Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A deep, dark, secret love affair (Part 3)

Foundations of the air force

The small Israeli team in Singapore was augmented by professional military advisers for the various corps. The chief armored corps officer, Major General Avraham Adan, arrived to give advice on procuring armored vehicles. In 1968, Adam Tzivoni, a retired colonel who had been head of the planning and weapons branch in the air force, was appointed adviser to the Singapore Armed Forces in regard to the creation of an air force.

"As compensation for the hasty departure of the British army, the British government gave Singapore a grant of 50 million pounds to acquire British-made aerial systems: planes, helicopters and surface-to-air missiles," Tzivoni relates. "The British didn't like me at all. My first task was to approve the deals. It turned out that the English tried to sell Singapore junk. Apart from a deal for Hunters, I vetoed all the deals."

Under Tzivoni's supervision, a flight school was established in Singapore, as well as a technical school, a squadron of Alouette 3 helicopters was purchased and 40 mm anti-aircraft guns were acquired.

Uzis and Israeli marching songs

After the creation of the Singaporean army's infantry regiments, the question arose of what weapons the nascent armed forces would use. The commanding officers wanted the Uzi, the Israeli submachine gun. The Israeli team took an objective view and rejected the idea. True, the Uzi was considered a superb weapon in the 1960s, but only for short ranges. A regular army needs an assault rifle, the Israeli team asserted. Representatives of Israel Military Industries exerted pressure on the Defense Ministry to sell the new Galil assault rifle. However, the team decided that the rifle wasn't yet full ready and recommended the American M-16.

Another major headache for the Israelis concerned the decision about which mortars to procure for the new army. Infantry regiments are equipped with 60 - 52 mm and 18 mm mortars. The weapons, which were developed and manufactured by the Soltam company, based in the town of Yokne'am, were sold to the Israel Defense Forces and exported worldwide. "Even though we thought these were the best mortars, we decided not to recommend them but to make use of an independent source in order to reach a decision," says Yehuda Golan, a member of the team sent to Singapore.

The Israeli team asked a British firm that dealt in organization and consultation on military subjects to examine a series of mortars and recommend the best one. The report stated that the best of the lot was an 18 mm mortar manufactured in Britain. However, considering the price, the recommendation was to buy the Soltam product. The Singapore Armed Forces acquired the Israeli mortar.

"The Israelis emphasized military skills and high motivation. Smartness on parade and military tattoo, the SAF [Singapore Armed Forces] never learned from the `Mexicans.' Whatever smartness the SAF had" derived from the British officers who commanded the army's first two regiments, Lee writes.

"Our motto was that we would not stick our nose into what the Singaporeans could do themselves," Golan notes. "They wanted us to organize the Independence Day parade for them. We argued that a state military parade reflects the country's mentality and its history." The Singaporeans didn't make an issue of it. However, they had a problem that demanded an immediate solution - which marches to play as the soldiers marched in unison. The head of the Israeli mission, Yaakov Elazari, brought notes from Israel and the Singapore army strode to Israeli marching songs.

The jungle combat manual

The Singaporeans took the Israelis by surprise when they insisted on getting a course on jungle combat. Singapore has a tiny natural jungle of no more than five or six square kilometers, but the neighboring states have larger jungles. Yehuda Golan: "I told them they were right but that I wasn't the right guy, because I knew nothing about jungles." Nevertheless, the Israeli team began to find out how to cope with the subject. It was decided to send two Singapore officers as guests of the Malaysian army for a course on jungle combat.

"Three months later, the two officers returned with the knowledge they acquired in Malaysia, and we decided to conduct a course in jungle combat," Golan continues. "Out of curiosity, I decided to join. It looked very bad - it was clear that they had taught them British methods from the Second World War period. I decided to take a group of 10 officers. We entered the jungle and started to engage in war games. We trained in navigation, deploying forces, search and assault. We went through the American training manuals on combat in Vietnam. We developed methods of night navigation. We learned how to function with a fighting company in the dense undergrowth. After a few weeks of training, I wrote the training manual of the Singapore Armed Forces for jungle combat."

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