Monday, January 6, 2020

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

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!  😊


D-Boy said...

Firstly, welcome back! The excerpt looks promising. Can't wait for the full book.

IAF said...

👍 can't wait

Cyril said...

Please indicate in the story how the outcome play out due to the way decision were made and the miscalculations

David Boey said...

Hi Cyril,
The part on conflict termination was hardest to write. Like the rest of the story, I have looked at it from various tiers of command from senior leadership to individuals in small units.


Frasier said...

Looking forward to your book David. When is it expected to be available?

David Boey said...

Hi Frasier,
Before 16 September. Info on how to get it will be shared in due course.

Best regards,


Unknown said...

Cant wait

muhd akmal said...

Just asking, the last part of the video. Is it really the sub launch Exocet video of Royal Malaysian Navy SSK Scorpene?

David Boey said...

Hi Akmal,
The sub-launched Exocet launch sequence was from a MBDA video on the SM.39 Exocet. All SM.39 Exocets launch the same way and I wanted a periscope view as it's more dramatic. TLDM has successfully test fired the SM.39.

The chapter on KD Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR) includes one of several non-human characters in the book. This one is called Astra and it is the torpedo guidance used by Black Shark 21-inch wire-guided torpedoes. Astra versus acoustic cloud of noise-makers. I tried writing it as non-technical as possible (as I am a non-technical person) and used Astra to put you in the heart of the torpedo attack.

For the record, I have never even seen TAR. All the info is from open sources and from places like defence shows where you get the exhibitors to explain how things work. This guy explains the combat management system console. By itself it's boring: just two touch screens and a keyboard. Another one explains the missile, then there's the torpedo lady and you string it all together. Hope this technique works.

Best regards,


PD said...

Hey David,

Congrats on your latest. Looking forward to read it soon. Hopefully it will be available in Jakarta.

Congrats 👍🙏