Singapore Air Show

S’pore takes the netcentric challenge

 - December 1, 2006, 9:42 AM

Significant local progress in network-centric military operations was reported here Monday at the C4I Asia conference by Singapore defense officials. They described recent Singapore armed forces (SAF) exercises and gave pointers about future development in what they call IKC2 (integrated knowledge-based command and control).

Chief defense scientist Prof. Liu Pao Chuen called for collaboration in this field. He revealed that an “Open Command and Control Center” would be built at Changi naval base so prospective coalition partners could practice interoperability with the SAF. He also said that the SAF wanted to replace its aging Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye AEW&C aircraft with a system that was “much more capable in spatial and temporal resolution.”  

According to Liu, the Singapore army has lagged the air force and navy in adapting to the new information age. That is now changing, a process aided by the development of a “common dictionary” for the SAF. This tool to break down the operational boundaries between air, sea and land forces surprisingly took five years to develop, said Liu. The SAF’s move to a so-called 3G (third-generation) environment has also been aided by a top-level study named DIANE (digital analysis environment). This study was jointly conducted by the Defense Science Organisation here and the Arlington Institute of the U.S.  

Liu’s other main points were:

• Armed forces should adapt the very capable commercial technology that was now available, such as high-resolution space imaging and extensive mobile phone networks;

• Sensing and sense-making is a force multiplier and “the secret edge of military forces”;

• Leadership can change rapidly in a network, and must be decentralized;

• The boundaries between intelligence and operations must be breached;

• Cyberspace is the fourth dimension of warfare and must be mastered.  

Col. David Koh, the SAF’s head of Joint Communications and Information Systems, briefed conference delegates on Exercise Wallaby, a division-level exercise held in Australia during which SAF ground units communicated via a continuous wi-fi infrastructure and used Internet chat functions. Then he described the combined arms Exercise Forging Sabre held in the U.S. late last year.

Finally he related the SAF’s contribution to the Tsunami relief operations in Indonesia a year ago. This comprised 19 aircraft, 62 vehicles and 1,200 people and a satellite-based communications system that worked so well that the SAF Operations Center in Medan “quickly became a magnet for all those who wanted to know what was really happening on the ground.”

Teo Chin Hock, director of C4IT at Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), warned that despite miniaturization, communications devices used by net-enabled military forces still needed a stable power source. Until new power sources such as solar or hydrogen fuel cells were perfected, he advised, “Don’t forget the batteries!” Then there was the perennial problem of bandwidth, which he hopes might be solved by 2012 when 4G mobile telephony networks could offer 100 mbps globally and 1 gbps locally.

Teo also remarked on how netcentric warfare was changing the fundamental cost equations of the defense business. For instance, expensive air defence systems that employ conventional kinetic missile attack techniques, might not defeat a “swarm attack” by cheap unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs). The answer might be to develop “soft” kill methods such as electronic or laser attack.