Thursday, September 20, 2012

National Conversation: Two defence-related questions for LKY

Now that the National Conversation is moving into full stride, it's only a matter of time before defence and security become the topic du jour.

Nagging questions of a military nature that should be asked, sooner rather than later, concern Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew (LKY). For the sake of keeping historical records clear and unambiguous, LKY should consider addressing two points that may come back to haunt Singapore years from today.

Firstly, With respect, what exactly was your role during the Japanese Occupation? How did such arrangements take place (responded to a job ad, press ganged into service, volunteered etc)? What went through your mind during the period? How did your family/friends/neighbours react?

Secondly, do you still believe the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was "crazy" to put submarines on the wish list for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN)?

Answers to the first topic would put on record authoritative replies to a potentially contentious topic years from today. Lacking the benefit of a first person account, Singaporeans who debate this topic in future would be running a fool's errand because no one would be the wiser which story to believe.

It is therefore crucial that myths are busted and rumours laid to rest while the individual is still compos mentis.

What was done during the Japanese Occupation cannot be undone. It would be beneficial for Singaporeans to have a clear and no-BS account of what transpired rather than to have malicious talk knock one's reputation years from today.

The second topic would help researchers understand the context to a remark LKY made in 1995 about subs.

"Every armed force believes it ought to upgrade," said Mr Lee."For years I told the Singapore Armed Forces, which wanted submarines, 'You are crazy. These are shallow waters. You will be easily detected and bombarded with depth charges.' But well, OK. Here is the Swedish submarine. The economy is doing well and it is a cheap sub (US$10 million in then-year dollars). Its purchase will still be within the five per cent of GDP assigned to defence. So why not use it for some training? "

Since making that remark, Mr Lee has not made any statements about subs in Singapore's paper of record. Defence analysts who sieve through newspaper archives years from today may thus come to different conclusions to LKY's present day views on submarines now that the boats have been in Fleet RSN's orbat for several decades.

Readers might wonder why such questions were not posed to the man himself since his email address can be found on the Sing government directory.

Emails were sent some time ago to Mr Lee and his press sec YY. That unsolicited query didn't get the courtesy of a reply, even a nil response.

If you feel energetic or curious enough, you could pose the questions and might - as they say in the casino business - get better luck with a full and proper reply. Should you receive a reply, please share the responses with the rest of us. Good luck, Sir.


Anonymous said...

since you're the one who asked these questions, then you should be the one who should keep sending email to whoever you think you can get answers from. you really shouldn't ask others to do the dirty work for you, man.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is a chance for PM Lee and his Minister to talk about it during the National Conversation.

Would the "real" participants asked the above questions to PM Lee and his MInisters.

Thank you.

PS - Maybe asked Mr Brown / Dr JiaJia lah...they are so nice to them....

Anonymous said...

Not a bad conversation topic if Dr JiaJia can mention that he plays with submarines in his bath tub and in turn ask PM Lee whether he had a similar hobby that was shared with his doting papa, and it would be much appreciated to learn about spore's submarines from the PM.

Anonymous said...

Singaporeans want to know why submarines are bought from Israel and will NS be shorten? We understand that these Israel submarines are sold cheap as they are going for scrap so why still buy them?

Anonymous said...

The second hand submarines were purchased from Sweden. Not sure if 4 or more are in service at the moment.
Rear Admirers Teo and Lui should be able to help Lee Jr explain whether 4 is enough to cover escape route by sea for MIW in the not too distant future.

Anonymous said...

Is NS (forced conscript) still relevant when we have no enemies, no foreseeable threats and etc? 2 year is allot of lost productive.

Anonymous said...

I have always been just as curious about your 1st question especially when LKY has give us the impression that he does not like to speak about that important period of his life in any of his memoirs.

Is is a matter that he is not exactly proud of any 'achievements' during the Japanese Occupation ?

Wei Li said...

I can imagine that it won't be easy to explain to lay man land lubbers the efficacy of submarines in the southeast asian operating environment; as a civilian leader who is concerned more with the national purse strings, i cannot imagine him to be an expert in military, let alone naval affairs. The comments were probably made in exasperation when the army and air force were absorbing much of the defence budget, and navies were viewed as 'luxuries'.

IamARobot said...

LKY has poor understanding of submarines.

He should trust the Navy rather than second guess those he has put in place.

This is poor (kiasu) management.

Submarines are harder to detect in shallow waters because of higher salinity.

The reason we bought from the Swedes is not only because they were cheap second hand subs (with good shelf life left in them) but also because the Baltic is in many respects (apart from temperature) similar in operting environment to Singapore's vincinity.

This issue of accepted knowleddge by higher ups also permeates into some common myths about tank warfare in the jungle.

For years, we were told that armour had to be a specific size to operate effectively in neighboring hinterland.

Hence money (quite a substantial amount) sunk into the development of the Bionix system.

Then came the Eureka moment when the GLC realised :

1) The operating environment had changed with the development of the Southern peninsular/North South highway

2) They were unable to effectively meld a 120mmm gun turret onto the smaller proportions of the Bionix.

Instead, we bought second hand Leopard 2s (The correct decision) with Ground Pressure per square foot significantly lower than that of the Bionix despite its bigger dimension and heavier weight.

Which leads to the question, was it necessary for us to have sunk public money into developing a system that has no export market and which had viable alternatives available already?

Rather than pose the question with regards the (second hand) submarines, you should be asking LKY and cohorts what on earth we are doing developing systems like the Bionix.

Anonymous said...

More and more of the old goat's lies and blunders will see the light of day, as he stumbles into the twilight zone.

Anonymous said...

Subs are for quick getaway for elites when the airport is bombed out.

Thats why naval base is next to Changi.

Anonymous said...

I would like to offer an alternative understanding IamARobot regarding detecting the submarine in shallow waters. In shallow waters, I understand that a submarine's noise rebounds the short distance from the surface to the seabed repeatedly and can propagate greater horizontal distance.

Anonymous said...

Continuing, in shallow waters a submarine may not be able to hide in a different thermal layer of water. Less noise escapes a thermal layer into another where the temperature difference is sharp enough.

IamAlsoARobot said...


US Naval Institute on effectiveness of SSKs in shallow water.;)

IamAgainARobot said...

Now are we on the same wavelength?;)

No surpise the US Navy found Swedish subs vey difficult to detect and rented on for the purpose of 'test and evaluation'.

AIP in current two boats Soodermanland class, adds to difficulty in detection.

LKY's understanding of these things are peripheral at best. GKS was the more perceptive and well read.

Low David said...

"LKY's understanding of these things are peripheral at best. GKS was the more perceptive and well read."

I heard that LKY had read the "Hunt for The Red October" and asked the author Tom Clancy about how he researched his book material.

My hearing is perfect and so is my memory at 65.

Low Hou Loke

phlmn said...

@ IamAlsoARobot

I'm sure there are lots of things that one can say to criticize LKY, but the issue about the submarines and the bionix tank seem rather far away.

1. LKY may have thought that it was crazy for the RSN to be considering submarines in 1995. But all things considered, it would have been a *very* expensive purchase if new subs were bought. Sure SSKs are very effective--but are they *cost* effective given Singapore's defense needs? Especially as such were assessed in the mid-90s? In any case, the point is moot--when reasonably priced second-hand subs become available, we did get them--beginning in 1995 too! And now, we operate a whole squadron of them, very expensive platforms.

2. The Bionix replaces the M113, the old troop carrier, of which the SAF have nearly a thousand. The Leopard 2 (at 60+ tonnes, a heavy Main Battle Tank) officially replaces the AMX13 (a light tank at 14+ tonnes), but unofficially, it really replaces the Centurion (also a Main Battle Tank, at 50+ tonnes), which, of course, we never said we had (google for it). So there are really two different issues here:

First, was it a good idea to have STK develop a whole new IFV/AFV, the Bionix, rather than purchase something off the shelf--probably something like the Bradley, Warrior, Puma--to replace the ageing M113s? Vietnam War vintage M113s, with 'armour' that doesn't stop 7.62mm rounds? One could differ on this, but it has nothing to do with the later purchase of the Leopard 2s. And though there weren't any international sales of the Bionix, the SAF does have a thousand M113s to replace--that's already a sizable market. In short, I don't see anything obvious to criticize about the decision to go ahead and develop the Bionix IFV/AFV, especially given that it will allow the local defense industry to build up expertise on such platforms.

Second, was it a good idea to attempt to develop a 120mm gun version of the Bionix chassis? --this is a different issue. The context is not the replacement for the M113s anymore, but the replacement of the--also aging--AMX13s. Was it a good idea will depend on whether one thinks that the SAF could continue to do with the peculiar capabilities provided by its current fleet of 350+ AMX13s, capabilities that are not exactly reproduced in the Leopard 2s (Light Tank vs. Main Battle Tank; different uses and doctrine). The choice is again between buying something off the shelf (options are more limited though the CV90 is a nice option) and developing something locally, and people's opinion could differ. Again, the Leopard 2s are not really part of this picture; but once Germany made them available at 2nd hand firesale prices, and the Malaysians have declared their intention to acquire MBTs (around 2002), the option opens up for the SAF to *openly* acquire Main Battle Tank capability, and option which was quickly taken. I don't have any inside information but conceivably, the brass figured that with the Leopard 2s, there is less of a need to have a fleet of light tanks. If so, the original impetus for developing a 120mm gun version of the Bionix, or purchase some off the shelf equivalent, no longer exist.

In any case, LKY is not equivalent to MINDEF. Is there any good reason to believe that *he* individually has such a strong voice in such specific purchase decisions? As PM and later SM, he would presumably have a strong voice in the overall defense policy; but that's not the same as talking about the purchase of specific platforms--something that will depend on the technical evaluations of DSO/DSTA and whatnot, and cost analysis of the MINDEF beancounting department.

Anonymous said...

Wow, big skirting around of the oldman WW2 service with the japanese Kempatai.

Boey 'lu tanya la kawan' is reporter nugget story.

BoHuat said...

Eh Hallo, first you say Bionix must be certain size because tanks available on market tooo big or too heavy.

Then later you say Leopard tank OK.

Something wrong right?

IAmNotARobot got a point.

Submarine is off the shelf purchase like Leopard.

Bionix is GLC developed with people's money.

If Lepard can use why cannot use CV90?

To me decision is short sighted and poorly executed. Only 1000 units or less made. No export potential. Waste of public money.

Some more 155 system must use M109 chasis. Might as well just use M109...

Sorry but something wrong leh.

Kumaraswamy said...

"Hunt for Red October"

hehehe...should have read up on USNI.

My Thinking is OK so is my reasoning.

Kumaraswamy said...

...and I am 75 sir.

Kumaraswamy said...

KuanYew has no say in decision making? He is the one calling them crazy what?

Then he went to read "Hunt for red October".

Scary lah deh.

Kumaraswamy said...


My friend, problem is there is no oversight to what GLCs do with our money. Simple.

My hearing is good and my eyesight also can but still cannot help you see or hear what goes on with GLC.

Anonymous said...

W.r.t. The submarine, could it be that what he said was not for our consumption? Its intended audiences are good friends in the neighbourhood. He gave the impression that he don't personally support the purchase... A face saving way out for his friends in the neighbourhood when they meet up in future in the international arena.

BoHuat said...

LKY know how to save face meh?

philmn said...


Why would there be anything wrong if, as I explained above, the Bionix and the Leopard II have different uses and are meant for completely purposes? (Troop carriers/armored fighting vehicles vs. Main Battle Tanks.)

1,000 units is not a small number--that's roughly the number of Warrior vehicles in service (just below 800 for the UK, 250 for Kuwait), and the number of CV90s in service. Currently, there are already some 700 Bionix in service. But with nearly 1,000 M113s still out there most of which, one expects, would be replaced eventually, the final number of Bionix is very likely going to be much higher than 1,000.

Look, obviously, I don't know if the money spent developing these systems (Bionix, Primus) in house were wasted. How would I know such a thing--to know it, I would need to know a lot more data about the money spent, etc.--data that is not publicly available. (You wouldn't have access to such stuff, do you?) But by the same token, nothing said so far gives me any reason to believe that the money was wasted either--for instance, the comparisons with the Leopard were not particularly relevant.

Anonymous said...

The operational requirement for the Bionix was very specific. We wanted an IFV with the capability of the Bradley or Marder, but able to swim. The Bradley and Marder of the 1990s could not swim, and the upgraded versions today as well as the Puma still cannot swim. The Bionix has comparable capacity, armament and protection to these modern vehicles, and has additional amphibious capability on top.

The Bionix is the size and shape it is in order to reduce the armor area and hence weight enough for an M113-style swim kit to float the vehicle. Matching the Bradley or Marder protection requires a certain thickness, even with advanced MEXAS armour. Slipping through jungles was not the driving issue. The Bionix needs to swim because water obstacles are very common in our tropical AO and the Bionix is too numerous (nearly 1000) for combat engineers to build bridges whenever a crossing needs to be done. Our MBTs do not need to swim since they are few enough in number that the CEs can support them.

The ability of the Bionix to swim was Top Secret for a long time, until the Bionix was entered for the US IAV competition, when it was finally declassified. Not only did the stripped down C130 mobile version swim, the fully uparmored version swam as well. It shocked the other defence companies at the competition. It was that unexpected.