Three men in their mid-30s. 3,500km across India in a tuk-tuk. Sounds nuts? You haven't heard the rest yet.
Guys, I want to do something epic, something to mark where we are in life right now, as single men.
This sentence was what ignited that spark of adventure in three men, taking them 3,500km across India in two weeks with nothing except a rickety tuk-tuk or automatic rickshaw.
In August, the three childhood buddies flew to Shillong, India for the Rickshaw Run. There, they impressed the other teams by sprucing up their rickshaw, affectionately named RSS Lembu (Malay for cow), with speakers, batteries and handphone chargers.
As they set off in high spirits, nothing could have prepared them for the adventure ahead.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
The first day really hit us hard, laughed Staff Sergeant (SSG) (NS) Nazeer Hussain, an advisor for an offshore company. It was like we were literally driving on the moon. There wasn’t even a foot of proper tiled road!
The 33-year-old explained that there were potholes all over the roads, and avoiding these craters took keen eyes, fast reflexes and great manoeuvering skills. As the rickshaw was not in tip-top condition, speeding was a definite no-go. Instead of conquering 500km a day as planned, they had to halve their planned journey per day and travel at about 30kmh.
One particularly memorable incident was when they went on a small road in the dead of the night, against the advice of a local policeman, because Google Maps said it was the right direction. This decision brought them face to face with a family of wild elephants, forced them up a very long and unstable 50-degree slope, and caused them to almost fall prey to a pack of wild dogs.
Private (PTE) (NS) Mohammad Muneer Khan recounted that fateful night: There came a point where RSS Lembu wouldn't move at all. So we decided to camp there because it was just one and a half hours to daybreak. It was only at sunrise that we realised we had been sleeping in a cemetery!
Just push on
But to the 33-year-old managing director of a consultancy company, that sunrise was the best he had seen in years and it made the long, terrible night worth it.
This trip made me realise that there were a lot of things I took for granted and it was the discipline and 'push-on' mentality I learnt during NS (National Service) which helped me survive this trip, said PTE (NS) Muneer, who was part of the underslung team in 3rd Battalion, Singapore Guards.
SSG (NS) Nazeer, an ex-Regular from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, agreed. In NS, we are taken out of our daily life and thrown into a regimented environment. It pushes and strengthens you mentally, and this strength of mind (I developed) helped me a lot in the Rickshaw Run.
With perseverance, they managed to reach their destination at Cochin within two weeks, well ahead of many other teams.
Adventurers with a heart
Besides a thirst for adventure, part of their reason for joining the Rickshaw Run was to raise awareness and funds for the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF). The trio held a fund-raising event on 27 Jun and, through activities such as performing as a band and auctioning off a painting they did together, managed to raise $2,500.
CCF needs about $5 million yearly. That's why we decided to adopt the charity and help ease the medical expenses for families with kids battling cancer, said 34-year-old Lance Corporal (LCP) (NS) Kamal Mahtani, a sales director who served as a percussionist in the Singapore Armed Forces Band.
We always tell people why we’re doing the Run and point them to the CCF website for them to donate directly.
As of 5 Sep, they have raised over $5,000 through word-of-mouth for CCF.
Plan big, dream bigger
With one item struck off their bucket list, the three friends already have plans to go on their next daredevil escapade - the Mongol Rally. This features travelling 10,000km across mountains and desert in a tiny vehicle and raising at least £1,000 for a charity of their choice.
Closer to home, the trio also has plans to organise a race for Singaporeans, such as a run from Singapore to Laos, and encourage participants to raise funds for a charity of their choice. We want to make Singapore known for its philanthropy, explained PTE (NS) Muneer. Everyone and anyone can make a difference.
Journalist Sherlyn Quek enjoys a fling on the Ejection Seat Trainer (EST) at the Republic of Singapore Air Force Aeromedical Centre.
Ever wished you could instantly exit an awkward conversation? Waiting for my turn on the EST - which launches air crew up at four times the force of gravity (4Gs) - I mused that this catapult-like machine would have come in handy to escape from certain unpleasant situations.
For fighter pilots and weapon systems officers, the situation would obviously be much more dire. If the aircraft has been severely damaged or is suffering from a critical malfunction and the air crew assess that they will not be able to land the aircraft safely, the only option left may be to abandon the aircraft in order to save their lives.
All it takes is a few seconds. Sounds easy? After my hair-raising ride in the Human Training Centrifuge (read the last issue of PIONEER, people!), I thought it would be a breeze.
Well, it's true that the ejection drill is pretty simple. Just pull the ejection handles (at the sides or in the middle of the seat between the legs, depending on the aircraft type) and BAM! The ejection seat is fired and shoots up the rail tower of the EST.
Air crew, however, cannot take these yearly drills lightly. Captain (CPT) (Dr) Magdalene Lee, my guide at the Aeromedical Centre, educated me on the serious injuries that could result from improper ejection techniques.
When the aircraft is in flight, the ejection seat is likely to propel the air crew out at speeds generating 12 to 20Gs. At that spine-crushing force, you could easily snap your neck or back.
Adopting the right posture is thus a must. Not exactly good news for someone like me who used to be scolded for being kiao gu (Hokkien for hunchback).
As I was strapped into the seat, the EST operators advised me to sit up straight, pressing my head firmly against the headrest. Whatever you do, don't look down.
I also had to tuck my elbows in tight and keep them locked against the sides of my body. Air crew are taught to adopt this position to prevent their arms from flailing (which could cause possible fracture or dislocation of the upper limbs from the windblast they would encounter on ejection).
Stomach clenching in anticipation, I pulled the yellow ejection handles.
I resisted the almost overwhelming urge to glance down, recalling that CPT (Dr) Lee had told me about a 0.5-second lag between pulling the handles and the seat actually firing.
A bang, like a pistol shot, suddenly sounded and WHOOSH! My legs were now dangling 10 feet in the air.
Walking away (with a slight ache in my neck), I reflected that perhaps it was time to really improve my posture. Now, if only I could somehow use the EST during long meetings...
Nobody likes going into any situation blind. For example, a military force delivering aid in the aftermath of natural disasters must have the latest information on the lay of the land in order to provide assistance safely and swiftly.
That is one of the key reasons the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has the Imagery Support Group (ISG): To help shine a path where there seems to be none.
This capability was highlighted during Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen's visits to the Formation located in Paya Lebar Air Base on 21 Oct.
During the visit, he toured the SAF Mapping Unit - one of the three units under the ISG - where he was briefed on the tedious process of map-making and imagery reports.
The ISG plays a critical role when the SAF prepares itself for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines in 2013, the unit was tasked to find access areas for SAF aid missions.
For Military Expert (ME) 5-1 Lilian Ong, that meant pulling an all-nighter confirming things like which runways were down and which roads were damaged. Leading a team of about 10, we collected the images and did the analysis (to point out areas which the SAF could access the disaster zone) over one night. The 35-year-old is Head Operations at the SAF Mapping Unit.
Their work eventually led to the Republic of Singapore Air Force deploying C-130 transport utility aircraft, carrying relief supplies, to the hardest-hit Visayas region. The aircraft also helped to evacuate survivors. The SAF was one of the first responders in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
We have been supporting HADR efforts since 2004. The first was the mission to Meulaboh in Aceh, Indonesia (following the Boxing Day tsunami), said Military Expert (ME) 6-2 See Kim Hong. He heads the SAF Mapping Unit.
The devastating impact of the tsunami meant that many roads were impassable. Other physical infrastructure, such as medical facilities, were also obliterated.
We have provided information for decision makers in the SAF to plan and make informed decisions (as to) what kind of assistance to offer, said ME6-2 See.
The ISG also sent Imagery Analysis Teams (IATs) to support the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. They provided imagery interpretation and analysis support for the multinational troops operating in Oruzgan, Afghanistan.
One of the IATs helped to discover a cache of weapons hidden by insurgents after surveilling a suspicious compound for five days.
These capabilities fall under the ISG's Imagery Analysis Centre which brings the SAF's imagery analysis capabilities under one roof. It analyses commercial satellite imagery to support the SAF's training, peace support and HADR operations.
Apart from supporting HADR operations, the ISG also provides information to the Changi Regional HADR Coordination Centre. It also looks out for the safety of SAF men and women overseas through the ISG's Open Source Centre (OSC).
The OSC monitors global news and information related to military and security developments. It also keeps an eye on natural disasters in the region using open source information on print, television and online news.
Last week, the OSC team watched Typhoon Hudhud closely as it unfolded over India, because the SAF has a deployment there. It is a 12-hour cycle at the OSC which sends its reports to the highest SAF leadership twice daily, 24/7.
We look out for things that affect the safety and training of our SAF troops. We track news reports for data such as when the typhoon will hit land, whether it is in the area where SAF troops are, so as to gain a more complete picture, said Private (PTE) Josiah Tan, an Operations Assistant at the OSC.
The 19-year-old Full-Time National Serviceman was born deaf and did not have to serve National Service. However, he successfully appealed and ended up at the OSC after his Basic Military Training.
I felt that I could serve and do as good a job as anyone else, explained PTE Tan.
Since the law requires all young men to serve, though I was technically exempted, I thought I should follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
I'm glad I did - it's meaningful because I get to see how the work I do affects the SAF and potentially save lives.
Success and survival for a small country like Singapore are two sides of the same coin. In the same way, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) cannot afford to fail because it is the ultimate guarantor of the nation's independence and sovereignty.
This was the point made by Mr Lim Siong Guan, Group President of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) at this year's SAF Leadership Dining-In. He was Permanent Secretary (Defence) from 1981 to 1994. The GIC is a sovereign wealth fund which manages most of the Government's financial assets.
At the same time, he said, the challenge for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF was how to communicate the importance of a strong deterrence force to the continued success of Singapore to the youth of today.
Said Mr Lim: Young people in Singapore (must) understand that they have to support the SAF not because it is fun to have the SAF with all its capabilities, but because it is a critical part of being able to decide the kind of future and environment that we can build for our children, and leave for our children.
The speech, lasting almost an hour, was met with a standing ovation from the 243 military men and women gathered for the formal dining event held at Pasir Laba Camp on 17 Oct.
The SAF Leadership Dining-In, which was re-initiated in 2011, is attended by senior officers, warrant officers and military experts. It is a formal social occasion and a military tradition that builds morale and esprit de corps.
During his speech, Mr Lim shared with candour his past experience in MINDEF. Calling it the most meaningful and enjoyable time in his civil service career, he said: At the time, MINDEF was a place of experimentation... how to build the best SAF we could ever build (for Singapore). Mr Lim was one of the pioneers who mooted the Total Defence concept.
Speaking on a broad range of topics, Mr Lim said that young Singaporeans must get to know the country more intimately. They must realise the limitations which a small country faces, he said.
It's either we succeed and mean something in the world with some standing, and some people will listen to you in the world; or you fail and you're nobody and nobody cares.
Success and survival go together for Singapore in a way which does not apply to large countries.
He cited China and India as examples. They can decide to let the coastal cities succeed first and move on, while the rest of the country can take their turn.
Singapore's small physical size meant that the SAF remains an important part of the country's continued success, he said.
People in the world trust Singapore; we are one of the largest wealth managers.
The SAF is such an important part of giving us the ability to exercise that independence and sovereignty, to assure us that we can maintain the kind of system which other people looking at us feel that they have the confidence (to continue trusting) in Singapore, said Mr Lim.
Also speaking at the dining-in was Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng. He said: Since the last dining-in held in August 2013, we have made significant achievements and the SAF continues to be in a position of strength.
LG Ng cited the successful conduct of counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, and other missions such as the search for missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 as examples of the SAF's strong capabilities.
Our people have continued to fly our flag high time and time again, said LG Ng, who also presented the CDF Coin to senior SAF officers in recognition of their achievements and contributions to their respective Services and organisations.
At 18, he was not mature enough to understand the importance of national defence. In fact, when 2ndLieutenant (2 LT) Andre Chong enlisted for National Service (NS), he found it hard to see the positive aspects of it. It was only after living abroad that he began to realise its significance.
After studying over four years in the United Kingdom where there is no conscription, I realised that students there were apathetic toward national security, recalled the 24 year-old who disrupted his NS after the first phase of his Officer Cadet training. He was then reading law under an Overseas Merit Scholarship offered by the Public Service Commission.
There isn't the same sort of commitment (to defence)... that we have in Singapore. I can see that my Singaporean friends, who have done NS, are much more concerned and involved about national security, he said.
2LT Chong now wants to do his part as an officer in 2ndBattalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (2 SIR), to ensure younger citizen soldiers know why they need to serve. I want to help them to understand that they are not just a number but valued individuals, and to see themselves as professional citizen soldiers, he said.
2LT Chong was one of 285 officer cadets who were commissioned as officers in a parade held at SAFTI Military Institute on 18 Oct. The parade marked the completion of 38 weeks of rigorous training at the Officer Cadet School (OCS). For being the top graduand in the Infantry Formation, he received the Sword of Honour from reviewing officer, Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.
At the parade, Mr Tan, who was a Brigadier-General in the Army before joining politics, shared his personal journey as an officer in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). He told the graduands that rank did not make one a leader, and that they had to earn the trust of their men, and inspire them.
He said: We command because we have been given that authority and the weight that comes with that. But we lead because others follow. They follow because they trust us. They trust because of who we are, the values we stand for. They trust us when we are able to put others before self.
The message resonated strongly with 2LT Webster Chia, who was an obese recruit and could not do a single pull up when he enlisted for NS. But he worked hard and obtained a Silver in his Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) during Basic Military Training (BMT). He continued to push himself and obtained a Gold in IPPT at OCS because he wanted to lead by example as a future officer.
I wanted to take charge of my own fitness, he recalled. Back in BMT, I would run with my sergeants and company mates four times a week, during our free evenings.
He also understands that leadership goes beyond proving one's fitness.
It is also about communication. I will have to work with NSF and NSman specialists who are older and more experienced than me. So I will get to know them well first and learn from them, said 2LT Chia who will serve in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) as a Receive-Only Station Commander. Working with a specialist, he will collate and relay intelligence information transmitted from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
For 2LT Sanjiven Sondarajan, being commissioned as an officer was a dream come true. He grew up watching war movies like Saving Private Ryan, and wanted to be the heroic soldiers in the films.
It has always been my dream, so why not make it a career, said the 21-year-old who has signed on as a Guards Officer.
One important lesson he learnt in OCS was overcoming his limiting beliefs. There were occasions when he was struggling to complete an intensive field exercise, and his instructor would spring a surprise by extending the exercise. But he and his platoon mates completed it.
I've learnt that whenever I am tired, it is actually not my limit yet. What I feel is my limit is actually not my limit, and I can do much more than I believe I can.
Sometimes, it takes some encouragement from the people around you to push on. Just ask 2LT Mohamed Arshaq whose journey in OCS was an emotional roller coaster. Just two months before commissioning, he lost his beloved grandfather. He was then taking part in an overseas exercise - the last phase of his OCS training - and wanted to quit.
It was an emotional decision rather than a logical one. But my instructors and platoon mates understood what I was going through. They were the ones who kept me going, he said.
The 22-year-old, who will be posted to OCS as an instructor, hopes to pay it forward. I hope to help my future trainees know why they need to serve, follow the principles and always make the right call.
The newly-commissioned officers will go on to assume command, instructional or staff appointments in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Present at the parade were Members of Parliament, senior SAF officers, Ministry of Defence officials, and families and friends of the graduands.
Soaring across the skies above France is the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master, the newest acquisition of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
The A-4SU Super Skyhawks have long been a staple of training for prospective RSAF fighter pilots at Cazaux Air Base in France. However, after 17 years of service, the Skyhawks are making way for the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master, an advanced trainer aircraft manufactured by Italian company, Alenia Aermacchi.
In 1993, initial development of the M-346 began, and a variant, named Yak/AEM-130, went into production in 1996. After many modifications and improvements, the Yak/AEM-130 evolved into the M-346, which was rolled out on 7 Jun 2003 and flew for the first time on 15 Jul 2004.
In July 2010, the RSAF placed an order for the M-346 to fulfil the role of advanced jet training. The RSAF acquired 12 M-346s and a ground-based training system, with delivery completed in February 2014.
Reducing the training gap
One of the main advantages that the M-346 boasts over the old Skyhawks is that it provides a training experience closer to that of operational frontline fighter jets such as the F-16s and F-15.
On the capabilities that the M-346 aircraft brings to the RSAF, Commanding Officer 150 Squadron (SQN), which flies the M-346, Lieutenant Colonel Kelvin Wan said: The M-346 helps to enhance pilot training by introducing advanced combat skills at an earlier stage of training. Skills such as radar employment, Beyond-Visual-Range missile engagements and precision weapons delivery are all possible now, with the M-346.
Major John Sng, one of the first four RSAF flying instructors to be trained on the M-346, also felt that training on the new platform would provide a smoother transition for trainees onto fighter platforms: Compared to the A-4SUs, the M-346 gives me a better field of vision, which is very critical in phases of flight, such as landings, and when I teach combat manoeuvres.
Ushering in the new jet
Bringing a new jet up to Full Operational Capability (FOC) is no easy feat. The squadron put together a team of experienced personnel to facilitate the crossover from the Skyhawk. Flying instructors were trained to operate the M-346. They also drew up an entirely new set of training programmes and doctrines tailored specifically to maximise the enhanced performance capabilities of the M-346.
With this three-step strategy, 150 SQN successfully completed the challenging task and celebrated the FOC milestone in February. In March, Lieutenant Pan Shang Hua became the first pilot trainee in the world to fly solo on the M-346.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) hones air combat skills in Australia's largest and most complex air war game.
Over 80 war planes from two opposing camps lit up the night skies over the Northern Territories of Australia with their afterburner flames. Among them were the RSAF's F-15SGs acting as sweepers for Australia's F/A-18F Super Hornets that were executing a bomb strike on enemy air bases and runways.
This was not World War III, but a realistic battle scenario in Exercise Pitch Black 2014. Conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the multinational war game saw a large number of aircraft being deployed in day and night operations.
About 100 aircraft and 2,300 personnel participated in the biennial exercise held from 1 to 22 Aug. The RSAF sent about 300 personnel, six F-15SG and eight F-16C/D fighter aircraft, a Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft, and a KC-135R air-to-air refuelling aircraft. This year's edition saw new players France and United Arab Emirates (UAE) joining Australia, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and New Zealand.
Operating alongside many different aircraft was a challenging but valuable learning experience for the men in the cockpit. They not only had to watch out for threats and make split-second decisions, but also avoid flying into each other, especially at night.
We are fighting against so many more aircraft than I am used to in the Singapore and South China Sea training air space, said Lieutenant Lee Si Wei, an F-15SG Weapon Systems Officer (Fighter) from 149 Squadron (SQN). It took a while for me to get used to it, and build up my situational awareness in the air.
For his pilot Captain (CPT) Adrian Tan, communication was a key concern because there were differences in the way each air force operated. They had to get used to one another's accent, and use the same terminologies. But as the exercise progressed, the aviators were able to better understand each other.
It's critical that you share the 'same language' because in the air you don’t have time to think and decipher what the other guy is saying, said CPT Tan. We need to match each other's capabilities...and come up with the best game plan to achieve our objectives.
The war game took place over an air space about 20 times the size of Singapore. Coupled with the range facilities and clear skies of Darwin, it formed a realistic training environment.
During the exercise, the RSAF's F-16C/D fighters successfully conducted their first live drop of the GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway (EP) II, a dual-mode guided bomb featuring a Global Positioning System-aided Inertial Navigation System as well as a laser guidance system.
Having that opportunity to do such stand-off weapon employment is critical... (it) gives the air crew and the ground crew the confidence in terms of platform capability, said Senior Lieutenant Colonel Linus Tan, RSAF Exercise Director.
Stand-off weapons like the EPII can be launched from a sufficient distance that allows the attacker to evade defensive fire from the target area.
The ground crew also gained valuable experience operating in a foreign flight line. The environment was harsh, with scorching heat, strong winds and sand dust.
To sustain the high-tempo operations through day and night, ground crew like 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Chia Yong Biao had to complete the aircraft checks quickly but without compromising on safety.
The most challenging part of it is having to meet the tight timeline given to conduct turnaround operations (time needed for loading, unloading, and servicing an aircraft), said 3SG Chia. The Full-time National Serviceman is a Dedicated Crew Chief in 143 SQN which operates the F-16C/Ds.
Sharing his thoughts on the exercise, Group Captain Michael Gray, the overall Exercise Director from RAAF, said: It's really pleasing how well we all fit together.
He also noted that the RSAF had been a proven player in the exercise series since 1990, and performed very well in all areas.
They have significant capabilities in their aircraft and in their aircrew from their training. So (we are) always pleased to work with them.
The recent threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) show that security challenges continue to exist, and there is a need to step up cooperation among militaries worldwide. Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Perry Lim said this at the Second Special Forces Commanders' Conference (SFCC) on 15 Oct.
Addressing some 400 Special Forces personnel and academics from 15 countries at the conference organised by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), MG Lim said: We are constantly reminded that security challenges continue to exist and hinder peaceful development.
He spoke about the challenges in dealing with terrorist threats that had become transnational in nature. It is not possible to isolate such threats to a single operational or geographical area. Only through mutual sharing and learning can we have more comprehensive and effective solutions, he said.
As Special Forces often spearhead counter-terrorism operations because of their unconventional capabilities, the participants will be sharing information and their experiences in such operations during the two-day conference themed, Evolving Terrorist Threats: Challenges and Opportunities for Special Forces.
We need multilateral Special Forces cooperation in information sharing, counter-terrorism responses, and shared Special Forces operating procedures in order to stay ahead of the threats we face today, said MG Lim.
He highlighted examples of how the region had taken steps to enhance practical co-operation in counter-terrorism. Last week, Singapore co-chaired the 4thASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus Expert Working Group (EWG) on Counter Terrorism with Australia. And the Group will start planning for a joint exercise in 2016 with the EWG on Maritime Security.
He also noted the significant roles played by Special Forces in the US-led military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade, and in the international counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin in recent years. For the latter, the SAF had deployed a fifth task group comprising a frigate and a security component of its Special Operations Task Force.
On the sidelines of the conference, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen hosted a lunch for the heads of delegation of participating countries.
Live firing, action, explosions. Sounds like a scene from a Michael Bay movie? Nope. This is the kind of realistic training that the Murai Urban Live Firing Facility (MULFAC) has to offer to our soldiers.
Scouts have confirmed the enemy's location in a building within the Lim Chu Kang area. Soldiers swiftly pack into Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs) and head towards the enemy's location.
About 500m away from their target, the troops set up the Close Firebase (CFB) and commence firing the General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) with the Terrex ICV's Remote Controlled Weapon System (RCWS) to support troops' movement towards their objective.
From behind the enemy's location, their reinforcements have appeared. To support the assault, Terrex ICVs and snipers form up at the Far Firebase (FFB) to take the enemy reinforcements down.
Back at the target building, the Close Cover Group takes over. While troops are still firing the GMPG from the CFB, another Terrex ICV pulls up nearer to the enemy building. Troops unload, armed with the Matador, a disposable anti-armour weapon system, and begin to fire, taking down enemy reinforcements on wheels. Once the assaulting troops are confident that they have the upper hand, two other Terrex ICVs arrive at the building to unload soldiers and then speed off.
The soldiers use explosives to get past the doors, proceed to storm the building and overcome the enemy forces.
Bigger facility, better training
This is a typical motorised infantry manoeuvre, which soldiers can now execute while training with live munitions at the MULFAC.
Comprising three double-storey and two single-storey buildings, two firebases (a close and a far firebase), and an After Action Review facility, the MULFAC can train up to company level or about 100 soldiers at any one time. Other urban operations live-firing facilities like the Multi-Mission Range Complex (MMRC) can train up to a section of soldiers or seven men at any one run.
The MULFAC began operations last October and was launched officially on 14 Aug by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen.
Mounting our Terrex vehicles, coming out of it, blowing up doors, getting access… It gives them the realism, said Dr Ng. In short, we now have a live-firing facility that our NSmen (Operationally Ready National Servicemen) and our soldiers can train in urban built-up areas.
Big guns and cars…
With the MULFAC, support elements such as snipers, section anti-tank guns and Terrex ICVs can be brought into live-firing training sessions.
Prior to the attack, the troops get to hear the sounds and impact of the big guns…and they know that these support platforms will cover their advance into the building. This helps to boost their confidence, said Lieutenant (LTA) Laurent Huang.
The Platoon Commander from Headquarters (HQ) Guards added that being able to use explosives to blow up doors allows them to experiment with different door-breaching methods, especially for locked or booby-trapped doors, instead of the conventional pull, push or kick methods.
We want the troops to be confident in using explosives and not be shocked at the blast. Using grenades and explosives should be second nature to them, explained the 24-year-old.
Other advantages of the training facility include firing at the building exterior, being able to engage in Close Quarter Battle (CQB), and firing from one building window to another.
To shoot or not to shoot?
During battle, soldiers must always be alert and observant. To that end, electronic targets which can switch between friend and foe are used during CQB training scenarios. This hones soldiers' ability to discern between enemies and civilians, and trains them to apply their rules of engagement - to shoot or not, and to kill or to simply injure.
Once you enter the building, you don't know what's going to happen - whether it is a civilian or a foe, to fire at the right part of his body and at the right target, said Corporal First Class Junaidi Bin Lasa, a trooper from HQ Guards.
It's good training, and keeps us on high alert.
I trust my buddy with my life
While these instinctive skills are already drilled into the soldiers when they go through CQB training at other facilities, the use of live rounds means that trust is of the utmost importance.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Jackson Wu, Head Training Development and Doctrine from HQ Infantry/9th Division, said bluntly: If the troops are not competent or there isn’t enough trust developed during practice, rounds can go anywhere.
This is why soldiers must go through numerous training sessions at both the Murai Urban Training Facility and the MMRC first to build a certain level of competency, confidence and understanding among them.
At the MMRC, they practise CQB with live rounds at group and section levels. These sessions help soldiers hone their shooting capabilities and teamwork in urban operations before moving on to the MULFAC, where they will execute an integrated live mission manoeuvre with other platforms.
To ensure safety is never compromised, the buildings in the MULFAC were built using Ballistic Absorbing Concrete (BAC). Resembling typical concrete, BAC can absorb rounds to prevent backsplash (fragments flying out) and ricochet (rounds bouncing off the wall and flying in different directions).
As part of regular maintenance every two weeks, contractors will decide whether to replace the blocks after checking how deep the holes are and how far the rounds have entered.
The BAC can also absorb tracers, which are flammable. Used specially when fighting at night, the red spark in tracer rounds helps to indicate that a bullet is flying or the magazine is coming to an end. This is another advantage that the MULFAC provides, compared to other indoor live-firing facilities.
Urban warfare, tougher battle
With the modern battlefield often found in dense urban areas, it is important that the SAF is a capable force in urban operations.
Even with the aid of modern sensors, troops typically find urban warfare more challenging, compared to fighting in the jungle. Pillars and rooms, for instance, create blind spots that can lower their situational awareness. Buildings might also block radio communication.
Add up all these factors and it comes as no surprise that urban fighting usually incurs more casualties, said 1st Sergeant (1SG) Mohamad Nur-Hisham.
On the critical need for urban operations live-firing training, the Platoon Sergeant from HQ Guards explained: When you fight in urban areas, you expect a higher casualty rate as you never know where the enemy might pop up from. You'll be also caught by surprise if a grenade is suddenly thrown your way. But we are trained and prepared for such situations.
Even bigger plans
As the SAF continues to progress with time, so will the MULFAC. In the works is a Hand Grenade House (HGH) where troops will be able to throw live grenades into a room before storming it. This is targeted to be ready by December and will be located within the MULFAC training area.
The first of its kind in the region, the HGH will allow soldiers to experience the effects of a fragmentary grenade going off in an enclosed environment. They will also be able to do this up to three times during active service, and one or two times as NSmen, compared to just once during Basic Military Training in the past.
An explosion in an enclosed space is amplified many times. This gives soldiers a realistic feel of what it means to lob a grenade into a room and to fire accurately at targets amid the dust, explained LTC Wu.
For now, commanders and soldiers alike are glad to be training at this facility. Said LTA Huang: The training at the MULFAC is so realistic, I trust that my soldiers can pull the trigger and do well when it comes down to the real thing.
Practical cooperation builds trust and confidence amongst our militaries and lays the foundation for the ADMM-Plus to make further progress in addressing security challenges of common concern.
Permanent Secretary (Defence) Chan Yeng Kit told local and international military delegates at the 4th ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus Experts' Working Group on Counter-Terrorism (ADMM-Plus EWG CT) on 13 Oct.
Thus, practical cooperation would remain a key focus of the EWG-CT co-chairmanship, which was currently shared by Singapore and Australia, said Mr Chan.
This is the first time that Singapore is hosting the ADMM-Plus EWG-CT since it took over the co-chairmanship from Indonesia and the United States in April.
Held on 13 and 14 Oct, the meeting brings together military personnel and experts from 18 countries, including Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States, to share their experience in counter-terrorism.
Mr Chan said: In the EWG-CT, ADMM-Plus militaries and defence establishments have a platform to exchange views and share best practices and lessons learnt, which will enhance our region's capacity to respond to emerging terrorist threats.
Australian co-chair Colonel (COL) Richard Campbell, Australian Deputy Special Operations Commander, echoed his sentiments: Many of the threats we are facing will exploit boundaries, divisions, borders and ungoverned spaces. (This is why) working in a coalition to address the threat (is) so important.
Mr Chan also highlighted that the EWG-CT was working closely with the EWG on Maritime Security (MS) to jointly organise the ADMM-Plus CT/MS Exercise in 2016. This was one of the workplans that participating ministers had welcomed during the 8th ADMM on 20 May.
On the ADMM-Plus CT/MS Exercise, Singapore co-chair COL Simon Lim, Commander Special Operations Task Force/Chief Commando Officer, said: This is a good collaborative model that will certainly enrich us on the maritime counter-terrorism (front). This will also provide more opportunities for our EWG-CT members to participate in combined exercises.
Singapore and Australia will hold the co-chairmanship until 2017.
Ms Kweh Ting Ting and Mr Calven Bland may not have had the chance to serve National Service (NS), but they are no less committed to Singapore's defence.
Now, with the launch of the SAF Volunteer Corp (SAFVC) - a uniformed volunteer scheme for non NS-liable Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs) - they will have the chance to contribute as well.
Recruitment began on 13 Oct, with the first batch of volunteers expected to commence training on 23 Mar 2015. Volunteers can look forward to working alongside Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) national servicemen in one of 17 roles, such as Airbase Civil Engineer, Bridge Watchkeeper and Auxiliary Security Trooper.
Regardless of the role, the number one quality that volunteers must possess is the willingness to serve the country, said Colonel (COL) Mike Tan, Commander SAFVC
(Qualities such as fitness) can be acquired over time, but an attitude of wanting to learn, work together with others and serve cannot be taught, COL Tan said of the things he will look out for when interviewing potential volunteers.
And the desire to serve is the very reason many Singaporeans and PRs like Ms Kweh and Mr Bland are looking forward to the launch of the SAFVC.
For Ms Kweh, a Coordinator for Gaia Science Private Limited, being able to join the SAFVC is a dream come true. The 27-year-old has been interested in the military since she was a child. Her father's NS experience also inspired her to do her part for national defence.
My dad did his NS in the (then) Civil Defence and used to tell me stories of his training. I felt so proud of him for going through all that, she said.
About two months ago, before the SAFVC was launched, she had already written in to express her interest in becoming a volunteer.
I was very overwhelmed when I received a response (about this new scheme)! she said excitedly. Women don't serve NS, but now I have the opportunity to contribute. I hope to inspire other women to step forward and apply as well.
As for Mr Bland, a New Zealand-born PR who is married to a Singaporean, he hopes to be that father with stories to tell.
We have a child on the way and if it's a boy, he will have to serve NS. I think it's important that his dad has had experience serving in the SAF if he is to enter the Army, he explained.
This is also my way of giving back and showing my commitment to the place I've chosen to live in, said the 42-year-old Business Development Manager, who has lived in Singapore for the last nine years.
He added: My background is marine constructions, so I'm interested in a related role. (Nonetheless,) any role the SAFVC thinks I can do, I'll give 110 percent to fulfilling that role.
Back for the fourth year running on 12 Oct, SAFRA Swim for Hope 2014 raised more than $72,000 for the underprivileged.
For the first time, it was held at all five of SAFRA's clubhouses - Jurong, Mount Faber, Tampines, Toa Payoh and Yishun. About 1,500 swimmers from the Singapore Swimming Association, Republic of Singapore Navy's Naval Diving Unit (NDU) and Singapore Disability Sports Council took part in this year's event. Every lap swam by the participants contributed $1 towards the fund raising effort, which will go towards three adopted charities - the Singapore Armed Forces Care Fund, Singapore Children's Society, and Aquatics Heart and Hope.
Captain (CPT) Kovind Naidu, Officer Commanding of NDU's Underwater Demolition Team, was one of 200 frogmen who took part in the event. He said: We swim quite a lot on a daily basis, so I think that this is a good way to contribute back to society.
Most of the boys swam about one kilometre today, and I think we exceeded our target of 15,000 laps. It was a great way for NDU to give back to society.
Also participating in this year's event was 40-year-old 3rd Sergeant (3SG) (NS) Vincent Koh. In last year's edition of Swim for Hope, the intelligence specialist,who had extended his service under the Reservist on Voluntary Extended Reserve Service Scheme, set the record by swimming a whopping 306 laps. This year, he surpassed his previous feat with 326 laps.
3SG (NS) Koh was quick to credit his achievement to the strong support he received from his family. The experience swimming with my family was great. Seeing my kids swimming next to me gave me that little boost that I needed!
In attendance to present awards to the top swimmers was 2nd Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing.
This is one form of bonding activities for our National Servicemen, said Mr Chan. But it actually goes beyond that, also providing opportunity for Full-time National Servicemen and the families to bond.