Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Largest Singapore Armed Forces SAF mobilisation may have practised wider dimension of Singapore's defence readiness drawer plans

Soaring above and beyond the morning mist that shrouded Paya Lebar Air Base, Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 Hercules 732 had a pre-dawn flight to nowhere last Friday.

Personnel from the RSAF's 122 Squadron had a particularly early start that day, with the C-130H rotating a few hours before sunrise. A take-off at that unearthly hour means that the groundcrew had to be up and about even earlier, which translates to an overnighter for some of the squadron's personnel.

Once aloft, Hercules 732 traced seemingly aimless orbits over the sleeping island.

Nothing out of the ordinary with this flight or her underwing stores of a pair of external fuel tanks (inboard) and what appeared to be air-to-air refuelling pods (outboard).

But wait: The hose-and-drogue method for topping up thirsty RSAF warplanes is no longer used. The last RSAF warplanes plumbed for this AAR method were the F-5S/T Tiger IIs, which have since been retired.

And 732 was pictured at Rockhampton in September 2015 sans AAR pods. See below.

Photo: Courtesy of Central Queensland Planespotting

With gas prices the way they are, why bother flying with added deadweight? Who's probe-equipped jets are they meant to refuel? The Malaysians?

It would be interesting to ponder what prompted that early morning sortie on Friday, which was repeated on Saturday morning.

Perhaps by sheer coincidence, these were the days on which the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) conducted its largest mobilisation exercise since 1985. Some 8,000 soldiers and 700 vehicles were involved in the exercise, with publicity accorded to the mobilisation phase that took place under the command of the 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry at the historic Selarang Camp.

The SAF does not need to activate warm bodies to test its drawer plans. It is thought that various scenarios can be played out during computerised war games, with advanced algorithms working out how various courses of action from Blue and OPFOR could be played out during complex scenarios involving land, sea and air assets.

An FTX like the one we witnessed this past weekend, however, injects much more realism to game theory. This is because the interplay of many factors ranging from weather, traffic, unit esprit and the attitudes of individual National Servicemen could ultimately impact the Mobex response rate for units assessed.

One surmises that another dimension of the exercise could have involved the C-130 flights. Such RSAF aircraft are thought to be able to fly missions other than those that involve transporting troops or cargo.

It would be interesting indeed to find out what's in those AAR pods and why Hercules 732 was configured as such, orbiting the island in elliptical tracks with all that deadweight when most of Singapore was sleeping.

Is there more than meets the eye? Yes/No/Maybe.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Singapore Armed Forces SAF enhanced Mobilisation and Equipping Centre showcased during largest mobilisation since 1985


Stripped of military shortforms such as MEC (Mobilisation and Equipping Centre) and CHE (Controlled Humidity Environment), the centre of the action for the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) largest mobilisation since 1985 can be described simply as a multi-storey carpark.

Even so, a lot of thought evidently went into customising the facility to enable it to move a citizen's army from peace to war in as short a time as possible.

Yesterday afternoon at Selarang Camp, the home of the 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry, MINDEF's Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) was briefed on the enhanced MEC and its role in the mobilisation exercise that involved the 23rd Singapore Infantry Brigade and other divisional assets. Some 8,000 personnel and 700 vehicles were mobilised.

War machines are parked, fully-serviceable and fueled, ready-to-go with OVM lockers placed conveniently right behind their host vehicles.

The MID-plate vehicles are purposefully and systematically arranged according to units, so that each battalion need only report to a designated part of the MEC to prepare their vehicles for deployment. This mirrors the NATO concept called POMCUS, which means Prepositioning of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets. Designed to facilitate the rapid equipping and arming of NATO forces during the Reforger (Return of Forces to Germany) contingency plan, POMCUS saved time and added to the safe, effective and efficient matching of warfighters and war machines.

The SAF thought of that too. And the result is impressive.

The Controlled Humidity Environment is what it stands for: a sealed, air-conditioned space where temperature, humidity and ambient light is regulated for the long-term preservation of war machines and sensitive electronic equipment such as communications gear and fire control systems on remote weapon systems. Inside the POMCUS-enabled parking area, ACCORD was shown Terrex infantry combat vehicles for one motorised infantry battalion. The Terrex ICVs were parked, three between reinforced columns, with paper stickers on their bow indicating their MID-plate in numerals and their role using SAF acronyms. We saw Terrex vehicles configured for the Strike Observer Mission (STORM) and Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA), among others.

Height clearance is 4.5 metres - same as for overhead bridges on public roads - and concrete ramps are broader than in civilian carparks to cater for the turning radius of larger military vehicles, such as 155mm guns and their towing vehicles. One can imagine the value of such wide ramps, designed with as few turns and spirals as possible, being just the thing that drivers need for speedy and safe exits out of the MEC.

The MEC is a far cry from the Dri-clad system used by the Second Generation SAF in the 1980s, which saw vehicles parked in the open, zippered in weather-proof coverings that protected war machines from the rain but not the heat from the blazing sun. Signal sets and batteries were kept elsewhere and, as controlled items, had to be drawn from the signal store, each representative for each vehicle standing in line patiently, adding minutes to the total time required.

The MEC is a game-changer.


With the enhanced MEC, the time required to deploy a war machine from (literally) cold storage to the field has fallen from double-digit hours to a low single-digit. The actual figure is classified, but not difficult to work out if you factor in the touch points from in-processing onwards and punch out force readiness estimates from educated guesses.

The enhanced MEC emphasizes close and constant collaboration between the SAF and defence eco-system, in this case the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), whose defence engineers and architects well-versed in protective technology were instrumental in customising the MEC to serve the Singapore Army's specific operational requirements.

Whether by coincidence or design, siting the Selarang Camp MEC close to the Republic of Singapore Air Force Changi Air Base places it within the protective cover of RSAF air defence assets.

Apart from the facility that serves 9 Div, MECs are located elsewhere on the island to facilitate force preparation while dispersing assets to reduce vulnerability during the mobilisation window. Older generation MECs are due to be upgraded to the enhanced MEC standard in due course.

The enhanced MEC is just one part of the wider effort geared at enhancing the SAF's operational readiness by reducing the time taken for citizen soldiers to prepare for operations.

In this endeavour, every second counts.

What took about a minute for registration during In-pro can now be done within 20 seconds with the aid of bar-code scanners and a touch screen self-service kiosk, not unlike the automated check-in kiosks you see at some airports.

And while the DSTA representatives did not step forward during yesterday's briefing, their presence here and there was a telling and reassuring indication that the enhanced MEC did not magically appear without their input.

One can imagine that apart from the enhanced MEC, a host of other efforts have/are being made so that a mobilised SAF unit can deploy for action quickly, over water and over there, should the unthinkable happen.

Clearly, SAF staff planners have given much thought into updating drawer plans to sharpen the defence readiness of the SAF.

As my university mentor, Dr Tim Huxley, taught me on many occasions, equipment is not capability.

At 9 Div/HQ Infantry, ACCORD witnessed how capability was spring-loaded for action, should the need arise.

The enhanced MEC's contribution to deterrence is substantial, reassuring and practised during large force mobilisation war games.

We thank the generations of SAF planners, defence engineers and NSmen, from whose suggestions and feedback during numerous post-Mobex surveys (and you wondered what the SAF did with all your feedback), have contributed to sharpening the SAF's cutting edge.

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On Alert Amber with 76 SIB. A visit to the MEC in 2013. Click here