Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Admin note: Home Team and SAF events in November

Mark your calendar. The start of the year-end school holidays in Singapore will see two defence and security-related events that may interest you.

Entry to both events is free, though visitors to the Republic of Singapore Navy warship will have to ballot for tickets on the Navy's Facebook page.

Details as follows:

8 to 10 November 2013
Home Team Festival 2013, Singapore Expo Hall 4. Features police, ambulance, fire fighting, search and rescue vehicles and vessels. Click here for more.

14 to 17 November 2013
RSS Endurance, a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) tank landing ship, will dock at VivoCity. Click here for more.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

No decision to change Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) system

Two official clarifications to a single newspaper story in three days. You don't have to be a media analyst to sense something is not quite right.

The 23 October story by The Straits Times (ST), Singapore's only English language broadsheet, titled "SAF soldiers' IPPT likely to change" has got Singaporeans abuzz on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Individual Physical Fitness Proficiency Test (IPPT) that citizen soldiers have to take annually.

To cut to the chase, the SAF has made no decision on changing the IPPT system. Please click here for the Singapore Army's Facebook post on the matter.

If and when a decision point on the IPPT system is reached, citizen soldiers can expect to be informed in a timely and systematic way which gives everyone a heads-up in good time. This isn't a motherhood statement:

Case study: September 2010 announcement of Standard Obstacle Course redesign 
The Singapore Army did precisely that in September 2010 when it unveiled changes to the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC) - a test of combat fitness which full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) and Regulars would probably regard as more physically demanding than the IPPT.

Back in September 2010, articles in Singapore's mainstream print, broadcast and online media, magazine features in SAF publications like Army News and Pioneer magazine (the SAF's monthly magazine) and a list of 30 Frequently Asked Questions posted on the Army Fitness Centre website (click here) helped to generate and sustain a healthy awareness among Singaporeans of the SOC's new obstacles. The Singapore Army went a step further by giving explanations on new obstacles that informed citizen soldiers why such obstacles were introduced.

The Singapore Army's improved SOC didn't pop up overnight. According to the Army Fitness Centre, the project involved two years of trials. These are likely to have involved citizen soldiers whom the Army engaged to test and refine proposed obstacles - in short, to gather feedback from soldiers before proposals were finalised.

The effort to explain the SOC redesign typifies the type, depth and extent of engagement the Singapore Army readily fosters with its soldiers.[Note: There's an even earlier example which demonstrates how the Singapore Army works with citizens soldiers before effecting organisational change. This was the project which experimented if the Army could reduce its Section from nine to seven men. But we'll leave this story for another day.]

Looking back at the information management plan with the benefit of three years hindsight, the lack of online rants controversy over the redesigned SOC and the fact that existing NSmen (who were not affected by the change) learned about the development with measured calm, best underscores the payoff from the Singapore Army's engagement strategy and defence information management plan.

Reactions to the IPPT story
As part of the SAF's constant review of training systems, it is likely that any review of the IPPT would have involved citizen soldiers - just like the SOC redesign project.

Throw in fitness test items like a longer run (3.2 km up from the current 2.4 km), add the likelihood of removing dreaded test stations like the Standing Broad Jump (SBJ), which in turn points to the prospect of more NSmen earning monetary awards for their IPPT, do all this amid a climate of increasing discussions with Singaporeans on NS matters (thanks to the Our Singapore Conversation effort) and one can naturally expect the trials to become a talking point among NSmen.

Furthermore, while everything NSmen do within the fence line of an SAF camp is covered under the Official Secrets Act and the more draconian Essential Regulations Act, the innocuous-sounding subject matter of IPPT trials *yawn* may have lulled a handful of trial participants into thinking this topic is kosher for outside conversation.[Note: Our NSmen can be trusted to keep their mouths shut when it comes to operational matters like weapons, tactics and doctrine. A good example being a Singapore Army capability which entered service and was decommissioned with not a word leaked out. HIMARS replaced this capability. This was from a background brief and this is all I can say about this.]

Loose lips may have contributed to the speculative ST article which is peppered with circumspect phrases from the headline down. Phrases such as "likely to", "may be ditched", "may have to undergo", "are expected to", "could kick in" make clear nothing is definitive.

Alas, the prominent positioning of the story on page 3 of the main paper, the somewhat authoritative manner in which IPPT test stations are described, including the killer line that "changes could kick in as early as next April" triggered a buzz among Singaporeans. In the past few days, many NSmen mentally projected their 2.4 km running pace to the 3.2 km distance to see if they would make it. Just today alone, I overheard two separate conversations in the gym about the 3.2 km run.

Our reactions are not surprising, given the impression among some Singaporeans that the mainstream media is *ahem* "government controlled". So some readers took the story at face value.

At the other end of the stick, there are readers who lambasted the story as an example of poor reporting standards by the MSM, having read, understood and accepted MINDEF/SAF's clarification that no decision has been made to change the IPPT system.

As a media relations case study, the IPPT story is fascinating. It indicates the extent to which mainstream media journalists are sometimes prepared to push the boundary. In this instance, the newspaper ended up with a misfired story after officialdom issued one clarification after another.

The Singapore Army reacted swiftly. The same day the ST story appeared, it posted a clarification on its Facebook page. This in turn led to some Facebook members saying more about the IPPT trials than was published in the ST article.

This morning, ST readers flipped open their newspaper to find a letter in the Forum Page titled "NS panel not reviewing IPPT specifics" signed off by the Ministry of Defence Director, Public Affairs. In return, the ST Editor added a note of his own.

So what are the rest of us to make of this exchange between ST and MINDEF/SAF? Should NSmen crank up the pace to 3.2 km? Celebrate the ousting of the SBJ?

The answer lies in the Singapore Army's Facebook reply of 23 October, which states firmly that no decision on the IPPT has been made. The answer also resides in replies to the same Facebook post, which suggests that trials of new IPPT test items did indeed take place. This in itself does not mean the IPPT format will change, as the SAF has not reached a decision on the matter.

ST's story would sit on firmer ground had it informed readers that while trials took place, no decision has been reached.

Instead, the story's description of likely changes has given rise to undue concerns among some NSmen who think it's a done deal, making them wonder why they have to learn about this from a newspaper article and not their NS unit.

While the concerns are unfortunate because they have made some NSmen unnecessarily upset, it is good that MINDEF/SAF staff officers experience how to address such matters by wielding non-traditional methods like Facebook to the tried-and-tested, such as firing off a letter to the Editor.

We can take the example of the SOC redesign as assurance that the SAF implements changes carefully, particularly those that impact our citizen soldiers fitness-wise, and that Army planners are fully aware that NSmen used to a certain IPPT test format cannot be expected to change gears just like that.

Trust the system.

NS panel not reviewing IPPT specifics
26 October 2013 Saturday

WEDNESDAY's article ("SAF soldiers' IPPT likely to change") was speculative and misleading.

The Committee to Strengthen National Service will not be reviewing specifics of the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), which is a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) matter as it deals with the combat fitness of our soldiers.

The SAF does review its training programmes periodically, including those for combat fitness, but has not decided on any changes to the IPPT format.

Kenneth Liow (Colonel)
Director, Public Affairs
Ministry of Defence

Editor's Note:
Our report on the likely IPPT changes did not say these were linked to the work of the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS). The report appeared, however, on the same page as another story that quoted Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's comments on CSNS deliberations. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Send in the (Malaysian) Marines - New unit expected to boost Malaysia's beach landing capabilities

Feet dry: Malaysian troops from the Rapid Deployment Force storm a Kuantan beach alongside United States Marines during the CARAT war games in June 2013. Photo by Dzirhan Mahadzir, who is in a good enfilade position overlooking the line of advance.

The Malaysian military's ability to deploy its soldiers on and from the sea is expected to get a boost once its newly-announced Marines unit turns operational.

The Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) is understood to have had a more robust amphibious warfare capability on its wish list for the past several years and has (finally) cranked things into high gear.

The move is expected to be spearheaded by a core team from the Malaysian Army's Pasukan Aturgerak Cepat (Rapid Deployment Force) grouped under 10 Briged Para (10th Parachute Brigade). The emphasis on raising a Marines force, possibly of battalion size, will build on years on experience gained by the ATM in moving ground forces in the Federation's riverine systems and long coastlines.

The ATM's experience in projecting ground forces in coastal areas dates back to the Confrontation period in the 1960s, when security forces exploited Borneo's extensive waterways to extend their reach into the interior.

The PAC is well capable of putting warfighters ashore on a contested shoreline using assault boats and landing craft.

However, Malaysia's choice of the term "Marines" could point to ambitions for executing surf zone troop movements that are more complex in scope and scale, across longer distances, with these operations sustained over a prolonged period.

It is worth noting that unlike the United States Marine Corps (USMC) which the ATM has trained alongside, not all missions may involve power projection across vast oceans.

To Malaysia's future Marines, the littoral zone could literally be a short boat ride away, not the over-the-horizon missions USMC trains for. Malaysian Marines could conceivably be raised, trained and sustained to rapidly project military force across a short waterway for an operation with limited objectives. Paired with PAC airborne forces who specialise in airfield seizure, a sudden beach landing by ATM Marines could give Malaysia a strategic advantage if they attain the element of surprise (i.e. intelligence failure by their opponent) and manage to secure and thereafter expand the beachhead.

On a less exciting note, the Marines could take over garrison duty, now shouldered by the Malaysian Navy's crack Pasukan Khas Laut (PASKAL) unit, on concrete structures (see above) built in the Spratly islands. The fact that PASKAL has been entrusted to defend these remote localities speaks volumes of the importance of what may seem to us as mundane guard duty.

Timing of the Marines announcement
While no time frame or details have been released, Malaysian defence observers note that the 10 October 2013 announcement may have been timed to polish the image of Defence Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, who is a candidate for a post in the UMNO political party. UMNO members went to the polls on Saturday 19 October to elect three out of six candidates contesting key positions in the party.

Dzirhan Mahadzir noted in his 15 October article for IHS Jane's:"Hishammuddin's description of the Marine force only states that it will be established for amphibious operations, drawn from all three Services and essential for security in the East Malaysian state of Sabah, where Sulu militants staged an incursion in February that was subsequently repelled by a military operation.

"The statement did not give further details but IHS Jane's understands that the Marine Corps proposal was planned before the Sulu incursion but has since been prioritised."

Dzirhan added that two PAC battalions - the 9th Royal Malay Regiment (Para) and 8th Royal Ranger Regiment (Para) - have conducted amphibious warfare training as a secondary mission, most recently in June during the CARAT (Co-operation Afloat Readiness And Training) war games with the USMC in Kuantan and following that, with French forces deployed aboard the Landing Platform Dock, FNS Tonnerre.(Note: the third PAC battalion is the 17 Rejimen Askar Melayu Diraja (Para) )

Senang Diri understands that PAC pairings with the USMC have taken place over the past few years. Such joint war games may indicate that Markas Tentera Darat turned the spotlight on amphibious warfare after planning bandwidth increased following the IOC of new capabilities and completion of unit revamps (2008: Border Regiment, 2006: Army Air Corp new capability).

These include:
10 October 2013: Announcement of a Marines unit. This move could signal stronger emphasis on amphibious warfare capabilities by Markas Tentera Darat (Malaysian Army HQ). Observers note that the capability announcement is made a week before a key UMNO election involving the Malaysian Defence Minister.

5 March 2013: Three days after the Tentera Darat ke-80 parade, the Malaysian military goes into action against Sulu militants in Sabah. The operation, initially codenamed Operasi Sulu then amended to Ops Daulat (which means Sovereignty), prompts Malaysians to reflect on the value and readiness of their armed forces. One point of view is that a capable Angkatan Tentera Malaysia, respected by the Rakyat, was held back by dithering politicians and bureaucrats.

2 March 2013: The Malaysian Army's Advanced Combatman System (click here) called Soldier Advanced Kombat Technology Integrated (SAKTI) is unveiled together with the PARS AV-8 8x8 Kenderaan Perisai Pengangkut Anggota (i.e. armoured personnel carrier) at the Tentara Darat ke-80 anniversary parade held in Bandar Tentera Darat in Port Dickson. Please click here for more.

2009: Markas 3 Divisyen continues its transformation into a Combined Arms Division - the first of four Malaysian Army divisions to do so. The division, headquartered in Malacca, is responsible for military operations in the southern part of the Malay peninsula. Markas 3 Divisyen commands assets such as ARTHUR artillery hunting radars that are found only in this formation. The ARTHURs serve with 61 Regimen Artileri Diraja (61 RAD).

2008: Five Regimen Askar Wataniah (Territorial Army) battalions are revamped to form the Regimen Sempadan (Border Regiment) for garrison duty on Malaysia's land frontier with Thailand. This is more than a name change. The Regimen Sempadan battalions focus on border control and security of key avenues of approach to bolster Malaysian security in view of problems in Thailand's southern provinces.

2008: Delivery of PT-91M Pendekar main battle tanks assigned to Rejimen ke-11 Kor Armor Diraja (11 KAD). The Polish-made tanks are Malaysia's first MBTs.

2006: Introduction of Agusta A109 Light Observation Helicopters for PUTD.

2002: Delivery of Avibras Astros II Sistem Roket Lancar Berganda (SRLB) assigned to 51 Rejimen Artileri Diraja (51 RAD), the ATM's first rocket artillery battalion.

1995: Formation of Pasukan Udara Tentera Darat (Army Air Corps).

1987: Designation of 10 Briged Para as the ATM's Pasukan Aturgerak Cepat (Rapid Deployment Force). The formation eventually receives an organic armour capability (Pasukan Armor (Para)) with Scorpion AC 90 light tanks and StormerAPCs and a SAM squadron.

The term "transformation" appears sparingly in Malaysian defence literature. But from the look of things, the phasing in of new equipment and sustained revamp of ATM units indicates defence planners up north have got things figured out.

Tindak Pantas!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Half empty, half fool: Comments on Singapore's National Service (NS) system by Alex Liang and Alvin Lim

Taken at face value, the comments on National Service (NS) mouthed by ex-Singaporean Alex Liang seem like a story of a hard luck citizen made good after quitting our island nation.

From our side of the fence, Alex's decision to start life afresh in the United Kingdom after completing his full-time NS around 1997 seems to show the grass is greener on the other side.

Is it really?

Alex Liang's story
"I was born and bred in Singapore but moved to the UK when I was 21 and eventually naturalised as a British citizen after seven years here - I am 37 today," the BBC News Magazine quoted Alex in a story that profiled 20 readers on the reasons why they left their country of birth. The story went online on 2 October 2013. Click here for the story.

"I left Singapore because I had no faith in the government there. Singaporean males were discriminated against by the government because of the compulsory national service and many years of reservist obligations afterwards. That is compounded by the fact that the Singapore government is actively wooing skilled migrants to Singapore. Their "foreign talent" programme gives these migrants all kinds of advantages that locals are not entitled to. I gave two years and four months of my life to serve in the army and my reward is to be treated like a second-class citizen. I wasn't prepared to fight the system, so I simply left and settled in the UK instead."

Alex's point of view provided the catalyst for Singaporean blogger, Alvin Lim, to post this thoughts on NS on his Alvinology blog on Friday 4 October. His self-confessed "rant" against NS attracted some 100,000 page views that weekend alone and some 6,000 Facebook shares.

The duo's take on compulsory military conscription in Singapore generated such a buzz online that Yahoo Singapore ran a story on the reactions it triggered.

This blog has been made aware that comments by Alex to the BBC News Magazine carry a different tone and emphasis from his comments, penned five years ago, which indicated that he left Singapore because of "pull factors from abroad".

Writing on the discussion forum of the website,, with his nickname "ecity", Alex talked about the reasons that led him to move to the UK. In that discussion, the sole push factor related to NS, which were his Reservist obligations, was ranked third on the list (which may or may not have been ranked in order of importance).

Alex (i.e. ecity) said:"Many people here assume that those who have left Singapore HATE Singapore - when that couldn't be further from the truth. I remain very fond of Singapore, but as a result of the pull factors from abroad, I have decided to leave because I have found that there are other places that are even more attractive than Singapore as a place to live and develop my career. 

PUSH factors:
1. Poor career opportunities in my field
2. Long working hours
3. Reservist obligations
4. Unpleasant, hot, sticky weather
5. Simply bored with S'pore
6. Recognizing that Singapore is not going to change in my lifetime ref: attitudes towards gay people, attitudes towards the PAP etc

PULL factors:
1. Much better career development opportunities
2. Better working conditions
3. Free from reservist obligations
4. Experiencing 4 seasons
5. The thrill of living in a new place, meeting new people, finding new challenges

"These factors all vary from person to person. Some of you may love Singapore weather and shiver the moment the temperature drops below 20 degrees. Whereas I just find Singapore weather way too hot, monotonous, sticky and unpleasant. 

"I am easily bored and don't want to be stuck in one place too long - hence in my current job whilst being based in London, I've worked all over: Manchester, Frankfurt, Ibiza, Brighton, Dubai, Bristol, Birmingham,Crete, Liverpool, Paris, Dundee, Edinburgh ...

"Whereas my sister's the total opposite, she's 8 years older than me and she changed jobs for the first time in like 15 years recently, and she was soooo (sic) nervous about it. She's now happily settled in the new job but she was one person who didn't like change, whereas I relished it."

This blog understands that Alex's sister, Ms Liang Hwee Ting, left her job as a Straits Times journalist some years ago.

Winding up his comments in the 2008 discussion, Alex wrote:"There's nothing the government can do to pull me back to Singapore. Like I said, I left because I was in search of a change in routine and environment, I had spent 21 years in Singapore and wanted to experience different cultures and I am doing exactly that now. I love trying radically new things in different countries, such is my sense of adventure."

So why has National Service been caught in the crossfire in 2013?

A year before he bared his soul to netizens, Alex made it to the Singapore Parliament Hansard  - the word-for-word record of parliamentary proceedings - when his decision to emigrate was summarised by Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong during a debate on gay issues.

NMP Siew Kum Hong said in October 2007:"Mr Alex Liang e-mailed me a few months back. He is a former Singaporean who renounced his citizenship and is now a UK citizen. By all objective measures, Mr Liang is someone who would have served the country very well. We had invested heavily in him. He received a sports award for 3 years running, and was also a humanities scholar. He represented the nation in gymnastics, receiving generous training allowances. He speaks 8 languages, and had excellent academic results.

"But the moment he completed National Service, he left for Europe and he stayed there. He had long decided to leave Singapore, as he did not see a viable future for himself in Singapore as a gay man."

Fast forward to 2013. Alex sings a different tune.

It is almost funny that Alex claims he "wasn't prepared to fight the system" when any shortcoming from his country of birth seems reason enough for him to bang out another letter, sarcastic jibe or bitchy retort of some sort. If you know where to look, you will find cyberspace littered with his handiwork.

His recent comments on NS sweep aside those he made in 2008 that recounted the pull factor for moving abroad. In addition, his comments to the BBC about FTs shows extraordinary prescience for a young man back in the late 1990s. This because the spike in immigration did not take place till early this century, years after he had decided to start a new life in London.

As for Alvin Lim's rant, his behaviour is a classic example that shows that while everybody grows old, not everyone grows up.

The Operationally-Ready National Servicemen's grouses about his perceived shortcomings on NS expose his poor appreciation of the obligations, duties and responsibilities of a citizen in the nation-state dynamic. One wonders how well he adapts to the regimentation imposed by rules and regulations that any Human Resource department would have on its staff (grooming standards, time discipline, annual leave approvals and so on).

Of late, Alvin's blog has been a curious juxtaposition of postings that take pot shots at NS to blog entries on films, fashion shows as well as advertisements for cafes, restaurants and corporate events. For someone whose blog probably creams off advertising revenue from a slew of corporate sponsors, the spurt in eyeballs must be like manna from heaven as it would boost the visibility of products and services hawked on his blog.[This part of the blog post is a social experiment.]

That's not to say our NSmen cannot or should not voice their thoughts on NS in public. 

Over the years, our citizens armed forces has benefited from feedback from successive generations of NSmen, NSFs and Singapore Armed Forces Regulars and Singaporeans at large, all of whom stepped forward with suggestions on how NS can be adapted, tweaked and improved. 

But it does beg the question whether the likes of Alvin, who made the clarion call for a "review" of NS, has invested even one second of his own time attending the many dialogues and focus group discussions on NS spearheaded by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). 

I bet he hasn't.

In my opinion, his blog's product reviews and junkets are probably way more important. He is probably content to just sit back and bitch away, stirring shit online and walking away from the mess he created by waving the immunity bracelet that says he is exercising his right as a citizen to free speech. All this while, oblivious that his career success and blog presence feeds off the security and well-being that an economically viable and stable Singaporean economy delivers, protected by the security the SAF provides 24/365.

Lessons for IOs and media planners
From an information management perspective, it is clear that the topics of National Service and Foreign Talent make a powerful combination. Seen in isolation, each topic is already a guaranteed conversation starter in any social setting with Singaporeans present.

Pair them together, add a dash of personal misgivings about how the system is unfair and the story becomes a ready-made cause celebre.

As Singaporeans lapped up Alex's comments and went into a tizzy over Alvin's blog, the takeways for information managers and media planners are as follows:

1. Discussions on National Service as a strategic lever/thought-driver.
It is clear that discussions on NS can stir emotions among Singaporeans. The tip sheet of talking points for anyone who wants to exploit NS as a cause celebre should be obvious by now to public relations professionals and media planners, so we will refrain from sharing the recipe here.

From this blog's perspective, the worry lies not with the odd social critic, blogger or strategic corporal who can be expected to occasionally elevate his or her experience with Singapore's NS system as a national talking point.

These rants are par for the course. Indeed, such situations often force Singaporeans to reflect on NS and national security issues.

The bigger worry stems from situations when entities with a more ambitious agenda choose to hijack the mass appeal and juiciness of NS as a talking point to advance their self interests. We are in trouble when this is executed deftly and steathily to the detriment of the well-being of Singapore.

For example, it could be exploited to score political brownie points or engineered by foreign elements to advance their agenda. In the case of the latter, Singaporeans must be aware that such elements may attempt to fracture national cohesion by operating anonymously or by masquerading as concerned Singaporeans. In cyberspace, we are often none the wiser.

What will save you is a deeper insight into why we still have NS and the downside risks that come with whittling down our national security. Which brings us to Point 2.

2. FAQ on National Service
Regardless of the agenda or motivation of the conversation starter(s), we must be prepared to help Singaporeans understand and appreciate the strategic fundamentals that underpin our NS system.

Strategic fundamentals is a mouthful. It essentially covers the "why" part of NS. The "what", which encompasses the duration and duties during NS, are better known to NSFs, NSmen and their loved ones.

Activities in 2012 that marked 45 years on National Service succeeded somewhat in recognising contributions and sacrifices Singaporeans made to safeguarding their country.

But aside from the touchy-feely, a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that address why NS is relevant, necessary and important may help Singaporeans gain meaningful insights into defence and security matters that many heartlanders are blissfully unaware of. 

This FAQ could tell Singaporeans whether reasons that underpinned the NS Army back in 1967, as outlined by then Minister for Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee, are still relevant in this day and age.

Is there a silver lining to the comments on NS by Alex Liang and Alvin Lim? Yes, it has once again brought NS to the forefront as a national talking point.

What Singaporeans need want deserve is a better understanding and appreciation of the reasons which are at the heart of our NS system.

This blog appreciates the crowd-sourced intelligence that contributed to the IPB phase and Internet forensics over the past week. The time and effort you have all put in is much appreciated.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

More pictures of the RSAF participation in Exercise Wallaby 2013

Air movements involving Singaporean warplanes and military helicopters at Rockhampton Airport in Australia's Queensland state give observers a hint of the intensity of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war games now on in Shoalwater Bay Training Area.

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) assets ranging from F-16 multi-role combat aircraft to Chinook heavy-lift helicopters have made the short hop from Rockhampton to SWBTA to take part in SAF manoeuvres, codenamed Exercise Wallaby, in the vast Australian Defence Force training ground, which covers an area some four times bigger than Singapore.

The umbrella term "Exercise Wallaby" is made up of several exercises with different names, held under different phases or Frames of the SAF manoeuvres.

Australian plane spotter Ben O'Dowd brings us these stunning pictures from Rockhampton. More of his work can be found on the Central Queensland Plane Spotting site here.

Boeing Chinook CH-47 heavy-lift helicopters from the RSAF's 127 Squadron pair up for a mission over SWBTA. The Chinooks are integral to SAF airmobile operations involving Singapore Army Guards units of heliborne infantry. 

With her warpaint helping to blend her into the Australian outback scenary, RSAF Lockheed C-130H Hercules "735" from 122 Squadron is seen hard at work at Rockhampton. Two 122 SQN Hercules medium-left airlifters are now deployed to support Exercise Wallaby and are thought to perform missions such as aerial resupply and insertion of combat forces.

A Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter, one of five from RSAF 120 Squadron now deployed to Rockhampton, carries an interesting title on her nose and a scarlet fin flash which provides a dash of contrast to her warpaint. These RSAF AHs provide aerial fire support to SAF Manoeuvre Forces, using their superior speed and mobility compared to ground forces to protect the vanguard and flanks of Singapore Army units. 

The Lockheed F-16C Fighting Falcon "611" from 140 Squadron is one of two single-seat multi-role warplanes now basking in the Queensland sunshine. The other F-16C is from RSAF 143 SQN. The outsized "2" on 611's vertical stabiliser is a non standard marking, as is the inscription in red ink abaft the cockpit. The markings are leftover from the RSAF's squadron-wide mission readiness competition, Top Ace, which was held at Tengah Air Base from 28 January to 1 February this year.

A pair of two-seat F-16D Fighting Falcons from RSAF 140 Squadron prepare for take-off from Rockhampton Airport. The F-16C/D fighters returned to Rockhampton this year after a three-year absence, rewarding patient Australian plane spotters with wonderful views of these warplanes as they launched/recovered at Rocky. The pictures should get more interesting if and when live munitions are flown during the exercise.

With her "six" covered by an opportunistic AH-64D Apache attack helicopter from 120 Squadron, an F-16D graces the Rockhampton runway to the delight of Australian plane spotters. 

P.S. Where are the Super Puma and Cougar medium-lift helicopters?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Blackout, power outage: Eastern Singapore

Anyone else in Singapore hit by the blackout around 12:55 AM 9 Oct'13?

Whole estate in the east was plunged into darkness for around 20 seconds before the power came back on.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) projects forces at long-range to Queensland, Australia, for Exercise Wallaby 2013

A well-used F-16D from 140 Squadron lands safely at Rockhampton Airport yesterday, more than 5,750km from Singapore. More pictures by Travis Whiting and Kayanne Hardsman are found on the Central Queensland Plane Spotting site. Click here.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has projected its combat and combat support elements to Queensland, Australia, ahead of its biggest and most complex unilateral war games conducted Down Under.

Six Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16s - the air force's most numerous fighter type - arrived in Rockhampton Airport yesterday, adding to RSAF war machines already deployed there. Two single-seat F-16Cs and four twin-seat F-16Ds touched down in the normally quiet airport in the Queensland outback, watched eagerly by Australians aviation enthusiasts who waited three years for Singapore's F-16C/Ds to reappear there.

A blog post on the CQ Plane Spotting site (please click here) recorded 140 SQN's arrival in Rocky:"The flight of six fighter jets - of 140 Squadron of the RSAF - all touched down in quick succession following their flight from RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory. They were heard to be using one radio callsign of 'Singa 3311'.

"Local plane spotters Travis W and Kayanne H were one of many plane spotters and other members of the general public who made it (to) Rockhampton Airport to enjoy the fantastic spectacle of the six jets flying around Rockhampton before eventually landing on Runway 15 and taxiing to their parking spot on the military hardstand on the Northern end of the Rockhampton Airport apron."

Long-range force projection
In recent weeks, Australian plane spotters have noted successive waves of civilian airliners (among them: Air New Zealand, Qantas and Singapore Airlines) landing at Rockhampton Airport as the troop build-up gathers momentum.

These arrivals appear to be paced to a timetable that allows the SAF to execute long-range force projection with units arriving in a size and particular sequence in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA). The Australian Defence Force training ground is about two hours drive from Rockhampton Airport.

The exercise area, which is about four times the size of Singapore, sets the stage for the SAF to plan, deploy, manoeuvre and review the large-scale movement of Manoeuvre Forces. This is done in concert with RSAF strike aircraft, UAVs and combat helicopters, across vast distances, day and night, with targets engaged using live munitions of all calibres and bomb tonnage, in various operational settings over unfamiliar terrain.

As the SAF builds up its defence manpower some 5,750km from Singapore, RSAF air power was also projected at long-range - again apparently timed to a schedule that allows Team RSAF to raise its flying and flying support elements rapidly in-theatre.

Such coordination, thought to be made possible by RSAF Air Operations Department as the lead element, is said to be a complex long-range force projection exercise in itself. This is because moving RSAF heavy hitters - like warplanes, their ground support crew and assorted armament - safely to SWBTA involves close teamwork between the RSAF and civilian agencies in Singapore and abroad.

The work entails arranging for and obtaining flight clearances across three countries, over long distances that may involve crew rest and refuelling stopovers and working with multiple civilian entities for air charters. All this takes place with staff officers working behind the scenes long before Exercise Wallaby's first Frame gets started.

RSAF C-130H Hercules 731 at Rockhampton Airport. The Antonov AN-124-100 heavy-lift transport in the background was chartered by the RSAF to fly helicopters from Singapore to Queensland for Exercise Wallaby 2013.

Rarely does one see an RSAF Chinook stripped down for air transport. This Chinook has since been assembled by 127 Squadron engineers and has been seen flying around Rockhampton Airport.

As of today, plane spotters have observed two RSAF Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, five AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and five Super Puma/Cougar medium-lift helicopters at Rockhampton. The six F-16C/Ds added the fast jet element to the RSAF presence in Rockhampton.

We will continue monitoring developments in and around SWBTA in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Royal Malaysian Air Force shows the sharp end of its Su-30MKM fighter force

More than meets the eye: A Royal Malaysian Air Force Su-30MKM, Malaysia's most capable warplane, pulls up over Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in Kuala Lumpur on 21 September 2013, with wingtip pods not seen before on RMAF Su-30s. When paired with A2G (air-to-ground) munitions paraded at ground level, the pods are believed to give the RMAF's Su-30s the ability to engage enemy air defences from afar. Growlerski is a moniker given by the Malaysian Military Power blog. Image by Iwan from The image is used with the kind permission of the Malaysian Military Power blog. Click here to access the blog.

Odd one out: The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) included a special treat for eagle-eyed plane spotters at the Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade. The last Su-30MKM in this flight of four carried wingtip pods thought to contain electronic warfare equipment. According to Malaysian defence enthusiasts, the pods were not carried during flypast rehearsals. This is not a photoshopped image as the pods are visible in images of the parade taken by this blog. Image by Iwan from The image is used with the kind permission of the Malaysian Military Power blog.

Most spectators would have missed it - the pair of slender pods on the wingtips of just one of a quartet of Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Sukhoi Su-30MKM warplanes in diamond formation that thundered over the Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade on 21 September 2013.

There was nothing in the commentary that told spectators what to look out for or what this piece of defence equipment was designed to do. But joining the dots weeks after the parade, it is apparent that the RMAF used the parade to showcase hard and soft kill options for its most advanced fighter force.

For the Rakyat whose eyes turned skyward at the arrival of the RMAF's most advanced warplanes, the low level flypast by Su-30s and other RMAF war machines presented yet another photo opportunity. The flypast triggered a chorus of cheers and applause that rippled across the crowdline at Dataran Merdeka as the MAF put its firepower on show.

For defence enthusiasts who invested time and effort sifting through their haul of images from the parade, the picture of the flypast by 11 Skuadron's warplanes opened their eyes to the RMAF's warfighting capabilities. This included the RMAF's ability to suppress or destroy enemy air defences in Wild Weasel-type attacks, including dealing with AEW platforms, with Su-30MKM warplanes in the vanguard of RMAF strike packages.

The wingtip pods appear to be a form of electronic countermeasure of Russian origin designed to allow the host aircraft to befuddle enemy radars with spoof signals. That fact that the pods were designed during the Soviet era to defeat NATO's integrated and multi-layered air defences is noteworthy. One should also bear in mind that the Su-30 family, which evolved from the Su-27 Flanker, was the USSR's answer to the state-of-the-art in American fighter aircraft technology.

Integrated show of force
What was seen in the air must be matched with the firepower shown at ground level. The MAF staff officer who made the decision to kit up one Su-30MKM with the special pods and unveil seldom seen A2G munitions must have trusted that a professional audience would know what they are looking at and would understand its implications.

Malaysian bloggers tell Senang Diri that the two rehearsals did not include all the bells and whistles seen during the actual parade. The Royal Malaysian Navy had an Exocet anti-ship missile as part of the Mobile Column rehearsals, but the business end of 11 Skn's war machines appeared only on the actual day of the parade.

These include Russian air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions - including cruise missiles - acquired for 11 Skn. The missiles went on parade for the first time and follows their display some years ago at an RMAF Open House (which had a lower signature compared to the parade).

Levels of combat capability
In not so many words, the RMAF has made a declared capability in SEAD and DEAD missions as it has shown that it can suppress air defences using EW (soft kill) or take them out using precision-guided munitions (hard kill).

The declared capability by the RMAF indicates it is in possession of, cognizant of and exposed to, the level of military technology represented by the defence electronics and munitions it displayed.

Strategic ambiguity
The number of systems/munitions in its arsenal and the level of competence in fielding the said systems cannot be deduced simply from the capability declaration during the parade. This in itself is a form of deterrence as the strategic ambiguity that regional defence planners must grapple with works to the MAF's strategic advantage.

It is important to remember that a declared capability is not the same thing as an operational capability. The latter includes having a concept of operations (CONOPS) that governs how military power is to be employed. CONOPS must be more than paper plans. These need to be exercised regularly to acquaint everyone with their role in the whole scheme of things.

Defence professionals would appreciate that operational capabilities, particularly for new weapon platforms or weapon systems, need to be scaled up from baby steps. Progress made from IOC to FOC could, in some cases, take years as integration and force coordination issues are worked out and the capability matures along the way.

In addition, an operational capability is distinct from a technical capability. You may tell the world you have such a capability (declared capability) and the necessary doctrine and tactics (operational capability) that script how warfighting will be waged. But it is your technical capability that will spell out the effectiveness of such measures when the button is pressed.

During WW2, Japanese ground forces understood the value of supporting infantry operations with armour. They did so while opposing American beach landings by using light armour to support the infantry as a form of Counterattack Force. However, their CONOPS was let down by the technical inferiority of Japanese tanks versus American armour which were more capable in firepower, mobility and protection. By 1945, the Americans had the added advantage of honing their combat edge in armour tactics, having fought the Germans in Europe, and used their combat experience to devastating effect against Japanese tanks.

Also in WW2, both the German Luftwaffe and United States Army Air Force (USAAF) recognised the value of twin-engine fighters for long-range operations. But German Bf-110 Zestroyers assigned for extended range air ops early in the war had a woeful combat record as they were technically not up to the mark when pitted against single-engine fighters like Hurricanes and Spitfires.

Undaunted, the USAAF employed twin-engine fighters for essentially the same roles in later years, with notable successes as engine output and aerodynamics on platforms such as the P-38 Lightning helped American pilots meet and defeat single-engine fighters. The CONOPS for both air arms were sound and articulated competently - just that the Luftwaffe was let down by a technically inferior air platform.

The term Ops-Tech Integration has often been used to bridge how warfighters see the battlefield with how the defence science community tailors war machines for the same arena. Common sense tells you that the existence and depth of Ops-Tech Integration cannot be discerned from a parade or open house. But this factor should be borne in mind when crafting capability estimates because an experienced and robust Ops-Tech Integration framework can spell war-winning potential by giving both sides a real world reality check.

The last takeaway concerns Information Operations. In particular, the value of crowd sourced intelligence in the blogosphere that has always been appreciated by this blog.

Regular readers would have seen the blog posts about the ATM Ke80 event, in the lead-up to the 21 September parade and thereafter. The reports went cold after about two weeks.

Interestingly, the unsolicited prompts to write about the Su-30's Wild Weasel-type SAM-suppression capabilities popped up after netizens noted that the blog had apparently missed the special mission Su-30. That prompt is much appreciated. Putting aside the originator's identity, timing and motivation behind the prompt, the RMAF Su-30 capability development is worth writing about on pure news value alone. Hence this post.

Check Six!

Many thanks to the Malaysian bloggers who assisted with this post.

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Royal Malaysian Air Force displays Russian missiles at ATM Ke80 parade. Click here

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Laser warning devices give Malaysian armour an edge in combat

If you believe forewarned is forearmed, then Malaysian armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) may pack an advantage in combat thanks to their laser warning devices (LWDs).

The presence of LWDs on all of the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia's (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) AFVs introduced this century could be more than a coincidence. The requirement for such defence electronics could have been woven into tender specifications that tailor AFVs for the ATM's specific operational requirements.

Every one of the ATM's latest armoured vehicles can warn its occupants of the danger from military lasers. The AFV types are the ACV300 Adnan from Turkey (2002), Polish PT-91M Pendekar (2008) and the prototype for the AV8 eight-wheeled infantry fighting vehicle which was unveiled this March. This indicates future war machines introduced to Kor Armor Diraja's stable could be similarly protected by LWDs.

At least two models of LWDs are in ATM service. This includes the Avimo LWD2 on Adnans and Obra-3 aboard the Pendekars.

To cut to the chase, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) AFVs such as the Bionix IFV, Terrex and Leopard 2SG main battle tanks have not been observed with LWD sensors.

The decision by the Malaysian military to install them on AFVs that form its armoured spearhead says a lot. It indicates that Malaysian defence planners recognise that in their modest but growing AFV fleet, every vehicle (or more precisely, the ATM crew) is precious. The AFVs and crew therefore deserve maximum protection.

The installation of LWDs shows that Malaysian AFVs are expected to operate in a threat environment infested with hostile lasers that are used for range finding or smart munitions guidance. Early warning furnished by LWDs allows a vehicle commander (VC) to screen the vehicle using smoke grenades or order the driver to take immediate evasive action by moving under or behind cover, or executing aggressive driving.

Such defence electronics could frustrate enemy attempts at targeting KAD vehicles as the LWD warning console would light up the moment the vehicle is painted by a laser beam, with the VC provided the approximate bearing of the laser's point of origin.

When observing the ATMs latest AFVs, it is noteworthy remembering that the notion that Malaysia is behind the curve in defence science is untrue, dangerous and sometimes self-deluding.

Among the DRUMS (Distortions, Rumours, Untruths, Misinformation and Smears), this impression is potentially damaging as it dilutes one's appreciation of the ATM's combat readiness and robustness in battle.