Friday, May 26, 2017

Things to see and do at Army Open House 2017

Peekaboo: Look out for a new Singapore Army armoured vehicle that will make a special appearance at Saturday morning's Dynamic Defence Display (10am start time).

Waiting for you: Part of the sprawling static display of Singapore Armed Forces war machines.

Water world: The Singapore Army's M3G amphibious rigs forming up on the Marina Reservoir.

Dynamic Defence Display
Showtimes at 10am and 4pm.
Tip: Seats on the spectator gallery are limited. Would recommend being at AOH2017 when it opens, get your seat and enjoy the view of the Marina Barrage. Pick the lower seats as these bring you close to the action. Keep your eyes on the deregistered car on the display ground. With a Leopard 2SG main battle tank the first performer let loose, it's fairly obvious what the tank will do to that doomed car.
Look out for: The Special Operations Force (SOF), Army Deployment Force (ADF), Belrex Protected Combat Support Vehicle, Higuard Protected Mobility Vehicle, Ford F550 ambulance are among the vehicles featured for the first time.

Just for Saturday morning's show, look out for the special performance by the Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

Battle Rides
You will need a mobilephone to register to ride on one of six types of Singapore Army vehicles. Four types of vehicles to choose from to ferry you around on land, while the LARC V and M3G raft will host you on water. You will be informed of your time slot via SMS.
Tip: Book your preferred time slot early, then take your time to browse through the exhibits.

Static Display
The NGAFV is expected to join the static display on Sunday.

You may want to take pictures of the Apache attack helicopter. The fleet is due to undergo an upgrade and the improved machine will have different stub wings.

Army Formations display
It's the place to find out more about the Singapore Army. It's packed with weapons and hands-on opportunities. It's a place to get out of the sun (and rain). It's got neat souvenirs. It's air-conditioned. Need we say more?

Level 2
Don't forget activities on Level 2. The large decals on the window tell you what to expect (see above). Good place to park active children. Kiddy rides, photo booths, shooting galleries, a chance to practice flying drones, "Night Walks" with night vision devices are among the highlights. Ask the AOH2017 ambassadors (in red shirts and green army slacks) how to get there.

Share your thoughts on National Service these circular handouts. Your feedback will be opened in 50 years' time at NS100.(Photo: Singapore Army Facebook)

For more:
Singapore Army Facebook

AOH2017 events page

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Busy week for Malaysian and Singapore armies in winning hearts and minds

Panzer strike: Mechanised infantry from 19 RAMD (Mekanise) engage targets in a coordinated attack, supported by gun and mortar fire from armoured personnel carriers. (Photo: Malaysian Army News)

Outgoing: An Astros rocket artillery launcher joins armoured platforms and 105mm light artillery on the firing line at Gemas. (Photo: Malaysian Army News)

Tank killers: Anti-tank gunners from 19 RAMD (Mekanise) fire a volley of rocket-propelled grenades down range. (Photo: Malaysian Army News)

Siap sedia: Troops from the Singapore Army's Army Deployment Force go on show during Tuesday's rehearsal for the Army Open House Dynamic Defence Display.

This week has been noteworthy for Tentera Darat Malaysia (Malaysian Army) and the Singapore Army - two land forces whose destinies will forever be intertwined.

On Monday 22 May 2017, TDM staged its annual firepower exercise, Latihan Kuasa Tembakan (LKT), at Kem Tentera Syed Sirijuddin in Gemas to demonstrate the capabilities of the TDM's principal assets. The LKT took place in front of spectators that included Malaysian media and defence attaches accredited to the Federation.

On Tuesday 23 May 2017, the Singapore Army held a sneak preview for the media for this weekend's Singapore Army Open House 2017 (AOH 2017) with new capabilities such as the Safari weapon locating radar system and a new armoured platform making their show debut.

If you believe the defence of Malaysia and Singapore is indivisible, then these public demonstrations by land forces from both countries are welcome. Having soldiers showcase what they are trained to do contributes to building a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the work of land warriors from both sides of the Causeway.

Malaysia's LKT was impressive. Given the expanse of ground at the firing range in Gemas, the Malaysians put on quite a show although the firing was mainly academic, just like during range practice. Warplanes and helicopters from TUDM and PUTD (Malaysian Army Air Corps) also made their presence felt, rearranging the landscape with freefall bombs and unguided rockets.

But there was no opportunity to demonstrate the interplay between firepower and manoeuvre, or how information can be exploited to coordinate the timing and delivery of ordnance with the precision and volume of fire to maximise shock effect during operations.

In Singapore, the Dynamic Defence Display, staged with Singapore's city skyline as a backdrop, placed far more constraints on the Singapore Army. There was no live-fire component. Neither was there any chance to showcase precision firepower, manoeuvre and information. Movement was confined to having individual platforms like the Leopard 2SG main battle tank and Terrex infantry carrier vehicle perform slalom turns and sudden braking - typical motor show stuff - more for the benefit of the camera.

Even at large-scale war games, it is not easy showing observers all the moving parts involved in land battle at the level of grand strategy or operational art. Instead, what observers typically see are tactical-level executions - a component of an Armoured Battle Group moving into action, an artillery battery letting loose, a bridging unit deploying its assets and so on.

That said, the armies of Malaysia and Singapore have done what they can to reach out to stakeholders.

First and foremost among these would be their respective home audience. The rakyat in both countries need to be informed, updated and reassured from time to time on the capability, ability and readiness of its warfighters to do what's necessary during a hot-war scenario.

Defence information officers from both armies will probably agree that this task is neither straightforward nor easy.

Malaysians and Singaporeans have enjoyed decades of peace. This has inevitably contributed to vigilance fatigue, which tends to breed complacency.

Even with the impressive slew of pictures and videos from the light and sound show in Gemas, and with the Singapore Army likely to enjoy a brief spike in public awareness thanks to the upcoming AOH 2017, such publicity is transient.

When the guns have fallen silent in Gemas and the AOH team packs up at the end of the show, people in Malaysia and Singapore will swing back to everyday issues that command their (limited) time and attention.

Even so, one can be assured warfighters from Malaysia and Singapore will remain vigilant, 24 by 365, protecting their respective borders against all comers.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Singapore Armed Forces Commandos Special Operations Force (SOF) at Army Open House 2017

High alert: Commandos from the Singapore Armed Forces Special Operations Force take centrestage during a rehearsal for the Dynamic Defence Display. Spectators will be able to photograph SOF troopers armed with H&K 416 5.56mm assault rifles and H&K MP7 4.6mm machine pistols. Of special interest is the attachment of silencers on all weapons.

Island defence: Special Operations Force (SOF) troopers, supported by Army Deployment Force troopers (foreground) equipped with ballistic shields, prepare a forced entry.

Let's Roll: The Special Operations Force demonstrate how they mount up on a Ford vehicle equipped with the Mobile Adjustable Ramp System (MARS) and Side Assault System (SAS). The vehicle is one of the few left-hand drive vehicles in the Singapore Armed Forces inventory. 

A demonstration involving the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Special Operations Force (SOF), like the one rehearsed yesterday for this weekend's Singapore Army Open House 2017 (AOH 2017), will herald the first known public display by the once-classified Commando #specialforces unit.

The SOF was such a tightly-guarded secret that it was deployed for operations even before the unit was publicly acknowledged.

On 26 March 1991, SOF operatives stormed Singapore Airlines flight SQ117 at Changi Airport. The hostage-rescue mission saved 123 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus A310 that was serving the KUL-SIN shuttle flight.

Four Pakistani hijackers had threatened to kill one hostage every 10 minutes unless their demands were met.

The hijackers gave Singapore authorities five minutes to respond.

We responded by the third minute by sending in the SOF to settle the issue.

Codenamed Operation Thunderbolt, the storming of SQ117 marked the first known instance when the SAF resolved a hijacking with deadly force. The veil of secrecy over the SOF was lifted only on Feb 20, 1997, nearly six years after the SQ117 rescue and some 13 years after the SOF was formed in April 1984. 

The SOF are among the highlights of this year's Army Open House, which is organised by the 6th Singapore Division.

While the SOF has been declassified, it is thought there are other closed units within the SAF whose capabilities, readiness and commitment are needed to help settle issues, should the need arise.

For more on AOH 2017, visit these sites: 
Singapore Army Facebook page


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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

See the Very Slender Vessel from the Singapore Armed Forces SAF Commandos at Army Open House 2017

You won't find many Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines with a sexier name than "Very Slender Vessel".

With its sleek profile and enclosed, aircraft-style pilot house, the VSV looks fast even when sitting on dry land.

This VSV, which flew a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) ensign from its staff, is believed to be operated by the SAF Commando unit at Hendon Camp in Changi.

The SAF describes the VSV as a "fast interdiction craft that is designed to punch straight through waves, rather than going over or through the top of them".

Measuring 16m long and with a width just 2.4m wide - less than three M-16 rifles end-to-end - the VSV could quite possibly be employed for high-speed runs to insert/extract Commando teams from contested shores, usually under cover of darkness.

Armament fitted to the VSV seen at the sneak preview of the Army Open House 2017 comprised a CIS40AGL 40mm automatic grenade launcher and a 7.62mm GPMG.

It's best defence, however, is speed.

The VSV is thought to originate from British shipbuilder, VT Halmatic Marine. This company traces its roots to Vosper Thorneycroft, whose motor torpedo boats were well-known for their speed and hitting power.

According to the AOH 2017 info board, the wave-piercing craft is capable of "more than 40 knots". This seems a rather modest way to state the VSV's published speed of around 60 knots.

The SAF has operated VSVs for more than 10 years.

The vessel's debut at this weekend's Army Open House 2017 is believed to have been made possible with the arrival of more advanced means of executing "fast interdiction", with such assets still kept under wraps.

Catch the VSV at the Singapore Army's Open House 2017 this weekend.
For more, visit the Singapore Army Facebook page:

Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle expected to debut at Singapore Army Open House along with new ARV

The Singapore Army is expected to unveil a new tracked vehicle at this weekend's Army Open House 2017 (AOH 2017), a free event that will be opened to the public this weekend at the F1 Pit Building.

At a sneak preview this afternoon, one vehicle in the lineup of "performers" for the Dynamic Defence Display segment - a kind of soft introduction to some of the Army's vehicles and mobility demo - remained covered by a green tarpaulin.

The vehicle is all tracked and appears to conform to the profile of the Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle first seen last year.

We won't spill the beans so do come back to this site in the next few days for more.

On a less speculative note, one of the Next Generation AFV's stablemates goes on show at AOH 2017. The vehicle is the Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) variant of the new, yet-to-be-named AFV family that was designed and built in Singapore by Singapore Technologies Kinetics.

Like the cannon-armed Infantry Fighting Vehicle variant, the ARV has an all-round camera function. This allows its crew of three armoured engineers to carry out recovery operations from within the vehicle under full armour protection with hatches closed.

Specifications are sparse. The new ARV is said to be 6.9 metres in length and is fitted with a front-oriented winch with a 25,000 kg capacity. The vehicle is so new it did not appear to have a MID numberplate.

For more on AOH 2017, do visit the Singapore Army's Facebook page:

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Malaysian Army and Australian Defence Force wind up war games in Shoalwater Bay

The Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in Australia, at which the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) conducts war games such as Bold Conqueror and Orion, has just hosted another army from our neighbourhood.

Malaysian mechanised infantry completed a joint exercise with Australian Army troops today, according to online reports from Tentera Darat Malaysia (Malaysian Army).

The five-day exercise (18 to 22 May 2017) at Rockhampton involved soldiers from Malaysia's 12 Rejimen Askar Melayu DiRaja (Mekanise) and the 7 Rejimen Renjer DiRaja (Mekanise) and the 8/9 Royal Australian Regiment, which is based in Brisbane.

The 12 RAMD (Mek) and 7 RRD (Mek) come under the command of the Kuantan-based Briged ke-4 Infantri Mekanise (4 Bgd Mek), which in turn reports to Markas 3 Divisyen (HQ 3rd Combined Arms Division).

The exercise is designed to raise the level of interoperability between the two armies and provides exposure to staff officers from both sides to plan and execute conventional warfare manoeuvres. Such interaction contributes to fostering closer defence relations between personnel from both sides - who also train together under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

The exercise involved map planning and tactical marches across unfamiliar terrain (for the Malaysians) and included a segment that saw troops from both sides assault a built-up area.

The deployment to Queensland state exposes Malaysian soldiers to pretty much the same map grid references and terrain used by the SAF for Exercise Wallaby. However, staging war games in the month of May - which is autumn in Australia - provides a cooler climate to operate in compared to the exercise window allocated for the SAF (which is during the Australian summer).

Astute Malaysian staff officers who have trained in SWBTA and on home ground would probably be able to compare and contrast differences in terrain in Australia and Malaysia. This could lead to a better appreciation of the limitations in realism for land warfare manoeuvres and the battle cycle practised at both locations.

The time and effort deploying to SWBTA would also give the Malaysian Army a firsthand understanding of the logistics involved in making such a move, as well as the ability of SWBTA to host large-scale manoeuvres.

The Malaysian Army's 4 Bgd Mek has had a packed war game schedule recently. Last week, mechanised infantry from the brigade conducted war games in Kuantan in Pahang State and in Dungun, Terengganu, to test, assess, validate and refine its concept of operations for Network Centric Operations (NCO).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The militarisation of Indonesia's Riau islands and its impact on the Singapore Armed Forces SAF

There are many Singaporeans who are so familiar with Peninsular Malaysia that they can find their way around the country without a map. Perhaps you are one of them.

But ask them to look south, towards Indonesia's Riau archipelago, and that's where most Singaporeans will be flummoxed.

Many will be hard-pressed to name any island beyond Batam and Bintan. This is terra incognita for the average Singaporean.

In time to come, it may be worth paying closer attention to the geography south of Singapore because the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) is expected to scale up its presence in the Riau islands.

It is already happening, albeit at a slow pace that has nonetheless seen the number of TNI defence assets and tempo of their activity creep up over the years.

For example, the Tutuka air defence exercise has seen TNI warplanes make their presence felt whenever they operate from Batam's Hang Nadim airport.

In October 2014, the TNI warplanes that intercepted a Singapore-registered propellor-plane on a training flight off Borneo were scrambled from Batam.

During the Tutuka exercise in 2015, military flights originating from Hang Nadim once again caught Singapore's interest.

Last October, the TNI's war games in the Natunas, codenamed Angkasa Yudha, were supported by Indonesia Sukhoi Su-27/30 and Lockheed-Martin F-16 warplanes - its most advanced fighter aircraft - operating from Batam. The war games were widely publicised in the Indonesian media.

Alas, with Singaporeans generally ignorant of the Riau neighbourhood, firepower demonstrations like these tend to go unnoticed by an apathetic Singaporean public.

Mind you, this includes a vast number of citizen soldiers.

We ought to take note because ties between the TNI and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are longstanding, multifaceted and mutually beneficial for military personnel from both countries.

Among the many war games that the SAF conducts with foreign armed forces, it is the bilateral naval exercise, Eagle Indopura, that holds the record as the long-running bilateral military exercise (it started in 1974).

Both armed forces have also established a practice of sending their more promising officers for each other's courses. Apart from the professional knowhow gained, scores of TNI and SAF officers have also deepened their understanding of their neighbour. Such personal experience contributes immeasurably to fostering better bilateral ties between ASEAN's largest and smallest members - and not just in the defence arena.

When Indonesia raises its defence posture in the Riau chain, the strategic narrative for doing so could point out the strategic location of these islands. These sit astride some of the busiest sea lanes in the world, which are used by about 1,000 ships daily (Malacca Strait and Singapore Strait) and through which about a third of the world's trade and about half its oil passes.

Basing fighter jets in Batam will also enable the TNI to respond more quickly and effectively to situations in the South China Sea.

Indonesia need not justify to anyone where and when it will deploy the TNI. For a archipelagic nation whose length is as is vast as the continental United States, and where the uptick in economic activity will eventually see the TNI better funded than the SAF, we should expect the TNI to take on a higher profile as its arsenal expands.

Any move by Indonesia to upsize its military presence south of the border will present the SAF with yet more opportunities to interact with the TNI.

However, a permanent presence of TNI war machines will also pose a different dynamic to Singapore's deterrence posture, force readiness and response plans.

As the so-called Growth Triangle has fallen off the radar of investors in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the economic wherewithal of the Riau islands has likewise not featured prominently (if at all) in recent investment efforts staged by the Lion City to court foreign investors. The fading of the Growth Triangle idea should not mean that the Riau islands should similarly fall of the radar for defence planners.

And if Singapore falls within range of land-based war machines on Batam, say for example, rocket artillery, we ought to leverage on ties with the TNI to better understand the rationale for moving such firepower to the island.

We  need to keep a close eye on the winds of change that may herald a cooling of Indon-Singapore relations. The 2014 spate that arose after Indonesia announced that one of its warships would be named after two TNI Marines, who were convicted of bombing MacDonald House in Singapore during the Confrontation, prompted both countries to reassess the tenor of their friendship.

From time to time, factors outside the defence orbit have unsettled even the best intentions from the TNI and SAF to bring bilateral exchanges to a new level.

The stalled Defence Cooperation Agreement is one example. Signed by defence ministers from both countries in 2007, it awaits ratification by the Indonesian parliament. As a result, training facilities such as the Siabu Air Weapons Range - once the most advanced instrumented area in Southeast Asia for war games involving war planes and helicopters - has been kept in suspended animation after a promising start in the 1990s.

We have to be cognizant of future unknown-unknowns - to borrow terminology famously used by former United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - that could strain TNI-SAF ties.

Forward-looking policy makers should recognise and think through scenarios involving this patch of Indonesian territory, if TNI assets in the Riau chain are someday enlisted for political shadow boxing.

Look south; know thy neighbour.

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