The Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) was on high alert when they received intel that a woman might be boarding an aircraft from China with a bomb to the Pearl of the Orient. Since, the airport has deployed the Airport Security Unit across the complex and that itself has created a stir in local social media.
The social media contributors compare the fit Man-hunt quality of the HK ASU to our SAF/Police patrol in Changi Airport, and the difference is quite stark. Some commented on the lack of proper equipment for these young troopers, and most flamed their young, and petite stature of these NSFs, which may not be a appropriate deterrence to potential terror or criminal suspects. Further posts in the forum will see pictures of SWAT styled airport police from South Korea.
I, personally have the seen the above trio and other troopers in Changi airport. While I do not doubt the training they received, and often ponder on the readiness and image projection from these troopers. The HK ASU is a dedicated special force set up in 1977 tasked primarily for airport security and counter terrorism. Now, compared to the mentioned ASU and Korean counterparts, the trio from the SAF and police are mostly, if not all, National Servicemen. The men are drafted in straight after their schooling tenure, most around 18 to 20 years old. They receive around one to three months of Basic Military Training before being posted to their respective units. Not to also mention that the extremely fit ones are either posted to Commandos, Guards, and the Naval Diving Units. To put it simply, the units have little control of the men coming in to their unit.
The soldiers from 2 People Defence Force (2 PDF) are tasked with protection of key installations and citizens against a wide spectrum of threats including terrorism. In high profile areas such as Changi Airport, they are under the eyes of thousands of eyes from across the globe in a daily basis, and reputation of a world class airport is at stake. I do believe that there should be at least a basic screening of personal appearance, much like ambassadors in Open Houses, and President’s Aide De Camp. These soldiers much project a certain deterrence, pleasant to look at and able to handle situations from tourist snapping a picture with them, to the ultimatum of a security threat. One can argue that should the need arise, the guys from Hendon Camp and Police Special Operation Command will take over,but these trio are still the face of security in a daily basis despite taking an auxiliary role.
However, having said all that, the Commanders from 2 PDF and SPF are faced with another dilemma. While it is easy to throw these troopers into god forsaken installations away from the eyes of the public, there is a need to ”make national service a meaningful one” as recommended by the Committee to Strengthen National Service. Patrolling and guarding Changi Airport is probably one of the more glamourous and fulfilling guard roles amongst the installation on the island. With further requirements to employ regulars into training roles, we will have less rugged and seasoned troopers to take up such roles.
Another point of concern would be the equipping of these troopers. If you have noticed, the Singapore troopers are not issued with a side arm, ie a pistol. Especially with the case of the Singapore Army soldier, who is issued with the standard SAR-21 assault rifle. The long barrel of the rifle and bullet dynamics of the 5.56mm bullet would equate an extremely fast traveling round which will usually exit the body at the receiving end. In a crowded, closed environment like Changi, collateral damage would be undesired. Military Policemen of the SAF are issued with pistols like the P226, which fire the 9mm round with significant stopping power. Likewise for the SPF trooper, a sidearm would be beneficial despite issued with the MP5 sub-machine gun. Also lacking is any form of basic personal protection, like a Kevlar vest which will at least save the troopers from stabs and a slow moving round.
We thank the troopers for dedicating two years of their time, commanders have to strike a balance between selecting the right men for the right job, and at the same time meeting SAF requirements and their men’s moral. It is after all the troopers’ face at stake circulating the net and they are first image of Singapore’s security in the nation’s gateway. Recent airport raid in Pakistan is a testament that attacks like these can strike anytime without warning, and it is only right that the authorities arm our National Servicemen, being the first point of contact and response, with the appropriate equipment to enable them to readily face unseen threats.