good story for National Day 2003, I thought it was a hoax. A normally reliable source who telephoned yours truly claimed that defence engineers at Singapore Technologies Electronics were using condoms to test and calibrate microchips for use in temperature sensors. Apparently, plastic coverings were not as effective as thin, skin-like latex condoms that were better at allowing heat transfer to fever monitoring microchips during the testing process.

After extensive lab trials, ST Elec engineers chose a particular brand of condom from among dozens for their thermal and tactile properties. The sheaths also had to be non-lubricated. This was all true (see story above) and the defence engineers reduced testing time of the fever monitoring "Glowcard" chips by months. I hope they earned official recognition from MINDEF/SAF for all that hard work testing condom after condom in the name of national defence. Any volunteers for intensive condom testing in 2020 if needed?

Innovation 3: Contact tracing centre
The Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH), Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and DSTA worked jointly to set up and run a contact tracing centre from scratch with no mission rehearsal. MOH could handle the task of tracking down people who might have been in close contact with suspected SARS cases when the numbers involved were in the hundreds. This process is called contact tracing. But when the problem involved more than 2,000 people who were at a SARS hot spot, the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market, the ministry needed more firepower.

Former Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General (NS) Neo Kian Hong, who was then a colonel who was Commander 9 Singapore Division, helped set up the contact tracing centre using division scouts. DSTA built the computer systems and rapidly set up process for what evolved into the National Contact Tracing Centre.

Writing in an MOH journal on SARs, Professor Chee Yam Cheng, recalled the Singapore Army's contributions: "They worked in shifts from 7 am to 11 pm, and their sole objective was to trace within 24 hours (and this is vitally important) of receiving the name of a SARS patient, everyone who had been in close contact with him. This meant every name (and address – in order to serve the Home Quarantine Order) of every person that the SARS patient (be he highly suspect or probable) could remember having met from the time he took ill (and maybe even while he was incubating the illness the previous 10 days, unless we can be very sure when the infectious period started in each case).

"The army came to the rescue when MOH realised its battle against time to trace the 2,000 people affected by the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre closure could not be won without reinforcements. For once SARS spreads through the community, we risk losing control of it, and will not be able to isolate and contain it."

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Probing the David Boey enigma: Love-hate relationship with the defence ecosystem

Many men and women in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and NSmen have heard of me but have never met me in person. You may be one of them.

Over in Malaysia, many warga Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) do not know my name or face as I'm no celebrity. But curiously enough, my blog seems to be a useful calling card as many ATM officers have read it. On more than a few occasions up north, I'd mention Senang Diri to an ATM officer and see the Malaysian's face light up with recognition, glad to match a face to a name. Interestingly enough, some ATM officers continue calling me Senang Diri even after being properly introduced, which I find quite charming but in a good way.

My wife told me recently that a former BG finds me "okay" and that his personal impressions of my recent newspaper op-eds do not match the Gombak canteen gossip. Am unsure if I should feel flattered or concerned.

Truth be told, in situations where there is no right of reply or chance to clarify or provide context, the enigma that is me can take many forms. Sentiments run the full spectrum of human emotions. Over the years, yours truly has been shouted at, admonished, obstructed, tailed (as in followed) and investigated while at the same time praised, treated, congratulated, befriended and engaged (in a positive way). It is indeed an enigmatic love-hate relationship.

Admittedly, many negative episodes took place during my younger, gung-ho days. But impressions linger in the ever thickening P-file and gossip circuit. It does not help that security awareness talks in years long past mentioned yours truly's notorious exploits (if staking out air base flight paths counts as notorious. But plane spotters were rare in the early 1990s) and the junior officers who attended those talks have risen up the chain of command.

Over decades, one learns to live with it because people who genuinely want to know you better for a balanced world view will make that effort.

On several occasions at business meetings that have nothing to do with defence, small talk with complete strangers has led to surprising outcomes. They start with the usual Singaporean business protocol. Hand shake, exchange of name cards then light conversation on safe topics.

A number of you caught me by surprise when midway in the conversation, with completely no relevance to whatever was being discussed, you'd bring up the blog.

This has happened at a number of Singapore Armed Forces events too. The host of whatever weapon platform or exhibit would deliver his/her briefing completely poker faced. Then when nobody is looking, the officer would come over and whisper almost conspiratorially, "I read your blog", which is always sweet to hear because the effort writing stuff meant something to somebody.

A number of ministers and MPs drop by occasionally too.

It's always nice to meet readers firsthand. It's great to hear your feedback and listen to your opinions. It beats staring at dashboard analytics wondering who is behind all the numbers. So thank you all.

This blog, now past its tenth year, also serves as a platform for me to engage you directly, typing my thoughts on my side of the screen and having you read and scroll on your side.

And I guess the engagements with curious SAF and ATM personnel who make the effort to unveil the enigma have worked well, despite occasional atmospherics.

Among the successful engagements is my wife. Like some of you, she heard of me before she met me. Not all the stuff was flattering though I must say it speeded up the get-to-know-you process when we dated and both had our IFF interrogators on and ESM antennae finely tuned.

Am happy that despite the 15-year age gap, it has worked out. So as much as I have an aversion to military security minders, I have them to thank for life's surprising turn. [Confession: A small, teeny weeny paranoid part of my brain did ask if she was a MINDEF/SAF plant as it was too good to be true. Anyway she now has the free run of my library, files etc.]

The Wife says I never write about her, which should be the case because I firewall family privacy closely. But am making an exception today because today marks our fifth wedding anniversary.

So happy anniversary sweety if you're reading this  =)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Some defence & security highlights in Singapore 2020

The year 2020 will be a banner year in Singapore for several defence and security-related fields. Here's Senang Diri's list of highlights for the year.

30th year of People's Republic of China and Singapore diplomatic ties 
Last October, China and Singapore signed the Agreement on Defence Cooperation and Security Exchanges. As both countries mark three decades of diplomatic ties, it is likely that defence cooperation will feature in activities to toast this important anniversary year. Port calls by PLAN warships to Singapore this year will obviously take on added significance. Stay tuned for more from Senang Diri (

55th year of Singapore's independence
Singapore will celebrate its 55th birthday on 9 August 2020. The National Day Parade returns to the Float@Marina Bay, with men and women from the 3rd Singapore Division leading the planning and execution of the event. We wish 3 Div a safe, successful and joyous journey as NDP EXCO.

55th anniversary of the People's Defence Force (PDF)
Formed in 1965, the People's Defence Force turns 55 in 2020. The formation commands  2 PDF/Island Defence Task Force, which is the domain expert for island-wide military security operations.

Fighter 50
This year is the Golden Jubilee for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) fighter community. In 1970, Singapore received her first Hawker Hunter fighter/ground attack planes from the United Kingdom. The Hunters served with 140 Squadron. The Hunterians set the groundwork for the expansion of, and enhancements to, the Republic's fighter community.

Hunters flew for more than three decades, eventually standing down in the early 1990s. This this day, the Hunter holds the RSAF record for the heaviest gun armament among RSAF fast jets - four 30mm ADEN cannon. 

30th year of F-16 operations
The Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16 community will mark 30 years of F-16 operations. The F-16A/Bs acquired under Peace Carvin I are long gone but their legacy lives on with RSAF F-16C/D/D+s forming the backbone of Singapore's fighter force as the most numerous fighter type.

10th year of  S-70B Seahawk operations
Introduced in 2010 under the Peace Triton programme, our Seahawk community commemorates 10 years of Seahawk operations. Time flies doesn't it?

Singapore Airshow 2020
The Asia-Pacific's largest aviation and defence event will take place from 11 to 16 February 2020. The flying display by the United States Air Force F-22  Raptor demonstration team, which is due to fly at the airshow for the first time, will be one of the highlights.

18th Feb 2020
On 18 Feb 2020, Singapore will unveil its Budget Statement for Financial Year 2020/21, which begins on 1 April 2020. Last year, Singapore's Ministry of Defence was allocated a S$15.47 billion budget, a 4.8% increase. It will probably top S$16 billion this year.

Pukul Habis - Total Wipeout
And finally, we'll release this book this year by 16 September. Stay tuned for more. I enjoyed this project and walk away with a healthy respect for the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia and am grateful for the friendships forged. Please visit my Twitter account @SenangDiri to up vote the video pinned to the Profile if you'd like to see the Prologue in full. Thank you.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Six Singapore Armed Forces and ST Engineeringg project to ponder at the Singapore Airshow 2020

The biennial Singapore Airshow, held every even-numbered year, offers a fascinating shop window for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) watchers keen to know what platforms the SAF might acquire. Exhibits at the pavilion for homegrown defence company, Singapore Technologies Engineering, have traditionally proven a crowd magnet for military nuts.

With the Singapore Airshow 2020 a month away (11 to 16  Feb 2020), here's a list of projects (not in order of importance) you might want to have in mind as you walk through ST Engg's exhibits. Happy crystal ball gazing.

1. Endurance 160
ST Engg's LHD proposal, the Endurance 160, was unveiled 10 years ago at the Sing Airshow 2010. Yes, it's been in the works for more than a decade! The 14,500 tonne warship is the first one designed by ST Engineering Marine with a full length flight deck. Specifications for the 2010 version gave the ship an overall length of 163.7m, with the flight deck estimated at around 146m long by 25.6m wide with five helicopter deck landing spots. 

Following the US announcement this week that Singapore wants to buy four F-35B STOVL fighters with another eight options, people naturally want to know what's going on with the Joint Multi-Mission Ship (see image below, SEA assets, top row right). We look forward to seeing if the Endurance 160 design will be updated or will ST Engineering simply blow the dust off the decade-old Endurance 160 model for public display yet again? 

2. Multi-Role Combat Vessel (MRCV)
A new class of Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) warship called the Multi-Role Combat Vessel (MRCV, see top image, SEA assets, bottom row right ) is due to be delivered by ST Engg Marine from 2025 with full delivery around 2030. The MRCVs are due to replace sixVictory-class Missile Corvettes (MCVs), which entered service in 1989 and are the oldest RSN surface combatants (the oldest RSN boats are the former Royal Swedish Navy Sjöormen-class SSKs). We've yet to see definitive specifications on the MRCV and eagerly await her vital statistics. Ship models on display may provide telling signs of the MRCV's design evolution.

3. MBT-capable landing craft
To many people, landing craft aren't sexy. But a naval asset that doesn't grab people's attention is still worth tracking. There's been a requirement for a fast landing craft that can ferry MBT-type assets for some time. A water-jet propelled, enlarged Fast Craft Utility with a drive-thru design and offset wheelhouse said to be based on ST Engg Marine's Brave series, could fit this requirement. Scale models on display are worth checking out.

4. Self-propelled 155mm gun
The Singapore Artillery is due to unveil a replacement for its FH-2000 52-cal 155mm howitzers this year. Dubbed the Next Generation Howtizer (please see SAF 2030 graphic, LAND assets, second row second from left), this mobile gun is said to consist of a fully automated, unmanned 155mm turret mated with a self-propelled chassis, quite possibly from the German-made MAN 8x8 High Mobility Truck System family.

5. Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV)
This edition of the Singapore Airshow will be the first since the Hunter AFV was officially named and commissioned by Singapore's Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, last June. At previous air shows, the AFV was simply called the Next Generation AFV. It will be nice to see if the Hunter will be shown with all the bells and whistles, or will it remain in the "fitted for but not with" configuration?  Hrmmm....

6. Singapore-made 5.56mm assault rifle
Every edition of the Singapore Airshow has seen ST Engineering Land Systems (previously ST Kinetics) unveil a new 5.56mm assault rifle. In 2018, we saw the BR18 bullpup rifle - Bullpup Rifle 2018 - make its public debut. This weapon was developed from STK's Bullpup Multirole Combat Rifle (BMCR), which first appeared at the 2014 airshow. Will there be a "BR20"? Stay tuned for more.

You may also like:
Singapore's BR18 5.56mm bullpup assault rifle.[From the Sing Airshow 2018] Click here
A look at the world's shortest bullpup rifle. [From the Sing Airshow 2014] Click here

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Commentary on Singapore's F-35B deal

My commentary on the F-35B announcement, What the F-35B fighter jet deal says about Singapore's defence purchase planning, appears in The Straits Times today. Click here for the full commentary.

The extract above discusses the Joint Multi Mission Ship and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles.  

Friday, January 10, 2020

Singapore seeks up to 12 F-35Bs for US$2.750B


WASHINGTON, January 9, 2020 - The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Singapore of up to twelve (12) F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $2.750 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale today.
The Government of Singapore has requested to buy up to twelve (12) F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft (four (4) F-35B STOVL aircraft with the option to purchase an additional eight (8) F-35B STOVL aircraft); and up to thirteen (13) Pratt and Whitney F135 Engines (includes 1 initial spare). Also included are Electronic Warfare Systems; Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence/Communication, Navigation and Identification (C4I/CNI) system; Autonomic Logistics Global Support System (ALGS); Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS); F-35 Training System; Weapons Employment Capability and other Subsystems, Features and Capabilities; F-35 unique infrared flares; reprogramming center access and F-35 Performance Based Logistics; software development/integration; aircraft transport from Ft. Worth, TX to the CONUS initial training base and tanker support (if necessary); spare and repair parts; support equipment, tools and test equipment; technical data and publications; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistics support. The total estimated cost is $2.750 billion.
This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States. Singapore is a strategic friend and Major Security Cooperation Partner and an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Asia Pacific region.
This proposed sale of F-35s will augment Singapore's operational aircraft inventory and enhance its air-to-air and air-to-ground self-defense capability, adding to an effective deterrence to defend its borders and contribute to coalition operations with other allied and partner forces. Singapore will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.
The proposed sale of this aircraft and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
The prime contractors will be Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Fort Worth, Texas, and Pratt and Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Connecticut. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
Implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government or contactor representatives to Singapore.
There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.
This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Singapore Army, DSTA and ST Engineering gain valuable experience testing big & small UGVs

Trials of an armed Milrem Robotics THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) in Singapore suggest that the Singapore Army is considering a hi-low mix of big and small combat robots of various sizes and capabilities.

Testing UGVs that differ markedly in size, weight, armament options and computing power will give Singapore's land forces and its defence engineers a firsthand look at the spectrum of capabilities and limitations of big and small unmanned platforms. Such field trials and battle experiments are invaluable. The trials reward operators from the Singapore Army and engineers from the technical evaluation teams - the ops-tech interface - with experience operating UGVs in Singapore's climate and operational conditions.

With such experience, the Singapore Army can work with engineers from the Defence Science & Technology Agency and homegrown defence company, Singapore Technologies Engineering, to jointly conceptualise UGV force structures with big and small platforms, the so-called hi-low mix. The teams can also think about how combat robots can be integrated with manned units.

Hi-end: The unmanned Hunter unmanned ground vehicle is the largest and most heavily armed combat robot the Singapore Army is known to have tested.

At the high end lies the Hunter UGV (above), designed and made in Singapore. This tracked vehicle,  which is based on the Hunter armoured fighting vehicle, was developed as a private venture by ST Engg. The vehicle made its public debut in July 2019 when Singapore's Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, toured the company's Land Systems arm. At 29.5 tonnes in weight and 6.9m in length, the 3.4m tall and 3.4m wide UGV is the largest, most heavily armoured and most powerfully-armed combat robot the Singapore Army is known to have tested.

The tracked THeMIS from Estonia is at the low end of the size spectrum. Its name means Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System (maybe the "e" can mean electronically-controlled?). This fully-tracked, wirelessly controlled UGV is designed for use as a transportation system or remote weapon platform, and more. Measuring 240cm by 200cm and weighing 1.6 tonnes, THeMIS is about as small as you can make a combat robot while giving it a useful speed (25km/h) and payload (750kg).

Low-end: An Estonian-built Milrem Robotics THeMIS combat robot undergoing trials in Singapore. Note the size of the THeMIS compared to the operator and the Singapore-made 8x8 Terrex in the background. 

The remote-controlled CIS 50 12.7mm heavy machine gun seen on the THeMIS as it trundled around ST Engg's test track gives the UGV a useful capability against infantry and light vehicles. Use of 12.7mm saboted light armour penetrator (SLAP) rounds give it the ability to punch through light armoured vehicles with around 10mm armour plate. And if the remote controlled weapon station (RCWS) can accommodate a Singapore-made heavy machine gun, it is likely the same RCWS can take a belt-fed CIS 40 40mm automatic grenade launcher as alternative armament.

Despite the armament options and the ability to engage the enemy from afar remotely, individual UGVs - big and small - are not invulnerable.

Both types of UGVs can be defeated by infantry anti-tank teams with the agility and battle sense to move faster than the UGV sensors/weapons can slew.

As the field of view of UGV sensors is narrow, commanders of AT teams can exploit their knowledge of terrain to stalk UGVs to bring them within range of light anti-tank weapons. Even near misses by low velocity 40mm grenades can cause a mission kill if the 40mm projectiles succeed in disrupting, degrading or destroying the sensors and electro optics on combat robots.

Unmanned vs Autonomous 
As progress is made in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), one should expect combat robots to operate more autonomously. In time to come, UGVs would go into action programmed with AI algorithms that enable the combat robots to navigate and survive in contested environments.

We are possibly less than 10 years away from seeing a smart AI-enabled UGV that is able to conduct fully autonomous combat operations, perhaps supported by resupply robots that can rearm and recharge/refuel the UGVs to sustain the tempo of land warfare operations round-the-clock (or as long as the resupply bots do their job).

At the rate at which AI is evolving, one must recognise that the major limitation to fielding autonomous UGVs isn't technical. The go/no-go decision concerning autonomous UGVs will be a moral and philosophical conundrum. Policy makers must eventually decide how much autonomy to give swarms of armed robots programmed to hunt and kill human beings on their own.

Concept of operations
The drafting of concept of operations (CONOPS) for UGVs in combat, and the harmonisation of these new CONOPS with military ethics and the laws of armed conflict must move ahead of, or at the very least in tandem with, technological advancements in UGV test labs.

Imagine a scenario where UGVs are used en masse. A wave of smaller THeMIS-type armed UGVs employing swarm tactics form the vanguard. These scour the ground to flush out enemy positions with machine gun fire and grenades as larger Hunter-type UGVs form the main unmanned strike force, bringing 30mm cannon and wire-guided ATGMs into play.

Then comes the armoured battle group with main battle tanks and 120mm mortars in overwatch positions as the (manned) Hunters and (manned) Bionix 2 infantry fighting vehicles advance in combat order to mop up and occupy terrain.

The introduction of UGVs opens many possibilities to land forces facing a manpower crunch either from declining enlistment rates or falling recruitment numbers. Unmanned platforms, big and small, will become increasingly capable and reliable as technology matures. Better reliability, availability and maintainability will make the UGV a realistic option for making up for shortfalls in defence manpower.

While it remains to be seen if the Singapore Army will adopt the unmanned Hunter and THeMIS, the field trials are necessary for Singapore's defence eco-system to stay updated with the latest trends and potential that combat robots might one day bring to land battles.

If we don't engage in this arena, other armies will.

You may also like:
SAF's Hunter provides a glimpse into the world of unmanned tanks. Click here
Singapore unveils unmanned Hunter AFV. Click here
Upcoming book on fictional Malaysia-Singapore war scenarios. Click here

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

New home for South Vietnam Air Force C-130 that landed at Singapore's Paya Lebar Airport in 1975

You call, we haul: Never thought a C-130 could be moved by truck? Well now you know it can - with major disassembly! Former VNAF C-130A (serial HCF 460), the same Hercules that landed in Singapore in April 1975, being moved by truck in August 2019 from Dulles International Airport to its new home in New York state. 

Some happy military news for a change in this mad start to 2020.

The South Vietnam Air Force C-130A Hercules, nicknamed Saigon Lady, that landed suddenly at Paya Lebar Airport in April 1975 will receive a new lease of life at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York.

The transport aircraft is due to be unveiled in mid-2020 as a memorial to the Vietnam War. Saigon Lady is now being restored at the museum and will be repainted in her original VNAF camouflage colours.

After the C-130 landed in Singapore 45 years ago, the aircraft was handed to the United States as the Republic of South Vietnam had fallen. It eventually joined the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s collection at Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington D.C. The four-engine turborprop remained in open storage at Dulles, minus her propellors, until the Geneseo museum acquired her in 2017.

Here are some pictures of her 547 km (340 mile) road trip, courtesy of Pham Quang Khiem. He was the pilot who flew the C-130 to Paya Lebar.

Read an account of the air intrusion here: Interview with Vietnamese pilot who beat Singapore's air defences in 1975. Click here

With her tail fin removed, Saigon Lady waits at Dulles before she was disassembled for her long 547 km road trip to New York state.

Engine Number 4 is hoisted off the wing.

 Close ups (top and bottom pix) of the main under carriage wheel hubs.

The C-130A fuselage is gently loaded on a low-boy trailer.

For truck nuts, that's a Western Star low-boy tractor-trailer.

Flashback April 1985: A poignant moment for Khiem as he touches Saigon Lady for the first time in 10 years. Khiem maintains fond memories of the transport aircraft, which was one of the last planes to leave South Vietnam, as it saved his family and crew.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Pukul Habis: Upcoming fictional Malaysia-Singapore war story by David Boey

11 March 2023 update: Books Kinokuniya in Singapore has stocked Pukul Habis. Please visit its main store in Ngee Ann City or Bugis Junction, or check the Kinokuniya online store here. The title should be available via Kinokuniya Malaysia soon. Please enquire with the KL store.

1 Dec 2022 update
Pukul Habis: Available from Amazon sites serving your location. Some sites have the Look Inside function with sample pages. Enjoy!



Canada: Look Inside

France: Look Inside

Germany: Look Inside

Japan: Look Inside



United Kingdom: Look Inside

USA: Look Inside

22 Nov 2022 update: 
Pukul Habis is now available worldwide! Get a copy via the Amazon site for your country, or a site that will mail to your location. Please see trailer here. Do catch the latest blog posts for more teasers and back stories on this novel. Thank you everyone for your patience and interest in this project.

9 November 2022 update: 
Hi everyone, Please note that the cover below is not the final version. And the extracts have been edited slightly to tighten the storyline and weed out typos. Please follow the daily sneak previews and look out for the 20 Nov 22 announcement. There's NO PRESALE. It'll be basically be on Amazon and you can order from anywhere in the world and get it delivered to where you are. Thank you all for your patience and support. db

Hi, Happy New Year milnuts!

This blog has been quiet for awhile as I have been writing a fictional story based on the Mersing Line scenario. The book, which will be in English, is titled Pukul Habis - Total Wipeout. I am finalising the last chapters and aim to publish it this year. Do check in with this blog from time to time for updates or follow me on Twitter @SenangDiri.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, then I think you will like the book. The story attempts to answer a question that has fascinated me since childhood: What might happen if the unthinkable happened and Malaysia and Singapore went to war?

Nothing says fiction better than having a decommissioned Royal Malaysian Air Force (TUDM) MiG-29N Fulcrum as the centrepiece of the book cover. The MiGs may be gone but TUDM maintains CONOPS for deploying and operating its air assets from austere airstrips such as the fictional plantation crop duster airstrip used by the MiGs in the story. Writing a fictional story allows one's imagination to take flight when describing other fictional wartime scenarios.

There are no central characters in the story, no love interests, no complicated story arcs. I wrote it like a post-battle report and imagined interviewing dozens of participants to piece together an account of the war. A big thank you to the Malaysians who wrote to me after Defending the Lion City was published to voice your thoughts on the book's Mersing Line invasion scenario. Over time, I felt the story would be more compelling if it was told from the Malaysian perspective.

I have three goals for the book:
a) That it is worth your leisure time
b) You learn something from the story
c) That you find the storyline credible and is nicely written

I thank those involved for helping me understand ATM better and for the trust and friendship. Thank you Divisyen Ketiga Infantri Malaysia for the catch up and demo, and for the souvenir book.

Here are extracts from various chapters:

(From the Prologue, which describes Rejimen ke-52 Artileri Diraja (52 RAD, 52nd Royal Artillery Regiment) deploying to Johor during the Period of Tension.)

Kem Lapangan Terbang, Kedah
It was time for the King’s gunners to prove their worth.

Determined to demonstrate strength and resolve during the period of tension, Malaysian leaders ordered Markas ATM to send Regiment 52 to Johor. The 600km journey to firing sites in Johor could be easily done overnight as the regiment had practiced the trans-peninsula movement many times during Eksesais Jengking Selatan (Exercise Southern Scorpion). Confident of executing this show-of-force, the gunners were eager to get going.

In Sungai Petani, the deserted streets around the iconic four-storey tall clock tower on Jalan Ibrahim in the heart of SP showed why the place was seen as a sleepy backwater. SP’s sparse night life had gone to bed and traffic was light. As the hands on clock face of the gilt-domed tower crept towards midnight, Jengking Selatan swung into action.

At Block 16 Kem Lapangan Terbang, Koperal Adam Aziz, a 28-year-old driver with “A” Bateri Regiment 52, waited inside the covered Alpha Bateri garage in the armoured cab of his Astros rocket launcher, tense with excitement with his vehicle commander and two other gunners. With hands on the steering wheel and keys in the ignition, Adam couldn’t wait for the order to start the engine and prayed that the reliable Mercedes-Benz engine would not let him down.

As the regiment prepared to leave camp, Adam sensed a feeling of excitement stir within him right after the gunners completed a group prayer for a safe deployment. Follow orders and drive. Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. The vehicle commander will do the rest. It is that simple.

Adam’s parking bay at Block 16 was the first one in the row of 18 covered bays assigned to Bateri Alpha. Behind the windowless red doors of the beige concrete building lay the sharp end of Regiment 52, six mobile rocket launchers, the battery’s mobile command posts and ammunition resupply vehicles, all manned, fully fuelled and ready to move.

Jengking Selatan was timed for midnight.

The departure was coordinated so that doors to the garages for batteries A, B and C and Markas Bateri (Headquarters Battery) opened at the same time. As electric motors whirred and cables strained, the garage doors at Block 16 folded up simultaneously. The sheltered parking bays for each individual rocket launcher or support vehicle were unveiled, and Bateri Alpha was ordered to move out. 

Regiment 52 gunners were eager to live up to their motto, Tangkas Gempur (Agile Strike).

(From Chapter 5: Eyes in the Sky which looks at mission planning using satellite recon and countermeasures)

Downgraded to desk-bound duty after injuring his back while attempting to lift artillery shells, Kapten Muhammad Hamzah Hilmi was reassigned to the serve the Malaysian army as a keyboard warrior. The strapping 32-year-old paratrooper from the elite 10th Briged (Para) Rapid Deployment Force hated his cushy posting at KEMENTAH. He would rather be in the field commanding a battery of six OTO Melara 105mm L5 Pack Howitzers, practicing shoot-and-scoot techniques with TUDM Nuri transport helicopters that ferried the guns into action underslung. That was what soldiering was all about.

The Rejimen Artilery Diraja (Royal Artillery Regiment) battery commander joined the army because he could never imagine himself slogging behind a desk. Hamzah’s temporary assignment in a comfortable air-conditioned office with normal 8-to-5 working hours with regular coffee breaks might appeal to some people. But this was not the kind of military career he signed up for. He resented being there. It did not help that Hamzah had to report to a female civilian who was technically his superior. To make matters worse, his mentor wasn’t even from the military.

A few days in his new posting left Hamzah thankful he had a patient and formidably professional mentor who knew her trade and was willing to share it. She was Cik Zurina binte Mohd Ismail from JUPEM, the Malaysian survey and mapping department. Cik Ina was as generous with her time and advice as she was knowledgeable in her niche expertise: earth observation using remote sensing technology. Put simply, she was an expert at reading satellite imagery. 

A few tutorials under Cik Ina convinced Hamzah of the value and lethality of information in the sensor-to-shooter cycle. Instead of hurling 105mm shells at the enemy, Hamzah’s new weapon was information. He was determined to weaponise information by learning as much as he could about the art and science of satellite imagery.

The chatter from computer key strokes and clicks of a mouse replaced the sound and fury of the gun line. The main “weapon” for Hamzah-the-keyboard-warrior was a computer-based military intelligence system known as the Remote Sensing Defence Intelligence Application System or RSDIAS for short (it was pronounced R-S-Dias). Kor Risik Diraja intelligence staff used the system to study pictures taken from space. The department that ran RSDIAS was called Bahagian Aplikasi Perisikan Pertahanan or BAPP – the department for defence intelligence applications.

RSDIAS gave Malaysian intelligence staff the ability to look beyond the Federation's borders at any time. Hamzah was amazed by the clarity of pictures taken by optical satellites with less than one-metre resolution, astonished by satellites whose infrared sensors could see in the dark and awe-struck by SAR (synthetic aperture radar) imagery that could see beneath thick vegetation. The gunner made a mental note that camouflage drill for his beloved 105mm guns would never be the same again once he got back to the battery.

(From Chapter 22: Battle of the Lighthouses)

Tied up alongside the operational pier at the Abu Bakar Maritime Base, the Malaysian navy offshore patrol vessel, KD Pahang, continued to ride the swell in the Singapore Strait. Mooring lines stretched and slackened, the steel gangway clattered noisily as it rolled back and forth, rubber fenders creaked as the 1,800-tonne warship brushed against the pier. Despite being secured by mooring lines from bow to stern, strong waves made Pahang roll gently from side to side. It was typical monsoon weather at the entrance to the strait, which led to the South China Sea, and it was no surprise Pahang’s crew of 80 were mostly ashore with a skeleton crew left aboard the 91-metre vessel.

Pahang was on standby to shadow any Republic of Singapore Navy breakout into the South China Sea. Her location off Johor at the eastern end of the Singapore Strait was strategic as it straddled the sea lanes that led to Singapore. No ship could slip past without Pahang noticing.

The word “ashore” takes some imagination when applied to Abu Bakar Maritime Base. There was no dry land at the base, which was built over a cluster of granite in the middle of the strait called Batuan Tengah (Middle Rocks). The conical pagoda-like concrete structure of the base headquarters, painted a pale green, was topped by a prominent cylindrical steel control tower whose broad red and silver stripes made it visible for miles. The base sat on piles driven into the granite with a concrete pier connecting it with a helipad and another cluster of rocks 250 metres away, with the operational pier used by warships branching off perpendicular to the main pier. Facilities at the wind-swept base were austere. But to Pahang’s crew, being there allowed them to eat without plates sliding off the table, pray in a spacious surau, take a nice shower and sleep on a rock steady bed. Compared to time at sea, the base was five-star luxury.

From Chapter 24: Steel Shark. This chapter describes the Malaysian navy submarine, Tunku Abdul Rahman, using her SUBTICS integrated combat management system to plan and execute an anti-surface strike with a salvo of 21-inch Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes and SM.39 Exocet sea-skimming anti-ship missiles.

Rising from the dark depths at night after her passive sonar indicated no surface ships in the vicinity, the Malaysian navy hunter-killer submarine (SSK), KD Tun Abdul Rahman, poked her thin ESM mast through the ink black South China Sea to check for radar emissions from warships or planes that might be looking for her. The ride at periscope depth at six knots was unpleasantly rough. Strong surface currents rolled the streamlined boat from side to side with a nauseating rhythm, a reminder to the Malaysian submariners that the north-east monsoon season had arrived. After the thimble-shaped ESM sensor showed it was safe to proceed, a skinny broomstick that marked the tip of the DIVESAT submarine SATCOM antenna was raised above the choppy sea. The satellite communications antenna was sent up every hour for sitreps that kept the Scorpène-class diesel-electric submarine informed of the state of play during the Period of Tension. A burst of encrypted signals sent from Tun Sharifah Rodziah was duly received by a compact 40cm-wide satellite dish inside the DIVESAT antenna’s waterproof dome. The submarine retracted both masts and made for calmer water below to digest the message. The masts had stayed up for less than a minute.

Kapten Imran bin Mohamed Nor, the 44-year-old commanding officer of the Tunku Abdul Rahman, was in the submarine control room to receive the signal. Many of the seats in the submarine’s nerve centre were vacant as Tunku Abdul Rahman was sailing on a peacetime routine with only nine of her 31 crew on duty. Imran could tell from the troubled look on the face of the petty officer who passed him the decrypted signal that something was wrong. Terribly wrong. The young enlisted man concealed his emotions poorly and the rest of the watch crew could also sense it. Imran read the signal silently with his 34-year-old executive officer, Leftenan Komander Joseph Gamato Baranting (“JB”), at his side. Rigged for night, the eerie red lighting that bathed the control room and dimmed lighting in the narrow passageways matched Imran’s sombre mood.

“So, it has begun. The torpedo room will earn their pay today. See this,” said Imran as he passed the slip of paper to his Exec.

Deleted SUBTICS planning sequence for surface attack
Deleted launch of VSM and Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes 

The stage was set for an unprecedented naval battle fought with main weapons that were built by the same military contractor. French shipbuilder DCN sold its Scorpène-class SSK to Malaysia and designed Singapore’s Formidable-class stealth frigates. Italian underwater warfare weapons maker Whitehead made the Black Shark torpedoes as well as the C310 anti-torpedo countermeasures. Somewhere in the high stakes multi-million dollar defence tenders, someone had over-promised. And the customers had believed the marketing spiel. 

On the firing line off the LST landing beaches, the clash between attacker and defender, offensive weapon and defensive countermeasure, the proverbial sword and shield would produce results that would rock the naval industry. 

END of extracts

Hope you like it!  😊