Sunday, February 13, 2005

Operation Flying Eagle 

Lzydata of Singapore Ink looks at the story of Operation Flying Eagle — the Singapore Armed Forces’ tsunami relief deployment — and wonders how the SAF would perform in a large-scale overseas deployment.

[T]he larger issue here may be the lack of “jointness” in our SAF as a whole - they “have never trained together before” & all that. ... One wonders how the “landlubbers” most of our Army may be would cope in the event of a large-scale overseas deployment. In a less peaceful operational environment than Meulaboh, to what extent will their capability be affected because of lack of experience in training & familiarity with the Navy & Air Force? Surely we can expect our people to, at the very least, hitch a ride without becoming sick, especially when their real work awaits them at their destination. What about food for not just 470, but thousands? Would we airlift NTUC foodfare people in? Do they even expect to be deployed militarily like this?

... I can think of one response to my doubts: the bulk of our Army is not intended to be an expeditionary force; it only needs to defend & proceed from our ground. That is quite possible, but the merits of such a doctrine is questionable. Even as the success of Operation Flying Eagle is laudable, it exposes some institutional problems we may have to think about.
Huichieh of From a Singapore Angle is more sanguine.

I’m not all that surprise at the supposed “lack of jointness” exhibited (people not having trained together). Training for rapid deployment on LSTs overseas is still comparatively new to us, and besides, what kind of message would our neighbors be getting if we are always practicing for that.

In any case, this is hardly the usual combat deployment. But that said, there is certainly much that the SAF could work on, and I’m sure Operation Flying Eagle gave it the golden opportunity to evaluate existing equipment, methods, prodecures, etc, in ways that more set piece exercises would not be able to. All in all, the men and women of the SAF are to be commended for pulling it off...

One thing that really struck me about the (professional) SAF personnel--they embodied the very “initiative” and “thinking out of the box” that our education system tries so hard to cultivate (with debatable success).
I agree with Lzydata that there is much that the SAF must learn to build up a credible expeditionary capability. In fact, in view of its general lack of combat experience, that is true of many other operational aspects as well.

But as Huichieh points out, that is where experiences like Operation Flying Eagle can help. And his comment on initiative and thinking out of the box is also worth highlighting; in real operations, things seldom go according to plan, so such abilities are often critical.

On a more general note, my own view of the SAF is that it is not as good as it claims to be — but then, which army is? What may be more important is not whether the SAF is good but whether its potential adversaries are worse.


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