Thursday, October 20, 2011
Israel traded 1,000 prisoners for one of its NSFs. What is the price of an SAF National Serviceman worth in a Gilad Shalit kidnapping scenario?
The deal to swap Israeli full-time National Serviceman Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinians speaks volumes of how much Israel treasures the life of an Israeli citizen soldier.
If Singapore is placed in a similar crisis, what do you think the price of a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldier will be worth? One price for a heartlander NSF with a White Horse worth potentially more? How far would Singapore go to win the freedom of a captured NSF?
Make no mistake, the 1:1,000 exchange rate may work wonderfully well for the battle-tested IDF and Israeli society. But such a calculus, if applied in the SAF's area of operations (AO) during a doomsday scenario, will only put more Singaporean lives at risk.
SAF mission planners who train to fight with full spectrum capabilities should add soldier swap exchange ratios to their tool kit. This is a scenario they need to think about and address long before boots hit the ground and bullets start flying.
As part of scenario planning, the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF need to mull over hard questions about the amount of effort that justifies securing the life of a captured Singaporean warfighter.
Whether the SAF serviceman or servicewoman is captured during a hot war or during an operation other than war (OOTW) will be irrelevant to the loved ones of any captive warfighter. What matters to them most will be the safe and expeditious return of their son or daughter.
For the family of Gilad, the journey home for their 25-year-old son took five long years after he was captured by Hamas gunmen and spirited away to the Gaza Strip. Israel is a country born in battle after centuries of diaspora. The strategic situation of Singapore - a fragile accidental nation - militates against such a long drawn impasse.
This explains why defence planners should mentally prepare for unexpected emergencies where captured soldiers are used as bargaining chips in strategic gamesmanship.
When hostile forces start viewing SAF personnel not as a deterrent nor as targets but as valuable negotiation tools, their vulnerability to snatch-and-grab operations will increase correspondingly.
Should diplomacy and deterrence fail, this vulnerability will rise in direct proportion to the amount of time the SAF will spend as an occupation force in hostile territory.
Knowing full well that the SAF will aim for a swift and decisive victory, an opponent who captures SAF servicemen for ransom (monetary or non monetary) can throw such drawer plans off-balance. So long as their captive has a heartbeat, the captors will wield the strategic initiative when dictating terms to the occupation force. The payoff for kidnappers is thus very high indeed.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to imagine the pressure on homefront support for SAF operations that the kidnappers can exert.
Singaporean parents already fret over their sons on peacetime NS duty. What more during a hostile takeover of another country's territory when conflict termination is at best delayed and at worst, unattainable on Singaporean terms?
With such situations in mind, it is clear that SAF war games should induct Regulars, NSFs and NSmen to the possibility of nasty incidents during a hot war. Citizen soldiers need to know hard truths behind the SAF's game plan should they be tasked to execute manoeuvres practised repeatedly during war games such as Exercise Wallaby, now in full swing in Australia's Shoalwater Bay Training Area.
As the Internet matures and new forms of social media emerge, the likelihood that captors will exploit cyberspace to weaken or destabilise commitment to defence is very real.
Instead of following Israel's example in securing Gilad's freedom, MINDEF/SAF should focus its energy on conflict termination in the shortest possible timeframe.
This includes articulating the end game clearly to strengthen homefront support and make it unambiguously clear to hostile forces how a protracted armed struggle is not to their interest. At present, Singaporeans know the SAF has ample war machines to defend the Lion City, but few have any idea how conflict termination could be reached after the SAF's full force potential is uncaged.
In a hot war scenario, the pain of losing one captured SAF warfighter must be balanced by the cold reality that an Israeli-style prisoner swap (1: 1,000 ratio) could endanger Singapore's security in the absence of a lasting peace. In our context, a high exchange ratio may also underline the city state's low appetite for war by demonstrating it is weak and malleable during negotiations when the stakes are too high.
It is crucial for Singaporeans to understand and accept the painful reality that many more SAF lives could be placed at risk (or lost) when hostile forces, emboldened by any soldier swap calculus, proceed to expand their business with fresh meat.
A possible drawer plan against kidnappings might be for the SAF to use its capability overmatch until the said SAF serviceman is returned safe and sound.
Civilian elements should also be held responsible for any act of aggression by their clan. The response could include designating the premises of the surviving family members of perpetrators or safe houses they are known to have used as legitimate entities for the SAF's sensor-to-shooter network to work with.
In the event of a hostage taking, SAF mission planners should be granted full freedom to translate hostile premises into end point coordinates for RSAF precision guided munitions, Mark 20 CBUs and improved conventional munitions and cargo rounds employed by the Singapore Artillery.
In like manner, the value chain of whistle-blowers should be protected. This would incentivise whistle-blowers to point out hostile elements in their neighbourhood, therefore strengthening hearts and minds outreach efforts by the 800-series battalions. If necessary, special action groups should be set up to motivate civilians to cooperate with the SAF.
The preventive detention of people of Japanese origin by the United States government during World War Two is an example of how a responsible government should do whatever it takes to protect its populace.
A hostile entity that does not respect the rules of war cannot expect to exploit the boundaries and constraints set by the rules of civilised conflict.
And as the language of force is often the only signal hostile minds can process, the intelligence preparation of the battlefield by SAF mission planners should include a thorough, impassive and realistic appraisal of the enemy's value chain and entities they hold dear.
Options to address the enemy's value chain - forcefully, relentlessly and without remorse - if Middle Eastern snatch-and-grab tactics are attempted in the SAF's AO must be prepared, tested, refined and updated as part of scenario planning.
Hostile forces must know that if they open an account with the SAF by copying the Hamas playbook, the SAF will settle that account at a time, place and method of its own choosing. The escalation ladder starts from .308 Lapua rounds fired by SAF Commandos for a brain stem kill and goes all the way to the heavy stuff you hang on F-15SGs that can reconfigure a hostile neighbourhood.
If hostile elements declare open season on the SAF with no bag limit, then they must realise that such self-declared ground rules come with a hefty penalty and the IDF does not hold a monopoly on the creative use of combat power.
Posted by David Boey at 6:54 PM