Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hybrid Warfare spells new paradigm for Singapore

Open fire: The 16-hour blaze at CK Building in Tampines consumed three floors of the building and saw the largest deployment of Singapore Civil Defence Force assets and personnel. Picture by SCDF

Three separate events this past week - the breach of a police road block, a fire and a bank heist update - underline Singapore's fragility in the face of determined adversaries.

By extension, these incidents help explain the need for, and importance of, sustained commitment to building up Home Team assets alongside those that serve the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

First: The road block breach. This took place around 11pm on Tuesday night (16 Aug'16) when a car sped through a police road block in Sembawang. This triggered a 10-minute chase involving a police car and two police motorbikes. It ended after the car collided with a taxi and a van at a red light.

"Following the accident, the male driver put up a violent struggle and assaulted the Traffic Police officers in an attempt to evade arrest," said a police statement. This case was apparently drug-related.

The lesson here: Security cordons like road blocks are not puncture-proof. Current police protocols which call for suspects to be apprehended allow vehicles to bash through police lines. This is quite unlike the situation when stricter protocols are imposed to safeguard events like the Shangri-La Dialogue. In the latter, drivers who ignore police warnings and breach road blocks come under fire immediately.

Second: The fire. The blaze at CK Building in Tampines was billed as the largest fire handled by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) this year. The blaze was put out after a 16-hour effort by fire fighters. Here are the assets involved.

TNP Infographics by Cel Gulapa

The lesson here: If a single building involved that many personnel and assets, imagine the situation if an entire industrial estate was afire. Singapore is often seen as a concrete jungle. But outside the orbit of Home Team and MINDEF/SAF planners whose brief is to prepare for the worst, few Singaporeans may realise how easily our concrete jungle can be put to the torch.

The conflagration could be accidental. The spark could be lit by arsonists. Or real estate could come under fire from air strikes, naval bombardments or artillery barrages. The end result will be the same: Over-taxed civil defence forces that will have to confront multiple situations simultaneously and sustain the pace for hours on end.

Under such circumstances, the question "How much is enough?" becomes moot. Singapore will have to steel itself to situations where large fires are left to burn themselves out during a large-scale arson attack or hot-war scenario because civil defence resources will be stretched thin.

Third: The bank heist update. Remember the robbery at the Standard Chartered bank branch at Holland Village on 7 July'16? The alleged robber was said to have fled to the Thai capital, Bangkok, soon after he was said to have relieved the bank of tens of thousands of dollars with a single threatening note. We learned today that Thai authorities have said the alleged robber cannot be extradited to Singapore.

The lesson here: Despite high alerts and multiple layers of security at Singapore's border checkpoints, our security forces are effective only when they know what or whom to look out for. The alleged robber breezed past security checks with valid travel documents and got away before police investigators put together his identity. In a nutshell, he beat the OODA loop and slipped through the dragnet even as investigators sought to Observe, Orientate, Decide and Act.  

As Singapore's security planners from the Home Team and MINDEF/SAF face up to the threat of Hybrid Warfare, we must be cognisant that assets and well-trained personnel alone will not suffice to keep us safe.

Hybrid Warfare entails aggressors who aim to beat the system by thinking out of the box. This often entails assaults using assets or tactics that flout civilised norms of warfare.

In the case of the road block, it is clear that suspects who want a fast getaway can penetrate security cordons constrained by strict shoot/don't shoot rules of engagement (ROE) during normal situations. Not all roadblocks are guarded as strictly as the Shangri-La Dialogue. But it's a challenge knowing when to go on heightened alert when firearms can be discharged to stop a breacher and when normal, peacetime ROEs should apply to protect the wider public from the prospect of road blocks turning into free fire zones. Assailants hold the Initiative, having the flexibility of choosing the time, place and method of attack. Security forces must therefore be able to adjust their ROE posture rapidly.

Defence-minded observes mulling over the CK Building fire would realise how stretched SCDF assets and personnel will be when pitched against large-scale arson attacks. It goes without saying that a hot-war scenario will also place more demands on SCDF resources than it can realistically meet. The bottomline: A multi-layered approach to fire fighting and damage control in the heartlands and industrial parks anchored on fire wardens and volunteers who can hold the fort amid chaos.

Several decades of efforts under the Total Defence banner have given rise to a large cadre of volunteers all across Singapore. In coming months, as the SG Secure movement gains traction, growing numbers of volunteers trained, organised, equipped and briefed on how to deal with civil defence scenarios will contribute to mitigating Singapore's inherent vulnerability as a densely populated city-state.

The StanChart robbery emphasised how well-planned situations can evade even the best border security. We have to be prepared for unknown subjects (unsubs) involved in acts of aggression against Singapore residents to hatch a getaway plan that will beat the OODA loop.

Alas, dealing with unsubs with a getaway plan is a preferable option to handling individuals or groups with no getaway plan. In the latter, they will hold their  ground to the last bullet or the last blast and the end results could be far worst.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hardening of Malaysia's TUDM Gong Kedak air base the shape of things to come

Under cover: Hardened aircraft shelters at the western end of Runway 08/26 at Gong Kedak airbase house Malaysia's most advanced warplanes, the Sukhoi Su-30MKM.

At the air base where some of Southeast Asia's deadliest warplanes roost, there's not a wing in sight.

The warplanes are safe in hardened aircraft shelters (HAS), under cover where the sun doesn't shine.

Tengah Air Base? Perhaps Paya Lebar Air Base?

No. It's TUDM Gong Kedak, home to the Royal Malaysian Air Force's 11 Skuadron. This is the RMAF squadron assigned to fly Malaysia's most advanced fighter jets, the Sukhoi Su-30MKM.

The World War 2 era air base which 11 SKN calls home sits in the northern neck of peninsular Malaysia. The base underwent a massive transformation years ago to improve the resilience of key infrastructure. Tonnes of concrete, rebar and extensive earthworks were added to protect vital facilities such as aircraft hardstandings, command facilities, POL storage and ammunition dumps.



Blue print: Artist's impression of a Spantech HAS. Australian architects and engineers have made invaluable contributions to Malaysia with defence assets like fighter planes, rocket artillery launchers and ammunition depots housed in hardened facilities designed by Australians. Credit: Spantech Pty Ltd.

In the process, the landscape at the western end of Gong Kedak's single runway 08/26 was looped with aircraft taxiways that lead to triangular mounds of earth that covered reinforced concrete hardened aircraft shelters (HAS). Once sealed in its individual HAS, each Su-30MKM is immune to all but the heaviest ordnance and the most precise of attacks - or a lucky strike.

Hardened facilities at TUDM Gong Kedak are believed to be the most extensive and sophisticated at any RMAF air base. They were made possible by Spantech Pty Ltd, an Australian company that specialises in defence construction.

It's the shape of things to come in the Federation as Malaysian defence planners recognise the value and importance of protecting defence infrastructure that can generate and sustain Malaysian air power.


Spantech's growing list of projects in Malaysia includes ammunition storage and hardened vehicle shelters at the Malaysian Army's Kem Syed Sirajuddin in Gemas (above), where Astros II Keris MRLs are based. The ammunition depots protect the Astros II warshot, while some hardened vehicle shelters are thought to provide protected space in which Malaysian gunners can load and prepare their MRLs for operations and have these vehicles on standby for immediate deployment.

The extensive protection accorded to RMAF assets at Gong Kedak is not invulnerable to determined attacks.

We witnessed this during the first Gulf War when HAS in occupied Kuwait and at Iraqi airbases were routinely holed by precision-guided munitions designed to punch through hardened structures before detonating within.

However, such protection raises the stakes by forcing the aggressor to increase the quality and quantity of assets in the strike package and consider carefully the timing and direction of air or artillery strikes.

Blast resistant: Australian designed ammunition storehouses bear the brunt of a full-scale trial at Woomera testing range in South Australia in the early 1990s. Note the shock wave at the crown of the explosive plume. Singapore's defence engineers and scientists have carried out similar tests in places like Sweden to test and validate the design of blast doors for facilities like the UAF. Credit: Spantech Pty Ltd.

With HAS immune to strafing attack, bomblets from cluster bombs and blast effects from near misses, it would take the proverbial surgical strike to knock out each HAS or command node. Not easy even during peacetime conditions at a bombing range. Certainly more risky when the airspace around TUDM Gong Kedak will be defended by BVR-capable Su-30MKMs and ground-based air defence assets.

In addition, the ability to park one's warplanes under shelter increases strategic ambiguity because no country in the region has the ability to place the air base under 24/7 satellite surveillance. So unless one has boots on the ground, deep in Malaysian territory, one can never be sure if the HAS are occupied or empty.

The pace at which hardened facilities have been added to Malaysian army, navy and air force facilities is expected to increase in coming years. Indeed, one can expect that hardened infrastructure will become de rigueur as Malaysia modernises its defence facilities.

Malaysia may not have devoted the resources to nurture homegrown talent who can design hardened facilities, but this has hardly hindered the Malaysians from renovating defence infrastructure to increase their resilience against determined assault. If you're willing to pay for it, there are defence specialists who will design and build anything you desire.

Over in Singapore, the size, expertise and experience of our defence technology talent pool is often embedded as a sound bite in speeches that underline our ability to devise indigenous and sometimes unique solutions to defence matters. The design and construction of hardened infrastructure like the Merah loop areas in Changi and ammunition depots such as the Mandai Underground Ammunition Facility (UAF) are examples of such engineering projects.

This self-reliance is noteworthy and certainly worth developing further.

But the point should be made that one can import similar expertise from abroad, with no questions asked. Countries with the money to do so can rapidly accelerate their growth trajectory and level up, or surpass what our homegrown talent can deliver.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Response to plot by Batam terrorist cell to fire rockets at Marina Bay

Thanks to steady investments in defence capabilities - some of which have yet to be unveiled - the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can detect and destroy artillery projectiles such as rockets in mid-flight.

The SAF has amassed several decades of experience operating radars designed to locate enemy artillery positions by tracking shells or rockets to their point of origin. Five types of counter battery radars have been fielded over the years by the Singapore Artillery and, in recent years, by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

The RSAF counter rocket artillery and mortar (C-RAM) radars are operated alongside guided munitions that can be launched in quick succession, in all-weather conditions and at very short notice to intercept aerial threats like rockets. This new capability underlines Singapore's ability to anticipate and respond to a wide spectrum of security threats.

We are heartened by MINDEF/SAF's proactive and resolute stance in defending Singapore.