The two countries might be more than 10,000km apart, but Singapore and France have been collaborating in defence research and development (RD) under the Supelec, ONERA, NUS, DSO Research Alliance (SONDRA) for 10 years.
The little-known Singapore-French defence research partnership among the four organisations is named after its core members - Supelec, ONERA, National University of Singapore (NUS), DSO National Laboratories. It looks to develop scientific talents and seed ideas in the fields of Electromagnetism and Radar.
Both Supelec - a prestigious post-graduate engineering school - and ONERA - an aerospace laboratory - are French organisations. ONERA is best described as DSO's equivalent in France.
The SONDRA Laboratory is located on the outskirts of Paris, France and it is Singapore's first and only offshore defence RD laboratory.
In a statement, DSO Chief Executive Officer Quek Gim Pew said: Over the past 10 years, SONDRA has built up strong expertise and a strong network of international partners. I've confidence that SONDRA will continue to break new grounds and do exciting research. He co-chairs SONDRA with Mr Hervé Biausser, who is also Director of Supelec.
One of the challenges SONDRA faces is that our work is interdisciplinary - we have to deal with Physics and Signal Processing in the same space, said Prof Marc Lesturgie, Director SONDRA.
That's because radar relies on both disciplines.
Under SONDRA, students and researchers from both sides benefit from exchange programmes to learn from each other and collaborate on cutting-edge research. One of these innovations was a spiral radar antenna that is dramatically smaller than currently available ones.
Said one-half of the development team, NUS Engineering postgraduate student Ray Fang: It packs more functionality into a single antenna and being wideband, more data can come in through the antenna. The antenna technology can also be shaped to fit curved surfaces - a boon for platforms where space is a premium (such as on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
The 32-year-old was attached to the SONDRA laboratory from February 2012 to March 2013, as part of his PhD programme. Speaking of his experience there, he said: I worked with experts in the field and they had a lot of inputs, (and the) discussions which were very fruitful.
It was a very open environment, where we were all in the same domain. We could always seek each other’s opinions.
For French researcher Dr Jean-Philippe Ovarlez, SONDRA presented an opportunity to work on enhancing radar systems. He was attached to DSO in Singapore for a year in 2010. I got to work with many different groups in DSO. It was really good. There was a lot of cooperation.
I learnt a lot from the Singaporean researchers, said Dr Ovarlez, the Principal Scientist at the Signal Processing Unit of ONERA.
Another innovation to emerge from SONDRA was a technique to enable the transmission and reception of signals at the same time. Explaining her research, DSO senior researcher Dr Chong Chin Yuan said: We were able to achieve the same performance using simpler hardware by moving the complexity from the hardware to the processing side of the technology. Dr Chong has a PhD in Signal Processing for Multi-Input Multi-Output Radars.
Theoretically, we can reduce the size of the component by four times (using this technique). One of the possible applications of this technique is in maritime radars.
PIONEER journalist Koh Eng Beng goes on board a Missile Corvette (MCV) to fly the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
When I was told to test out the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, I was gleefully excited because this would probably be my first and only chance to fly a plane in my lifetime.
The plan was for me to launch the ScanEagle UAV on board RSS Vigour, a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) MCV, during a three-day sail.
But before that, I had to go through training on a UAV ground control simulator. My instructor was Military Expert (ME) 2-2 Eric Oh, a UAV supervisor, who had the unenviable task of trying to squeeze a 10-week syllabus into a three-hour crash course.
Through the session, I learnt that operating the ScanEagle UAV is just like flying a commercial plane: conduct a preflight check, take off, switch to autopilot, and land. The preflight check was mind-boggling, with over a hundred steps to be completed sequentially.
Verify AC Power and Shore Power Connection
Verify Wing Video Transmitter
Initiate Launch Sequence
I struggled to understand the checklist shown on the simulator screen. So ME2-2 Oh did most of the tasks while I observed. He then walked me through the process of plotting the flight path and controlling the camera.
The real deal
Two weeks later, I went on board RSS Vigour with the UAV operators from 188 Squadron (SQN). Since I had fiddled - and struggled - with the preflight checks during the simulator training, I went out to the ship deck to be a ground crew member.
In the RSN, all UAV operators are cross-trained, and they take on the roles of the pilot and ground crew on a rotational basis.
With the ground crew, I opened up the container which stored the components of the ScanEagle UAV, fixed the wings onto its body, and carried the assembled unmanned system to the launcher. It was a challenge balancing the 20kg UAV on my shoulder when the ship was swaying because of the choppy sea conditions. And I could truly feel the full weight of the ScanEagle UAV's six-digit price tag!
After the preflight check was completed, it was show time. As I knelt behind the ScanEagle UAV, now resting on the launcher, I could see its propeller spinning faster and faster, and hear its engine revving louder and louder.
My heart went into overdrive; I was a bundle of nerves. What if I screwed up? After 10 minutes of waiting in agony under the scorching sun, the lead ground crew, ME2-2 Jackie Thang, passed me a green rope.
The moment had come - I gave the rope a hard tug, and in a split second, the launcher catapulted the UAV into the blue sky.
After the successful launch, I went to the UAV Ground Control Station (GCS) located in the Combat Information Centre of the MCV.
There, UAV pilot ME2-2 Eric Fong showed me the live video feed of RSS Vigour – in full colour - captured by the camera on board the ScanEagle UAV. The UAV camera was pointing at our ship - from over 3km away.
I then tried out the joystick which controls the camera, which could pan left and right and zoom in. I also got to plot a new flight path for the UAV. Easy stuff. But only because I got to concentrate on one task at a time. A real UAV pilot not only has to juggle all these tasks simultaneously, but also monitor the multiple on-screen instruments.
After an hour of flight, I was out on the deck again where the ground crew had set up the sky hook recovery system - a snagging line suspended from a 15m boom. It was time to recover the ScanEagle UAV.
I shadowed ME2-2 Ricky Tan, a recovery observer. When the UAV pilot in the GCS gives the go-ahead for the ScanEagle UAV to make its final approach, ME2-2 Tan would press and hold a Clear To Land switch until the UAV is recovered.
If at the last moment, the UAV is wobbling or blown off course by a sudden strong gust of wind, he has to release the switch. The ScanEagle UAV would then make a sharp right turn away from the ship to avoid a crash.
We stood at the edge of the deck to observe the ScanEagle UAV making its final approach, and in just a few seconds, it flew right into the snagging line. A hook in the left wing tip caught onto the line, suspending the UAV in mid-air.
It was a thrilling experience to fly the ScanEagle UAV from out at sea, despite my struggles with the technical aspects. But since I have acquired some experience, perhaps the Navy could send me for formal training. I will gladly serve my remaining In-Camp Training sessions with the UAV section at 188 SQN!
Safety lies in your own hands - literally. With the Army Safety App, commanders can quickly check on important information such as weather conditions, location of nearby medical facilities and route information - all on their Android smartphones.
The aim? To put safety-related information at soldiers' fingertips, said Mr Benjamin Zee, who is with the iForce office, Joint Communications and Information Systems Department (JCISD). His office works with ground units to turn their ideas into workable mobile apps, providing the technical expertise and advice.
The app provides detailed weather information including lightning risk classifications, the Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) and weather forecasts. Emergency information is also listed - hospital locations and telephone numbers can be dialled straight from the app. It also provides routing information to these facilities.
While it (the app) does not replace any existing safety measures, it functions as a convenient and complementary source of information, said Captain (CPT) Muhd Noor Ehsan from the Army Safety Inspectorate (ASI).
And it does not only provide information. Spot a safety hazard? Inform the ASI through the app. Though the app was just launched on 11 Apr, the team behind it is already dreaming up of ways to improve it.
One of the things we are looking into doing is increasing the back-end infrastructure (to support the app). said Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Gene Tan from Headquarters Signals (HQ Signals). Once complete, it opens many doors for the app to mature and evolve.
A quick run-through the app revealed a zippy interface with large, easily readable icons. That is clearly a boon for soldiers, who will likely access the information while training outdoors.
The development team of eight, spread across three departments, are looking at an active user base of roughly 4,000. The app is only available to Army commanders.
For example, we can add an analytics engine to help us make better sense of hazard reports, explained LTC Tan. The reporting feature is currently a simple email set-up where users can provide their inputs directly to the ASI.
The safety app, which took just under a year to develop, was a collaboration between three groups in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
iForce provided the technical know-how, ASI provided operational perspectives and HQ Signals looked into the infrastructure needed to support the app. This is the first time these three groups in the SAF have come together to produce an app of this scale, said LTC Tan.
Much of the actual work on the app was done by three iForce Full-time National Servicemen. Said Corporal (CPL) Lee Zheng Xian, Most of the challenge was making sure that the app functioned well across the different Android phones.
Being an open source OS, Android phones come in all shapes and sizes each running their own version of the Android OS. Their solution - test the app on the most popular Android phones available on the market and adjust the codes accordingly. It was a tedious process but also necessary to ensure that the app works properly, said CPL Lee.
Said their supervisor Mr Zee: The value of this app is the sum of all its features. It's an everyday app. It's all at your fingertips.
He may play Lobang on the big screen, but off-screen, Private (PTE) (NS) Wang Weiliang is a real Wayang King. And there's only one lucky lady he gladly wayangs for.
Make no mistake, 27-year-old funny man PTE (NS) Wang is fully committed to his Bang Lee Onn character (aka L.O. Bang or Lobang*) in the Ah Boys to Men (ABTM) movies and the upcoming musical, where he will reprise his role as the recruit with all the solutions.
But when it comes to work, the actor is undoubtedly a professional Wayang** King who is ever ready to put on a good show. Despite nursing a headache, he turns up at the photo shoot with firm handshakes for everyone and, within minutes, is posing, jumping and tumbling for the lens, making the camera (and this writer) fall in love with his crazy antics and witty quips.
Spotting a pretty girl in a club, he commentates with accompanying wide-eyed astonishment while turning around for an over-the-shoulder shot.
Wayang with heart
Unlike the stereotypical Wayang King who feigns over-enthusiasm to get into his superior’s good books, PTE (NS) Wang exudes honesty and vulnerability as he describes his rebellious younger days, qualities which perhaps stemmed from his difficulties learning to work the crowd in live getai shows (public stage shows held during the Hungry Ghost Festival).
During your 20-minute act, you have to keep the energy up and elicit a reaction from the audience. You must make them feel your enthusiasm and sincerity. I'm most worried when the audience doesn't respond. I did getai for four years: I sang for two years, but did not make much headway; I then went on to hosting but nobody listened to me, especially since I was new.
So I got the haircut (which I sported in the first ABTM movie), and together with my comedic antics, people began to take notice of me. That haircut gave me my breakthrough.
Acting 101: Character development
For the self-professed reformed bad boy, another breakthrough came in the form of National Service (NS). The Private credits NS for moulding him into a stable and mature person.
I was a storeman in 4 SIR (4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment). I admit I wasn't a good soldier. When I enlisted, I questioned why I was being made to serve. But as I saw my 'brothers' chiong-ing (Hokkien for charging), I was influenced to join in. I think that the army teaches you to build relationships. I used to think only of myself. But if you do that, you will get the rest of the troops into trouble. This is a lesson I learnt in the army.
After the two years, I came to realise that NS doesn’t turn you into a man overnight; through NS, you gradually start to feel like a man. Serving NS is a really important rite of passage for us guys: It teaches us responsibility.
Of course, no NS experience would be complete without a practical joke, especially from the young comedian-in-the-making.
Once, when a friend was sleeping, we poured prickly heat powder on his face and squirted camo (camouflage) cream in his hands. He was awoken by the powder's burning sensation, and when he tried to wipe it off, he smeared the cream all over his face. He ran crying to the Sergeant. As punishment for bullying our buddy, the seven of us involved were made to wear our Full Battle Order and camo paint for the entire day. We're good friends now; it was through clowning around together that we became close.
Wayang give mother see
Five years and countless performances on, the one person PTE (NS) Wang still looks forward to seeing at his shows - and continues to wayang for - is his mother.
My mother is like my girlfriend, he proclaimed unabashedly. “We are very close. I’m still standing on stage today because of the pride I see on her face. I relish it. I fell wayward for 10 years, and she took care of me all those 10 years. I told myself I would never break her heart again because, no matter what I'd done wrong in the past, my mother would still say, 'you are still my son.'
And there's certainly no wayang in that.
* Lobang is Malay for hole. In Singlish it means tips, openings or contacts.
** Wayang is Malay for a performance or show.
For centuries, countries have raised militaries for the primary purpose of protecting their countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity. But today, militaries are increasingly (being) called upon to deal with transnational security challenges related to terrorism, drug and human trafficking, counter-proliferation, natural disasters, biological pandemics and cyber security.
This was Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen's central message at the 3rd Putrajaya Forum, held at the Seri Pacific Hotel in Kuala Lumpur on 14 Apr.
The Forum, themed Strengthening Security and Regional Stability, was held in conjunction with the 14th Defence Services Asia Exhibition and Conference.
In his keynote address, Dr Ng expressed Singapore's support for the Malaysian Government's handling of the MH370 incident. Singapore had deployed a submarine rescue vessel, a frigate with a naval helicopter, a missile corvette, and C-130 and Fokker-50 aircraft for the search and locate operation for the missing flight.
Highlighting the trend of militaries moving beyond territorial defence, he said that international response to the MH370 incident is a vivid illustration of the expanded roles of modern militaries today . . . and shows the extent in which militaries now actively contribute in non-traditional areas.
To prove that this shift was necessary and justifiable, Dr Ng explained that natural disasters and transnational threats not only overwhelm the affected nation, but the effects can also spill over to other countries. Moreover, collaborative work helps to build trust among the countries and their militaries. Lastly, today's ever-evolving security threats, such as terrorism and cyber-threats, often cross the lines of civilian and military arenas. Therefore, the military may be required to step in during seemingly-civilian crises.
Dr Ng also discussed three ways in which militaries can improve their effectiveness in taking on these non-traditional security challenges, the key to which is cooperation and coordination.
The first is to leverage technology to improve information and intelligence collection, for instance, through the Republic of Singapore Navy's Information Fusion Centre (IFC). Using advanced software, the IFC puts together data from more than 30 countries to generate a common maritime picture that identifies anomalies and potential threats at sea. It was activated to assist in the MH370 search efforts when the area of operations had moved to the Southern parts of the Indian Ocean.
Dr Ng said the second way to improve militaries' effectiveness in dealing with non-traditional security challenges was to enhance civil-military cooperation by maintaining a network across government agencies, civilian non-government organisations as well as the public, private and people sectors during peace time. He said Singapore will do more to increase interactions between civilian agencies and militaries for HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief), in parallel with the proposal he made, at the recent informal dialogue between the United States and ASEAN Defence Ministers, for Singapore to host a regional crisis coordination centre.
The third way, said Dr Ng, was to strengthen regional military cooperation and coordination through joint exercises to build capabilities and improve effectiveness. The ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus had already embarked on this, conducting its first joint exercise last June, whereall 10 ASEAN member states and eight Plus countries - Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US - came together to conduct a large-scale HADR/Military Medicine exercise, hosted by Brunei.
While exercises between militaries are important, it is also important to build an architecture that can better respond to natural disasters, said Dr Ng. This was why he had offered Singapore's Changi C2 Centre, which houses the IFC, to host a regional HADR coordination centre.
While in Putrajaya, Dr Ng had earlier met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Malaysian Defence Minister Dato' Seri Hishammuddin Hussein. He was also invited to a durian feast by the host country.
What made this Basic Military Training (BMT) Graduation Parade (better known as the Passing Out Parade or POP) extra special?
The inclusion of a National Service (NS) unit that was standing down!
On 12 Apr, thousands braved the rain at Marina Bay Floating Platform to witness this special integrated parade. The parade not only marked the completion of 452nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment's (452 SAR's) Operationally Ready National Service (ORNS) training cycle, but also the BMT of 4,200 recruits from the Basic Military Training Centre and the 3rd Battalion, Singapore Guards (3 GDS).
The parade was given added significance with the symbolic handing of NS duties from one generation to the next. Corporal (CPL) (NS) Lee Hong Chen represented his 600-strong battalion by handing the State Flag over to his nephew, Recruit (REC) Marcus Chin.
On handing over the State Flag, CPL (NS) Lee had mixed feelings.
Said the 32-year-old: I feel very proud and privileged as I'm representing my battalion in handing over the national duties to the new graduating soldiers. At the same time, I feel pretty emotional as we're calling it an end for my battalion.
Prior to the parade, the General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) gunner had also shared some of his NS experience with his nephew, especially now that the latter has completed his BMT.
I told my nephew...what he went through was the first three months of his NS cycle but there's still more to come and he can expect greater bonding (with his peers) than what he had during BMT.
For REC Chin, receiving the flag from his uncle in front of thousands of witnesses instilled a greater sense of pride and responsibility in him. Before he enlisted, the 19-year-old from Dragon Company never thought much about having to protect the nation. However, going through BMT has changed all that.
I feel that now, my generation has to take more responsibilities to defend the nation and we have to step up as the older generation is stepping down. And always keep up the call of duty.
Like his uncle, this graduation did not happen without him getting a little emotional. REC Chin told cyberpioneer that just before their 24km route march, his platoon took one last look at their company line and he felt like tearing up. To him, BMT may not have been a smooth-sailing journey, but it was definitely a memorable and enjoyable one.
And now, he was ready to move forward.
Now that my BMT has been completed, I feel that it's time to look forward to the next stage of my NS career, said REC Chin.
Similarly, REC S Kurumbaesan, who was awarded Best Trainee in Taurus Company, felt that BMT was both enriching and fun.
Many people associate BMT with torture and 'tekan' (punishments) but you get to make a lot of friends. And these people are the ones who make your BMT journey more enjoyable.
The 18-year-old explained that because of his platoon mates, physical training sessions became easier because everyone was doing them together. And if things got tough, his peers would encourage one another and push each other on.
It was times like that in BMT that taught me life is not all about carrying just yourself, but carrying the man next to you, he added.
When asked if he had any advice for the incoming enlistees, REC Kurumbaesan said: Just be yourself. Don't try to be someone you're not just because you think that persona will get you into command school. Only if you stay true to who you are, then you might just get what you want.
REC Kurumbaesan's father, Master Warrant (MWO) Sathiamoorthy, had some advice for the next phase of his training: The next stage is more of training yourself to be a complete soldier. Enjoy that second stage. It will make you a stronger, more capable man.
The graduation parade was graced by Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang GRC Alex Yam, Chief of Army Brigadier-General (BG) Perry Lim, senior commanders as well as family and friends of the graduands.
The set-up of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) counter-piracy task group currently deployed in the Gulf of Aden (GoA) is an example of the close integration among the SAF's air, land, and sea assets.
Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing noted this when he visited the task group on 10 Apr.
The task group is on a three-month deployment in support of international counter-piracy operations in GoA. It operates a Formidable-class stealth frigate RSS Tenacious, paired with a Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter on board.
Both assets work together to patrol the sea for pirates and respond to distress calls from merchant ships that are under attack. If a situation calls for it, assault troops from the Ship Security Unit will board and investigate suspicious vessels.
In an interview with cyberpioneer after visiting the 151-strong crew on board RSS Tenacious, Mr Chan said: This is one of the few deployments where we have the Army, Navy and Air Force working closely together. The fact that they can work so seamlessly together is a testimony to the kind of training that they have, and the kind of bond within the SAF.
He added: This speaks well for the SAF, and gives me confidence that, when called upon, our three Services will be able to work seamlessly together.
To prepare themselves for the mission, the crew of RSS Tenacious had gone through months of training before they left Singapore for GoA on 17 Mar. They had trained extensively in the South China Sea to get used to the rigours of a long operation out at sea.
Not only have the three Services within the SAF worked well together, the SAF task group itself is also operating well together with the multinational coalition forces in GoA. Captain Maximilian Tay, for instance, communicates with his coalition counterparts to ensure that their ship patrols and surveillance flights do not overlap.
In doing so, we ensure that our surveillance is optimised, and we have a better coverage in the vast expanse of the Gulf of Aden, explained the Task Group Principal Warfare Officer.
He added: On our part, we also conduct our surveillance flights and our sector patrols appropriately in the designated area that we have been given, working hand-in-hand with other forces in the theatre (of operation).
Led by Colonel Cheong Kwok Chien, this is the SAF's fifth task group deployment to GoA since 2009. It operates under the coordination of the multinational Combined Task Force (CTF) 151. The SAF had previously commanded the CTF 151 in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Said Mr Chan: This is our contribution to the international effort…We are also a nation that depends heavily on…safe shipping in the entire world community. So we do what we can, and I am proud that we have been able to contribute meaningfully to this.
By the time you read this, the crew of frigate RSS Tenacious will be far away from home in the Gulf of Aden (GoA) beating back pirates. This is the story of how they got themselves ready for the rigours of pirate patrol.
Step onto RSS Tenacious and it is clear that this ship - and her crew - are on a mission. On the flight deck, there are people fussing over the naval helicopter. Below deck, crew members bustle about - each with an intense, focused look on their face.
On the bridge, the navigation team is preparing to steer the 114m-long warship out of its berth at Changi Naval Base. They are about to start a week-long training sortie to make sure that everyone knows their tasks well and everything on board works like it should.
Setting the stage
It is also the last training sortie for the ship and the last time that the Task Group will come together to perfect their drills before sailing to the GoA.
On board, there are soldiers from all three Services working together to execute the pirate-busting operations. Cooperation is most visible on the flight deck - the sailors and the airmen are equally responsible for the safe launch and recovery of the naval helicopter.
As Air Force Engineers (AFEs), we primarily do maintenance work. During operations, the sailors handle other aspects such as refuelling and marshalling, explained Military Expert (ME) 3-3 Daniel Mah, the overall in-charge of the AFE team.
Speaking to the combined crew, Commander Task Group Colonel (COL) Ken Cheong said: We are going for ops; it's not training. Either we get it right (the first time) or we fail. He is joined by COL Ricky Hi who will command the second half of the deployment.
That was in end-February, about two weeks away from their departure for the GoA. For the crew, that two weeks seemed like eons away. After months of training and multiple retrofits to the ship, they are raring to go.
For months, the crew has been training to make sure that the ship responds as one to any distress call. Having gone through their drills countless times, their actions during the training sortie are like those of a tightly choreographed dance.
While they are in the GoA, the ship will be tasked to patrol specific sectors and the naval helicopter will go out on daily flights to skim the sea surface for suspicious vessels.
On top of these routine patrols, the crew has to be ready to respond to distress calls from merchant ships. In those situations, the ship's ability to launch the helicopter at a moment's notice is critical. Any delay could mean a vessel being held for ransom by pirates and the crew's lives being put in jeopardy.
The Ship Security Unit (SSU) also stands ready at all times to investigate suspicious vessels with their Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs). At the heart of the frigate, sailors operate advanced sensors from the Combat Information Centre (CIC) to map out a situational picture of the sea around the warship. At any one time, they will know who is out there and each vessel's direction of travel.
All this goes on on top of the hum of daily shipboard operations. In the galley, the chefs churn out three meals daily and light snacks for crew working late. In the Machinery Control Room, the engineers literally keep the ship humming along - monitoring her systems and rectifying faults when they arise. In the Bridge, the navigation department keeps the ship on the right course.
It is a floating mini-town that never sleeps.
It is not just the people who have had to keep their skills sharp. The ship, too, has to undergo some modifications of her own.
One of the most apparent physical changes to RSS Tenacious is the addition of an aft-side door which allows crew members to get on and off sea boats more easily.
Two more sea boats - large 9.2m RHIBs - have also been added. To launch these additional craft, a massive crane is installed on the missile deck of the ship. This means that some of missile launcher tubes have to be removed to make way for the crane and RHIBs' cradles.
These are modifications which the first frigate to be sent to the GoA - RSS Intrepid - also carried.
The difference? The RHIBs which are in the GoA now have armour plates installed to
protect the boarding team as they approach suspected pirates.
Not a drill
With so many things to do but only 151 people on board, some of the crew have to take on more roles. One such crew member is ME2-1 Amar s/o Ramasaran who doubles up as a Flight Deck Marshaller (FDM).
It's an interesting role, something I've never done, said ME2-1 Amar. If you think that all he does is stand on deck and wave helicopters off, think again. To qualify as an FDM, he had to go to the Air Force to learn about basic helicopter operations. Then came learning the hand signals to communicate with the pilots before a qualification test.
He operates the ship's radio and communications systems, and holds the appointment of Communications Systems Supervisor. Usually I sit in the small radio room to do my job. As an FDM, I get to see how the ship literally comes together (to launch the naval helicopter)...and gain a better understanding of what we will be doing (in the GoA).
Sometimes, birds can suddenly land on deck. As the FDMs, we have to wave off the helicopter in those situations. Any object on deck could potentially be churned and sucked into the aircraft's rotor system.
At sea, that could mean disastrous downtime as the helicopter is being repaired. The helicopter functions as an eye for its mothership and is often the first responder to distress calls because of its speed and abilities.
For ME2-1 Shaun Delano who is in charge of compiling a tactical picture of threats in the air, on the water surface and sub-surface, operating in the GoA means looking out for different things.
We're not expecting the pirates to operate aircraft and submarines, so this is a different type of mission where we are very focused on detecting surface threats. This is the second deployment for ME2-1 Delano, who also took part in the 2012 deployment.
He added: The initial stages were taxing - switching from conventional warfare to
counter-piracy patrols - but we picked up fast. And it shows; this is the third sea sortie and we are way more comfortable now.
This is home
To meet the demands of counter-piracy patrols, the ship is retrofitted to accommodate 151 people. Usually, frigates are manned by a ship crew of 72 and an air detachment of 19.
This means more bunks and lockers are added. Basic gym facilities, too, are added for the crew to keep fit while at sea.
Said ME1-1 Jaclyn Tan: While the frigate is smaller than home base, it does have space for us to move around and it's quite comfortable. Trained as a medic, she is part of the team that takes care of the crew's health.
Before the sail, we did a lot of medical preparation, she said. This included refreshing the ship crew on life-saving skills and making sure that the crew were medically fit for the deployment.
While shipboard life is cosy in a living-in-close-quarters sense, the crew are clear that it will not be smooth sailing all the way. We are expecting rough seas when we traverse the Indian Ocean, said ME2-2 Khoo Lih Uei. As part of the navigation team, ME2-2 Khoo and his team have studied the route extensively.
At the roughest patches, we are expecting sea states of four or even five. At those sea states, even a ship as large as the RSS Tenacious will be pitching and rolling. It is not a comfortable place to be in for those who are more used to dry land.
But that is shipboard life, said ME2-2 Khoo. We just have to secure everything down so that things won't drop and people won't get tripped up,” he added nonchalantly. Having been in the Navy for the past 14 years, the 34-year-old has had his share of long deployments, although this will be his longest yet.
Like everyone on this three-month deployment, ME2-2 Khoo will miss his family and loved ones. Even more so, since he is expecting a newborn in August. And he's not the only one. ME4-3 Soh Teck Soon is father to three young children aged nine, seven and five.
Leaving them and my wife behind is the toughest part of this mission. But I'm also proud to be working with the team and seeing everyone come together (for the mission).
Ready to go
Nearing the tail-end of the sea sortie, RSS Tenacious was visited by Head Naval Operations Rear-Admiral (RADM) Jackson Chia who observed the crew carrying out boarding drills and naval helicopter operations. He will oversee the deployment as Commander Task Force. RSS Tenacious left for the GoA on 17 Mar and will return in July this year.
Major (MAJ) Daniel Ng used to believe that he was an effective leader, until feedback from his trainees, colleagues and superiors showed that there was still room for improvement. While he excelled in tactics and managing resources, he needed to place more emphasis in nurturing his people.
That was in 2009, when MAJ Ng started his Command and Staff Course (CSC) under the Singapore Armed Forces-Nanyang Technological University (SAF-NTU) Continuing Education (CE) Master's Programme.
The CSC is the first phase of the programme where students study military courses in the area of military leadership, military studies and military technology co-taught by faculty from the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College and NTU. After which, they will pursue a Master's in an area of their choice in NTU. They will be awarded the Graduate Diploma in Military Leadership provided they complete all five courses at the Master's accredited level.
A feature of the CSC is the 360-degree feedback designed by the SAF Centre for Leadership Development and SAFTI Military Institute. It is conducted twice for all CSC trainees - at the beginning and at end of the course - to gauge their leadership progress.
In this course, we did a lot of reflection and learnt about our shortcomings, said the the naval officer, who is Deputy Commanding Officer of 121 Squadron which operates the Fokker-50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
It gave us the opportunity to hone our leadership skills by understanding the different styles and theories of leadership, he added.
If my 'bandwidth' is only for achieving mission success, then I am only a good manager. In order to be a good commander, you need to have both good leadership and management skills.
Since then, MAJ Ng, who graduated from the SAF-NTU CE programme with a Master's Degree in Technology Management in 2013, interacts regularly with his crew about their careers and personal development.
He was among the pioneer batch of 21 SAF officers who received the graduate diploma at a ceremony held in NTU on 3 Apr. Under the programme, officers can also choose to graduate with only a Master's Degree if they do not complete five CSC modules at the Master's accredited level.
These 21 officers were also part of the pioneer batch of SAF-NTU CE Master's Programme graduates who obtained their Master's Degrees from NTU last July.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Eric Gooi, Head of SAF Education Office, said: The SAF has always invested in our people to ensure that they are competent to operate in today's dynamic environment. The awarding of the Graduate Diploma in Military Leadership by NTU to our officers is another testament to the quality of our people and the rigour of SAF courses.
For MAJ Eric Goh, Commanding Officer of 12th Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) Battalion, the opportunity to upgrade himself academically was something he enjoyed. An avid learner, he had attended night classes to obtain his first degree in Banking and Finance from the University of London through distance learning.
In the past, we only had the Postgraduate Award for the senior commanders. The majority of the junior officers don't normally go beyond their first degree, but I think with this CE Master's Programme, they are looking forward to it, said the 35 year-old who obtained a Master's Degree in International Relations from NTU.
MAJ Garion Tan, who obtained a Master's Degree in Strategy from Nanyang Business School, had the chance to work with international schoolmates from various fields. He applied military leadership lessons that were taught in the first phase of the SAF-NTU CE Master’s programme to lead them in academic projects.
It gave me confidence that I could manage my leadership styles such that I could lead people who were also leaders in their own right, said the Branch Head in the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Air Intelligence Department.
The 38 year-old added: In order to achieve mastery (in leadership), we have to train not only in the military context, but also have different touch points with people outside... and benchmark ourselves.
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will be looking to work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to introduce more holistic and structured physical training programmes to boost the fitness of pre-enlistees, said 2nd Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing.
Speaking to the media after a focus group discussion on improving the fitness of national servicemen, Mr Chan said they will be looking at how these programmes can include more regular NAPFA (National Physical Fitness Assessment) fitness testing, diet and lifestyle recommendations as well as institute the mindset whereby individual students take ownership of their fitness.
Organised by the Committee to Strengthen National Service, the focus group discussion on 5 Apr involved 57 participants. They included Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen), Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), pre-enlistees and educators from junior colleges (JCs), polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs), as well as sports scientists.
Currently, only JCs and ITEs have compulsory physical education programmes. A few polytechnics run optional semi-structured programmes, and have seen positive results.
For instance, all first-year Singapore Polytechnic (SP) students have to take part in a compulsory Sports for Life programme to play a sport of their choice such as yoga, in-line skating or boxing. Second- and third-year students can choose to take it as an optional elective.
Since the programme started in 2011, the NAPFA passing rate for SP final-year male students has jumped from 35 percent in 2011 to 41 percent in 2012 and 2013, said Mr Choo Keng Hui, SP's Director of Student Development. We have a structured programme in place. For Year-1 students, it is compulsory. Year-2 students have a choice - it's an elective. For Year-3, it's also an elective, (but) it is more of a fitness workshop to prepare the male students...so that they can clear their NAPFA test and eventually go on to their NS (National Service).
Mr Choo added that SP will consider making the programme compulsory for all students, but further studies and pilot trials were needed.
Besides looking at ways to improve the fitness of pre-enlistees, the focus group participants also brainstormed for ideas to help NSmen maintain their fitness and pass their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).
Most of the suggested ideas looked into making the existing IPPT Preparatory Training and Remedial Training (RT) more accessible.
Sharing his observation, Mr Chan said: There are a lot of ideas about having more flexible hours to allow NSmen to return to camp or to go to one of the fitness conditioning centres, or even some of the gyms perhaps in SAFRA, to train at a time which they can fit into their work schedule.
Other ideas suggested included having personalised IPPT, such as having a swimming test in lieu of 2.4km running for NSmen with knee injuries, or providing subsidies for gym membership.
This is the 38th CSNS focus group discussion. Since last May, the committee has consulted some 40,000 Singaporeans for ideas to strengthen NS.
The Changi Command and Control (C2) Centre housed at Changi Naval Base could soon be used to coordinate humanitarian efforts in the region. This is following an offer made by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at the ASEAN-US Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting on 4 Apr.
The idea received support from his counterparts. In discussing ASEAN's Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) efforts in the region following Typhoon Haiyan, the ministers reiterated the need for militaries to work even more closely together to boost the region's HADR capabilities.
A regional HADR complex, modelled after the Information Fusion Centre (IFC) in the Changi C2 Centre, would allow the region's forces to come together more effectively to quickly respond to any disasters, said the leaders.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Dr Ng said: It occurred to us that what we really needed was a centre - if you like, a command and control centre - that was stood up all the time (and) had the ability to input all the information that various agencies would bring to bear when such crises occurred and make a coherent picture for everyone to see.
The IFC is a regional maritime security information-sharing centre which facilitates sharing and collaboration between partners to enhance maritime security. Said Dr Ng: We (already) had a set up for this and it seemed natural to say, 'Well, let's offer this'.
The details of using the Changi C2 Centre for HADR coordination work is something which senior officials from the ASEAN member states will look into. We're not wishing that we will use it often but it’s something that we think (would prove) useful, said Dr Ng.
Apart from HADR-related issues, the leaders discussed a wide range of topics at the meeting. They welcomed the US' continued involvement in the region and its active participation at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus).
The leaders also supported the conduct of an ADMM-Plus joint counter-terrorism and maritime security exercise In Malaysia in 2015. The exercise will be held in conjunction with the 3rd ADMM-Plus meeting to be held in Malaysia.
They also discussed international security issues, including developments in Ukraine, and the need to respect international law, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Dr Ng was in Hawaii for the ASEAN-US Defence Minsters' Informal Meeting held from 2 to 4 Apr. As part of the programme, the leaders also visited the Inouye Regional Centre for a roundtable discussion on HADR.
As they join their male counterparts and tough it out in Basic Military Training (BMT), this bunch of recruits tells PIONEER why they chose the path less taken.
They look like your average female Junior College (JC) students. Small-framed, faces clean of make-up, hair tied up. Standing next to one another in rows of six, dressed in singlets, shorts and sports shoes. Except that instead of your typical JC physical education shirts, these ladies are wearing the Physical Training (PT) shirt - the one worn in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Fresh out of school, they have chosen an atypical career route, challenging stereotypes and joining the military.
Their reason? These women just want to play a part in protecting their country.
Doing their part
For Recruit (REC) Joelle Cheong, signing on was simply her way of contributing to society and Singapore's security.
Becoming a Regular is an opportunity for me to instil into NSFs (Full-time National Servicemen) a sense of pride to be able to serve our country, said the 19-year-old.
When some NSFs enlist, they are very bitter about it as they don't see the point in doing NS (National Service). I want to be in a position to show them that what they are doing is meaningful and actually matters to the country.
While her decision was easy, the same could not be said when it came to convincing the Raffles JC alumna’s parents. Like some mothers, Mrs Cheong harboured fears that her daughter would become too manly or uncouth and be unable to find a husband.
However, after chatting with female Regulars about their concerns, REC Cheong's parents eventually accepted her choice.
My dad was a Commando and his experience was very xiong (Hokkien for tough), so my mum was afraid of that! she laughed.
Unlike REC Cheong's parents, REC Shaidatul Nur Ashqin Bte Ghazali's family had a very different reaction when she announced her decision to enlist.
When my dad took me to the SAF Ferry Terminal, he was very proud and had his arms around me as though he was saying, 'I'm sending my daughter in!' said REC Shaidatul with a smile.
In fact, the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) graduate's parents encouraged her to sign on when she was 19. However, REC Shaidatul decided to get a degree first, and studied accounting at SIM before coming back to her first love - the military.
As a chairman of the Mountbatten Youth Executive Committee, I deal mainly with youths who are not very academically-inclined. So for me, signing on is not only giving back to the country, but also to inspire the youths, said the 25-year-old, who has been a grassroots leader for the past seven years.
Both recruits enlisted on 5 Feb, along with 31 other girls, making this the largest ever batch to enlist at any one time in the SAF.
Grit and determination
Despite knowing roughly what BMT would be like from watching shows and speaking to their male friends, some things still came as a shock to the girls. While the usual five basic exercises and regimentation were still tolerable, others, like regular water parades to prevent dehydration, were not as easy to get used to.
For REC Samantha Wun, the first few days of BMT were difficult and she even suffered from insomnia the first three nights.
I kept telling myself, 'I can do it', said the SIM business management graduate.
Then the sergeants were asking us to get in line and started screaming at us to go for water parades. I'm not used to drinking 500ml of water every hour! On top of that, there's not much freedom here so it was a culture shock for me.
With a background in dragon-boating, REC Wun naturally had an upper hand compared to the other female recruits when it came to physical training. As such, activities like the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and Standard Obstacle Course (SOC) were a breeze to her. In fact, the 26-year-old even beat her Platoon Sergeant in a pull-up challenge by doing 20 to his 17, thus earning the nickname Muscle Woman!
On the other hand, training has been especially strenuous for REC Cheong, who suffered from such bad muscle aches that she could barely lift her legs or climb the stairs in the early days.
It has not been easy for me. To be able to do things like the Low Rope or even the 2.4km run, I had to tell myself, with every step, to just push forward and keep trying, she said.
When recruits are introduced to the SOC, one of the obstacles they (guys and girls alike) tend to find challenging is the Low Rope. Despite having weaker arm strength than their male counterparts, the female recruits were determined to conquer the obstacle, even if it meant doing it over and over again till they had blisters.
As REC Shaidatul put it: As long as I haven’t reached the top, I'm not going to let my hands off this rope. It’s damn tough, but it’s worth the effort.
During the first three weeks of BMT, physical challenges were not the only things that the girls had to adjust to.
For REC Cheong, BMT was a constant struggle in battling both physical and emotional stress and still finding the strength to continue. And growing up in a close-knit family added to her stress of being away from home.
Holding back tears which threatened to fall, she said: My parents wrote me letters and I couldn't even bear to finish reading them. I read two words of my mum's letter and I started crying so badly that I couldn't continue.
Thank god this (getting emotional) always happens when I'm in my bunk, so I'll just cry and I'll be fine.
REC Shaidatul, on the other hand, would keep conversations with her mother over the phone short or just ask about her cats during the call to distract herself. That's a way of diverting my attention away from the emotional stuff, she explained.
Dealing with separation
One of the most frequent complaints of every male recruit when they enlist is being unable to see their girlfriends, who then break up with them during NS. What about the female recruits?
Asked about her boyfriend's reaction to her enlisting, REC Cheong said: He was very proud that I could do something a lot of boys find difficult, and that I was doing it voluntarily. And he really respects me for it, so that keeps me going.
Despite missing him immensely, REC Cheong felt that it was probably much easier for her in BMT than it was for her loved ones. Recruits were often busy dealing with a new environment and physical training, while their loved ones had to deal with missing them when they looked at an empty chair or bed, she explained.
I hope all NSFs can understand, instead of just blaming the girl and NS for 'taking away' their girlfriends. It's a two-way challenge and a test of your relationship, she added.
REC Deborah Koh felt that being away in BMT was like travelling overseas. Communication and encouragement from her boyfriend kept her spirits high.
We try to set up ways of coping for ourselves, like texting and calling, so at least there's some contact. He's very supportive of me and tells me that he’s proud of me.
As the weeks passed, the bond among the recruits grew stronger.
That sense of camaraderie was especially apparent during physical training. Words of encouragement were exchanged and cheers were the loudest whenever it came to IPPT or SOC training.
You can see everyone encouraging each other to do more chin-ups and pull yourself up one more time, said REC Wun.
And it works. At the start, one of my section mates could not even manage one, but now she can do at least six! It's a vast improvement and it shows that encouragement from your section mates can really motivate you.
As the Chin-up In-Charge (IC), REC Wun also plays her part by taking time out to guide the girls on strengthening their arm muscles.
Every night, I help them with their pull-ups and ask them to hold on for five seconds to build up their back muscles. Then I slowly lower them down. We do two sets every night and this really helps to strengthen their back muscles and arms, explained REC Wun.
For some, military commands, which are in Malay, can be a tough challenge. This is where REC Shaidatul comes in, as she is fluent in both Malay and Chinese.
If my bunkmates are unsure of any commands, I translate them into Chinese, said the Higher-Chinese student. I teach them to listen to the second last word, because whatever comes in front is usually just a command, the last two words are the instructions.
Of the bond among the girls, she said: If someone doesn’t know anything, we will go and help her. We're like sisters.
My rifle is my husband
In BMT, there are several defining moments; receiving the Singapore Assault Rifle (SAR) 21 is undeniably one of them. Usually termed as a recruit's wife, the rifle becomes a husband in the hands of female recruits. Some of them have even named their weapons.
Jokes aside, REC Koh said she felt honoured when she received her rifle. Sometimes people say that it can be a burden carrying the SAR-21 around, but it makes me feel like a soldier as I'm reminded of why I'm doing this and what I'm doing this for, said the National University of Singapore (NUS) psychology undergraduate.
When it came to weapons, the disparity between the male and female recruits became a little more apparent. During a lecture about the SAR-21, while most of the male recruits could answer questions about the guns, the female recruits were more hesitant when answering.
Similarly, when it came to weapon handling, the girls were slightly slower in getting the hang of it. The sergeants conducted a one-to-one session to teach them to strip and assemble the rifles.
The female recruits fared well eventually in the test by stripping the SAR-21 under 45 seconds and assembling it back under 60. In fact, they all scored about 90 marks or more (upon 100) in the technical handling test, with 40 percent clinching full marks.
Another milestone to cross in BMT is the 6km route march.
While it may seem like a small feat, compared to the 24km march that recruits have to complete for their Passing Out Parade (POP), the 6km is the first route march where the recruits get a taste of walking with a full 20kg load (which includes their field pack and SAR-21).
At first, when we put on the field pack and rifle, we were like 'can lah, 6km should still be able to handle'. But after walking one round (about 3km), all we could think of was 'when is the rest time?' laughed REC Wun.
Nursing aching backs and in sweat-drenched shirts, the recruits were seen giving each other shoulder massages at the first rest stop. Despite having crossed the halfway mark, their journey became tougher after the 15-minute break as fatigue weighed down upon them.
This was especially so for REC Wun, who volunteered to hold the 2m-long company flag while marching. This meant an additional 2kg on top of her 20kg load.
And if the occasional breeze was a welcome respite from the blazing sun for most recruits, it was just the opposite for REC Wun.
When the flag blows in the wind, it becomes harder to control, explained the gutsy recruit, who felt that the flag weighed more like 10kg.
To take their minds off the physical fatigue, the recruits even sang songs such as Counting Stars by One Republic and Home by Kit Chan, on top of the usual Army songs, in order to motivate one another.
Marching alongside the recruits, the sergeants were also a source of motivation for them.
They kept asking us if we were ok and to drink up, said REC Shaidatul. When you see these commanders around, you just want to be as good as what they expect of you.
One of the recruits was having problems keeping up with the rest of the platoon.
In the spirit of No (wo)man gets left behind, REC Wun held her hand and reminded her of why she chose to be in BMT. In the end, the recruit managed to complete the route march with the help and motivation of her fellow platoon mates.
Said REC Shaidatul: This is just not one person's journey; everyone's marching together.
Agreeing, REC Wun added: Even if you finished first, you would not feel as good as compared to completing it together with the rest of your platoon.
We are soldiers
The recruits are lying in wait among dense jungle vegetation. Well-hidden behind trees and shrubs with camouflage paint on their faces and leaves on their helmets, they take aim with their rifles.
Their enemies enter the vicinity and scan the jungle with eagle-sharp eyes. It’s a matter of time before the concealed recruits are spotted. They stay still. A mere twitch and they might just give their positions away.
This scenario was part of the individual field craft lessons that the recruits have to learn before they are thrown into field camp.
Split into two groups, the recruits take turns to learn the technique of camouflaging themselves in the jungle and hiding in the best places while the others try their best to spot those hidden from a distance away.
Knowing something and actually doing it is very different, REC Cheong realised, especially when she was given only a few seconds to prone on the grimy ground.
Because you have a time limit (to hide), you find the most spider-webby and leafy place and just lie there. And after that, you realise 'oh shit, there's something crawling up your leg', she laughed.
A low point of their training was the leopard crawl, where they literally ate the sand on the ground. As they sprawled flat on their tummies and moved their elbows and knees as fast as possible to get across the ground, the recruits kicked up a huge brownish-yellow cloud of dust and sand.
The slower ones were left in the wake of dust and sand as the faster recruits moved ahead. Many were seen coughing and choking even after they completed the crawl.
It's really tough, said REC Wun. The dust hits you in the face so you can't even breathe when you’re doing the leopard crawl.
Training may be arduous, but it was precisely that which made them into soldiers, added REC Cheong. When I do this, I see how it can be applied during war; I see why I want to be in the Army and why I want to protect my country. And it gives me the drive to keep going.
When asked if they had any expectations of what field camp would be like, the girls were unanimous in their replies - exhausting. But they were prepared and raring to go. In the words of REC Shaidatul: It's just five days. Make it or break it.
Ready to press on
It's only been five weeks (at time of print) and the girls are already bracing themselves for even tougher times ahead.
With more to come in the second half of their BMT, such as their first field camp, the recruits know that it is not going to be easy.
What's going to pull them through?
My personal goal is to overcome the hardships that we all face, and to POP successfully and in glory, said REC Shaidatul. It's not all about myself, but my bunkmates, platoon mates and the one who is marching next to me. At the end of the day, I'm not going through this alone.
For others, the push factor to carry on could just be something as simple as love.
You just look across the shore (from Tekong) and you feel all these emotional ties and nostalgia, said REC Koh.
It's because of the people back home. That’s why we're doing this and why we want to protect our country.