Saturday, April 27, 2013

Round the clock and round the world: Good defence relations pave the way for Singapore Armed Forces war games overseas

In ASEAN armed forces, incident-free war games would hardly be rated newsworthy.

The one exception is the armed forces of Singapore, which makes headlines not from what the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) does during combat manoeuvres but where these war games are staged.

In touch, outfield: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meets Singapore Army soldiers training in Brunei on Thursday 25 April 2013. A day earlier on another continent, Singapore's Defence Minister and his German counterpart watched SAF Armour conduct live-fire manoeuvres with Leopard 2A6s from a German panzer unit. (Photo: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)

This past week, reports in Singapore about military exercises in Brunei and Germany underlined the global mindset that Singapore's citizens' armed forces have embraced in overcoming land constraints.

The determination to keep the SAF's combat edge sharp is seen in the often overlooked fact that Singapore sends more soldiers overseas for war games and has more detachments overseas than all other ASEAN countries combined.

The sun literally doesn't set on SAF training. Singapore's military preparedness takes place round the clock and round the world, thanks to strong defence relations forged between our city-state and friends abroad.

SAF trains worldwide
In Asia, the SAF has conducts war games on home ground year-round. Arrangements with Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Thailand have allowed the SAF to flex its combat strength on foreign soil. The SAF has also been to South Africa for live-fire exercises involving field artillery and air defence missiles.

When its lights out in Asia, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) detachment in Cazaux, France, gets to work teaching pilots about air combat and ground attack mission profiles. We also have RSAF pilots who have trained in Italy.

Achtung Panzer!: Germany's State Secretary for Defence Rudiger Wolf (in beige trench coat) and Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen (second from right) briefed on the bilateral live-fire exercise executed by a German panzer unit and Singaporean tank forces. (Photo: Ministry of Defence, Singapore)

The Singapore Army flies its flag in Europe too. This past week, the NATO-Bergen training area in Germany was the focus of media attention when Defence Ministers from Germany and Singapore reaffirmed close ties and revealed that the SAF would be allowed to conduct armour training in Germany twice a year with immediate effect.

As Europe beds down for the night, a new work day dawns for multiple RSAF detachments and training arrangements in CONUS. Such activities stretch the breadth of the United States and range from pilot training in Florida to the F-15SG detachment in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Once a year, the SAF works with the US military to bring everything together at an Air-Land exercise codenamed Forging Saber. Previous editions of Forging Saber allowed the SAF to raise the bar incrementally when concentrating the firepower of SAF war machines on land (like HIMARS satellite-guided rocket batteries) and in the air (Apache attack helicopters, F-15 and F-16 warplanes) with unmanned assets like UAVs. This year, Forging Saber is expected to lift the threshold even higher.

It will be clear from this snapshot of the world that the SAF trains with subject matter experts in all parts of the globe, many of whom have amassed years of combat experience.

To be sure, our ASEAN neighbours in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have ample space in their countryside, air and sea space for their respective armed forces to stretch their legs. So there's really no need for these countries to invest in training arrangements elsewhere.

Overcoming land constraints
Singapore's land constraints make military training a constant challenge. Simulators for war machines do help, but only to the extent needed to get a full-time national serviceman competent in knowing how to operate the weapon platform or weapon system, which buttons to press.

To step up the proficiency ladder means experiencing the full combat potential of the war machine when it reaches out and touches the target kilometres away. Such live-fire training can only be accommodated overseas because the maximum range for live-fire army training in Singapore is a fraction of the effective range of key weapons like Leopard tanks (it can kill a tank more than 2km away; our artillery can rain shells on targets up to 42km away and guided rockets much further than that).

The next level of combat proficiency comes when the citizen soldier, sailor or airman realises how each war machine integrates itself in the whole mission plan. Such know-how cannot be acquired in the two years of full-time National Service.

This is why the Operationally-Ready NS battalions which have completed their first tranches of high key in-camp training are, in my view, the best trained NS units. These soldiers would have graduated from section, platoon, company, battalion to brigade-level live-fire training and may have been exposed to the rigours and fast-paced at which integrated live-fire exercises take place when Army units train alongside the RSAF.

Our overseas commitments cost money. For MINDEF/SAF to scour the world for training arrangements underscores Singapore's determination to build strong and meaningful defence relations with partners worldwide. Multiple training opportunities also ensure we do not have all our eggs in one basket.

Payoff from training worldwide
The payoff is the signal Singapore sends that the SAF will not be a paper force. No effort will be spared maintaining the defence preparedness of its citizen soldiers, even while keeping within the constraint on defence spending capped at 6 per cent of our GDP.

Another payoff is the fact that the thousands of Singaporeans who train overseas will open the eyes of Singaporeans and our foreign friends to one another. Each is an "ambassador" for his/her country who can bridge ties in his/her own special way.

It is a safe bet that a good number of the 1,300 soldiers sent for Exercise Panzer Strike in Bergen, Germany, could not point out the place (or country!) on a map of the world. Having been there, done that, they would (hopefully) have broadened their appreciation of geography.

Such learning is a two-way street. Ausralians in remote Rockhampton, Bruneians in Temburong and citizens in training areas where the SAF has step foot would have learnt a little something about our little red dot. One hopes our soldier-diplomats do a good job at building positive mindshare.

The payoff isn't just one way: What Singapore lacks in land, we give back in other ways.

The numerous exercises and opportunities for interaction hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy's Command and Control Centre at Changi Naval Base have brought together maritime security professionals from around the globe as they set about securing transnational maritime trade.

As the situation when a merchant vessel is owned by a company from one country, registered under a foreign flag, carries cargo made in Country A for a customer in Country B and has crew members from Countries A to Z is an everyday occurrence, Singapore has helped maritime security experts pool their expertise to safeguard seaborne commerce.

Next month's Shangri-La Dialogue security conference is another way the Lion City gives back to the international community. The event organised by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies will see defence ministers from the world's most powerful nations gather in the same ballroom to talk about weighty world affairs.

Singapore's contribution comes the security presence, seen and unseen, that will allow the talks to unfold incident-free.

Deft diplomacy and a thorough understanding of foreign partners is what keeps defence relations in fine fettle. This is a road Singapore appears to know how to navigate astutely.


Anonymous said...

The threat of war is enough to destabilise Singapore, imagine or neighbours up north and south block our air and sea space without declaration of war. Do we attack?

Anonymous said...

If you wait until then to decide whether to attack then you deserved to die first.

David Boey said...

Dear Anon 4:55 PM,
Changi doesn't serve just Singaporeans alone. It is a key node in the world's air travel network.

Our port is also a vital trans shipment hub - for countries abroad and yes, our neighbours too.

Closing air and sea space as per the scenario outlined would also cut off food shipments.

This would cross the red line.

No, we won't attack. But I bet we would defend.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

A blockade is an act of war. But what about closing your own territorial airspace or waters?

Anonymous said...

Closing your own territorial airspace or waters is suicidal.

David Boey said...

Anon 10:40 PM,
Re: Closing territorial waters. There's something call the right of free passage, which the US Navy regularly exercises.

Re: Closing airspace. Rhetoric is one thing. How would one enforce it when in terms of combat aircraft numbers and capability... well I think you know the math and force ratios?

There's nothing to gain from behaving like that.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Countries have a right to close their own sovereign airspace or waters.

Anonymous said...

It's true your air force can dominate the air and ensure free passage.

What if an enemy is prepared to wage confrontation over many years? You have to pursue change on the ground. How should one do that?

David Boey said...

Hi Anon 11:36 PM,
Define confrontation.

The urban bombing campaign kind of confrontation like in the 1960s? MacDonald House all over again?

In today's context of zero tolerance for state-sponsored terrorism and with target sets in cosmopolitan S'pore that could come from dozens of nations, how long do you think the world will stand watching while the authors do their deed?

Confrontation as in economic hissy fit? Don't want to sell sand, granite etc? That we can live with as we continue to diversify sources of supply.

No need for us to pursue change on the ground. Change agent will come from rationale actors within the system who reason that there is more to gain from cooperation and regional stability than the scenario sketched out.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

You use different resource to deal with different threats. You dun get the airforce go around bombing everything when a threat arises.

Anonymous said...

will there be a change or not in a certain place on 5 May ?

SahKahalsocan said...

Your problem is you are preparing for threats that are conventional.

An Assymetrical threat where one is forced to fight with one hand is much more difficult to deal with.

For example, if (with tacit but unspoken approval of neighbours) a 'non government' actor starts raining down rockets on Singapore, this will be as difficult and destabilizing as a blockade.

Considering the density of the city and (even with hardening) the vulnerability of air fields, it is not difficult to make operations a challenge.

Not sure how much these friends afar will be able to help in such undeclared circumstance.

Anonymous said...

as a matter of self defence, SG will, of course, hit back and destroy the "ngo" actor; at the same time, SG will ask the u.n. security council to handle the pesky neighbours.

Anonymous said...

Lets talk sense here. The kind of rockets that have the range and power to cause damage to hardened military bases already built and designed with artillery bombardment in mind are in the hands of state actors. Not the casual regional pirate or militant. These states risk being the next Iran if they transfer any of these rockets to radicals and by default, will lead to international economic and military reprisals.

Anonymous said...

so far, only the actor to the immediate north of here has about 54 units of astros II mlrs (which are made in brazil.)

Anonymous said...

I have yet to see confirmation of 54 units, only media reports of later tranches which are speculative. For if true, SAF will match the numbers, tube artillery not included. They don't exactly have much money to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Hardened bases means protection from artillery fire duh so that our assets remain safe. Wars do not happen overnight. Preparations - troop recalls, equipment movements, financial movements, etc cannot be hid. That is the curse of the digital and interconnected world. Any artillery piece will be turned into a smoldering ruin by RSAF. However, our leaders cannot wait and commence hostilities when all the signs the time is right.

kenahsatutimehabis said...

1)Hard to harden runway.

2)Secondary road runways aren't exactly unknown.

3)Rockets for Non State actors may come with blessing of State even if they deny it openly.

4)Easy to create havoc with Singapore kiasu populace, even with an iron dome system to protect.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much has changed in the defence posture since Tim Huxley wrote "Defending the Lion City".

Some of the other commenters above mention situations which historically triggered the 1967 Six Day War and several "punitive" incursions into Lebanon by the Israelis.

The said...

/// Anonymous kenahsatutimehabis said...

1)Hard to harden runway.

2)Secondary road runways aren't exactly unknown. ///

There are numerous roads that have been built as secondary runways - that many more runways that potential aggressors have to deal with. And have you heard of quick-hardening cement? Repairs can be done in double quick time.

What about launching your aircraft that are based in other countries. Not all of SAF assets are housed in SG. With aerial refueling capability, SG aircraft can be zooming in from many directions.

Anonymous said...

hi, I just want to ask, did you came again to Brunei in Dec for a training?