Friday, July 21, 2017

Comments on the expansion of the Republic of Singapore Air Force RSAF Tengah Air Base

Extract from The War Against Japan, Volume I, The Loss of Singapore
Chapter XXI, page 353, Singapore Airfields Untenable

"Towards the end of December 1941 a number of special landing strips had been constructed to relieve the congestion that would obviously arise in the event of a withdrawal to the island, and to provide dispersion for the Hurricane fighters. The plan had been to construct two strips in southern Johore and five on Singapore Island. Priority for labour had been given to Air Headquarters for this purpose, but the constant air raids caused civilian labourers to desert. By the end of January only two strips had been completed though others were in the course of preparation. Their existence, whether completed or not, provided the enemy with possible landing grounds for airborne troops - a threat which could have been countered only by detailing special detachments to guard them. Since no troops could be spared for this purpose all five strips on the island had to be made unfit for use. In addition all other open spaces which might possibly be used as temporary landing grounds were covered by obstructions."

Comments on the expansion of Tengah Air Base
The move to upsize Tengah Airbase, ahead of the closure of Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) from 2030, demonstrates the importance of air power to Singapore’s defence because a substantial tract of land has been entrusted to the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

One can imagine that the MINDEF/SAF strategy is to maximise the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) ability to generate and sustain air power by adding as many military runways as we can onto our land-scarce island. 

Augmented by public roads that can be converted into Alternate Runways, having more runways would frustrate attempts at crippling our air force as hostile forces would be faced with a larger number of runways to deal with.

It is all a numbers game. Runways are fixed assets whose locations can be pinpointed by GPS. But the existence of more locations from which the RSAF can launch and recover warplanes means that an adversary would likely require a sizeable number of satellite-guided munitions to knock out runways effectively. This is because fighter jets can take to the skies by using a fraction of a runway’s total length. As for combat and transport helicopters, these rotary-wing assets have practised operating out-of-base from locations such as golf courses.

Aerial sights: Royal Air Force aerial reconnaissance photograph showing Kallang airfield (bottom left) and Paya Lebar landing ground (top right), which was constructed by the British as an alternate runway. The landing ground sits on the present location of Paya Lebar Air Base.

British military planners who surveyed Singapore Island to identify possible locations for Royal Air Force airfields did such a thorough job that the three of the four sites are still used by military/commercial aviation today.

Even with four military airfields - Tengah in the west, Seletar in the north doubling as a seaplane base (then the largest east of Suez), Sembawang close to the Royal Navy dockyards and Kallang in the south (also a seaplane base) - the RAF was keenly aware of the vulnerability of its runways to artillery barrages and aerial attacks. As the Japanese closed in on Singapore from the north, belated efforts were made to construct as many as five landing grounds on Singapore to serve as alternate runways. Two more were planned in Johor Bahru.

According to the British official history of WW2, only two landing grounds (LGs) were completed just prior to the invasion of Singapore. While the LGs are not named, Senang Diri understands these are Tebrau in Johor, built by New Zealanders from Number 1 Aerodrome Construction Squadron, and Paya Lebar landing ground. The latter was developed in the 1950s as Paya Lebar Airport, which opened in 1955.

The landing strip at Changi (above), built by POW labour during the Japanese Occupation, evolved into RAF Changi after the war. It was handed over to the Singapore Air Defence Command after the British withdrawal and renamed Changi Air Base. The site was redeveloped into today's Changi Airport following the relocation of RSAF assets to Paya Lebar Airport, when was transformed into a military airbase and renamed Paya Lebar Air Base.

Nearly a century after the British military study of Singapore, the approach to protecting airpower on Singapore by maximising landing strips and by fielding strong fighter/anti-aircraft defences remains essentially unchanged.

Attempts at making runways inoperable will be frustrated by the RSAF's integrated ground-based air defence network, which has a missile density unmatched in Southeast Asia to counter aerial threats flying at very low level to medium altitude. These armaments can be complemented by sea-based air defences, principally the Aster missile batteries on Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class stealth frigates deployed as an advance air defence screen.

In addition, the RSAF Air Power Generation Command (APGC) has raised, trained and sustained squadrons adept at executing rapid runway repairs, day or night, even on terrain seeded with area denial munitions such as mines or UXBs.

Tube artillery shells and unguided rocket artillery munitions do not have the accuracy required to knock out a runway. This means more guns are needed for every runway targeted, which in turn makes enemy artillery a bigger, more vulnerable target. An adversary with a modest artillery force may have to prioritise its targets, which robs the adversary of the ability to counter all RSAF air bases at the same time. 

In coming years, one can expect to see substantial redevelopments to the additional land allocated to Tengah Air Base.

The runway at Murai Camp, which is now home to the air force’s drone squadrons and has its own runway, is likely to go along with the 2,500m long, six-lane wide Lim Chu Kang Road. A second runway and new taxiways are likely to be constructed on the acquired land, along with hardened shelters to house RSAF warplanes. Bear in mind that when the British operated Tengah, the air base had three runways that criss-crossed one another.

A second runway and new taxiways (which can also serve as alternate runways) at Tengah means the RSAF would be net positive, even with the loss of PLAB and its two taxiways.

The RSAF previously operated from Changi Airport’s Runway 3, which is now closed to facilitate construction of Terminal 5. The addition of a future military runway at Changi, without additional airstrips (new runway plus tacxiways) at Tengah, means the RSAF’s runway balance sheet would be net negative as the PLAB runways would not have been replaced.

MINDEF/SAF has indicated it will avoid such a situation with the latest land acquisition.

Note: As a member of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) Main Council and ACCORD Educational Institutions council, the writer was briefed by RSAF APGC on Exercise Torrent VII and witnessed the exercise unfold. The writer has attended five of the seven war games in the Torrent series.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Unique Singapore Armed Forces CONOPS arise from SAF's specific operational requirements

Among the countries in Southeast Asia with an integrated air defence network, Singapore is unique as its air defence shield is an all-missile affair with no triple A.

Among the regional armed forces with artillery guns, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is the only one that has standardised its tubes to a single calibre.

Do we know something that other warfighters don't?

There was a time when Singapore Artillery battalions fielded four different munitions in various calibres (105mm, 120mm, 155mm,160mm) for tube artillery. Today, streamlining its warshot to 155mm shells and associated charges simplifies the job of resupplying arty units during operations.

The tradeoff, however, is the loss of operational flexibility conferred by the different firing characteristics of a diversified artillery arsenal.

The Giat 105mm LG1 light guns once used by the Singapore Artillery, for example, may pack a more modest throw weight compared to 155mm guns. But the Project F guns were more heli-portable and, ergo, more mobile in the field compared to the 155mm Project R lightweight SP howitzers, which cannot move far or fast enough on their puttering APUs (essentially modified farm tractor engines).

Tailoring the sharp end of the SAF to our specific operational requirements often calls for concept of operations (CONOPS) and warfighting configurations like no other.

Our all-missile air defence shield - with Aster and I-HAWK at the high end, down to the C-RAM system and VSHORADS at the other end of the spectrum - and decision to bet on a single artillery calibre are uniquely Singaporean solutions to fighting on and from the geographical template of Singapore island.

As we forge ahead with our own solutions, the ability of the end-users who will operate the weapon platforms and systems (Ops) and the defence science and engineering community (Tech) to talk and collaborate smoothly cannot be overemphasized. Ops-Tech integration is vital for the SAF's ability to be a smart user of defence solutions.

The Vietnam War taught United States air warfare planners to relearn the value of gun-armed fighters. The F-4 Phantom, then America's premier air defence fighter, was redesigned to include 20mm cannon slaved to a lead computing gunsight to make up for the lack of guns on early model Phantoms.

During the Falklands/Malvinas war in 1982, Britain's Royal Navy learned the hard way that the lethality of missile-armed warships was far from what weapons makers had forecast. Long-range Sea Dart and Sea Slug missiles, and short-range Sea Wolf missiles could, in theory, have kept marauding Argentine fighter-bombers at bay. But a combination of good flying at low level, supported by relays of aerial refuelling tankers and the use of terrain masking saw RN surface combatants like the Antelope, Ardent, Coventry and Sir Galahad fall victim to bomb attacks of the kind last seen during WW2.

Losses like these debunked the theory that missiles alone could keep warships safe from air attack. Air defence guns operating under local control (30mm and 40mm) were installed aboard RN frigates and destroyers post-Falklands.

Ops-Tech integration
A healthy Ops-Tech framework does not entail one side or the other kow-towing to the other side. Far from it. Disagreements will arise from time to time, and one can expect points of view to be delivered robustly.

Stringing everything together is the ability and readiness for all parties to listen to, assimilate, assess and accept/debunk alternative notions or points of view, and to do so rationally and with no rancour.

Easier said than done, particularly when strong personalities on project teams are involved.

Enter the SAF two-sided war games. The use of instrumented ranges, tactical engagement systems (TES) and simulated engagements on computer can play meaningful and (one would hope) impartial roles for validating new warfighting methods. The underlying assumptions and parameters that frame war readiness exercises must be well thought through and credible, and the failure of blue force encounters during two-sided FTX or TEWT must be embraced in the right spirit.

Established and reputable armed forces learn their lessons from the crucible of war.

One doubt the SAF wants, or can afford to, go down that same road.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Malaysian air force Su-30MKM certified to carry GBU-12 Paveway LGBs

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia, TUDM) has used its 59th anniversary - Hari Ulang Tahun ke-59 TUDM - to showcase its success in integrating NATO guided munitions aboard Russian warplanes.

Several frames in the RMAF's 59th anniversary video show a Sukhoi Su-30MKM (NATO reporting name: Flanker) dropping a single GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bomb (LGB). This marks the first time TUDM has revealed that its Russian-made Su-30MKMs can use the American-made Paveway II.

The capability demo apparently took place on 27 November 2016 at Lapang Sasar Tentera Udara Malaysia (LASARUD) - the TUDM's live-fire range - at Kota Belud in Sabah.

The host aircraft, M52-08 from 11 Skuadron (11 SKN), performed the demo during Eksesais Paradise. The war games are named after the various frames in the air warfare exercise which put to test TUDM's ability to plan and execute Paradrop, Deep strike, Insertion and Extraction using fixed and rotary-wing assets, and special forces.

But it's an intriguing case of now-you-see-it-now-you-don't.

The HUT ke-59 TUDM video, which had been posted on the TUDM's Facebook page, has apparently been sanitised to remove footage showing the Flanker-Paveway combo.

A Malaysian netizen alerted Senang Diri to the story posted by Malaysian Military Power on its Facebook page. The picture above is used with MMP's permission (H/T MMP).

According to Malaysian reports, the LGBs could be guided by elite Pasukan Khas Udara (PASKAU) special forces troops inserted behind enemy lines to scout and designate high-value targets. These include air bases, command facilities, and key weapon platforms such as SAM and rocket artillery batteries.

TUDM's success in certifying NATO ordnance aboard its Su-30MKMs is a potential game-changer because it widens to menu of options available to Malaysian air force mission planners. Apart from the already wide range of Russian air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, TUDM planners can add the Paveway II as another A2G armament option.

This increases the flexibility of the Su-30MKM as a war machine even as it raises the uncertainty for enemy forces, who must now contend with dealing with Flankers who have more ways to hit a target with precision strikes by day or night.

The Su-30MKM is TUDM's most advanced warplane.

The multirole combat aircraft are flown by 11 SKN, based at Gong Kedak Air Base in peninsular Malaysia. For more on Gong Kedak, click here

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Thoughts on RMAF Airpower. Click here
TUDM displays Russian missiles. Click here
TUDM displays Growlerski. Click here
Thoughts on the Royal Malaysian Navy. Click here

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Battle for Malaya and Fall of Singapore 75th anniversary: Lieutenant General Arthur Ernest Percival remembered

“There is little doubt that when General Percival went to Malaya he was aware that he was going to a difficult, almost hopeless task. Nevertheless he accepted this task and he discharged it with honour. And when Singapore fell – as it inevitably must – and he went, along with the rest of us into captivity, he showed courage and devotion of a high order in safeguarding the interests of his troops and more than once suffered starvation and solitary confinement  for refusing to comply with orders he thought unreasonable. Those experiences were tests of his character and in recent years those of us who were his friends and associates have had reason to appreciate his sterling worth in his devoted work for the Far Eastern Prisoners of War in whose cause he never spared himself. He sought no honour for himself. In earlier days he won well deserved distinctions, but I know that thousands of us are sad that in his later years no honours came his way.”Right Reverend Leonard Wilson, Bishop of Birmingham and previously Bishop of Singapore at the memorial service for General Percival

You may know about Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival’s role in the Battle for Malaya and Fall of Singapore during the Second World War.
But how much do you know about General Percival as a family man and his post-war years?
In an email interview, the son of the late General Percival, Brigadier-General (Retired) James Percival, shares what it was like growing up in the Percival family.
BG James also recounts how his father spent his post-war years writing his account of the Malayan campaign. General Percival’s memoir was published in 1949 in a book titled The War in Malaya.
Family Life
The Percival family life was a typical military one, i.e. we usually lived wherever he was stationed, except during the war of course when we lived near the family’s roots in the English county of Hertfordshire while he was away. Being very young at the time (five years old in 1942) I was not really aware of what was going on other than that my father was away fighting in the war. Indeed I did not really start to know my father properly until after he returned from the war in 1945. Then he became someone whom I much admired as someone who had achieved high rank and had clearly had a very successful military career, notably during the 1st World War during which he was highly decorated. He never talked about the Fall of Singapore, nor was it ever a matter for discussion in the family, although I knew he was writing his book about it. My boyhood goal was to emulate him and he actively encouraged me to join the Army. He also taught and encouraged me to play games and partake in hobbies he had enjoyed throughout his life, eg cricket, golf, tennis and shooting.
The family was reunited in the house where we lived in the town of Ware, Hertfordshire, on 10th September 1945. There was much media interest in his return home and I can recall many press reporters trying to get access to him. We soon adjusted to post war life. My father was busy at the War Office initially writing his final despatches and both myself and my sister were kept occupied at our boarding schools. Our mother already had many local interests and responsibilities which she continued with. My father retired from the Army in June 1946 shortly after the completion of the work on his despatches, so his last active appointment was as GOC Malaya. Thereafter he became very active in trying to help those who had fought with him in Malaya/Singapore and particularly those who had been prisoners of war of the Japanese. He became the first President of the Far Eastern Prisoner of War Association (FEPOW) and also played a large part in getting eventual financial reparations paid by the Japanese government. He also had a full time job as President of the Hertfordshire Branch of the British Red Cross Society, a post he held for 16 years.
My father died in King Edward VIIth Hospital in London on 31st January 1966 soon after his 78th birthday. He had been ill for some time with heart problems. His wife, Betty, had pre-deceased him in 1953 so he had lived alone for much of the latter part of his life. He is buried in Widford churchyard in Hertfordshire and a memorial service was held for him at the church of St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London on 20th February 1966. 

A large congregation attended this service at which the address was given by the Right Reverend Leonard Wilson, Bishop of Birmingham and previously Bishop of Singapore at the time of the Malaya/Singapore campaign. 

He said:“There is little doubt that when General Percival went to Malaya he was aware that he was going to a difficult, almost hopeless task. Nevertheless he accepted this task and he discharged it with honour. And when Singapore fell – as it inevitably must – and he went, along with the rest of us into captivity, he showed courage and devotion of a high order in safeguarding the interests of his troops and more than once suffered starvation and solitary confinement  for refusing to comply with orders he thought unreasonable. Those experiences were tests of his character and in recent years those of us who were his friends and associates have had reason to appreciate his sterling worth in his devoted work for the Far Eastern Prisoners of War in whose cause he never spared himself. He sought no honour for himself. In earlier days he won well deserved distinctions, but I know that thousands of us are sad that in his later years no honours came his way.”
Start of the Occupation: Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival (seated, second from left) confers with his officers at the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah on Sunday, 15 February 1942. The Fall of Singapore was sealed with the signing of the surrender at 6:10pm that evening by General Percival. 

Victors: The United States Army's General Jonathan Wainwright (standing, left) and the British Army's Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival (standing, second from left) - both recently released as POWs - join General MacArthur aboard the United States Navy battleship, USS Missouri, on 2 September 1945, to accept Japan's unconditional surrender. The appearance of the former POWs at the surrender ceremony was highly symbolic as the Allies claimed victory in the Pacific War. General Wainwright had surrendered all American forces in the Philippines to Japanese forces on 6 May 1942 while General Percival surrendered Singapore to Japan on 15 February 1942. Now, the tables had turned.

Did General Percival ever return to Singapore or the Far East? 
No. In fact he never left the UK again during the 21 years between his return from the war in 1945 and his death in 1966.
Did he share what went through his mind as he worked on the draft for the War in Malaya?  
No. He was essentially a fairly private person and it would also have been very important to him that the contents and views expressed in his book were entirely his own, and unaffected by others. You may note that there are no acknowledgements in the book.
What were the most common war-related questions posed to him?
I cannot really answer that. Very many questions will have been asked of him by a great variety of people about the campaign and the surrender. I do not have records of them, but I could probably guess at some of the most common queries as no doubt you could too.
How did he weather the history baggage from the signing of Singapore’s surrender? 
Extremely stoically. Because of the circumstances at the time he did not regret deciding to surrender because he was convinced that by doing so he would save the lives of many Singaporeans and others. You could say therefore that it was a humanitarian act, although of course totally contrary to military ethics.
Although he probably thought privately that he was not well treated after the war by Churchill, I think it is significant that he never openly criticised Churchill’s conduct of the war and particularly the lack of resources made available to operations in the Far East, conceding that the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East properly had greater priority.

General Percival's final resting place. 
Source: Percival family.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Contemporary National Education: Security, survival and success of Qatar as a small state

Big neighbour upset by small neighbour.

Big neighbour restricts land, sea and air access to small neighbour. This affects imports of vital supplies like food and raw materials by small neighbour, not to mention the free movement of people and trade.

Small neighbour has United States (US) military on its soil.

Small neighbour has a world-class airline.

Small neighbour is a major petrochemicals hub.

Small neighbour is almost totally reliant on food imports.

Small neighbour has deep pockets to weather any financial crisis, with a sovereign wealth fund managing billions in global investments.

Just to be clear, the "small neighbour" we are talking about is Qatar.

As a metaphor for how small states fare when bigger neighbours choose to flex their might, the State of Qatar represents an interesting parallel for the Republic of Singapore.

On Monday (5 Jun'17), Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Saudi Arabia in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar. The Saudi-led coalition had claimed that Qatar funds terror groups and is said to be upset with Qatar's friendliness towards Iran.
The terror-related allegations aren't new. But this time, Qatar's neighbours joined forces to slowly cut off access to the outside world from Qatar, a sliver of land on the northern shores of Arabia.

Supermarkets saw their shelves emptied as anxious residents stocked up on supplies. Lack of raw materials for construction has put the brakes on building activities in Qatar.

In a bid to further isolate Qatar, its neighbours blocked Qatari aircraft from entering their airspace, and barred Qatari vessels from using their seaports. Qatar Airways, an emerging rival to Singapore Airlines, had to reroute or cancel numerous flights.
Amid the diplomatic strangulation, where is the United Nations (UN)? Not a squeak was heard in the first days of the spate. Even now, there appears to be no bid by the world body to soothe tensions.

And as Qataris face starvation, the world's media appears more interested in the fate of the FIFA World Cup 2022 and whether facilities for the globe's most prestigious soccer matches can be finished on time.

The plight of the Qataris provides the answer to Singaporeans who have asked why our tiny city-state cannot rely on the "world's policemen" for its security.

Qatar is home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East. So what? This failed to accord the desert state any immunity card against unfriendly neighbours.

Qatar has also learned that it cannot rely on the UN to solve its problems. The UN will not come marching in to help, like cavalry to the rescue.
The episode where Qatar's neighbours have cut ties underlines a little-known hard truth of diplomacy - bilateral ties are never a given and must be reciprocated. A lot of work - much of which takes place away from the public eye -  is carried out by diplomats the world over to ensure that diplomatic relations remain on an even keel.

And while we are led to believe big and small nations speak with an equal voice on the world stage, let us not deceive ourselves when it comes to geographical realities. Small states have far more to lose vis-a-vis big states when air, land or sea space is denied.

For Singapore, the smallest of all ASEAN states, we must work even harder to punch above our weight and ensure our relevance to friends in the region and farther afield. In a world  of options, big states can easily overlook us.

The case of Qatar also demonstrates that a strong military is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a country's stability, growth and prosperity, Qatar, which has one of the densest air defence networks on the Arabian peninsula, probably realises more than ever how vital it is to nurture and sustain social and economic stability, along with national resilience for weathering the ongoing diplomatic spate.

In Singapore, we identify these as elements of the Total Defence movement, which is made up of Military, Civil, Economic, Social and Psychological defence elements. We also have the SGSecure movement that aims to strengthen national resilience against in-country perils.

But does the average Singaporean care enough to play his or her part?

We have also been told, ad nauseam time and again, that we ourselves are responsible for our country's security. This message, if uttered on the streets of Qatar, will probably be embraced readily by not a few advocates there.

The speed with which Qatar's neighbours ganged up acted against it shows why no one should take peace and stability for granted. Truth be told, we cannot and should not live with a siege mentality. But the Qatar episode reminds us that neighbours itching for a flare-up will grab any opportunity to do so. 

In Qatar's case, one school of thought argues that fake news contributed to misleading neighbouring states on Doha's stance towards Iran. 

Qatari leaders have made a plea for dialogue to solve the impasse.

Too late. 

No one cries for small states. 

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Singapore Army unveils Rafael Spike SR missiles

Lethal weapon: A RAFAEL Spike-SR missile, mounted on a tripod and connected to a simulator, was unveiled for the first time at the Singapore Army Open House 2017, which was organised by Headquarters 6th Combined Arms Division.

The Singapore Army has introduced the Rafael Spike-SR (short-range) as the new generation anti-tank guided missile for its infantry battalions.

The Spike-SR made its public debut at the Singapore Infantry's display at the just-concluded Army Open House 2017 (27-29 May 2017).

Issued at Company level, the Spike-SR has replaced the long-serving (and lethal) Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle (RR) as a Company support weapon.

In a Singapore Army infantry battalion, the Spike-SR complements the MATADOR (Manportable Anti-Tank Anti-DOoR). The single-shot, 90mm MATADOR is issued at a scale of two tubes per seven person section.

Designed with a launch-and-leave capability, the Spike-SR is said to give anti-tank gunners the ability to reach out and touch something up to 1km away. However, the quoted maximum effective range for the weapon, according to open source reports, is said to be 1,500m. Minimum engagement range is said to be 50m - the length of an Olympic-length pool.

Training of Spike-SR operators is augmented by a desktop simulator. This presents the image seen by gunners in the weapon's thermal sight (white/black hot options) and can be programmed with tactical scenarios that call for operators to work as an integrated fire team by recognising a threat vector and commanding the appropriate response/firing solution.

At the Spike-SR display, Senang Diri experienced a mock engagement of an MBT using this weapon. Digits on the left hand controlled the zoom function for the thermal sight. The right hand was used to initiate lock-on while the thumb was used to depress the firing button. Guided by an instructor, the simulated tank target several hundred metres away was destroyed at the first attempt.

According to some reports, the missile is able to engage static or moving targets. A variety of warhead types can be used to optimise the blast effect on targets.

Weighing just 200 grams shy of 10kg, the Spike-SR is not a handy weapon. The Carl Gustav 84mm RR is heavier, weighing in at around 15kgs unloaded lighter at about 8.5 kgs empty [Note: The 8.5kg weight refers to the M3 model of the 84. The one used by the SAF weighed around 15kg. The sentence has been amended accordingly.]. Each "84" launcher must be served by two operators - firer and loader - whereas the Spike-SR is essentially a single operator weapon. This crew size does not include the detachment commander, who would usually perform range finding and IFF functions to avoid blue-on-blue encounters.

In addition to the launcher's weight, fire teams must also carry 84mm rounds, each of which weighs upwards of 3kgs per round.

The Spike-SR accords a precision fire capability to AT teams to an Infantry COY.

However, the merits of a precise, single-shot weapon (Spike-SR) versus a less-accurate weapon (84mm RR) that nonetheless packs a lethal punch where the rounds land (not to mention the versatility of the RR with the wide range of munitions available) is likely to provide fodder for spirited debates among military buffs.

Spike-SR is one of a number of Spike missile variants fielded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Malaysian Army scales up for the anti-armour fight

Show of force: Soldiers from 7 RRD on parade earlier this year, with this contingent armed wall-to-wall with RPG-7 launchers. Photo: Malaysian Army News.

The strength of a conventional army rests with its defence manpower who are optimised for war.

Trained, organised, equipped and supported for land warfare, the table of organisation and equipment (TOE) for a conventional army is also its weakness.

Army units cannot easily change the way they are armed or structured. Unit commanders cannot, for example, decide to dump a weapon and field another in its place, or reorganise their men under another hierarchical structure.

Such organisational inertia means that operational deployments for most army units are come-as-you-are affairs. You go to war with what you have, and hope that the training and capability of one's armaments, and fighting spirit of the troops, will outperform the enemy.

The history of warfare contains many examples of armies that were forced to modify their TOE in response to stalemates on the battlefield that had exacted enormous costs in terms of manpower, equipment and also morale.

During WW1, the German army's StoƟtruppen - stormtroopers - made a name for themselves as shock troops who were the force of choice for assaults upon fortified trench systems defended by wire and MGs, and covered by artillery fire.

At the Battle of Stalingrad in WW2, infantry and mechanised infantry units were found ineffective during fighting in built-up areas. As a result, German pioneers (i.e. combat engineers) were organised into assault units. Their TOE included weapons such as flamethrowers. Instead of bolt-action rifles that were standard issue in normal infantry battalions, the assault troops went into action liberally armed with machine pistols and grenades to maximise the volume of suppressive fire that fire teams could bring to bear.

And as the Red Army closed in on Berlin during the closing days of WW2 in Europe, the Soviets turned the tables on the Wehrmacht by unleashing assault troops on a massive scale. Troops organised into "shock armies" broke the back of the once-powerful German Army, which had been bled white by years of combat on multiple fronts.

More recently in Lebanon, the forces of Hezbollah that clashed with the Israel Defense Forces appear to have found a reply to the armour-heavy IDF. Light infantry armed with anti-tank weapons (issued at a scale well above that for a normal infantry unit), covered by fire teams with automatic, belt- or magazine-fed MGs and grenade launchers have proven hard to eradicate when fighting from prepared positions with numerous secondary and tertiary fire positions.

In our neighbourhood, the Malaysian Army has made clear how its infantry could face an armoured threat: With a profusion of anti-tank weapons, backed by a concept of operations for delaying, disrupting and destroying armour-heavy units.

Photo: Malaysian Army News.

Soldiers from Batalion ke 7 Rejimen Renjer DiRaja (Mekanise) paraded earlier this year armed with plenty of RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers. This instance was probably more for the camera, because any infantry unit thus armed would tip to the side of diminishing returns in terms of the sustainability of anti-tank firepower. 

The reason for this is simple: The RPG-7 is a not a single-shot weapon. This means that the weapon's efficiency (as opposed to effectiveness, which is contingent on the warhead, gunner's skill, effect of crosswind and distance to target, among other factors) is optimised with a supply of additional grenades to sustain the expected rate of fire discharged during one or multiple contacts.

What is clear to anyone who has been following the Tentera Darat Malaysia's (TDM) modernisation is the Malaysian army's increasing awareness of, and response to, emerging armoured threats.

Even if the parade by 7 RRD was intended for the camera, one takeway is the TDM's awareness that the normal TOE may need to be tweaked in order to break the momentum of an armoured thrust.

With light MGs and automatic grenade launchers issued at section level, backed by RPGs to do the heavy-hitting, a Malaysian army section can quite possibly give a good account of itself against an armoured opponent. The density of anti-tank fire that a Malaysian army section can bring to the fight has increased markedly; more so if RPGs were issued at a higher than normal rate during a hot-war.

Show-and-tell: Introduction to the Malaysian Army's Pakistan-made RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher in 2007. Ten years on, Malaysian infantry battalions have made noticeable improvements in their ability to deal with armour-heavy opponents.

In the 12 seconds or so that it takes a trained RPG gunner to extract a fresh round, remove the protective plastic end caps, insert the round and align it with the grove of the launcher, cock and shoulder the weapon, take aim and discharge the round, the other members of the section can lay down suppressive fire to make open hatch operations a hazardous undertaking.

Moving up the firepower scale, the TDM's inventory of heavy anti-tank guided weapons and anti-material rifles is also noteworthy.

Even without the fancy stormtrooper label, the Malaysians have everything it takes to orientate their infantry for the anti-armour fight.

If you need an example of a thinking soldier, look north.