A blog on Singapore defence and the SAF that goes Above & Beyond This blog is about defence information management, especially defence media relations and strategic media relations. It examines Singapore defence and security matters and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which I'm very passionate about.
This is the cropped final artwork for the back cover of the fictional story. It shows a Royal Malaysian Navy Scorpene-class submarine, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman, with the Malaysian navy sea base, Tun Sharifah Rodziah, lurking in the background.
Front cover will show the Royal Malaysian Air Force as the story has a tri-Service element involving all arms of the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM).
Here's an extract from the fictional story that makes first mention of Tun Sharifah Rodziah. The characters and dialogue have been omitted. PL-TSR teams up with KD Tunku Abdul Rahman in a later chapter as the action builds.
Follow the book updates on Twitter @senangdiri
The South China Sea
As Regiment 52 raced south with its Astros rocket launchers, a Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM, Royal Malaysian Navy) asset in the South China Sea also headed for its deployment area off Johor but at a more sedate pace.
Under a clear tropical night sky studded with stars, the TLDM asset travelled by dry tow, carried piggyback aboard a commercial transport ship that steamed towards Johor at 14 knots.
It had taken the heavy lift transport about a week to sail from Semporna off the eastern coast of Sabah to the South China Sea. Such was the urgency of the deployment that the ship sailed non-stop. By dawn, she would have arrived at journey's end.
The TLDM asset was something of a floating paradox. It was used by the Malaysian navy but it was not a warship. The asset had no pennant number unlike most naval platforms but came under the TLDM order of battle. Even with her haze paint scheme that was the same shade as Malaysian warships, the floating structure might have passed as just another oil rig.
Her full name in Malay was Pangkalan Laut Tun Sharifah Rodziah (PL-TSR) - Sea Base Tun Sharifah Rodziah – and she was named to honour the wife of a former Malaysian prime minister. The floating sentinel moved steadily towards her assigned action station off Johor’s eastern seaboard codenamed Daerah Maritim 7 or Delta Mike Seven.
Her assigned mission: To keep an eye on one of the world's busiest sea lanes that led from Singapore harbour to the South China Sea, observe and report all surface activity and signal Markas TLDM (Royal Malaysian Navy HQ) with regular updates.
Her anchor point in Delta Mike 7 was a strategic location as all shipping lanes that linked the Singapore Strait with the South China Sea fell well within her radar horizon. Once the mat at the base of the platform's tubular legs was ballasted fully and anchored to the sea floor, PL-TSR commenced sentry duty by tracking and reporting every vessel movement within her area of operations.
Tun Sharifah Rodziah served as gate keeper to the enemy’s attempts to break out from Singapore straits into the South China Sea. It was a heroine’s job because the sea base was right in the path of the naval task groups on the warpath.
Although the Malaysian navy sailors knew that they were sailing into a political storm, they were blissfully unaware that their voyage took them right past a fledgling storm of the meteorological sort. The fair winds and following seas so cherished by sailors was due to winds that blew in from Siberia into Southeast Asia for several months every year. This was a seasonal phenomenon that the Malaysian sailors experienced during the Northeast monsoon.
During the voyage in the South China Sea, the TLDM sea base and her transport vessel came within a hundred nautical miles of a mass of unstable air off Sabah. Known by weathermen as a Borneo Vortex, the area of turbulence raged beyond the horizon as a spectacular lightning storm. The vortex swirled undetected out of reach from the transport vessel’s weather radar.
Within days, a strong and persistent cold surge from Siberia would swirl round the Borneo Vortex to form a far more sinister weather pattern that challenged weather theory and severely disrupted military operations.
[Note: The following is a fictional account of how the Malaysian Army might send its MBT tank squadrons south on the Malay peninsula. I thank the various parties who helped educate me on the tactics, techniques, procedures and terminology. I used my imagination for the rest. I hope the story describes the process with reasonable accuracy. This is an extract from a much longer writing project on Markas ATM. It was a joy researching and writing about the ATM. Thank you for the trust and friendship. To all celebrating: Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf Zahir dan Batin.]
There are several Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM, Malaysian Armed Forces) units that people have never heard of. This is not because the units are secret but because their role is so ordinary and the media hardly writes about them as their work appears unexciting.
Kompeni Angkut is one example. Its name, which is Malay for Transport Company, sums up in a simple and direct manner the role it serves under the Malaysian Army’s Kor Perkhidmatan Diraja (KPA, Royal Logistics Corps).
If you’ve never heard of Kompeni Angkut, you’re in good company because neither have many Malaysians.
Despite its low profile, this transport company performs a vital role. The unit transports Malaysian Army equipment like main battle tanks using huge 15-tonne tank transporters, delivers soldiers by the thousands and moves tonnes of ammunition, water and stores across Malaysia with its fleet of specialised trucks.
Put simply, Kompeni Angkut is staffed by transport planners, drivers and mechanics who job of moving things from A to B comes under the grand sounding title of military logistics.
Kompeni Angkutsupported the Malaysian Army’s deployment effort south with an interesting pairing of war machines. In doing so, the men and women from these companies debunked the notion that logistics units operated in rear areas safe from firefights at the front.
The Malaysian Army’s longest and heaviest soft-skinned vehicle (and the one with the most wheels, with 20 in total), the Iveco Eurotrakker tank transporter, was sent south of the Malay peninsula carrying the army’s heaviest and best protected armoured vehicle, the upgraded PT-91M Pendekar MBT.
Just past midnight, Markas ATM (Malaysian Armed Forces headquarters) issued the notice to move to the tank transporter units.
Logisticians from 11 Kompeni Angkut (Askar Wataniah), which was a Territorial Army unit, rushed south from the middle of the peninsula where scores of upgraded Pendekar MBTs from the Federation’s first tank unit, Rejimen Kesebelas Kor Armor Diraja (11 KAD) lay waiting for the call to action. The tank squadrons were dispersed under cover in hideouts which the tank crew called “hides”.
Each tank transporter made its own way to its assigned hide, with the drivers guided by GPS coordinates. Once they left the safety of paved roads and entered jungle paths or plantations, the pitch black environment and rough terrain tested the driving skills of the weekend soldiers as their mammoth 20-wheelers bashed through thick underground and the wheels churned up unpaved paths turned to mud by the unrelenting thunderstorm.
Looking up from their tank hatch, the Pendekar tankees could not see the sky as each hide was sited under the protection of thick canopies within tropical jungle, palm oil or rubber plantations. For good measure, a camouflage net was propped over each tank using bamboo poles. Enemy sensors scouring the area would find it hard to spot the tanks as they were obscured by layers of foliage. Thermal sensors were of little use either as the MBTs were cloaked with special heat absorbing padding that minimised their infrared signature.
When fully fuelled, the Polish-made tanks could have easily driven themselves to the forward edge of battle area. But the Iveco tank transporters did the job faster without wearing out men and machines or draining their fuel tanks. The aim was to deliver the 11 KAD tank squadrons fit to fight close to the FEBA, fully fueled and loaded with ammo.
More importantly, tank crews travelling with the Ivecos arrived fresh for battle. A ride in the air-conditioned tank transporters was a much better way to travel to the war zone as long road marches cramped in a hot, noisy and uncomfortable tank as it clattered along the road inevitably resulted in crew fatigue.
As no one could be sure when the atrocious weather would clear, there was no time to waste.
Every minute saved could bring the MBTs one kilometre closer to the front. The compact battleground at the Johor front, which was small compared to terrain in Europe and the Middle East, made a 150km convoy movement a strategic manoeuvre that could tilt the military balance decisively. The deployment of tanks from 11 KAD south, paired with the southward push by wheeled Gempita 8x8 and Astros rocket artillery batteries that self-deployed, could turn the tide of the battle in Johor if the MBTs could suddenly appear at the weak spot identified on the frontline and rupture the enemy’s forward line.
And so, 11 Kompeni Angkut (AW) made best use of every second.
Tank transporter drivers braved the freak storm that created an unexpected window of opportunity for Malaysian army convoys to move on open roads without interference from enemy aircraft.
Extreme weather brought a welcome respite for Malaysian Army transport planners who struggled to find a way to move 11 KAD south undetected when the enemy controlled the air.
The freak storm was a game changer. Thick banks of rain clouds drifted across the peninsula, drenching the land with torrents of rain driven by howling winds that cleared the skies over Johor of enemy fighters, helicopters and UAVs. With the enemy air force suddenly grounded by the ferocious weather, the tank transporters raced south while they could.
It was an opportunity Markas ATM welcomed gladly.
One after another, Iveco Eurotrakkers in northern states untouched by the war emerged from the tank hides for a night transport mission.
Breaking cover in the darkness beneath a blanket of intense rain, the Ivecos swayed from side to side on deeply rutted dirt tracks, each loaded with a 48-tonne tank, their long trailers creaking and groaning in protest as the tank transporters moved out from their hiding places in the Malaysian belukar (bush).
Drivers from 11 Kompeni Angkut had to work quickly as enemy air strikes were not the biggest threat to the operation. The drivers aimed to reach the road network before the downpour flooded the nameless tracks and turned the unpaved dirt tracks into muddy rivers that could leave the heavily laden Ivecos stranded once the axles were stuck in soft mud.
Safe on firmer ground, tank transporters drivers revved their mighty machines into gear and moved south at best possible speed. With diesel engines roaring and exhaust pipes trailing streamers of smoke, the Iveco tank transporters set off independently after collecting the tanks from widely dispersed hideouts. The tank transporters drove towards convoy assembly areas along the North-South Highway as sheets of rain lashed the roads, the raging thunderstorm creating near whiteout conditions that challenged the skill of every driver.
The men and women from 11 Kompeni Angut were undeterred.
Road movements were speeded up by grouping the massive tank transporters into convoys escorted by Kor Polis Tentera Diraja (KPTD, Royal Military Police Corps) motorcycle outriders who swept expressways and trunk roads to move aside - sometimes forcibly - civilian traffic that might block the swift passage of the tank convoys.
With headlights switched on, hazard lights flashing and the two revolving amber lights at the top of the driver’s cabin blinking their warning repeatedly, the Ivecos hurried south as civilian traffic gave way respectfully by moving to the side of the road.
Malaysian Army tank transporters punched through curtains of rain, the steel chains securing the tanks to the semi-trailers rattling briskly, the window wipers sloshing off sheets of rainwater that cascaded down flat windshields of the Ivecos as watery veils stirred up by the long vehicles chased the convoy through the pre-dawn murk.
With every Malaysian Army tank transporter used to move MBTs, civil resources were mobilised to support the transfer of lighter tracked AFVs like the Adnan APCs, self-propelled mortars and ATGM carriers.
If marshalling and deploying army vehicles from all over the peninsula was a challenge, so was the task of finding enough drivers and vehicles to move the heavy weapons. Army drivers pulled from other army divisions found themselves at the wheel of a mixed bag of civilian tractor-trailer combos, pulling flatbeds and lowboys in all colours and configurations.
Malaysia’s HANRUH total defence plan cranked into action, moving the Federation from a peacetime posture to its highest state of war readiness.
The Malaysian Army driver of a requisitioned prime mover was about to start the engine of the civilian truck when he saw a note placed next to the gear shift where the driver would not miss seeing it. The civilian driver who handed over the truck to the army had a message for the new driver.
The hand-written message from the civilian driver was scrawled in Bahasa Malaysia on the back of a torn sheet of calendar paper. It said briefly: “Pantang berundur” (Never retreat).
If you want to know more about scholars in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and how the system recruits, retains, retrains and retires candidates (supposedly) on the career fast track, look no further than the book Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore.
Its author Dr Samuel Ling Wei Chan has set the bar high with his 495-page book released last month by NUS Press Singapore. This soft cover publication represents a rich, one-stop resource on the 170 people who earned a general's star in SAF service and analysis in detail how the system works. It purports to list every known brigadier-general and above, and from what we can tell, is complete and accurate at the time of print.
The book is divided into nine chapters led by a preface: Chapter 1: Generally Speaking (This provides an overview of the book and how the data was compiled) Chapter 2: The Profession of Arms and Society Chapter 3: Motivations for Military Service Chapter 4: Commitment to Military Service Chapter 5: The Ascension Process Chapter 6: The Ascension Structure Chapter 7: Scholars and Stars by Numbers and Cases Chapter 8: Character Determines Destiny Chapter 9: The Aristocracy of Armed Talent
The 14 appendices will delight number crunchers as it examines data on recipients of the coveted SAF Overseas Scholarship (SAFOS) in many forms.
The tables list every known general and Military Expert 8 (a rank unique to the SAF which denotes a BG-equivalent under the Military Domain Expert Scheme which is tailored for engineering vocations) since Singapore's independence in 1965. It should be clear to the reader browsing through the list that it took a labour of love to raise and sustain the spreadsheets that led to the appendices. As a source of data for future study, the book's appendices (and 12-page glossary of SAF terms) is unrivalled. Indeed, the book is worth getting for the appendices alone as there is nothing like it out there and it has pulled together reams of open source data to produce the information in easy-to-understand tables.
Here's the full list: Appendix A: Year of authorization to wear BG/RADM1/ME8 and post-SAF career (1965-2018)
Appendix B: The military elite by service and vocation
Appendix C: One-star and above appointments in MINDEF (the Singapore Ministry of Defence) and the SAF (circa 2018)
Appendix D: Distribution of SAFOS officers within the military elite (1965-2018)
Appendix E: Command appointments of generals in the Singapore Army (1965-2018)
Appendix F: Command appointments of admirals in the RSN (1988-2018)
Appendix G: Command appointments of generals in the RSAF (1987-2018)
Appendix H: Estimated active service rank attainment of SAFOS batches (1971-98) by 2018
Appendix I: Former regular SAF officers in the Cabinet (1984-2018)
Appendix J: Defence Chief roll of honour (1966-2018), Director General Staff/Chief of the General Staff//Chief of Defence Force
Appendix K: Army Chief roll of honour (1988-2018), Deputy Chief of the General Staff (Army)/Chief of Army
Appendix L: Navy Chief roll of honour (1966-2018), Commander Singapore Naval Volunteer Force/Commander Maritime Command/Commander Republic of Singapore Navy/Chief of Navy
Appendix M: Air Force Chief roll of honour (1970-2018), Commander Singapore Air Defence Command/Director Air Staff RSAF/Deputy Commander RSAF/Commander RSAF/Chief of Air Force
Appendix N: Legislative Assembly (1959-65) and Parliamentary Elections (1965-2016) in Singapore
A book of this nature crammed to the gills with data risks coming across as dry and turgid; the kind of book you only touch when you need to submit an academic exercise or gloss up an essay's bibliography.
But Samuel engages the reader with his lively writing, judicious use of puns and factoids, which is complemented by first person accounts from SAF scholars who shared their thoughts on their military careers.
To get these stories, Samuel interviewed 28 generals. Many of these names will be familiar to Singapore's citizen soldiers. The candid and generous airing of views by these generals, drawn from various cohorts, strengthens Samuel's attempt at describing how MINDEF/SAF scholarship machinery works by showing us how it affected the individuals at the heart of the scheme.
The time and effort the author invested in persuading these high fliers to talk AND go on record can only be imagined because anyone who has attempted to publish on MINDEF/SAF matters would realise information is tightly controlled.
The generals who made the time to share their experiences with Samuel have made a meaningful contribution to the (limited) storehouse of knowledge on the SAF scholarship system and will hopefully inspire future aspirants to think about their career options in the Singaporean military.
It is this first person, almost gossipy examination of SAFOS that makes the book a standout. It tells how so-and-so rose through the ranks, who dropped out of the system due to moves to the private sector and so on. It is the story of the HDB heartland brothers who rose to the highest positions of leadership, thanks to the SAF scholarship system. It is the tale of the successful property CEO who left the system at the age of 32 after thinking about his future in the SAF.
Those who pick up this book must know the ambit of this book which builds on Samuel's thesis on the SAF scholarship system. Samuel's DPhil thesis, Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Motivations, Commitment and Ascension of Military Elites in Singapore (1965-2014), was submitted to the Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales, in June 2014. The thesis laid the groundwork for further scholarship on this topic with tables updated for the years 2014 till 2018.
So while it shows where SAFOS holders ended up after they left military service, the book is not intended to be a treatise on Singapore's political office holders who came from the SAF. The juxtapositioning is tempting as the book contains the raw data that shows the number and background of the generals who went into politics, but this research trajectory is outside the firing lane of this book and there is plenty enough to get the reader up to speed on the ins and outs of the SAF scholarship within its covers.
If there is a weakness, it is the fact that the book will be outdated with the SAF promotion ceremony next month (June 2019) ahead of SAF Day on 1 July when a new cohort of generals will don their epaulettes. That said, the first edition will form a solid foundation for Samuel's future revisions and analysis of the subject.
Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore
Author: Samuel Ling Wei Chan Publisher: NUS Press Singapore 528 pages, 299mm x 152mm 31 tables, 5 figures Paperback, first edition April 2019
Samuel is an adjunct lecturer with the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia.
Samuel is an adjunct lecturer with the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia.
How long did it take you to write the book? The book is a revised and updated edition of my PhD thesis. I started my studies in March 2011 but by February 2012 it was apparent that my initial topic (on military education in Australia and the US) was not tenable.
My supervisor and I decided that a change in topic was the best (and only) option going forward.
I submitted my thesis in June 2014 and received word in October that the external examiners were satisfied.
I embarked on further research in mid-2015 and a revised my thesis in an effort to write a book along the lines of Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait, albeit one focused on Singapore’s military establishment. I submitted the revised manuscript to NUS Press in early-mid 2018. Hence it took almost seven years from the change in PhD topics to the book hitting the shelves in April 2019.
What made you press on with research on the SAF despite initial hurdles? It was a challenge to complete a puzzle and I was focused on the task at hand. The topic is interesting to me, both in academic and general terms.
I knew more about America’s top brass than our own leaders after reading Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier, and The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army by Greg Jaffe and David Cloud.
I am sure that I am not the only one interested in the topic.
Hence I set about capturing a small piece of Singapore’s military history. If I did not do it then I am certain someone else would, whether indigenous or foreign.
What was the most challenging aspect of the research for this book? The most challenging aspects were access to information in terms of open source material and interviews for the specific questions that I had in mind.
The difficulties in accessing open sources included: whether the materials still exist (e.g. copies of Pioneer, Pointer, service newsletters) and if I could access them.
Official channels did not prove helpful so it became quite simply “detective work for one”. It would have been nice albeit wishful thinking to access material at the Centre for Heritage Services.
The interviews were also hard to come by with 28 of 46 officers approached agreeing to interviews that lasted between 30 minutes and 5.5 hours in duration. Some had a lot to say about their careers, and some did not say much. We were all cognizant of the Official Secrets Act so it was pretty much about personal stories.
How did you go about resolving the challenge(s)? The 28 interviews were great and a blessing in terms of being able to get the work done.
Open source required a lot of patience, which mean repeated iterations of combing through publications and photographs to triangulate the necessary information followed by a list of further information required and doing it all again.
It was tiring yet refreshing to go through the publications as one can really appreciate how the SAF has grown over the years, and the effort put in by the state and population to ensure the defence of Singapore.
Which chapter did you enjoy researching/writing most? I must say I enjoyed them all due to the variation, focus, and information in each of the chapters.
Chapters 1 and 2 are pretty much ground work in terms of literature and history. This was enjoyable as I could convey what was “out there” in terms of books, how the topic is viewed, and the history of our early military leaders.
Chapters 3 to 5 pretty much contains the personal stories of the generals and admirals that I interviewed. They grew up in a Singapore that is very much different from a teenager enlisting for NS today. Singapore was a different place back then. Nevertheless, I walked away from the 28 interviews with the confidence that our generals and admirals, at least those I interviewed, are professional military officers.
Chapter 6 is pretty much understanding the force structure of the SAF, its evolution, and how it supports and justifies the configuration of the military elite.
Chapter 7 is a mix of statistics, outliers, and perhaps inconvenient truths.
Chapter 8 is on society and its impact on the SAF of today and tomorrow. Some issues can be addressed by technology, and as always some of the remedies for today could potentially pose problems tomorrow. Only time will tell. All in all, I enjoyed writing every chapter in the book. Each required a different skill to piece together and I learned much.
What are the takeaways you hope the reader will glean from the book? To appreciate the SAF in its entirety, both the good, the quirky, and the not so good.
To understand that it is led (at least in the past) by leaders who began their careers for a variety of reasons, both for altruistic and/or egotistic reasons. They converged towards serving for a greater good as they progressed up the hierarchy.
Those who made general and admiral are mostly field commanders tasked with deterring aggression, and should this deterrence fail, to fight and win our nation’s wars.
Military leadership takes time to nurture. Scholar officers are afforded chances to prove their worth but do not automatically get a “free pass” into the top brass. Disruptions to, or “rushed jobs” in, succession planning will have detrimental effects on the leadership of tomorrow.
Most importantly, the SAF is only as strong – physically, mentally, and morally – as the society that is pledges to defend.
Aristocracy of Armed Talent, The Military Elite in Singapore is available from Books Kinokuniya and NUS Press here. You can also pre order from Amazon here.
Whenever I hear of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers who earn as much or more in civilian life as they did when they were in uniform, I am both happy and concerned.
Happy for the individuals whose years of service and experience in the military has been recognised and rewarded by the civilian sector.
At the same time, one wonders if the remuneration for SAF officers has kept up with the times. The situation described above is not as uncommon as one would expect.
SAF officers are said to command higher remuneration packages as compared to equivalent civilian jobs because of their shorter career spans. In simple terms, SAF officers are paid more because their career end point terminates around the age of 45.
If that is the case, one can see three immediate reasons for those who are worth the same salary after leaving the SAF.
First, the individuals are the outliers. They are exceptional talent valued by free enterprise.
Second, the market-plus pay scale for SAF officers has lost some of its market competitiveness.
Last, some civilian employers are over-paying their SAF alumni. In a free market economy, it is of course an employer's prerogative to pay a new hire as it wishes so long as the company can afford it and their shareholders don't quibble (especially for listed entities with a heavy presence of SAF alumni).
Of the three possible reasons listed above, the second is the most troubling because it may be a sign that market benchmarks for SAF pay need to be reviewed.
In general, SAF officers tend to think about a career transition around the age of 30. This is the time when their first contract is about to expire. A sense of personal ambition ("I can do better outside") or a sense of reality ("I'll never make it past and should leave now") are common triggers for career transitions by younger officers.
SAF officers who are promoted are obliged to stay with the organisation as part of their moral obligatory service (MOS) for accepting the promotion. The SAF's MOS tenure is said to be two years long. Some officers do not take up the MOS lock-in period, decline the promotion opportunity and leave.
The next trigger point is around the age of 40 when individuals choose to carve a new career in the private sector before they are too old to make the transition.
Specific to Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilots, the number of pilots who want to switch to civilian flying careers has apparently been strong and sustained enough to support a niche industry set up to assist military fliers who want to get their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification.
Demand is such that at least one ATP hot house has a dedicated programme for RSAF pilots on its website. No other ASEAN air force or Asia-Pacific air arm for that matter, has attracted their attention to the same extent as RSAF candidates - at least none known to this blog.
Considering the importance of the RSAF to Singapore's defence, we pray that military aviation careers in the air force are on a strong footing.
Our combat pilots are in demand by commercial airlines. Why?
Not because RSAF pilots speak English. So do the Australians, Indians, Malaysians, the New Zealanders and many others in the region. The RSAF-specific focus probably stems from awareness that RSAF fliers come with a strong pedigree and count as valuable additions to any airline's bench strength.
Alas, it is also sobering to think of the possibility that there is sufficient demand from RSAF pilots who want out to justify the niche service.
It is estimated that it will take about $5 million to get a pilot to the OCU stage prior to joining squadron service. Upon entering an operational squadron, a pilot's pay is said to account for a fraction of the cost per flying hour for a fast jet like the F-15 and F-16.
Similar arguments can be made for critical roles, say for example, submarine officers in the RSN and the army's C4ISTAR officers.
But you probably get the picture: We risk losing officers who can command and fight our latest and most capable war machines if these individuals are unnecessarily distracted by bread-and-butter issues.
In the case of RSAF pilots, one does not expect them to demand the sun and the moon. Informal calculations show that about $2,000 per month will make the opportunity cost of leaving the air force high enough to make one think very carefully before punching out.
Yes, that's still a chunk of change in any language. But relative to the cost of the platform and how much it takes to keep it flying, it is a pittance.
It is Singapore's loss if we let market forces whittle away the SAF Officer Corps, especially under current conditions where a high ops tempo strains the organisation's leadership.
Every officer who resigns prematurely leaves behind a gap that is not easily filled. This is because the pipeline of candidates with the requisite professional expertise, leadership qualities or operational experience to step into the vacancy may be limited. One must fill middle to senior appointments from within and cannot simply recruit from outside like private sector organisations.
One hears that it is not uncommon for regulars within a unit to double hat, with some holding concurrent appointments with open-ended tenures. The added workload, unceasing and demanding operational tempo, high expectations from the bosses and public creates a vicious cycle where unhappiness stirs among those called upon to make additional sacrifices. So there's a knock-on effect for every resignation.
Anecdotally speaking, one has heard of fathers and mothers in uniform who have missed birthdays; sons and daughters who have experienced the same. A good number have been away from their loved ones when needed because duty calls.
In many respects, one could say this is par for the course. It is what the men and women signed up for and they did so with their eyes wide open. That's absolutely true.
But a career as an SAF officer also comes with the social compact that the compensation and benefits from such a career pathway are compelling enough to overshadow such sacrifices.
Pay matters are never easily resolved.
When asked if you are underpaid in an organisational climate survey, one might guess the response most people would give. Tax payers would bristle at suggestions that armed forces personnel should be paid more. Everybody has an opinion how much is enough.
To be sure, the SAF's voluntary attrition directly linked to remuneration has not reached epidemic proportions. But remuneration for critical appointments and those with a long lead-time vocations must be resilient enough to withstand market forces.
A salary review would help determine if that is the case today.
Comparisons with salaries of other armed forces often give no clarity especially when one has not factored in cost of living adjustments specific to the Lion City whose limited size has made the cost of homes one of the most expensive in Asia.
Warfighters, like all other salaried staff, have expectations for their family and lifestyle too and the pay scales for SAF officers must keep in step with the times.
When you look at emergency vehicles in Singapore from the civil defence and police, you are likely to find studs around the windshields and windows of frontline vehicles. These studs serve as attachment points for wire mesh screens that protect the glassware of Home Team vehicles during operations.
Many of the emergency vehicles that responded to Singapore's Little India riot on 8 December 2013 had these studs but went into action without the protective mesh (which was stored back at base). Twenty-five vehicles had their windshields smashed and windows shattered. Some vehicles were overturned. Five were set ablaze. It was a shambles.
The Singapore Police Force has prepared and practised drawer plans for internal security situations, including riot-type scenarios of a far larger scale than the one that erupted at Little India. TTX, FTX, they've done it all. But the forces trained, organised and equipped with the tactics, techniques and procedures to quell civil disturbances were held in check by authorities.
The chilling police announcement, Disperse Or We Fire, seen so often at internal security exercises, was not broadcast on that fateful night.
After the rioters spent their fury, they found themselves surrounded by police in the small enclave with nowhere to run. Some 40 trouble makers were eventually arrested and the perpetrators faced justice. No lives were lost.
So the Home Team had the equipment (wire mesh protection) but no chance to install such protection before actual ops.
The police had the drawer plans to smash riots swiftly and decisively but held its forces in check for various operational reasons.
Telescope this analogy to the armed forces (generic reference and not specific to the Singapore Armed Forces) and you will find many instances where soldiers, sailors and airmen were caught unprepared by sudden and unexpected crisis.
Tragic are the situations where fighting units have the equipment and training but lacked the tools to do the job when they are needed most because it was locked in the armoury or because the unit was caught in march order with its guns limbered.
British infantry at Isandlwana during the Zulu War outgunned the human waves of Zulu infantry. The red coats would have shot the Zulu attacks to pieces on open ground were it not for the lack of access to rifle ammunition that was locked in packing cases on supply wagons.
Several tactical engagements fought during the 70-day Malayan campaign during WW2 saw British and Imperial units destroyed by surprise attacks by Japanese forces who moved with unexpected speed to catch the units while their vehicles were nose to tail in tight convoys.
Equally tragic are cases where the fighting forces are ready and willing to carry out their duty but are held in check by political indecisiveness or non-military considerations.
The fighting forces may be good to go and excel at what they do.
But when the time comes to press the button, would the political masters have the guts to do so?
As a visiting Israeli general once said: Deterrence is Force multiplied by the Ability to use it.
Show of force: Malaysian Chief of Army General Ahmad Hasbullah Mohd Nawawi reviews troops that will be involved in Eksesais Satria Perkasa at the Tentera Darat ke-86 anniversary parade yesterday. Photo: Berita Tentera Darat
The armed forces of neighbours Malaysia and Singapore made it a heavy news day yesterday (1 March 2019) with the federation officially launching its largest land warfare exercise, codenamed Satria Perkasa (Mighty Knight), while the island republic passed a record $15.5 billion (US$11.4 billion) defence budget.
The coincidence is serendipitous as Hari Tentera Darat (Army Day) falls on 1 March and the Committee of Supply debate for Singapore's national budget for respective ministries (called Heads) unfolds in a fixed format whose scheduling is hard to predict as it depends on the time taken by parliamentarians to discuss preceding Heads.
The Malaysian Army treated the netizens with a massive album with more than a hundred images - one of the largest photo albums for a single event this year - on its Berita Tentera Darat (Army News) Facebook page that show celebrations to mark the army's 86th anniversary. The picture selection was so wide and preparations like watermarks so time consuming that the images were uploaded around 6am the morning after. Eksesais Satria Perkasa is a major capability demonstration by Malaysian land forces that involves simultaneous army operations on Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia from today till 11 March 2019.
It is a complex division-level exercise in command and control in two theatres that puts to test Markas Angkatan Darat's (Army HQ) ability to marshal, deploy and execute army operational orders for more than four thousand troops via Pemerintahan Medan Barat Tentera Darat (Army Field Command West) which covers the peninsula, and Pemerintahan Medan Barat Tentera Timur (Army Field Command East) which is bestowed with responsibility for army operations in Sabah and Sarawak.
Troops from 2 Divisyen are now involved in the peninsula phase of the war game while 1 Divisyen is leading the Sarawak phase of the exercise around the areas of Lundu, Bau, Puncak Borneo, Tebedu, Mongkos and Engkabang.
Meanwhile in Singapore, fellow Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) member had a raft of defence updates of its own.
Chief amongst these is the revelation that Singapore will buy four Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters for trials with options for another eight F-35s. Interestingly, the model of the F-35 that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is keen to buy was not revealed. The acquisition of four test platforms is interesting as this makes the RSAF's test batch the largest among F-35 customers and is twice the number of test aircraft that Australia and the Netherlands bought two trial planes respectively for their air force.
Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence
Singapore's defence spending is expected to hit $15.5 billion (US$11.4 billion) for the current financial year, which begins on 1 April. This amount is up from $14.8 billion (US$10.9 billion) the previous FY, while Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs spending is expected to hold steady at $6.7 billion (US$4.9 billion) and $0.5 billion (US$0.4 billion), respectively. The Defence and Home Affairs portfolios collectively account for some 30 per cent of Singapore's total budget for the coming FY.
Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence
During the parliamentary debate for the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen shared infographics that outlined efforts to build a next generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence
Of interest are the shadow drawings for the Singapore Army's next generation self-propelled artillery gun and improved all-terrain tracked carrier, which are expected to be designed and made by local weapons maker, Singapore Technologies Engineering. The new SP gun is likely to be a wheeled design with a 155mm and automatic projectile and charge loader mounted aft of an all-terrain chassis. The new tracked carrier is thought to be the Bronco 3 variant, which is an enlarged marque of the combat proven Warthog Bronco 2 design (the baseline Bronco used by the SAF is the Bronco 1).
On the naval front, the Republic of Singapore Navy has a shadow diagram of its own that has fuelled intense speculation. The shape, form and number of the so-called Joint Multi Mission Ships that are slated to replaced four 141-metre Endurance-class tank landing ships has yet to revealed and rumours abound of a light helicopter type design.
The RSN's Thyssen Krupp Type 218SG Invincible-class submarines are slated to go into service around 2025 while The navy's six 62m Victory-class Missile Corvettes (MCV) are due to be replaced by a Multi-Role Combat Vessel (MRCV) by 2030.
Several mission critical elements like improved landing craft capable of ferrying MBT-sized payloads and anti-missile defences are noticeable by their absence from the infographic, which is possibly constrained in granularity by its topline view of SAF assets.
Singapore's defence minister pledged to keep defence spending at around three to four per cent of the national budget, even with neighbouring countries increasing their arms expenditure.
Dr Ng said: "If we continue our steady investments into defence and our NSmen maintain their commitment and resolve to defend Singapore, then our future will be secure for another generation. We can look forward to celebrate SG75 with the assurance that we have strong defences.”
Malaysian war machines are on the move in large numbers, but there's no cause for panic folks.
The Malaysian Army celebrates its 86th anniversary tomorrow (1 March 2019) with a parade and display of military equipment in the northern town of Sungai Siput in Perak.
The movement of some 2,000 troops and a sizeable number of combat vehicles to the northern state of Perak for the anniversary sets the stage for the Malaysian Army's 10-day war game, codenamed Satria Perkasa (Mighty Knight), which is due to take place from Saturday (2 March'19).
The upcoming war game will be the largest land warfare exercise staged by Malaysia this year. You can expect the manoeuvres to boost the Malaysian Army's profile as a steady stream of mainstream and digital media reports planned by the Markas Tentera Darat's (Army HQ) PR staff are said to be in the pipeline. These will provide daily updates on various facets of the exercise such as men and women involved, the military assets that have been committed and the tactical scenarios encountered by Malaysian warfighters.
A spike in the number and frequency of social media updates by the Malaysian Army, especially images of the exercise posted by its online news portal, can be expected during the course of the exercise. The burst of publicity will complement the kinetic phase of Satria Perkasa as it will test how the army's news-gathering apparatus and SOPs can support Markas TD in the information domain.
Since January this year, senior commanders from Markas Tentera Darat have conducted readiness inspections of units in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia in the lead up to Eksesais Satria Perkasa. At least seven such visits were publicised in the Jan-Feb period. Units featured in Eksesais Satria Perkasa pre-publicity include the Penang-based Markas 2 Divisyen (which marked its 50th anniversary this month and has an area of responsibility that covers the northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu), 6 Briged and 6 RAMD, the crack 10 Briged (Para) rapid deployment force based in Melaka as well as a host of combat engineer, signals, transport and workshop units in Sarawak under 1 Divisyen.
Satria Perkasa's scenario involves activating and deploying Tentera Darat units across the peninsula to counter an unspecified threat from the north. The Malaysian Army has advised the public not to be alarmed should they see military convoy movements around the peninsula from 2 March to 11 March'19.
Source: Perak Today.
Commander 2 Briged, Brigadier General Datuk Mohd Nizam (above) said at a recent media briefing:"The exercise will start in Sungai Siput and move towards Gerik. During this time, kampung residents will see many military vehicles on the road. It has a fictional scenario where the enemy has taken a part of our territory and we are given the responsibility of driving them away. I hope that the public will not panic because this is not a real scenario. It is only an exercise."
The 2016 instalment of the exercise allowed 4 Briged (Mekanize) to practice deploying its tank and APC assets across distances of 150km on federal roads and FELDA plantation tracks.
Thought-provoking: An intriguing poster from Singapore's DSO National Laboratories featuring an RSAF Lockheed Martin F-16D.
When buying war machines from a country that tells all with full disclosure, are there no more military secrets to hide?
There undoubtedly are and it would be premature and ill-advised for armed forces to discard security classifications without thinking through long-term repercussions.
While sharing the type and number of war machines supplied gives observers an idea of what's in the arsenal, such data does not tell the full story. Assessing combat capability goes above and beyond merely counting hardware.
A thorough assessment of combat capability therefore encompasses a slew of inputs, the nature of which often treads on sensitive ground where one needs to navigate with care or risk stirring coffee with sometimes unpleasant civil servants.
Broadly speaking, these factors give observers an deeper understanding of how ready the war machines are to do their job if the button is pressed.
Are war machines ready to roll to carry out their mission or is the tank/fighter jet a workshop/hangar queen? The answer delves into hardware issues (reliability, availability, maintainability, durability etc) and heartware matters (commitment to defence from individual warfighters, unit esprit etc) because having a machine in tip-top mechanical condition counts for nothing if citizen soldiers are no-shows during a mobilisation.
How capable is the logistics support for sustaining operations? Resupply rates for POL and war shot and the methodology for sustaining operations cannot be easily discerned from the orbat. In addition, warfighters sometimes take a leaf from commercial operations, as was the case some years ago when the Republic of Singapore Air Force sent a team overseas to observe how cargo for air freighters was sorted. These sort of innovations are not reflected in orbat numbers.
What (if any) modifications have been made to customise the war machine to one's specific operational requirements and battle conditions? Placed side by side, weapon platforms that have benefited from capability enhancements often look identical externally to vanilla platforms.
How will the weapon be organised for battle? Once shipped, the decision on the scale and distribution of the weapon is one that the customer alone decides.
Countries that source equipment from the European Union and the United States must be prepared to see information on their purchases eventually appear in the defence press. Armed forces that traditionally keep their cards close to their chests must therefore adapt quickly and accept the reality that the arms trade today aspires to be more open than yesteryear.
Gone are the days when defence journalists will accept vague lines such as "weapon ABC was sold to an undisclosed Southeast Asian nation". Today, expect the scribes to dig deep, dig often and join the dots in an effort to see the big picture.
For the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), greater transparency in the global arms trade can contribute to deterrence particularly in situations where third parties (i.e. the supplier) disclose capability enhancements that might be awkward for the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) or SAF to say as the public signature or optics would be quite different. So while observers know that the arsenal is expanding, information on other aspects of the arms purchase should be safeguarded with a robust military security apparatus. When observers are left with a fuzzy and indeterminate notion of one's true strength, it is this strategic ambiguity that cautions scenario planners not to miscalculate lest their underlying assumptions are incorrect.
This week's Defense News story, "German documents reveal Singapore received more Leopard 2 tanks" (click here), is an example of how observers learned about the republic's upsized Leopard tank fleet even when officialdom said essentially nothing.
Journalist Mike Yeo noted in his story on additional deliveries of German-made MBTs to Singapore: "According to the register of conventional arms exports released by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Singapore received 18 Leopard 2 main battle tanks in 2017, adding to the seven tanks the German government said it exported in 2016.
"The additional delivery in 2017 brings the total number of tanks received by Singapore to more than 170.
"It’s unknown how many tanks were ordered or what variant of was delivered. It is also unknown if this latest batch of tanks are brand new or refurbished secondhand vehicles, although the former is unlikely given production of the Leopard 2A4 has ended."
Moves to acquire more Leopard 2s through small incremental purchases that result in the total headcount creeping up steadily mirror earlier examples where small weapon purchases grew and grew over years, if not decades. It is an example of defence creep where the population of proven platforms and systems grew steadily, often out of the public eye. The AMX-13 light tanks, A-4 Skyhawks and F-5E/F Tiger IIs are examples of retired SAF war machines that started with modest numbers on the orbat but gained noteworthy critical mass, thanks to defence creep.
Whether by accident or design, the release of an image in August 2017 showing F-15SG Strike Eagle tail numbers that were out of sequence (click here) from previous bulk buys gave SAF observers insights into the RSAF's growing F-15 family. Like air surveillance, the task of information management is a complex one :-)
It's a tricky balance between being open lest potential opponents underrate one's capability and keeping some capabilities under wraps to catch other people by surprise. But let's be clear that every credible military force has trade secrets to protect - and for good reasons too.
One can expect occasional tidbits from European arms registers and arms notifications to the US Congress on weapon sales, not just on what Singapore acquires but what armed forces in the neighbourhood are buying too.
Absolute numbers aside, it remains to be seen how the Army's upsized fleet of more than 170 Leopard 2 tanks will be grouped for combat. Will they be cannibalised for spares or does the larger main battle tank force presage more transformations from the Army that might lead to the establishment of an armoured division and a rethink of current divisional estab as birth rates dwindle?
Is it Easter already?
You may also like: RSAF Air Staff takes creative approach to studying air power. Click here
Full statement from the Singapore Ministry of Defence, issued at 15:00H 18 January 2019
RSAF and DSTA Complete Technical Evaluation of F-16 Replacement
1. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) have completed their technical evaluation to select the next generation fighter to replace its F-16s. The F-16s will have to retire soon after 2030 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has been identified as the most suitable replacement to maintain the RSAF’s capabilities.
2. However, the technical evaluation also concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet. In the next phase, MINDEF will discuss details with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35 JSFs for Singapore’s defence capabilities.