Saturday, March 17, 2018

Singapore Army restructures to stay ready, relevant and decisive

Photo: Singapore Army

Although one hardly hears about the Singapore Army's efforts to transform itself into a Third Generation fighting force nowadays, rest assured the army has not kept idle.

News that the 3rd Singapore Division attained Initial Operational Capability (IOC) status last August as the Singapore Army's first 3G Combined Arms Division points to more exciting developments on the transformation front.

Given that FOC follows IOC, one naturally assumes that the other army divisions - the largest organised fighting units capable of independent land warfare operations - are likely to follow suit in due course.

One might even surmise radical changes to the Singapore Army's structure and organisation might be on the cards. Such changes must be explained clearly to stakeholders so that people do not confuse any revisions to the orbat as a sign of weakness.

If and when legacy units are rebranded, defence watchers whose job it is to make sense of developments such as force structure revisions must be convinced that the Singapore Army restructured its combat units to enhance the operational readiness and lethality of its component divisions.

There is a risk that superficial analysis might prevail. For instance, defence watchers might count the number of legacy units and compare this with the new force structure and end up with the misconception that more in the past and fewer in future means less hitting power. In short, a streamlined army with less punch.

Such a train of thought could not be more erroneous or wishful.

How does one explain all this without a free coffee? It is, undoubtedly, a tricky line to thread. But let's try.

The Singapore Army's order of battle has always been a source of intense speculation. Bar-talk and armchair analysis aside, a hard look at numbers points unambiguously to the fact that the Singapore Army has more to show than many people appreciate.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Armour Formation is a prime example. In the 1990s, when my university mentor, Dr Tim Huxley, and I compared SAR numberplates in his attic like stamp collectors at a swap meet, one discovered that the operationally-ready National Service (i.e. reservist) SARs were numbered in the 400-series. As of 1995, the NS SARs were clustered around the low 400s.

Today, there are indications that the Armour family has grown. However, even when one strips away SARs that have been stood down (example: 452 SAR), one finds it difficult reconciling the number of NS SARs thought to be active with the number of existing armoured brigades.

This conundrum lends itself to two possibilities:
First, the SAF Armour brigades are larger than the tradition model of three battalions per brigade. Second, we have more armoured brigades in the Singapore Army.

It is interesting to speculate on the second possibility. This is because the number of battalion-strength NS SARs which are still active, when paired with the existing Singapore Armoured Brigade (SAB) thought to reside outside the orbit of divisional command, gives you enough SABs to form an armoured division.

This hypothesis is, to me at least, a "wow" moment.

So if and when legacy units are reshaped and reformed, one must factor in the possibility that the baseline comparison (i.e. how many units exist on paper) might be on the low side and that there might be other unassigned units that one must reckon with.

Singapore Army force planners who earn their pay working out such numbers have my highest respect for the work they do and I look forward to learning more in due course.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A look at the new Singapore Technologies Kinetics STK BR18 bullpup rifle

Move over M16. Here comes the BR18.

This new Made in Singapore 5.56mm assault rifle - it's name stands for Bullpup Rifle 2018 - was unveiled at this week's Singapore Airshow 2018.

Developed by Singaporean weapons maker, Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK), the land systems arm of the Singapore Technologies Engineering group, the BR18 builds on a concept weapon called the Bullpup Multirole Combat Rifle (BMCR), which made its public debut at the February 2014 edition of the biennial airshow held in the city-state.

The prototype BMCR was then touted as "the world's shortest bullpup rifle", with the basic design adaptable for a long rifle and light machine gun variant.

After four more years of research & development and feedback from field trials, the BR18 displays several new features absent on the prototype BMCR.

Chief among these is the cocking mechanism. While the BMCR had a peculiar cocking mechanism that appeared to be a finger trap for unwary or careless firers, the BR18 has a more conventional cocking handle with a flip up/pull back action. A cocking handle is found on the right and left side of the weapon, along with firing selector and the magazine release button which are duplicated on both sides of the rifle. This makes the weapon easy to use whether you are left or right-handed, or to use STK marketing-speak, the BR18 is capable of "fully ambidextrous operations to enhance the solder's warfighting capabilities in urban operations".

The BR18 is said to be ready for full production. The weapon retains many features found on the SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle, which is the standard infantry rifle fielded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). These include the rifle's well-balanced design, sturdy construction and armoured butt which protects the user using composite material which is designed to absorb fragments in the event of a chamber explosion. However, the laser aiming device and 1.5x magnification factory zeroed optical sight embedded as part of the SAR-21 carrying handle are not found on the BR18.

In addition, the BR18 retains the front-facing ejection tube on the right hand side of the weapon, found on the BMCR prototype seen in February 2014. Spent cartridges are ejected forwards through this tube, thus reducing the risk of hot spent brass hitting the face of lefties. The gas regulator is found on the front of the weapon, to the left of the barrel.

The basic BR18 has an overall length of 645mm and weighs in at 2.9kg.

According to STK literature, the BR18 can be adapted as a "Marksman Rifle" and a "Machine Gun Rifle" (an unusual nomenclature). These variants extend the BR18's overall length to 785mm, with the weight of the rifle raised to 3.2kg and 4.0kg respectively.

The BR18's compact size and lightweight would be a boon to soldiers who need to deliver assault rifle firepower while fighting from a confined space. Apart from urban settings, the weapon could potentially appeal to motorised infantry or AIs.

Here's the full data sheet for the STK BR18 bullpup rifle for your reading pleasure.

Firing detail: Close up of the STK BR18 5.56mm assault rifle. Note the front facing cartridge ejection tube and EOTech holographic sight fastened to the picatinny rail as primary sight. The pair of thumb levers (which are also found on the other side of the weapon) are said to be the rifle's firing selector and locking/unlocking mechanism for the charging handle. 

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A look at the STK BMCR - the world's shortest bullpup rifle. Click here

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Yet another hint of Iron Dome in Singapore?

Seen at a local hobby store in Singapore: A scratch-built model of #guesswhat?

There must be good reason why a customer commissioned these scale models of what looks like missile firing units. Can't wait to see the finished product! 😏

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DSTA annual report contains reference to C-RAM. Click here

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Largest Singapore Armed Forces SAF mobilisation may have practised wider dimension of Singapore's defence readiness drawer plans

Soaring above and beyond the morning mist that shrouded Paya Lebar Air Base, Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 Hercules 732 had a pre-dawn flight to nowhere last Friday.

Personnel from the RSAF's 122 Squadron had a particularly early start that day, with the C-130H rotating a few hours before sunrise. A take-off at that unearthly hour means that the groundcrew had to be up and about even earlier, which translates to an overnighter for some of the squadron's personnel.

Once aloft, Hercules 732 traced seemingly aimless orbits over the sleeping island.

Nothing out of the ordinary with this flight or her underwing stores of a pair of external fuel tanks (inboard) and what appeared to be air-to-air refuelling pods (outboard).

But wait: The hose-and-drogue method for topping up thirsty RSAF warplanes is no longer used. The last RSAF warplanes plumbed for this AAR method were the F-5S/T Tiger IIs, which have since been retired.

And 732 was pictured at Rockhampton in September 2015 sans AAR pods. See below.

Photo: Courtesy of Central Queensland Planespotting

With gas prices the way they are, why bother flying with added deadweight? Who's probe-equipped jets are they meant to refuel? The Malaysians?

It would be interesting to ponder what prompted that early morning sortie on Friday, which was repeated on Saturday morning.

Perhaps by sheer coincidence, these were the days on which the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) conducted its largest mobilisation exercise since 1985. Some 8,000 soldiers and 700 vehicles were involved in the exercise, with publicity accorded to the mobilisation phase that took place under the command of the 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry at the historic Selarang Camp.

The SAF does not need to activate warm bodies to test its drawer plans. It is thought that various scenarios can be played out during computerised war games, with advanced algorithms working out how various courses of action from Blue and OPFOR could be played out during complex scenarios involving land, sea and air assets.

An FTX like the one we witnessed this past weekend, however, injects much more realism to game theory. This is because the interplay of many factors ranging from weather, traffic, unit esprit and the attitudes of individual National Servicemen could ultimately impact the Mobex response rate for units assessed.

One surmises that another dimension of the exercise could have involved the C-130 flights. Such RSAF aircraft are thought to be able to fly missions other than those that involve transporting troops or cargo.

It would be interesting indeed to find out what's in those AAR pods and why Hercules 732 was configured as such, orbiting the island in elliptical tracks with all that deadweight when most of Singapore was sleeping.

Is there more than meets the eye? Yes/No/Maybe.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Singapore Armed Forces SAF enhanced Mobilisation and Equipping Centre showcased during largest mobilisation since 1985


Stripped of military shortforms such as MEC (Mobilisation and Equipping Centre) and CHE (Controlled Humidity Environment), the centre of the action for the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) largest mobilisation since 1985 can be described simply as a multi-storey carpark.

Even so, a lot of thought evidently went into customising the facility to enable it to move a citizen's army from peace to war in as short a time as possible.

Yesterday afternoon at Selarang Camp, the home of the 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry, MINDEF's Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) was briefed on the enhanced MEC and its role in the mobilisation exercise that involved the 23rd Singapore Infantry Brigade and other divisional assets. Some 8,000 personnel and 700 vehicles were mobilised.

War machines are parked, fully-serviceable and fueled, ready-to-go with OVM lockers placed conveniently right behind their host vehicles.

The MID-plate vehicles are purposefully and systematically arranged according to units, so that each battalion need only report to a designated part of the MEC to prepare their vehicles for deployment. This mirrors the NATO concept called POMCUS, which means Prepositioning of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets. Designed to facilitate the rapid equipping and arming of NATO forces during the Reforger (Return of Forces to Germany) contingency plan, POMCUS saved time and added to the safe, effective and efficient matching of warfighters and war machines.

The SAF thought of that too. And the result is impressive.

The Controlled Humidity Environment is what it stands for: a sealed, air-conditioned space where temperature, humidity and ambient light is regulated for the long-term preservation of war machines and sensitive electronic equipment such as communications gear and fire control systems on remote weapon systems. Inside the POMCUS-enabled parking area, ACCORD was shown Terrex infantry combat vehicles for one motorised infantry battalion. The Terrex ICVs were parked, three between reinforced columns, with paper stickers on their bow indicating their MID-plate in numerals and their role using SAF acronyms. We saw Terrex vehicles configured for the Strike Observer Mission (STORM) and Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA), among others.

Height clearance is 4.5 metres - same as for overhead bridges on public roads - and concrete ramps are broader than in civilian carparks to cater for the turning radius of larger military vehicles, such as 155mm guns and their towing vehicles. One can imagine the value of such wide ramps, designed with as few turns and spirals as possible, being just the thing that drivers need for speedy and safe exits out of the MEC.

The MEC is a far cry from the Dri-clad system used by the Second Generation SAF in the 1980s, which saw vehicles parked in the open, zippered in weather-proof coverings that protected war machines from the rain but not the heat from the blazing sun. Signal sets and batteries were kept elsewhere and, as controlled items, had to be drawn from the signal store, each representative for each vehicle standing in line patiently, adding minutes to the total time required.

The MEC is a game-changer.


With the enhanced MEC, the time required to deploy a war machine from (literally) cold storage to the field has fallen from double-digit hours to a low single-digit. The actual figure is classified, but not difficult to work out if you factor in the touch points from in-processing onwards and punch out force readiness estimates from educated guesses.

The enhanced MEC emphasizes close and constant collaboration between the SAF and defence eco-system, in this case the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), whose defence engineers and architects well-versed in protective technology were instrumental in customising the MEC to serve the Singapore Army's specific operational requirements.

Whether by coincidence or design, siting the Selarang Camp MEC close to the Republic of Singapore Air Force Changi Air Base places it within the protective cover of RSAF air defence assets.

Apart from the facility that serves 9 Div, MECs are located elsewhere on the island to facilitate force preparation while dispersing assets to reduce vulnerability during the mobilisation window. Older generation MECs are due to be upgraded to the enhanced MEC standard in due course.

The enhanced MEC is just one part of the wider effort geared at enhancing the SAF's operational readiness by reducing the time taken for citizen soldiers to prepare for operations.

In this endeavour, every second counts.

What took about a minute for registration during In-pro can now be done within 20 seconds with the aid of bar-code scanners and a touch screen self-service kiosk, not unlike the automated check-in kiosks you see at some airports.

And while the DSTA representatives did not step forward during yesterday's briefing, their presence here and there was a telling and reassuring indication that the enhanced MEC did not magically appear without their input.

One can imagine that apart from the enhanced MEC, a host of other efforts have/are being made so that a mobilised SAF unit can deploy for action quickly, over water and over there, should the unthinkable happen.

Clearly, SAF staff planners have given much thought into updating drawer plans to sharpen the defence readiness of the SAF.

As my university mentor, Dr Tim Huxley, taught me on many occasions, equipment is not capability.

At 9 Div/HQ Infantry, ACCORD witnessed how capability was spring-loaded for action, should the need arise.

The enhanced MEC's contribution to deterrence is substantial, reassuring and practised during large force mobilisation war games.

We thank the generations of SAF planners, defence engineers and NSmen, from whose suggestions and feedback during numerous post-Mobex surveys (and you wondered what the SAF did with all your feedback), have contributed to sharpening the SAF's cutting edge.

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On Alert Amber with 76 SIB. A visit to the MEC in 2013. Click here