This year, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Central Band received the rock star treatment when it was invited to perform for the very first time at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Edinburgh Castle. The ancient stronghold of Scottish military might, and home to one of the world's biggest stages for military bands - the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (REMT).
Each year, the finest military bands from across the globe are invited to perform at the castle esplanade, an outdoor stage set against the backdrop of this magnificent fortress atop Scotland's Castle Rock.
And making its way this year into this prestigious guest list is the SAF Central Band.
By invite only
The SAF Central Band has been a familiar face in the tattoo circuit for more than a decade, garnering fans in countries like Russia, Korea and Sweden. But its arrival at Edinburgh, the birthplace of military tattoos, happened almost serendipitously.
It was the year 2012. The SAF Central Band was playing at the International Military Music Festival in Moscow, unaware that they had caught the eye of then-REMT producer, Major-General Euan Loudon.
The show (they had put together) was very precise and had a variety of representations (of Singapore culture), explained Brigadier David Allfrey MBE, producer of the 2014 REMT, on why he was drawn to the Band's performance in Moscow.
The Tattoo decided to extend their invitation to the Band because they are one of the great military bands in the world, and they bring an extraordinary quality, not just of precision, but also the flavour and mix of everybody who lives in Singapore.
With that affirmation, the 51 musicians, together with six SAF Music and Drama Company (MDC) dancers and 14 Military Policemen from the SAF Silent Precision Drill Squad (SPDS), were ready to put up the performance of their lives.
Making a grand entrance
The multicultural dimension of the SAF Central Band's shows has endeared audiences worldwide, and the Band has remained steadfast to its trademark. However, to mark its debut at the Tattoo, it decided to shake things up with elements that had never been done before in the Band's history.
One of these was to feature an original composition. Written by Military Expert (ME) 1-1 Dax Wilson Liang Qingxiang, who also arranged the music for the Band's set, Forest Dreams was specially composed for the Chinese folksong segment of the show.
I wanted a folk song that's distinctly Chinese, particularly to the non-Singaporean and non-Chinese ear, explained instructor and horn player ME1-1 Liang of his decision to compose his own piece. He was hoping to find a strong counterpart to the popular Malay and Indian folksongs, which tended to have tunes that were easily identifiable to their respective cultures.
Played on the Chinese flute and drums and accompanied by the flowing costumes of the twirling MDC dancers, the song created a festive atmosphere. To complement the fluidity of the piece, the SPDS devised a new move as well, standing in a line to toss and catch their rifles before kneeling one after the other, creating a wave pattern.
Another first that the Band could boast of was being the first Singaporean band to use the tin whistle in a performance.
A small woodwind instrument resembling the humble recorder, the tin whistle has an echoey ring that is characteristic of traditional Celtic music. And it was the perfect accompaniment to the Band's tribute to their host, an acapella rendition of the popular Scottish folksong,Wild Mountain Thyme.
The local songs we've performed so far have all been in foreign languages. Since this is an English song, we added the tin whistle to give it a Scottish flavour, explained ME2-1 Ang Yi Xiang, Associate Principal Player (Saxophone) and the show's choreographer.
Hopefully, the audience will feel our sincerity and passion, he added.
…til the band sings
The proof was in the piping. ME2-1 Ang's tin whistle solo pierced through the esplanade, and the audience fell silent. The Band started to sing, quietly and carefully at first, a single voice hanging in the air.
But by the time it reached the chorus, the voice was no longer alone: the audience was singing along, many swaying gently to the rhythm. As the Band marched out, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers, warming up the cold Scottish night.
Ms Margaret Baxter, who had travelled from England to see the Tattoo, was captivated. Wild Mountain Thyme was excellent, I joined in as well! she said excitedly.
The show was very lively and colourful, and I loved the dancers too. I haven't stopped smiling.
And that was a send-off fit for a rock star.
Should a major disaster happen in the region, the affected country will be able to tap on a regional centre based in Singapore to coordinate better the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) efforts of foreign militaries.
Located at the Changi Command and Control (C2) Centre, the Changi Regional HADR Coordination Centre (RHCC) will be fully operational in 2015 and staffed by up to 50 personnel.
Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing marked the set-up of the RHCC by unveiling the RHCC logo on 12 Sep.
In an impending disaster, the RHCC will piece together a comprehensive situational picture of a potential disaster zone by fusing information from regional disaster early-warning centres, partner agencies, and open sources.
It will include, among other details, the likely path of destruction, possible staging areas, roads leading to the disaster zone, and existing emergency services.
The situational picture will be broadcasted to partner militaries through its OPERA Command and Control Information System (CCIS) web portal. It will be updated constantly when the disaster occurs, in particular, with data on the available aid.
By understanding the needs on the ground, militaries can better prepare their response, and minimise duplication and gaps in the provision of assistance.
If the affected country agrees, planning for a possible multinational HADR will commence at the RHCC. It will tap on a network of international liaison officers, and links with operations centres of partner militaries for tighter coordination.
If necessary, the RHCC can also deploy a mobile coordination unit to support the affected country's military in coordination efforts on the ground.
Mr Chan, who was officiating at the closing of the Regional Conference for Building Civil-Military Capacity for Disaster Relief Operations at Changi C2 Centre, explained the reasons for setting up the RHCC in his closing address.
He noted that militaries were often the first responders in a disaster because of their 24/7 readiness, but there was a need for better coordination, hence Singapore offered to host a coordination centre.
He said: The RHCC seeks to facilitate military-to-military coordination in disaster response, by supporting an Affected State's military in coordinating the foreign military assistance provided, and liaising with disaster response stakeholders.
Speaking to the media, the Singapore Armed Forces' Director of Joint Operations, Brigadier-General (BG) Desmond Tan, added that the RHCC would help to enhance military coordination that was currently done on an ad hoc basis whenever a disaster happened.
He said: What we are trying to do is to set up a permanent structure that will allow the militaries to have a single point of contact, a focal point, so that we can have more preparations before the disaster… When disaster happens, we hope that this will be the centre that can allow militaries to coordinate their efforts so that they can reach the disaster area faster and more effectively.
BG Tan said Singapore was an ideal country to host the RHCC because it was disaster free, and had the necessary infrastructure. For instance, the RHCC is tapping on the Republic of Singapore Navy's Information Fusion Centre (IFC) that is used for regional maritime security information sharing.
Mr Chan noted in his address that the RHCC, which focused on the militaries, would seamlessly complement existing coordination centres working with civilian agencies, such as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Jakarta-based ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA).
Agreeing with this point was Major-General Jet B. Velarmino, who directed the Typhoon Haiyan HADR operations in the Philippines last year.
Sharing his personal views, the Commander of 8th Division, Philippine Army, said: Instead of AHA talking to the different nations' militaries, it can be just talking to one coordinating centre, which is the RHCC, where the military capabilities are integrated.
He added: For coordination and networking, it will be easier.
To raise awareness of what National Service (NS) does for Singapore and Singaporean sons, and change the mindset of parents who may be resistant to their sons serving NS.
These are among the engagement ideas which ACCORD's Family and Community (FC) Council will be looking at to strengthen family and community support for NS, at their inaugural meeting on 12 Sep, held at SAFRA Toa Payoh.
ACCORD refers to the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence and the meeting was co-chaired by Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman and Ms Claire Chiang, Senior Vice-President of Banyan Tree Holdings.
Speaking as a mother whose son is enlisting for NS next year, Ms Joni Ong, a member of the FC Council, revealed that she was taken aback when she found out that some parents were reluctant to let their sons serve NS.
I'm quite shocked that this sentiment exists, and these same parents are the ones whose kids (will be) resistant to NS because (of) their parents, explained the President of I Love Children Organisation.
I want to go out there to educate on what NS does for our country and for our sons. And to raise public awareness that what parents say to their children will have an impact on their children's views towards NS as well.
Ms Ong belongs to one of the four working groups - strengthening and recognising family and community support for NS - which the FC Council has already formed. The other three groups will be focusing on driving and recognising community support for NS, enhancing outreach to women through women's organisations, and reaching out to New Citizens and Permanent Residents to support defence and NS.
Following the FC Council meeting in the morning, the Educational Institutions (EI) Council held their first meeting at the same place in the afternoon.
Co-chaired by Dr Maliki and Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah, the EI Council has formed five working groups to address issues such as enhancing mental and physical preparedness of pre-enlistees for NS, increasing outreach to government, private and international schools, and encouraging participation in the SAF Volunteers Corps.
EI Council member Professor Cheong Hee Kiat noted the importance of easing Full-time National Servicemen's transition back to school after their two years of NS.
He said: We will want to help them ease back in, perhaps providing some courses for them during NS, or maybe helping them adjust through the first semester in school.
The President of UniSim added that even as they go on to universities, engaging these NSmen on defence matters should not cease, as this would help them understand their roles as NSmen from a deeper perspective.
Similarly, the idea of continued education on the importance of NS was brought up when the EI Council discussed increasing outreach to primary and secondary schools.
Mrs Lucy Toh, Principal of St Andrews' Secondary School, explained that National Education was something teachers and schools took seriously, and there were always opportunities to refresh students' knowledge of NS and defence matters.
We should not assume that students will automatically understand the necessity of having to serve the country. Each generation should hear the stories of their own fathers and (male) teachers - what they went through when served their NS - and why defence continues to be important, said Mrs Toh.
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations can often be chaotic and slow due to a lack of coordination among the military forces and civilian aid agencies involved. But the first 48 hours are critical for saving lives. This is the reason HADR practitioners from the military and civilian sectors of 16 countries have gathered for a two-day conference in Singapore to foster cooperation in future HADR operations.
The Regional Conference for Building Civil-Military Capacity for Disaster Relief Operations is jointly organised by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the United States Centre for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.
Chief of Defence Lieutenant-General (LG) Ng Chee Meng opened the conference with a keynote address on 11 Sep. Speaking to more than 100 participants, he noted that no country could handle a major disaster alone, and that militaries were increasingly relied on to lead HADR operations because of their 24/7 readiness.
But he pointed out that a lack of coordination among the different militaries and civilian agencies could hamper relief effort. For instance, international aid supplies may arrive fast in the disaster-hit country, but there may be delays in delivering them to where they are most needed due to a lack of prior coordination.
If we do not foster dialogue and deeper understanding, the differences in the operating procedures and terminology of civilian agencies and militaries can be a gross impediment to relief efforts, said LG Ng.
He said: This conference hopes to do so, through promoting dialogue and discussion on key topics in disaster response, from the perspective of both the military and civilian realms.
Speakers from the militaries and civilian agencies will take turns to share their experiences from previous HADR operations. The second day of the conference will include speakers from Google and DHL. They will share insights into how technology can be tapped to boost the effectiveness of HADR operations, for instance, sharing information in real time.
The first speaker, Major General (MG) Jet B. Velarmino, Commander of 8th Division, Philippine Army, was involved in the Typhoon Haiyan HADR operation in 2013.
He recalled that the relevant local agencies were themselves hit by the typhoon, and communication links were cut off. He thus recommended that liaison officers from the various militaries, civilian agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) be stationed at the HADR operations headquarters to facilitate coordination.
This is one of the best practices that could be adopted regionally, he said.
For participant Terry Sherwood, he hoped to gain deeper insights into how the military works in HADR operations. A regional security adviser of Plan, an NGO, he was involved in delivering temporary shelters to victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
He said: I am here to learn how the top-level military people work together to get those connections going, so that we can close the gaps earlier on, and work together more effectively in disaster operations.
Following the changes to the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) to a simpler three-station format announced in July this year, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has also made the IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT) system more flexible.
The move is to encourage Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) to take personal ownership of their fitness by giving them more flexibility to plan and train, said Assistant Chief of the General Staff (Training) Colonel (COL) Ng Ying Thong.
Under the new IPT system which the SAF rolled out on 1 Sep, NSmen can choose to take part in five programmes targeted at boosting different aspects of fitness. One thing remains: NSmen will still have to meet or surpass the Personal Performance Targets set out for them when they attend the initial IPT session.
For example, NSmen who want to build their power and endurance can choose to take part in metabolic circuit training which puts them through an intensive session of kettlebell lifts and other exercises punctuated by bouts of running. For the other programmes, see infographic below.
The training is still as tough as before. Said Lance Corporal (LCP) (NS) Abdullah Zai Dani: I thought the new programmes would be easy. After I tried the metabolic circuit, it's not easy at all! He was at the Maju Fitness Conditioning Centre (FCC), located in Clementi, where the new IPT programmes are being offered to NSmen.
The 23-year-old is an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. Since completing his full-time National Service in 2012, his fitness level has dropped, and he has failed to meet the mark for his 2.4km in the IPPT. The enhanced IPT will help him do better and keep fit at the same time.
More IPT sessions and flexibility
Other changes introduced include IPT sessions being shortened to 75 minutes, down from two hours; and NSmen being able to book and do their IPT and Remedial Training (RT) sessions on the same day, when previously, they had to book IPT and RT by 12pm for next-day sessions.
There will also be more sessions for IPT and RT sessions at the FCCs on weekdays and weekends. Lunch-time IPT sessions will also be trialled.
We will conduct lunch-hour sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays to see what the take-up rate is like, said COL Ng.
The reason for all these changes? To give NSmen more flexibility in getting fit, in the hope that more will make fitness a part of their daily lives. We are moving from a one-size-fits-all approach for IPT and RT, to one that gives NSmen more choices, said COL Ng.
We are giving NSmen more flexibility because we believe that by doing that, we can encourage greater ownership (of fitness) which will eventually lead to better fitness levels.
And it is clearly working. I prefer to have choice. The time spent is quite intense. The next day my muscles always feel a little sore, said Corporal (CPL) (NS) Yau Chee Ming, 36. He has been volunteering for IPT for the past five cycles, after struggling to pass IPPT.
The new IPT format is also rewarding because it gives me the flexibility to manage my time to keep fit and I can feel myself improving.
The new IPT system sees trainer-to-trainee ratio drop from 1-to-50 to a smaller 1-to-30 class. Fitness trainer Tan Wei Xian commented that having smaller group sizes helps him to coach NSmen better.
The high-intensity training is effective because it causes a spike in their metabolic rate. It also gives NSmen a good challenge - those who are fitter can push themselves while the less fit ones can do it at their own pace.
IPT in the park
In the same vein of giving NSmen more choices when it comes to fitness, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be rolling out a four-month trial of a new initiative called IPT-in-the-park.
Under the new initiative, the SAF will take IPT out of the FCCs into five locations across the island.
The whole idea is to bring IPT nearer to where NSmen work and live so that they can better manage their NS and other responsibilities, said COL Chua Boon Keat, Head of the National Service Affairs Department.
The trial of IPT-in-the-park will start on 18 Sep.
Commenting on the slew of recent changes to the SAF's physical fitness system, COL Ng said: We are constantly trying to help our NSmen keep fit.
These changes are in line with the SAF's holistic approach to fitness. The whole SAF fitness system comprises two parts: the physical fitness and combat fitness systems, explained COL Ng.
In September 2010, the SAF revised the combat fitness system with changes to the Standard Obstacle Course, and the introduction of Vocation Obstacle Course and Vocation-Related Exercises.
It's timely (to make these changes to IPT) because we have looked into combat fitness, looked at IPPT, and now IPT, said COL Ng.
These enhancements to the IPT system follow changes to IPPT announced in July this year. The IPPT has been simplified to a three-station test comprising push-ups, sit-ups and a 2.4km run.
Naval divers are all they are made out to be - hardy, resilient and calm in the face of danger. The Naval Diving Unit (NDU) opens its doors for a rare glimpse into a week of the Combat Diver Course (CDC). Pass this week and they get to call themselves frogmen.
When people think of the Air Force, it's usually the pilots and fighter planes which come to mind. But behind them, there is a team of people working silently and tirelessly.
Sometimes, it's nice to shine the spotlight on those behind the scenes.
Beneath the Above All motto of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) lies a crew of ground personnel who make up the majority of the Air Force. Among them are the Air Force Engineers (AFEs) from 9 Air Engineering and Logistics Group (9 AELG).
Formerly known as the Air Engineering and Logistics Squadron, 9 AELG was inaugurated in May this year, comprising two new squadrons - 809 Squadron (SQN) and 819 SQN.
The newer generations of air defence systems are networked and utilise a wider range of technologies, so they require more expertise and a deeper understanding of the technologies to keep them running smoothly, said Military Expert (ME) 4-2 Kenneth Tang, Officer-in-Charge of Electro Mechanical Systems Flight from 819 SQN.
The restructuring (to 9 AELG)allows us to make better use of our resources and time to build up our expertise (in maintenance and engineering) to keep our systems more reliable.
809 SQN focuses on providing day-to-day maintenance and immediate recovery of air defence systems, while 819 SQN resolves complex platform-level defects and prevents them from occurring again.
Maintaining day-to-day ops
The primary role of the squadron is to recover these air defence assets such that we sustain 24/7 air defence operations, said ME 5-1 Edwin Leong.
The Officer Commanding of Integrated Maintenance Flight, Command and Control (C2) from 809 SQN explained that the squadron maintains a range of weapons, sensors and C2 systems.
Among them is the Portable Search and Target Acquisition Radar (PSTAR), which ME1-1 Yong Siang maintains.
On a regular basis, the 22-year-old conducts checks on the physical condition of the system to look for corrosion or loose cable connections, and also to check whether the system is functioning according to specifications. If he finds any faults, he has to fix them on the spot.
Some defects can be fixed quickly, and they (809 SQN) can swop out the unserviceable item. For others, we would need to run more analytics to identify the fault. There are different components in each system and a fault could be caused by multiple components, said ME4-2 Tang.
He added that as engineers, 819 SQN's role was to study defect trends, assess if there are any reliability concerns and propose improvements.
For instance, ME1-1 Jolean Lim used to handle maintenance of the C2 systems, but now, as part of 819 SQN, she has to study and further analyse the system in order to fix complex faults and prevent them from happening again.
We primarily work to recover the system immediately so that it does not affect operations. But later, we analyse the fault to find out the root cause of failure, said the 26-year-old.
Since the inauguration of 9 AELG, the AFEs have had more time to focus on their designated field of expertise.
ME2-1 Ganesan, an AFE from 809 SQN, explained: Now, my only aim is to maintain these systems and make sure that when my ops unit requires the system, it is serviceable for the mission. Each squadron can just focus on their respective roles.
Through taking up courses, making sure that the manuals they use are up to date and passing on knowledge to new AFEs, the 29-year-old ensures that no new system falls short of being operationally ready.
For 809 SQN, the challenge now is to rectify faults within a shorter time and get familiar with new systems faster. For 819 SQN, the challenge comes from learning new systems, such as the Surface-to-Air PYthon and DERby (SPYDER), from scratch. Explained ME4-2 Tang: When we bought traditional systems, things were more established.
Now that we're buying or coming up with new systems, it's uncharted territory and more difficult for us as there are no past lessons or experiences we can glean from.
Despite these challenges, the 28-year-old is happier. Having always had a passion for engineering, he enjoys being able to explore deeper issues and boost the reliability of the systems.
The solutions that I implement will help the systems stay up for a longer period of time in the future, he said with a smile.
For ME1-1 Lim, working with more weapons is something that she is looking forward to, as she has always wanted to explore different systems and understand them better.
There'll be lots of preparation. With every new system, we'll need to work closely with the manufacturer to understand all the nuts and bolts, so it's going to be busier. But it's very fulfilling because I know what I do helps to keep our air defence network intact and our skies safe.
With the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) new advanced jet trainer Alenia Aermacchi M-346, fighter pilot trainees can now train in more realistic air combat environments, handle sophisticated systems early in their training, and be better equipped for fighter operations.
The RSAF marked a milestone in its transformation of flying training as it inaugurated the M-346 aircraft into 150 Squadron (SQN) on 3 Sep at Cazaux Air Base in France. Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, who officiated at the inauguration ceremony, highlighted the enhancements to the quality and realism of the RSAF’s fighter flying training that the M-346 aircraft has brought about.
The M-346 - its aerodynamic performance, excellent handling qualities and modern avionics systems - allows our pilots to be better trained, he said, adding that the advanced jet trainer stood out from its predecessors because it could expose pilot trainees to realistic operational environments at the early stage of their training.
Acquired in 2010 as part of the RSAF's Advanced Jet Trainer replacement programme to replace the A-4SU Super Skyhawk, the M-346 aircraft replicates the flight performance and avionics of advanced modern-day fighter aircraft. The RSAF took delivery of the first aircraft in 2012. To date, it has received the full fleet of 12 M-346 jet trainers.
Noting that the global industry of fighter planes was undergoing revolutionary technological change, Dr Ng said the introduction of the M-346 aircraft was timely as it would enable a smooth transition from the advanced fighter jet trainers to the actual fighter aircraft.
On the capabilities which the M-346 aircraft brings to the RSAF, Commanding Officer 150 SQN Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Kelvin Wan said: The M-346 aircraft 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 aircraft.
At the inauguration ceremony, Dr Ng also commended the air and ground crew of 150 SQN for their competence and dedication, which were evident in their recent achievements. In February, the squadron became the first in the world to operationalise the M-346 aircraft for its ab-initio (starting from scratch) aircrew training. In March, it produced the first pilot trainee in the world to fly solo on the advanced jet trainer. Maintaining high safety standards, the squadron achieved its first 1000 accident-free hours on the M-346 aircraft in June. In the same month, 150 SQN participated in the Cazaux Air Show with a combined aerial fly-past of three M-346s with the French Alpha jets.
Sharing his thoughts on being the first pilot trainee who flew solo on the advanced jet trainer, Lieutenant (LTA) Pan Shang Hua said: I'm definitely proud and honoured to be the first student pilot to fly solo on the M-346.
I think it reflects very well on the confidence that the RSAF has in the aircraft, as well as the confidence the instructors have in me.
The inauguration of the M-346 aircraft into 150 SQN also marked the significance of the RSAF's overseas training in honing its operational readiness and professionalism, and in enhancing bilateral defence ties with the host country. The RSAF's training in France began in 1998, and both air forces agreed in 2011 to extend the Cazaux detachment to 2035.
Dr Ng, who is in France for an introductory visit, also met French Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, and visited the French Analysis Centre for Defensive Cyber Operations.
The Employer and Business Council (EB) of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) planned to form three working groups at its inaugural meeting at SAFRA Toa Payoh on 1 Sep.
The three working groups will look into the areas of challenges which Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) face when supporting National Service (NS), how to better recognise skills and competencies Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) pick up during NS as well as possible areas for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to work together with business communities.
Mr Thomas Chua, President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry noted that due to the manpower shortage which local business are facing, the EB council provided a good opportunity to collaborate with MINDEF and the SAF to equip NSmen with relevant industry skills and to better match them to companies.
Co-chaired by 2nd Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing and Executive Chairman of Asia Resource Corporation Tony Chew, the meeting was attended by leaders from different sectors of the business community.
Commenting on the importance of the council as a bridge between the NS business worlds, Mr Chew said: NS is an important and integral part of Singapore's defence. We are participating in the EB Council because we believe that our inputs and recommendations can improve the support and integrations between the business community and NSmen.
Although most of the council members were from the older generation of NSmen and do not have up-to-date knowledge on the current NS trainings and programs for NSmen, Mr Chua felt that this put the council in a good position to improve understanding between older and younger NSmen in the area of NS commitment.
The ACCORD EB Council is one of the three councils formed after the restructuring of ACCORD. It serves as a forum to engage the business community on NS issues and to strengthen collaboration between the community and MINDEF and the SAF.
In the post-9/11 era, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has to not only protect our skies from conventional threats but also plug aviation security gaps. Here's a look at how it keeps our busy airspace safe.
An aircraft requests an emergency landing in Singapore because of an engine fault. But what follows is a bout of radio silence. Could it be a hijacked plane in disguise?
Taking no chances, the RSAF scrambles its fighter jets to check on and escort the aircraft. At the same time, its Ground-Based Air Defence (GBAD) units adopt a state of high readiness.
This is one of the scenarios the RSAF has prepared for since the fateful 9/11 terrorist attack. Like many countries, Singapore stepped up security measures to prevent terrorists from turning a hijacked plane into a suicide attack.
To deal with such complex, transnational peacetime threats as well as traditional threats, the RSAF started building up a Third Generation Networked Multi-layered Island Air Defence System.
In recent years, it has brought in advanced platforms such as the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft and the Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby (SPYDER) missile system. These and other capabilities are networked to enable the RSAF to see further and respond faster and more effectively.
Eyes on the sky
All air defence operations are managed and planned by the RSAF's Air Defence and Operations Command (ADOC). Whether during times of peace or conflict, potential threats have to be identified early.
With the rise of terrorism, the need for early detection has grown exponentially because terrorists do not follow the rules of conventional warfare - the threat is unknown, can come from anywhere, and strike suddenly.
Singapore's skies are always monitored round the clock. The 24/7 nerve centre of the RSAF's air defence system, comprising a group of air traffic and air defence controllers, watches over Singapore's skies using a suite of long-, medium- and short-range military sensors.
The data collected from the different sensors, including civilian air traffic radars, are fused to form a complete air picture. The surveillance is an intense task; at any point in time, Air Warfare Officers (Command, Control and Communications) and Air Operations and Systems Experts can be staring at over 200 blips on the screen.
Each blip represents an aircraft or a possible aircraft, and each has to be identified using information from civilian aviation and intelligence agencies. Based on the information, the controllers have to detect questionable aircraft from the sea of blips through their flight characteristics, track them and watch for any further suspicious movements.
We can check with various agencies to assess the pilot's intent. We need to know where the aircraft has been, who the passengers are, and whether there are people among them who might be of concern to us, said Commander of ADOC, Brigadier-General (BG) Cheng Siak Kian.
And if someone claims to have a weapon or bomb on board, we would need the intelligence agencies to provide us with details about that person.
The RSAF not only has a robust surveillance system and information network to identify and track potential threats, it can orchestrate a rapid and effective response.
The RSAF's fleet of F-16, F-15SG and F-5 fighter jets are on 24/7 standby on a rotational basis; they can be scrambled for operations in a matter of minutes.
The same goes for its GBAD units which operate an array of surface-to-air missile systems such as the I-Hawk and SPYDER systems.
The operations of the fighter jets and GBAD units are tightly orchestrated by the air defence control team.
When activated, the pilots and GBAD operators have to adhere to a strict set of rules of engagement - manoeuvring to intercept the threat, conducting visual checks, escorting the aircraft or even firing warning shots - while reporting their observations to the control team.
These drills are practised regularly and in great detail. The activation plan was put to a real test in 2008 when an unknown light aircraft was detected heading towards Singapore without an approved flight plan.
The response from the RSAF was quick and decisive. Two armed F-16D+ fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the errant plane, and GBAD units readied their weapon systems. The Cessna turboprop plane was eventually escorted to Changi Airport without incident.
BG Cheng noted that although the incident turned out to be a false alarm, it proved that the RSAF was always ready when called upon. Even if there was a real threat, the show of presence by the RSAF in the air would discourage anyone with ill intent from taking their chance.
The fact that the fighter pilots are going to be there to present themselves, to direct the aircraft, and deter them from flying certain flight profiles - that's something that will certainly factor into the (intruder's) psyche.
The RSAF has a multi-layered air defence system. The outer range is covered by the fighter jets, while the inner ranges are covered by various GBAD surface-to-air platforms such as the I-Hawk system and SPYDER.
These assets are networked to prevent a single point of failure. If any single sensor or weapon system is down, it will have minimal impact on the air defence system as other systems can continue to function.
Networking also provides greater strike effectiveness. In the past, a weapon system or shooter relies on its own sensor to detect and track targets. But today, the shooters and sensors are connected. Tracking data from a particular sensor, such as the FPS 117 or Giraffe Agile Multiple Beam (AMB) Radar, can be relayed to the shooter most suitable to eliminate a particular threat.
The whole idea is to allow you to centrally command these weapon systems on the network. More importantly, we can now select the best shooter, using the best tracking radars, to intercept any incoming targets more efficiently and effectively, said BG Cheng.
The RSAF is also constantly improving its air defence system to deal with emerging threats. For instance, the SPYDER, which was brought into the RSAF in 2011, has the capability to intercept precision munitions. And the G550-AEW aircraft, which has a detection range of over 200 nautical miles, was brought in to provide an extended range of surveillance.
Going forward, the RSAF will be replacing the I-Hawk system with the ASTER-30 Missile System. The next generation surface-to-air missile system can take out fighter aircraft up to 70km away.
BG Cheng said: We have built an Island Air Defence System that allows us to defend the country from a wider range of threats that we may face, both now and into the future.
He added, however, that it is the servicemen, and not the hardware, that allow the RSAF to provide this high level of assurance to Singaporeans.
Post-9/11, the need for a 24/7, very high level of vigilance and alertness to survey the skies became more pronounced. It is a highly demanding job, and we couldn't do it without the dedication of our people in the RSAF.
Ready to scramble
What happens when a possible airborne threat is detected? In the case of 145 Squadron (SQN) which operates the F-16D+ fighter jets, an alert upgrade announcement would be heard over the Air Base.
Pilots and Weapon Systems Officers (WSOs) (Fighter) on standby duty would drop whatever they are doing, grab their flight helmet and gear, and dash to their jets. Every second counts during a scramble.
In just a matter of minutes, they would be up in the skies en route to their objective. Their mission in such cases would typically include visual identification, intercept and escort of the unknown aircraft.
The fighter jets act as the eyes in the sky for the air defence controllers on the ground.
From the lessons learnt from 9/11, hijacked aircraft may pose as aircraft in distress. Obviously, the air controllers won't be able to know what's really happening, said pilot Lieutenant (LTA) Emil Vincent Lau.
So they send us up to be their eyes in the sky. And from there we will be able to make the recommendation whether to escort them or to turn them away from Singapore.
The pilots are trained to react in a variety of scenarios and keep a lookout for trigger points: Is the errant pilot responsive and forthcoming? Is he under duress? Is the aircraft turning in a direction that it is not supposed to go?
The pilots then relay information to the air defence control team, and the executive officers on duty - a senior RSAF commander and his command team - will decide on an appropriate response.
The process is very fast. But we have trained extensively...and are prepared to take appropriate action without hesitation when the time comes.
Sense of responsibility
The I-Hawk operators from 163 SQN know that they hold great responsibility in protecting the national airspace because after the fighter jets, they are the next layer of Singapore's air defence.
Deployed 24/7 across Singapore, they operate the only medium-to-high altitude air defence surface-to-air missile system in the RSAF's GBAD arsenal.
We find the work purposeful because we're protecting the airspace so that Singaporeans can sleep soundly at night, said Captain (CPT) Randall Wu, a Fire Unit commander. He completed his full-time national service (NS) as an officer in 163 SQN but found his work so meaningful that he signed on as a Regular.
Similarly, Corporal (CPL) Ong Jun Yong, a full-time national serviceman (NSF), feels strongly about his role as an Air Defence Weapon Operator.
He said: Not every NSF has the chance to do live ops daily. If there are any threats, we have to be ready to engage them to protect Singapore.
The 20-year-old will be extending his NS by three months next year to hone his proficiency in his first live-firing exercise.
You don't get this chance very often. So I want to grab it to gain the experience.
Apart from peacetime deployments, 163 SQN also trains its troops for wartime scenarios in which operators have to move out in the field, and set up the I-Hawk system. To sharpen their skills, they take part in high-profile exercises such as the Five Power Defence Arrangements exercises. Such multilateral training allows them to practise tracking fighter jets flying through a larger airspace.
Can these servicemen live up to their responsibility?
There is only one answer for 1st Sergeant (1SG) Thiyagaraj S/O Subramaniam, an Air Defence Systems Specialist. We have been through deployments, we know the capability of our system and we know we can engage a target. If a situation calls for it, we know we are competent and able to defend Singapore.
What you need to know about the changes.
There comes a time each year when all Singaporean men must jump, crunch, sprint, pull and run in the name of defence.
From April next year, this will be reduced to pump, crunch and run as the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) is simplified to a three-station format (instead of five).
If you do not already know, the new three-station IPPT consists of push-ups (new), sit-ups and a 2.4km run.
Speaking to local media on the changes to IPPT on 23 Jul, Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Perry Lim said: We will introduce a simpler IPPT format with fewer stations so that our servicemen can train for IPPT on their own without the need for specialised equipment.
The transition will be gradual, he added. We are prepared to give NSmen (Operationally Ready National Servicemen) an option to do the existing five-station format or the new format for one to two years after April next year.
The goal is to get everyone more involved in keeping fit, he noted. We want our NSmen to take ownership of their physical fitness.
Easier to train for
For NSmen like Captain (CPT) (NS) Lim Seow Lye, the simplified IPPT format makes it easier for him to train for the annual test. I can easily train for the two new static stations at home, he said. To train for the old five-station IPPT, some equipment, such as pull-up bars, is needed.
Like many NSmen, the 34-year-old juggles work, family and NS commitments. CPT (NS) Lim is a manager at Certis Cisco and serves in a National Service (NS) Guards unit.
Being able to train for his IPPT easily at home is a benefit to him. That way, my wife won't nag that I leave her alone to manage the kid and housework! he laughed.
Simpler scoring system
The scoring system will also change to a simpler format. Soldiers will earn points for their performance in each of the three stations. And the entire IPPT will be scored upon a maximum of 100 points.
Explained Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen in a Facebook post on 23 Jul: This way, soldiers can make up through more sit-ups, if they are weak in push-ups and running, or vice versa. There's a limit to how much you can make up, but I like this counting system because it encourages NSmen to max out on each station and it plays to the individual's strengths.
The 2.4km run carries the heaviest weightage. Soldiers can potentially score up to 50 points for the run. Push-ups and sit-ups carry a maximum of 25 points each.
For NSmen the magic number is 51. That's the number of points they need to pass the new IPPT format. For Full-time National Servicemen and Regulars, the bar is set higher at 61 points. They are held to a higher passing standard because fitness training is incorporated into their work and training routine.
Fewer IPPT stations do not mean a lowering of the bar. For example, to just meet the passing grade, a typical 30-year-old NSman who is weak in the 2.4km run will still need to clock a run-timing of 13min 50s (for 25 points), 27 sit-ups in a minute (for 13 points) and 21 push-ups in a minute (for another 13 points).
Said Colonel (COL) (NS) Bervyn Lee, commander of an NS brigade: To do well in the three stations still requires effort. (And) we shouldn’t allow three or five stations to define our fitness… My fitness is mine and mine alone to take care of.
COL (NS) Lee holds a PhD in Sports and Exercise Psychology, and is a member of the SAF fitness advisory board.
Our servicemen will still need to train to pass IPPT. To achieve Gold and Silver will be just as challenging as before, said MG Lim.
The new IPPT format was designed as part of the SAF's holistic fitness regime. Explaining the move, MG Lim said: Over the past few years, we have implemented a revised combat fitness training and test regime for our soldiers.
Other military forces have also moved away from the older, more onerous physical fitness test formats. The United Kingdom military puts its soldiers through a similar test of push-ups, sit-ups and a beep-test. A beep-test is a series of short sprints in time to recorded beeps (hence the name) which measures aerobic fitness like the 2.4km run. The SAF builds up the combat fitness of its soldiers through the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC), Vocation Obstacle Course (VOC) and Vocation-Related Exercises (VREs). The VOC and VREs were implemented in September 2010.
The VREs are developed in line with sports science principles of progressive training and specificity, targeting muscle groups relevant for the combat task, said Dr Roger Tian, a sports physician from Changi General Hospital, at the launch of the redesigned SOC.
Regular route marches and field exercises also help develop soldiers' combat fitness.
Having implemented an effective combat fitness regime, we think it is timely for us to review our IPPT, which is a test of physical fitness, said MG Lim.
Age categories have also been re-looked and shortened. Instead of five-year bands, servicemen will now be held to different physical fitness standards every three years. The new age category system is more sensitive to the effects of age on physical fitness, said MG Lim.
For example, an NSman within the 34-to-36 age group will need to perform 35 push-ups in a minute for 20 points, 35 sit-ups in a minute for 20 points and run 2.4km in 10min 40s for 41 points. This gives him a total of 81 points which qualifies him for the IPPT Gold award.
Drop one age-band, and the NSman will have to do 36 push-ups in a minute, 36 sit-ups in the same time and run the 2.4km distance in 10min 30s.
For elite units in the SAF such as the Commandos, naval divers and Guardsmen, the bar for IPPT Gold is a minimum of 85 points.
More time for IPPT
From 1 Sep, NSmen will have a year to clear their IPPT, IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT) and Remedial Training (RT) requirements. The current system gives NSmen nine months to clear IPPT and IPT, then a further three months to clear RT if needed.
Under the new system, soldiers must attempt and pass the IPPT within 12 months of their birthdays. NSmen can also opt for a 10-session IPT programme.
The extra time is welcome for NSmen like Corporal (NS) Azfar Bin Hashim. Having a 12-month window on top of the simpler IPPT format really means that NSmen have no excuse to fail, said the 30-year-old writer, who served NS as a Close Combat Instructor with the Army Fitness Centre.
The award money for doing well in IPPT has also been raised by $100 across the board. Achieving the Gold standard now nets NSmen a $500 cash award (compared to $400 under the old system) and a Pass with incentive comes with a $200 award.
IPT and RT as NSmen know it will also change from 1 Sep. Training will move away from IPPT-centric exercises and include more varied workouts such as high-intensity circuit training and sports-fitness classes like kick-boxing.
The IPT and RT class sizes will also be reduced from 50 to 30, so that fitness trainers can better coach each participant. Training sessions will also be shortened to about 75 minutes, as compared to two hours. To provide more convenience for NSmen, the Fitness Conditioning Centres where IPT and RT are conducted will extend their opening hours and offer more sessions on weekday nights and weekends.
Currently there are IPT sessions available every weeknight, with the exception of Fridays. On weekends there is one session on Saturdays and two on Sundays.
Another change: NSmen will be able to book IPT and RT sessions on the same day. Currently NSmen must book their sessions at least 24 hours in advance.
I think the SAF has done its best to help and encourage NSmen to keep in peak fitness. Seriously, kudos to the SAF, said Lieutenant (NS) Gerald Tan, a Business Development Manager who serves as a Motor Transport Officer in the 428th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment.
He had one suggestion: Maybe we can keep the old IPPT for NSFs and NSmen can do the new (three-station) IPPT.
He's probably not the most popular NSman with the NSF population right now.
For more information on the new IPPT format and fitness system, check out mindef.sg/newippt1!
The Sunday got off to a running start for more than 46,000 people, who took to the Marina Bay area in the early morning of 31 Aug for the SAFRA Singapore Bay Run and Army Half Marathon (SSBR AHM) 2014.
One of Singapore's oldest long-distance running events, the SSBR AHM are jointly organised by SAFRA and the Army, and seek to promote bonding and fitness as a lifestyle among Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) national servicemen and their families.
And this year, the event's objectives were clearly met: Not only was there an increase in the number of immediate family members participating in the various events with SAF Regulars and national servicemen (up to 3,500 from last year's 2,974), but the number of runners taking on the longer 21km race had grown as well. Of the 21,800 21km-route participants, 84 percent were SAF Regulars and national servicemen, an encouraging eight percent higher than last year.
Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing, who flagged off the SAFRA 5km Fun Run and Families for Life 800m Father and Child Challenge, said: Our aim is to encourage a culture of fitness within the SAF and particularly in the Army. This year… we saw more and more people taking up the longer distances, namely the 21km and 10km (races).
One in four participants in the 21km race this year were NSmen (operationally-ready national servicemen) participating for the first time. So, we are very happy that the fitness culture has been taking root in the SAF.
Mr Chan also took on the 5km route after the flag-off, together with Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman and Minister of Parliament for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng.
On improvements made to the race routes this year, Mr Chan said: I've gotten feedback that the (participants) are generally very happy with the route this year. The organisers have gotten rid of some of the choke-points, so they had a much smoother run.
A familiar sight at the event were flag-bearing SAF formations completing the races together. Lieutenant (LTA) (NS) Alvin Lee from 2 General Supply and Transport Battalion was a part of the Combat Service Support Command (CSSCOM) contingent, which comprised Regulars, NSmen and full-time national servicemen (NSFs).
To prepare for the 21km race, the NSmen began training together in June. LTA (NS) Lee described his experience: We met every Sunday to train in East Coast Park. The NSFs and Regulars, who trained in their respective camps, would also join us on the Sundays. During the race, we tried to stay together to help pace each other and ensure better timings. To motivate the runners, we would call out each other's names and cheer for them.
He added: I think the Army did a good job, especially in calling the NSmen back to participate in the run. I can keep in touch with my friends and also get updates on Army matters.
And with 737 father-and-child pairs taking part, this year's Families for Life 800m Father and Child Challenge broke the record for the Largest Father and Child Race. At the post-race carnival in the Padang, kids got to try out fun-style challenges inspired by the SAF Standard Obstacle Course (SOC), such as crawling through tunnels and racing up an inflatable Apex ladder.
Lance Corporal (LCP) (NS) Jason Ho, who had just completed his third Father and Child Challenge, was accompanying his son, four-year-old Jayen, on the miniature balancing bridge.
Explaining why he always looked forward to participating in the SSBR AHM, LCP (NS) Ho said: It's a good way to spend family time together. Jayen also enjoys the experience of running. (At the start of the Challenge,) he couldn't wait to start running, and I had to ask him to stop! The 800m distance was just right as well.
As for the fun-style SOC, I told him that in the Army, he would have to go through the obstacle course. This is for kids, so he wanted to try it out, he added.