Sunday, October 15, 2017

Malaysian Army strengthens "anti invasion" firepower

When the Infantry moves, the Army moves.

So if the Infantry doesn't move, the Army doesn't move either?

The logic is disarmingly simple (excuse the pun). But how does one stop an intruder's infantry or keep it in check?

Look no further than the Malaysian Army should you need an example of how the tempo of an infantry attack could be blunted.

Malaysia is quietly strengthening the sharp end of her infantry units to deal with an intruder's armour and mechanised infantry. This is especially so when one considers the introduction of miniguns to the Malaysian Army's armoury.

Condor APC with Dillon Aero M134D minigun and gunshield.

Lipanbara MRAP with Dillon Aero M134D minigun.

War machines such as the Condor APC and Lipanbara MRAP have been displayed with six-barrel miniguns that fire 50 7.62mm rounds every second, accurate up to 1,200m. That's more than four times the rate of fire compared to a General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG).

And the effective range of minigun fire is more than adequate for the average engagement distance estimated for firefights between land forces on peninsular Malaysia.

The "anti invasion" capability of the Malaysian Army is correspondingly increased because the weight of fire and accuracy of Malaysian infantry is substantially enhanced, thanks to the miniguns. When augmented by 40mm automatic grenade launchers and RPGs fielded as anti-infantry weapons, such firepower is devastating noteworthy.

Whether in an ambush, meeting engagement, deliberate attack or block force operations, the amount of firepower Malaysian infantry can deliver in a shootout could potentially rattle soldiers coming under fire for the first time.

It is important not to overlook the psychological effect of a first clash that provokes a fierce reaction against an intruder's soldiers. The minigun is thus a misnomer as there is certainly nothing "mini" about the deluge of aimed, sustained, automatic fire minigun operators can bring to bear against their target.

Malaysian defence planners probably reasoned that when its infantry is sent into operations against an intruder who controls the skies, and one with an advantage in armoured platforms and guided munitions, Malaysian infantry must have what it takes to deliver the heaviest possible firepower when targets are in sight and within range.

Engagement windows may also be small. This is possibly due to the need for Malaysian assets to redeploy quickly to a new firing position soon after opening fire, or risk being engaged in place by superior firepower. During that small and time-limited engagement window, Malaysian infantry must deliver the deadliest fire possible before the unit disengages to deploy to a new firing position.

Miniguns have helped Malaysia close the firepower deficit. But this is achieved on the assumption that the Malaysian Army's logistics train is able to continually resupply frontline units with ammunition.

Here's the tradeoff: At 3,000 rounds per minute, a minigun must be liberally - or at the very least, regularly - supplied to ensure its fighting effectiveness. This is because on-board ammo is limited, and rationing the amount of fire unleashed would in effect compromise any benefits of a weapon with a high rate of fire. The supply push is therefore critical for maintaining the operational effectiveness of minigun-armed assets.

It is thus up to Kor Ordnans Diraja units to weather the storm and address the demand of units on the frontline.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SAIC, ST Kinetics and CMI Defence collaborate on light tank variant of Singapore's Next Generation AFV for US Army's Mobile Protected Firepower program

Photo: Courtesy of ST Kinetics

When the United States Army was looking for an airportable 155mm gun, Singapore's defence industry had just the weapon it was looking for - but couldn't say a word as the gun was still classified.

Had the heli-portable 155mm Singapore Light Weight Howitzer (SLWH) entered a shootout with foreign contenders, it might have had an edge as the gun was self-propelled (up to 12km/h) and robustly constructed from aircraft-grade titanium and aluminium alloy. It was the world's only heli-portable 155mm gun with a self-propelled capability

The Project R gun, subsequently known as the Pegasus, was developed to replace the GIAT 105mm LG1 light guns acquired from France under Project F as part of an arms package that also included the AMX-10 light tanks under Project S.

Alas, the M777 Ultra lightweight Field Howitzer from BAE Systems won the day, eventhough the projects to develop both weapons started around the same time in the late 1990s.

Singapore's defence eco-system appears to have learned from this experience.

This past week, a new variant of the Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle (NGAFV) that started life under Project B was unveiled. The NGAFV chassis is paired with a CMI Defence Cockerill 3000-series turret armed with a 105mm gun.

The yet-unnamed variant of the NGAFV is the product of a tri-partite collaboration between US-based Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC, it will serve as systems integrator), ST Kinetics (which provided the NGAFV chassis) and CMI Defence (which supplied the 105mm turret). It will be pitched for the US Army's Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) programme.

This brings to three the number of NGAFV variants shown publicly:
  1. Light tank with 105mm gun
  2. AIFV with a 30mm cannon and AT missile
  3. Armoured Recovery Vehicle
While the 105mm gun armed last century's AFVs, the one sitting on the NGAFV ushers in a new approach to warfighting where the coordinated use of battlefield information derived from various sensors is wielded as a weapon like never before.

In theory, this will allow the NGAFV to sense-make threats at varying distances from the platform. NGAFVs operating in packs and armed with weapons ranging from non-line of sight guided munitions to close-range armaments fired from remotely-operated weapon systems can then be directed to take out the targets.

The cameras that provide an all-round view of the NGAFV enable a change in CONOPS not possible with AFVs not wired up in this manner. They are more than a driving aid. This particular NGAFV variant could prove a potential game-changer, especially when fielded in the vanguard of Armoured Battle Groups assigned for fighting in built-up areas infested with AT munitions.

One hopes that the CONOPS can be shared with the US Army, as it currently has nothing like this in its stable of vehicles.

You may also like:
The new and the old #tank. Click here
Eight things to note about the SAF's new AFV. Click here
Tidbits on the SAF. Click here
NLOS missile carrier. Click here

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Exercise Wallaby 2017 XWB training incident: Sad homecoming

One of our own prepares to come home from Exercise Wallaby 2017. 😢


We wish the crew and passengers aboard 752 a safe journey home.

The incident weighs heavily on our hearts and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the late Third Sergeant Gavin Chan Hiang Cheng. 

To the men and women of the SAF Armour Formation: Stout hearts. Rally round those who need support during this difficult time and complete the rest of the XWB Frames safely and professionally. 

H/T to the Central Queensland Plane Spotting community in Rockhampton for the dedicated yet sensitive coverage of this morning's proceedings. Photos by IAD and Daniel Bishop.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Contemporary National Education: Former Singapore Armed Forces SAF Chief of Defence Force CDF, Lieutenant General (Ret'd) Desmond Kuek, reflects on Indonesia-Singapore defence relations

Note: This essay by LG (Ret'd) Desmond Kuek was contributed to the commemorative book published by the Embassy of The Republic of Indonesia in Singapore (KBRI Singapura) to mark 50 years of Indonesia-Singapore diplomatic relations.


This year, Singapore and Indonesia celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations. Our ties today are longstanding, strong and extensive, underpinned by a defence relationship that is founded on mutual trust and respect. 

I witnessed the closeness of our defence relations when as a young Captain in 1989, I accompanied the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Mr Goh Chok Tong, who led a senior Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) delegation which included the Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant-General Winston Choo, to visit Bandung.  We were received personally, and with great warmth and hospitality, by MENHAN General Benny Moerdani and PANGAB General Try Sutrisno.  It set the tone and standard for our bilateral ties that have been upheld and strengthened through the years. In recounting the depth and extent of our ties, I am reminded of the chorus in our bilateral Exercise SAFKAR INDOPURA song:

“Persahabatan kita, rekan seangkatan walau diseberang lautan”
[A friendship that lasts, that’s how it must be, comrades in arms across the sea]

Indeed, over the years, the SAF and the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) have worked purposefully together, in true spirit of cooperation and friendship, to ensure peace and stability in our region. The depth of our bilateral military ties is evident from the wide range of exercises and professional exchanges between our armies, naval and air forces. Exercise EAGLE INDOPURA, a bilateral naval exercise, was first established in 1974 and is the SAF’s longest-running bilateral exercise with any foreign armed forces.  Our naval divers regularly train together during Exercise PANDU. From time to time, we conduct joint socio-civic engagements with coastal communities in the Indonesian archipelago under the banner of SURYA BHASKARA JAYA. From 1980, our military exchanges expanded to include Exercise ELANG INDOPURA, an air combat exercise; and further deepened with the establishment of the Siabu Air Weapons Range in Pekanbaru. As for our Armies, we conduct Exercise SAFKAR INDOPURA annually, alternating between training areas in Indonesia and Singapore, while the SAF’s Commandos and TNI’s KOPASSUS hold annual engagements as part of Exercise CHANDRAPURA.

Exercise SAFKAR INDOPURA, in particular, is an exercise close to my heart.  As Commander of the 3rd Singapore Division from 1998-2000, I worked closely with Lieutenant-General Soegiono, then Panglima KOSTRAD to organise the annual exercises. As Co-Chair for the Indonesia-Singapore Joint Training Committee from 2000-2003, I supervised its development; and as Army Chief from 2003-2007, I had the honour of co-officiating the exercise with my KASAD counterparts General Ryamizard Ryacudu and General Djoko Santoso.  The exercise progressed from its humble beginnings as a mapping exercise to the full troop Brigade-level exercise it is today. I am pleased to note that next year, our Armies will be marking the 30th year of this flagship Army bilateral exercise.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that thousands of our SAF and TNI personnel have interacted through these years. Since 1969, the SAF has sent Officers to attend the TNI’s Army Command and Staff College (SESKOAD). Today, they attend all four Command and Staff Colleges in Indonesia.  Many of the graduates now hold senior positions in the SAF and also in Government.  Likewise, TNI Officers have been attending Singapore’s Command and Staff College and other training courses.  There are regular visits on both sides from junior levels through to senior leadership echelons. These exchanges have allowed us to grow lasting friendships, and give us the comfort and confidence to be able to pick up the telephone and converse with our counterparts with the view to resolving issues that occur from time to time, as might be expected even with the closest of neighbours.

 “Apapun terjadi pelihara, Ikatan teguh sepanjang waktu”
[Through thick and thin we’ll strive to keep, the bond that stands the test of time]

Many personal and professional ties have been forged through these opportunities for our people to spend meaningful time exploring options and solutions for complex operational scenarios, coordinating live-fire drills, and enjoying social and sports activities. It is most heart-warming to see our soldiers, sailors, airmen and women train and operate alongside one another, working hand in hand to accomplish a common mission. The mutual understanding and interoperability fostered between TNI and SAF units were especially crucial when we were called at short notice to operations in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

When the SilkAir MI185 crashed in 1997 in the Musi River near Palembang, the TNI led extensive search-and-rescue efforts, and TNI-AL divers recovered the flight data and voice recorders after more than a week of working tirelessly in extremely difficult conditions. The TNI also provided troops to search the crash site. It was a national tragedy for Singapore, and we will always appreciate how the TNI so readily assisted us in times of need.

When the Boxing Day tsunami struck Aceh in 2004, we mourned with our friends in Indonesia over the loss of lives in the disaster. We spared no effort to assist in the relief operations in Medan, Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, deploying landing ship tanks, helicopters, medical teams and combat engineers. SAF personnel worked alongside the TNI to assist in search and locate operations, as well as with the evacuation of victims, delivery of medical aid and emergency relief, provision of logistical support and in engineering reconstruction works.

“Persahabatan kita terus berlanjutan”
[This friendship will last for all to see]

Our defence cooperation is multi-faceted, and we worked collectively toward a Defence Cooperation Agreement between our two armed forces that I signed in 2007, as Chief of Defence Force, with PANGTNI Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto.  The regional security environment we face today continues to be complex and unpredictable, and the need for cooperation against sea piracy and regional terrorism is ever more compelling. In our desire to work together to overcome common threats, we forged an ASEAN Chiefs of Defence Informal Meeting (ACDFIM) from the existing web of bilateral linkages among regional countries, and subsequently constructed a multilateral format for the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM).  The strong bilateral defence ties between Indonesia and Singapore have served as a key pillar in this vital regional security structure.

Reflecting on our military ties, in our commemoration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Singapore, has brought back many fond memories of my friendships with TNI Officers, and it is my sincere hope that future generations of Officers, men and women of the SAF and TNI will continue to uphold this legacy and build on our excellent, longstanding relations.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Beware tech infatuation in the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces 3G SAF

Call centre: MAN 5-tonner seen during Exercise Wallaby 2005 with a non-standard inscription on the driver's cabin door.

Tech-related news out from Singapore had a bruising week at the end of July 2017.

On 27 July, it was reported that 300 drones failed to fly during a National Day Parade rehearsal the previous Saturday (22 Jul'17) due to a technical problem with the GPS guidance.

Also on 27 July, social media reported that an app linked to the SGSecure movement - which aims to raise the level of security awareness and national resilience among people in Singapore - had earned a dismal One Star rating (Five Stars reflect the best user experience). This was after citizen soldiers complained of being coerced into downloading an app which they found had little relevance or value.

That same day, Amazon Prime was launched in Singapore. Within 24 hours of its launch, a flurry of complaints marred the online shop as customers vent their frustrations that Amazon Prime failed to fulfil its promised two-hour delivery window.

A bruising week for technology in Singapore, no doubt. But tech weak?

Hands up those of you who will forego tech for the typewriter and migrate back to snail mail. Any takers?

Despite these setbacks, technology continues to dominate our lives in Singapore.

The examples cited above are relevant to defence efforts in the Lion City because:
a) It makes one wonder how military ops that rely on swarm UAVs will be affected if these fail to perform;
b) Unhappy citizen soldiers could affect commitment to defence;
c) If Amazon Prime fails to deliver, would Call For Fire also fail?

The downside for Amazon Prime is limited to bad press and unhappy customers.

The downside for the military if a tech-enabled sensor-to-shooter system fails will be more dire. Doubly so in a short-war scenario where boffins may not have the luxury of time to install a system update.

When the Battlefield Management System (BMS) was first unveiled to the media around the turn of the century as part of the Third Generation (3G) Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), one oft-quoted anedote used to describe BMS was the parallel with the pizza delivery service of a famous chain. (This pre-dated food delivery apps, so please bear with the story telling).

At the time, customers of a popular pizza delivery service used just one number for deliveries anywhere in Singapore. Television and radio ads for the pizza company had a catchy jingle built around the number. See picture above for a hint.

According to the SAF, BMS functioned in broadly the same way. A request for fire support, routed by warfighters through the BMS, would prioritise and allocate assets expeditiously.

This concept of operations (CONOPS) may work perfectly for war games involving a small number of tactical units plugged into the grid.

However, the reality is the SAF has never operated with everything "switched on" at the same time to serve the full force potential of the SAF.

Whether the C4ISTAR system can cope when under time pressure and under fire is a question that no one can answer, as it has never been tried before in the real world with every single SAF radar and electronic sensor switched on.

The history of warfare has many examples of outgunned, low-tech combatants who managed to not only prevail on the battlefield, but win the day.

The United States Army in Vietnam dominated their regular and irregular North Vietnamese adversaries in defence technology. The MacNamara Line relied on a variety of electronic gadgets to thwart the movement of Vietnamese forces in the jungle.

In the air, F-4 Phantom warplanes initially went into battle in Indochina without a gun. Air warfare planners had deemed guns irrelevant, in view of the reach and lethality of the combo of short-range (Sidewinder) and medium-range radar-guided AAMs (Sparrow) that could (theoretically) knock bandits out of the sky outside gun range.

During the 1991 Gulf War 1, the aerial might of coalition forces using the then-new J-STARS surveillance planes and F-15E Strike Eagles failed to find and destroy a single Iraqi Scud TEL. This despite overwhelming superiority in sensors/shooters that blanketed Iraq.

More recently, the tech-heavy Israel Defense Forces (IDF) went to war several times against Hezbollah units in Lebanon. Both sides claimed victory. While this may be true when argued from the IDF's perspective, the hard truth is that Hezbollah is still in business. And tank warfare using the likes of Merkavas and other IDF heavy tank assets will never be the same again in Lebanon, when faced with an adversary liberally armed with ATGMs fired from well-emplaced and prepared kill zones with overlapping fields of fire.

As you read this in September 2017, preparations are underway Down Under for Exercise Wallaby (XWB). As with previous editions, this year's XWB will once again put to test the tech-heavy SAF's ability to fight and manoeuvre, with military operations coordinated by computer.

It's a fine CONOPS, which we should carry on perfecting.

But at no point should one embrace tech so blindly to the point of tech infatuation.

You may also like:
A primer on the 3G SAF. Click here.
SAF demonstrates Dynamic Targeting at Exercise Forging Sabre. Click here.
Urban legends abound about the SAF's true combat capabilities. Click here.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Exercise Pacific Griffin HarpoonEx with USS Coronado

The Littoral Combat Ship, USS Coronado (LCS-4) seen sailing in company with a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) stealth frigate off the coast of Guam during Exercise Pacific Griffin 2017 (XPG). The naval manoeuvres between the United States Navy and RSN were held from 19 August to 2 September 2017.

The war games involved more than 850 personnel from Singapore and the United States. The RSN contributed two Formidable-class stealth frigates, RSS Stalwart and RSS Supreme, and an Endurance-class tank landing ship, RSS Endurance, that served as command ship. 

Apart from the Coronado, the US Navy also contributed an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS Benfold, and underway replenishment vessel, USNS Pecos. Air elements involved in XPG were a US Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and Hawker Hunter fighter jets from a civilian defence contractor, and a Republic of Singapore Air Force Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter embarked on RSS Supreme.


Exercise Pacific Griffin 2017 Special Reports:
RSN warships depart for Exercise Pacific Griffin. Click here
Exercise Pacific Griffin enters live-fire phase. Click here
USS Coronado tests NOMAD EW drone during Pacific Griffin. Click here
USMC 5th ANGLICO train with Singapore navy during Exercise Pacific Griffin. Click here

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

US Marines from 5th ANGLICO train with Republic of Singapore Navy's RSS Endurance at Exercise Pacific Griffin 2017

Lance. Cpl. Patrick Diemer, assigned to 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, communicates with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Endurance Class Landing Ship Tanks RSS Endurance (LST 207) during a live fire exercise while aboard an MH-60 Seahawk, belonging to the “Island Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 (HSC-25), during Pacific Griffin 2017, off the coast of Guam Aug., 30, 2017. Pacific Griffin 2017 is an exercise between the U.S. and Republic of Singapore Navies, representing the enhanced capabilities of both navies to operate and work together to ensure maritime security and stability. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Joan E. Jennings)

Few aboard RSS Endurance had heard of Farallon de Medinilla.

But the tiny Pacific island was the centre of attraction for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) tank landing ship, RSS Endurance.

Orbiting off the coast of Farallon de Medinilla Target Range this morning (30 August 2017), a United States Marine Corps fire control team aboard a US Navy MH-60 Seahawk survey the island intently through binoculars. It’s the designated target area during a live-fire exercise held as part of war games between naval forces from the United States and Singapore, codenamed Exercise Pacific Griffin 2017.

Today's shore bombardment practice forms just part of the Pacific Griffin exercise game plan. Held over several weeks from August 19 to September 2, the war games involved some 850 men and women from both navies who were put through realistic engagements involving anti-surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and ship-to-shore scenarios, conducted day and night and with OPFOR thrown in for added realism. The war games are arguably the most complex ever staged between warships and naval aviation from both sides, and underscore a long-standing defense relationship forged between both nations.  

Eyes on target, the Marines are linked to Endurance via radio. At their call, naval artillery will pound their targets with shells discharged at a rate of two every second.

Marines like Lance Corporal Patrick Diemer are known as ANGLICOs. LCpl Diemer serves with the 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (5th ANGLICO), which is part of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF). Their motto “Lightning from the Sky, Thunder from the Sea” provides a telling hint of the work they perform in shaping the battle, on and from the sea. 

When 5th ANGLICO swings into play, their motto needs no further explanation... or translation into any language. 

Marines, assigned to 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, communicate with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Endurance Class Landing Ship Tanks RSS Endurance (LST 207) during a live fire exercise while aboard an MH-60 Seahawk, belonging to the “Island Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 (HSC-25), during Pacific Griffin 2017, off the coast of Guam Aug., 30, 2017. Pacific Griffin 2017 is an exercise between the U.S. and Republic of Singapore Navies, representing the enhanced capabilities of both navies to operate and work together to ensure maritime security and stability. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Joan E. Jennings)

Their job is precisely as stated in their unit’s name. These Marines provide air and naval gunfire liaison during a shooting match. Few see them in battle. But they lurk close to the frontline or beachhead in small teams and let results speak for themselves. On call is a devastating menu of firepower options for ANGLICOs to reach out and touch their targets and change the landscape. Every frontline commander would welcome ANGLICOs, such is their value as force multipliers. 

At LCpl Diemer’s command, naval artillery from the Singaporean warships will drop shells at a designated target till point of destruction. 

As gun crews aboard the RSN warships will not get to see their target on land, corrections radioed by LCpl Diemer and his team mates form part of what's known in military parlance as the sensor-to-shooter cycle. The sensors in this case are his Mark 1 eyeball. The shooters are the Singaporean navy's 76mm Super Rapido guns. Put bluntly, this is the tighly coordinated no-nonsense kill chain that hostile units dread.

A high rate of fire counts for nothing if gunners are unable to engage a distant target accurately. Here's where the gunfire liaison teams make their presence felt. A well-trained ANGLICO can walk shells to the target and have naval artillery fire for effect once the shells are zeroed in accurately.

It’s not an easy task as the warship may be on the move on the gun line while assigned for naval gunfire support. And unlike artillery emplaced on land, the pitch and roll of the warship and meteorological conditions like wind and rain can affecting the accuracy of naval gunfire.

The ANGLICOs count themselves lucky if their target at the impact area is stationary. If the target is mobile and if there are more targets than gun barrels, the ANGLICOs have their work cut out for them during a fire mission. They will have to quickly prioritise targets and assess where the mobile target(s) might be, taking into account the estimated time of flight for the projectiles, before they bring on the steel rain.

And when working in concert with foreign navies like the one from Singapore, differences in target engagement procedures - even accents and peculiarities in speech on both ends of the comms line - may further complicate matters.

The fire mission conducted off Farallon de Medinilla is valuable for the RSN too. Live-fire ranges in and around Singapore island, a tiny diamond-shaped city-state 12 miles (20km) wide and some 26 miles (42km) long, are unable to accommodate naval guns whose shells can hit targets more than 12 miles away.

So war games like Pacific Griffin are valuable for putting to test tactics, techniques and procedures that enhance the capabilities of personnel from both navies to operate and work alongside one another.

There's another plus for Americans who train with foreign navies. When onboard a Singaporean warship like Endurance, the lucky ANGLICOs may get to sample some local hospitality, like Singaporean food.

All things considered, a win-win solution for all involved.

Good shooting. ANGLICO out!

Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) sailors chock and chain an MH-60 Seahawk, belonging to the “Island Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 (HSC-25), on board the RSN Endurance Class Landing Ship Tanks RSS Endurance (LST 207) participates in Pacific Griffin 2017, off the coast of Guam, Aug., 30, 2017. Pacific Griffin 2017 is an exercise between the U.S. and Republic of Singapore Navies, representing the enhanced capabilities of both navies to operate and work together to ensure maritime security and stability. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Joan E. Jennings)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

US Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado LCS-4 tests new Nomad EW drone on sidelines of Exercise Pacific Griffin

Revision dated 6 September 2017: After the blog entry below was posted on 5 September'17, we found out that Nomad stands for Netted Offboard Miniature Active Decoy. It is a 3-foot long UAV with a rotor diameter of 6 feet. The Nomad decoy is launched from a tube 4 feet in length with a diameter of 6 inches. According to the US Office of Naval Research:
  • Nomad is a rotary wing UAV specific for electronic warfare operations
  • It is tube-launched for compact storage and rapid deployment
  • The decoy is designed to work in multi-Nomad teams or formations. In other words, swarm UAV tactics.
  • It is a low-cost design for expendable or recoverable operations.

H/T Shawn Chung 

Civilian contractors from the Office of Naval Research conduct a test on a Nomad drone system aboard the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4). Coronado is on a rotational deployment in U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, patrolling the region's littorals and working hull-to-hull with partner navies to provide 7th Fleet with the flexible capabilities it needs now and in the future. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples/Released)

The United States Navy has tested a drone system - apparently new to Google - called "Nomad" from the flight deck of the Littoral Combat Ship, USS Coronado (LCS-4). Nomad is short for Netted Offboard Miniature Active Decoy.

The drone was vertically-launched from a bank of four tubes and carried aloft by propulsion mechanisms that apparently unfold upon launch. The Nomads recovered in vertical position, propped up by four "legs".

It is possible that the Nomad is a type of lightweight, expendable UAS that can operate as a solitary unit or coordinated for swarm tactics.

A Google search failed to uncover more information on the Nomad drone system, whose [See note above dated 6 Sep'17] The trials were administered by "civilian contractors" from the US Navy's Office of Naval Research. According to a US Navy release, the trials took place in the Philippine Sea on 28 August 2017.

Forward deployed at the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) RSS Singapura Changi Naval Base, Coronado recently took part in the first joint USN-RSN naval manoeuvres, codenamed Exercise Pacific Griffin (XPG). The war games took place off the US Pacific island territory of Guam from 19 August to 2 September 2017.

A Nomad drone launches from the flight deck of the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4). Coronado is on a rotational deployment in U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, patrolling the region's littorals and working hull-to-hull with partner navies to provide 7th Fleet with the flexible capabilities it needs now and in the future. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples/Released)

A Nomad drone lands on the flight deck of the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4). Coronado is on a rotational deployment in U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, patrolling the region's littorals and working hull-to-hull with partner navies to provide 7th Fleet with the flexible capabilities it needs now and in the future. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples/Released)

The trials of Nomad indicate that Coronado deployed off Guam with at least two unmanned aerial systems. Apart from Nomad, the LCS embarked the MQ-8B Firescout, which was employed to feed targeting data back to the ship via the MH-60S Seahawk during an anti-surface engagement.

Both assets are fielded by the US Navy's Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, which had a detachment aboard Coronado for the duration of XPG as well as naval activities conducted on the sidelines of the exercise.

The MH-60S/MQ-8B combo is the first of its kind in the US Navy. Sending the Firescout aloft extends the eyes and ears of the LCS, contributing high-value track data to the air and sea situation picture compiled in realtime for the Coronado's warfighters.

Drones are not new to the Singapore Navy. The Formidable-class stealth frigates (FFS) have tested at least two types of UAS. The types tested aboard the FFS include the ScanEagle, currently deployed aboard Victory-class Missile Corvettes for mid-range scouting missions.

Swarm UAVs are an endeavour spearheaded by Singaporean defence science community in support of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). A sanitised, civilian application was demonstrated at Singapore's 52nd National Day this year, with 300 tightly coordinated UAVs displayed as part of a light-and-sound show. See below.

Higher up the evolutionary ladder are large UAVs, whose roles go beyond merely providing visual reconnaissance or target designation functions for SAF manoeuvre forces. Such assets are likely to co-exist with manned Republic of Singapore Air Force air platforms in the coming decade.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Singapore Ministry of Defence MINDEF releases images of Exercise Pacific Griffin 2017 XPG

Look out for our reports on XPG, out in the coming days. 

RSS Stalwart takes aboard fuel from USNS Pecos while underway. Photo: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

Warships from the United States Navy and Republic of Singapore Navy during a photocall for Exercise Pacific Griffin (XPG). The naval war games, which were held off Guam over two weeks, involved some 850 personnel from both armed forces. Photo: Ministry of Defence, Singapore

You may also like:
RSN warships depart Changi for Exercise Pacific Griffin XPG. Click here

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Malaysia wields social media with aplomb after USS John S. McCain incident

The collision between the United States Navy warship, USS John S. McCain, and the tanker, Alnic MC, early on 21 August 2017 saw Malaysia’s information management apparatus kick into high gear.

Malaysia's approach to disseminating information on the tragedy makes an interesting case study, principally because of its heavy use of non-traditional channels such as Twitter.

Updates were noticeably brisk on the Twitter account belonging to the Malaysian Chief of Navy, Admiral Dato' Seri Panglima Ahmad Kamarulzaman bin Haji Ahmad Badaruddin (@mykamarul). 

Ditto for the Director-General of the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), Datuk Zulkifili Abu Bakar (@KPMaritimMsia).

More than that, tactical units such as the frigate, KD Lekiu, contributed to the info push. Tweets from Lekiu brought Twitterati to the heart of the SAR operation while an RMN Super Lynx naval helicopter also described its role in the operation. When a body had been found by the Malaysian navy, the first pictures of the handover of the body to the US Navy came from a Lekiu tweet. 

On the home front, Singapore government agencies such as the Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) relied on the tried-and-tested. News releases were uploaded on their respective websites. A media embed aboard a C-130 Hercules tasked with SAR mirrored the media embed in March 2014 during the early phase of the search done across the South China Sea for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. As with the MH370 tragedy, facebook updates by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, lent a touch of warmth to official collaterals.

Malaysia’s active use of social media during the SAR op is indicative of the breadth and depth of updates, and ops tempo it can sustain during future operations.

It’s more than hip and trendy. Malaysian updates were picked up by foreign media outlets when journalists, hungry for information, zoomed in on twitter feeds from the federation. The picture tweeted by @mykamarul of the USS John S McCain was used by several foreign media sites, such as The Guardian (below).

Anyone can set up a social media account as fast as you can type. But to establish street cred and a following in cyberspace takes time.

Decentralising the info push to regional commands such as Markas Wilayah Laut 1 (HQ Naval Region 1) and tactical units such as individual warships and helicopters points to two things:

First, it demonstrates a level of trust for on-scene commanders to furnish updates where and when appropriate. Trust that leads to empowerment expands the info comms toolbox, giving the Malaysians more credible voices to tell their story.

Second, it suggests a level of coordination and speed of response that cuts through layers of bureaucracy. When one considers the level and intensity of global interest in the USS John S. McCain collision, prudence would call for proper SOPs to assess and clear all information and images before these are released to the public.

For a tragedy with an international dimension and one that unfolded in disputed waters, one doubts that Malaysian leaders would countenance a free wheeling style where tactical units can post updates on social media, willy-nilly, without clearance from higher command.

This indicates that the Malaysians have established tight coordination across agencies, as well as close command and control between top management, operational commands and tactical units. The key messages that underpin the info push should have been made clear to all parties involved so that such messages are complementary and mutually reinforcing. The absence of such coordination could risk messages that are contradictory or inaccurate, especially in the “fog of war” situations when the ground situation is difficult to verify.

For those of us familiar with the OODA loop, the fast pace of updates from many facets of the Malaysian SAR operation says a lot about their capability and capacity to orchestrate complex, multi-agency info campaigns in realtime, over several days.

Bear in mind, dear readers, that the US warship tragedy unfolded during a packed season for the Malaysian PR calendar. Malaysian info ops managers had to contend with the 29th Southeast Asian Games (19 to 30 August), launch of KD Maharaja Lela, the RMN’s first Littoral Combat Ship (24 August) and the run-up to the massive parade commemorating 60 years of independence on Merdeka Day today.

Transpose the scale of such events to a Singaporean context and overlay it with a “live” SAR op executed in disputed waters, with a false alarm situation involving the recovery of a body at sea, with no media gaffes by Malaysia, and one comes to respect the level of competence demonstrated by Malaysian information managers.

Just think about how the pace of such an info push could influence sentiment during a short duration, high intensity operation. Think about how Malaysia could further leverage on its superior number of Kuala Lumpur-based defence publications (yes, they publish more defence magazines than Singapore) and one comes to realise the versatility of the toolbox at the command of Malaysian defence information managers.

Malaysia demonstrated how it wielded social media with aplomb, with tact and sensitivity in view of the lives lost and the international dimension involving a superpower.

We give credit where it's due. Bravo Zulu!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF releases image of "new" F-15SG Strike Eagle tail numbers

Fin flash: This is believed to be the first official image of F-15SG Strike Eagle tail numbers that suggest that the RSAF's F-15 fighter force is bigger than initial orders suggest. Source: RSAF Facebook

In case you missed it, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Facebook page has kindly compiled an album 35 images from this August's Exercise Red Flag - Nellis 17-4. It was uploaded yesterday (28 August'17).

Among the images is one the RSAF FB previously posted on 26 August of F-15SG Strike Eagle tail fins. It's unremarkable as a picture, apart from the special fin flash with the flags of the United States and Singapore that add a dash of colour to an otherwise grey warpaint. The earlier post hardly generated any excitement among RSAF watchers, who regularly conduct bird population census. So the Red Flag album provided another chance to present the image to netizens.

It's the numbers that matter: The image is believed to be the first officially released by the RSAF with tail numbers that suggest an upsized F-15SG fighter force.

These are numbers 05-8371, 05-8373 and 05-8378, with the Mike Oscar code assigned for birds that roost at the United States Air Force Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. The base is home to the RSAF's Peace Carvin V detachment, which flies F-15SGs under the banner of the 428th Fighter Squadron "Buccaneers".

Long story short: Singapore started off buying 12 F-15SG in September 2005 to "replace" ageing A-4 Super Skyhawks, which interestingly enough had already been retired from frontline service on 1 April 2005. This was followed by a second batch of 12 F-15SGs in 2007, bringing the official tally to 24 birds.

In yet another example of defence creep, two batches of eight F-15SGs further enlarged the fleet to 40 F-15SG tail numbers that have been tagged by defence watchers.

Some speculation abounds on whether this fleet will grow again, as the much-anticipated order for the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has yet to be inked.

Who knows?

In the meantime, it may be worth your while reading up about swarm UAVs UCAVs. #justsaying.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Exercise Pacific Griffin XPG enters live-fire phase off Guam

Missile Away! The United States Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) fires a Harpoon Block 1C missile at a target lurking over the horizon at extreme range. Photo: US Navy

[Edit: The US Navy has revised the caption above with the one below, which omits mention of XPG. However, the Facebook album for USS Coronado chronicles the HarpoonEx with the original syntax.]

War games conducted by naval forces from the United States and Singapore, codenamed Exercise Pacific Griffin (XPG), entered the live-fire phase off Guam this week.

The war games, described by the US Navy as "the most complex and comprehensive exercise between the U.S. and the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) to date", represents "the enhanced capabilities of both navies to operate and work together to ensure maritime security and stability".

One highlight of the combined live-fire exercise was a HarpoonEx which involved the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Coronado, which is forward deployed at the Republic of Singapore Navy's RSS Singapura (Changi Naval Base).

The missile shot that took place on Tuesday 22 August saw Coronado fire a Harpoon RGM-84 Block 1C anti-ship missile at a surface target lurking over-the-horizon.

The LCS used her embarked air detachment to provide mid-course correction during the HarpoonEx. Air assets deployed were a MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) paired with an MH-60S Seahawk from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 (HCS-23).

Eyes in the sky: The air detachment embarked aboard USS Coronado furnished mid-course guidance during the HarpoonEx. Picture here is a MQ-8B Fire Scout drone, which worked with a MH-60S Seahawk from HCS-23 to expand the Coronado's ability to reach out and touch faraway contacts. Photo: US Navy

“LCS will play an important role in protecting shipping and vital U.S. interests in the maritime crossroads,” Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, Commander of Task Force 73, said in a US Navy news release cited by USNI News.

“Its ability to pair unmanned vehicles like Fire Scout with Harpoon missiles to strike from the littoral shadows matters – there are over 50,000 islands in the arc from the Philippines to India; those shallow crossroads are vital world interests. Harpoon and Fire Scout showcase one of the growing tool combinations in our modular LCS capability set and this complex shot demonstrates why LCS has Combat as its middle name.”

US Navy Commander Douglas Meagher, Coronado’s Commanding Officer, said in the same news release cited by USNI News:“Our crew and air detachment really came together as a team to accomplish this live-fire event. Our sailors worked hard to prepare for this exercise and I’m extremely proud of the way they performed.”

Captain Lex Walker, Commodore of US Navy's Destroyer Squadron 7, said: “USS Coronado’s success in a real-world deployment of the harpoon missile system is a result of how we are changing the way we operate and think about LCS.”

“By focusing on how a deployed LCS fits in the larger maritime domain with regional partners, we are ensuring a secure and cooperative regional environment while increasing the ship’s capabilities.”

USS Coronado arrived in Singapore in October 2016. The warship is the first trimaran Independence-class LCS and the third US Navy LCS stationed in Singapore after USS Fort Freedom and USS Fort Worth.

Senang Diri understands that Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) stealth frigates, Stalwart and Supreme, led by the command ship/tank landing ship, Endurance, are now off Guam for XPG. Embarked with the RSN ships is a single S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter. This is believed to be the RSN's biggest deployment for a naval exercise held this far from Singapore.

See also:
RSS warships depart for Exercise Pacific Griffin. Click here

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Exercise Pacific Griffin: Republic of Singapore Navy RSN stealth frigates, Stalwart and Supreme, depart Changi Naval Base with LST/command ship, Endurance

File picture of USS Kitty Hawk at Naval Base Guam some years ago.

You can tell which warships are heading out to sea from the activity pierside.

Signal cables and transit lines linking ship to shore are disconnected. Cranes standby to lift the gangways aside and the shimmering heat haze and wisps of diesel smoke from the funnels show that engines are fired up and ready to go.

At Changi Naval Base this morning (10 August 2017), three Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) warships prepared to cast off. 

Their destination could be Guam, where they are likely to be involved in the inaugural Exercise Pacific Griffin (XPG), a naval warfare exercise involving the RSN and United States Navy (USN) said to be taking place this month.

Seen leaving CNB is the tank landing ship (LST), RSS Endurance (207). The 141-metre long warship – the largest in the navy - is joined by two 114-metre long stealth frigates, RSS Stalwart (72) and RSS Supreme (73). 

The warships are spotted eastbound in the Singapore Strait. Apra Harbor in Guam, a United States island territory, is some 2,500 nautical miles away in the Pacific Ocean. XPG could mark the first time three RSN warships are involved in naval war games held so far from Singapore.

Endurance-class LST mid-life upgrade
Though classed as an LST, Endurance is more than a floating transport vessel for vehicles and cargo. 

A mid-life upgrade performed some years ago by defence engineers from the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and Singapore Technologies Engineering (ST Engg) allows the LST to serve as a command ship during complex naval operations. Such cooperative engagements could involve RSN and friendly surface ships, warplanes and sub-surface assets like submarines and unmanned vessels. The warship’s ability to make sense of the electronic battlespace has likewise been enhanced.

What was once an empty conference room - which I first saw in December 2003 during the first Operation Blue Orchid (OBO1) when I sailed with Endurance in the Persian Gulf - has been fitted with computer workstations and plasma screens that connect the warship with other Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) sensors. 

A ship at sea can only see as far as the horizon as the curvature of the earth will mask contacts below the radar horizon. Following the upgrade, Endurance can exchange data with friendly assets, including those far beyond her immediate visual and radar horizon.

Warfighters aboard Endurance can therefore see first and see more, thanks to information transmitted to the warship securely and in realtime, improving her situational awareness.

Naval engagements with guided munitions mean that target vessels can be engaged within minutes by gunfire or missiles - much faster in the case of supersonic anti-ship missiles. Every moment of early warning is a precious advantage.

At XPG, the RSN’s cooperative engagement capability is expected to be put through realistic and rigorous scenarios that will practice how our warships will control a patch of sea and air space. together.

We wish the crew aboard Endurance, Stalwart and Supreme fair winds and following seas.... and good hunting.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Malaysian Armed Forces MAF senior commanders with unique pedigree

The Malaysian Army stands to gain handsomely from the unique pedigree of its Chief of Army, General Dato' Sri Zulkiple bin Haji Kassim, as it shapes up for future defence challenges.

Zulkiple is one of the few officers who have risen to the Malaysian Army's pinnacle position of Panglima Tentera Darat (PTD) whose career history counts experience at both parachute and mechanised infantry units.

But Zulkiple's unique pedigree does not stem from army units he led as he moved up the ranks. Instead, it is Zulkiple's tenure leading airborne and mechanised infantry units during their formative years that is noteworthy.

Zulkiple was Commanding Officer of Batalion ke-17 Rejimen Askar Melayu Diraja (Para) in 1994. That same year, then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed redesignated Briged 10 Infantri Malaysia as 10 Briged (Para) as a nod to the unit's elite status as the army's Pasukan Atugerak Cepat (PAC, which means Rapid Deployment Force).

In 2003, Zulkiple was appointed commander of the Pahang-based Briged Keempat Infantri Malaysia (Mekanize). His posting took place at a time when the Malaysian Army's first mechanised infantry brigade was making inroads into transforming infantry battalions into fully mechanised units, with concept of operations (CONOPS) being formulated for fighting units equipped with tracked and wheeled armoured personnel carriers.

Leading these units during the formative stages of new CONOPS has earned Zulkiple a perspective that few others can match. This is because he would have seen, firsthand, the conceptualisation, implementation and refinement of new ways of fighting.

Along the way, Zulkiple would have been appraised of the thinking underlying the PAC and Mekanize fighting concepts, as well as the upsides and downsides to various courses of action. In so doing, Zulkiple would have been put through the intellectual process whereby strengths and weaknesses of shaping and deploying Para and Mekanize units for certain missions were discussed, role played and then operationalised from initial operational capability to full operational capability. If you have spoken to senior Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) commanders, you will realise their CONOPS formulation is not without intellectual rigour.

This is about as close to knowing thyself as one could ask for. And this is why Senang Diri is of the view Zulkiple has a unique pedigree.

Over at Markas Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM), the career history of the current Panglima Tentera Udara (PTU), General Dato' Sri Hj Affendi bin Buang, has also charted an interesting trajectory.

In his younger days, Affendi flew the A-4PTM Skyhawk fighter-bomber as operational pilot and was an instructor on the type before transiting to the MiG-29 TUDM Technical Team in 1994. He is recognised as one of the pioneers who introduced the MiG-29 into service and was one of the founding members of the "Smokey Bandits" MiG-29 aerobatic display team during his tenure commanding 17/19 Skuadron, which flew the type.

As TUDM Director General for Operations and Exercises during Cope Taufan 2014, Affendi earned a unique perspective working in partnership with the United States Air Force (USAF) to plan and execute the war games. This serial of Cope Taufan made the news as it marked the first USAF deployment of the F-22 Raptor to Southeast Asia. During Cope Taufan 2014, TUDM pilots flew with and against F-15s and F-22s during dissimilar air combat training (DACT), gaining invaluable insights as a result.

What's more, Affendi's term as Panglima Angkatan Bersama (Joint Force Commander) and Panglima Operasi Udara (TUDM Chief of Air Operations) involved planning for Eksesais Paradise 2/2015.

Affendi therefore knows the ethos and thinking behind the Paradise deployment as he has seen TUDM practice its movement across the South China Sea for out-of-base operations. Senang Diri had previously written about Eks Paradise and its role in sharpening TUDM's ability to cross deploy to Sabah and Sarawak quickly should Malaysian air warfare planners deem a strategic pivot necessary. Click here

South of the Causeway, how have things turned out on the leadership front?

The Singapore Army's leadership development has been affected somewhat by political factors.

In March 2011, the Singapore Army had to backfill leadership appointments left vacant after then Chief of Army (COA), Major-General Chan Chun Sing, and Commander Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Brigadier-General Tan Chuan-Jin, resigned to enter politics. Within a span of weeks, the Singapore Army had lost two senior commanders.

What happened next was unprecedented. We witnessed a general who had hung up his uniform for the Admin service, Brigadier-General Ravinder Singh, recalled for duty as COA. Singh left the SAF a second time in 2014 with the rank of Major-General.

At the time, the Singapore Army's carefully-curated succession plans were thrown off-track, albeit temporarily.

With 20/20 hindsight, Singh's tenure as COA did not disappointment.

Interestingly, the wide range of experience amassed by Zulkiple and Affendi was enabled by their longer military career. Zulkiple is 58 years old and Affendi, 55 years of age. This makes the two Malaysian Service chiefs much older than their SAF counterparts. But the ATM's approach to leadership development is different from the SAF's. Correspondingly, the result of a longer career runway is wider exposure to a range of experiences and, in the individuals cited, greater depth in professional knowledge.

The lesson here is that the Malaysian Armed Forces does not stand still when it comes to transforming the armed forces to place it in a stronger position to execute its mission. And it would be a grave strategic mistake for anyone to underestimate their potential, resolve or ability to do what they need to do.

As one Malaysian observer put it:"The last round of senior promotions has elevated officers who are aggressive and with strong operational background. Since their elevation, they have pushed their men hard to improve readiness and increase competency to compensate for the tight equipment budgets."

Postscript: With apologies to Markas TLDM for not showcasing PTL. Had written previously about the admiral in the post, Malaysian Navy's 15 to 5 transformation effort. Click here

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Comments on the expansion of the Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF Tengah Air Base

Extract from The War Against Japan, Volume I, The Loss of Singapore
Chapter XXI, page 353, Singapore Airfields Untenable

"Towards the end of December 1941 a number of special landing strips had been constructed to relieve the congestion that would obviously arise in the event of a withdrawal to the island, and to provide dispersion for the Hurricane fighters. The plan had been to construct two strips in southern Johore and five on Singapore Island. Priority for labour had been given to Air Headquarters for this purpose, but the constant air raids caused civilian labourers to desert. By the end of January only two strips had been completed though others were in the course of preparation. Their existence, whether completed or not, provided the enemy with possible landing grounds for airborne troops - a threat which could have been countered only by detailing special detachments to guard them. Since no troops could be spared for this purpose all five strips on the island had to be made unfit for use. In addition all other open spaces which might possibly be used as temporary landing grounds were covered by obstructions."

Comments on the expansion of Tengah Air Base
The move to upsize Tengah Airbase, ahead of the closure of Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) from 2030, demonstrates the importance of air power to Singapore’s defence because a substantial tract of land has been entrusted to the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

One can imagine that the MINDEF/SAF strategy is to maximise the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) ability to generate and sustain air power by adding as many military runways as we can onto our land-scarce island. 

Augmented by public roads that can be converted into Alternate Runways, having more runways would frustrate attempts at crippling our air force as hostile forces would be faced with a larger number of runways to deal with.

It is all a numbers game. Runways are fixed assets whose locations can be pinpointed by GPS. But the existence of more locations from which the RSAF can launch and recover warplanes means that an adversary would likely require a sizeable number of satellite-guided munitions to knock out runways effectively. This is because fighter jets can take to the skies by using a fraction of a runway’s total length. As for combat and transport helicopters, these rotary-wing assets have practised operating out-of-base from locations such as golf courses.

Aerial sights: Royal Air Force aerial reconnaissance photograph showing Kallang airfield (bottom left) and Paya Lebar landing ground (top right), which was constructed by the British as an alternate runway. The landing ground sits on the present location of Paya Lebar Air Base.

British military planners who surveyed Singapore Island to identify possible locations for Royal Air Force airfields did such a thorough job that the three of the four sites are still used by military/commercial aviation today.

Even with four military airfields - Tengah in the west, Seletar in the north doubling as a seaplane base (then the largest east of Suez), Sembawang close to the Royal Navy dockyards and Kallang in the south (also a seaplane base) - the RAF was keenly aware of the vulnerability of its runways to artillery barrages and aerial attacks. As the Japanese closed in on Singapore from the north, belated efforts were made to construct as many as five landing grounds on Singapore to serve as alternate runways. Two more were planned in Johor Bahru.

According to the British official history of WW2, only two landing grounds (LGs) were completed just prior to the invasion of Singapore. While the LGs are not named, Senang Diri understands these are Tebrau in Johor, built by New Zealanders from Number 1 Aerodrome Construction Squadron, and Paya Lebar landing ground. The latter was developed in the 1950s as Paya Lebar Airport, which opened in 1955.

The landing strip at Changi (above), built by POW labour during the Japanese Occupation, evolved into RAF Changi after the war. It was handed over to the Singapore Air Defence Command after the British withdrawal and renamed Changi Air Base. The site was redeveloped into today's Changi Airport following the relocation of RSAF assets to Paya Lebar Airport, when was transformed into a military airbase and renamed Paya Lebar Air Base.

Nearly a century after the British military study of Singapore, the approach to protecting airpower on Singapore by maximising landing strips and by fielding strong fighter/anti-aircraft defences remains essentially unchanged.

Attempts at making runways inoperable will be frustrated by the RSAF's integrated ground-based air defence network, which has a missile density unmatched in Southeast Asia to counter aerial threats flying at very low level to medium altitude. These armaments can be complemented by sea-based air defences, principally the Aster missile batteries on Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class stealth frigates deployed as an advance air defence screen.

In addition, the RSAF Air Power Generation Command (APGC) has raised, trained and sustained squadrons adept at executing rapid runway repairs, day or night, even on terrain seeded with area denial munitions such as mines or UXBs.

Tube artillery shells and unguided rocket artillery munitions do not have the accuracy required to knock out a runway. This means more guns are needed for every runway targeted, which in turn makes enemy artillery a bigger, more vulnerable target. An adversary with a modest artillery force may have to prioritise its targets, which robs the adversary of the ability to counter all RSAF air bases at the same time. 

In coming years, one can expect to see substantial redevelopments to the additional land allocated to Tengah Air Base.

The runway at Murai Camp, which is now home to the air force’s drone squadrons and has its own runway, is likely to go along with the 2,500m long, six-lane wide Lim Chu Kang Road. A second runway and new taxiways are likely to be constructed on the acquired land, along with hardened shelters to house RSAF warplanes. Bear in mind that when the British operated Tengah, the air base had three runways that criss-crossed one another.

A second runway and new taxiways (which can also serve as alternate runways) at Tengah means the RSAF would be net positive, even with the loss of PLAB and its two taxiways.

The RSAF previously operated from Changi Airport’s Runway 3, which is now closed to facilitate construction of Terminal 5. The addition of a future military runway at Changi, without additional airstrips (new runway plus tacxiways) at Tengah, means the RSAF’s runway balance sheet would be net negative as the PLAB runways would not have been replaced.

MINDEF/SAF has indicated it will avoid such a situation with the latest land acquisition.

Note: As a member of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) Main Council and ACCORD Educational Institutions council, the writer was briefed by RSAF APGC on Exercise Torrent VII and witnessed the exercise unfold. The writer has attended five of the seven war games in the Torrent series.