Well, this time the PAP and MINDEF has really screwed the pooch on this one. I really don’t know what to say on how badly this was handled and the level of incompetence shown at all levels. The whole situation opens up many more questions. I want to put my 2 cents worth in, as usual, and just share my thoughts and observations.
1) There has been some reports that the cargo vessel used to transport the Terrex transited in HKG to offload other cargo and accidentally offloaded the 9 Terrex. This was no accident. Because the Terrex does not fit in a standard shipping container, and the way that the Terrex was packaged, it was obvious to anyone that the silhouette under the tarpaulin could only be that of a tank or an Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV). Any dockyard workers or even PLA personnel and customs and police personnel can see that. Once this was reported to the higher authorities, likely, the ship was order to unload the Terrexes. The Chinese will never allow AFVs to be shipped through one of their ports without finding out what it is. So, this part was not a accident but a deliberate act by the Chinese, which escalates the situation immeasurably.
What the heck were the AFVs doing, transiting through HKG in the first place? That is ridiculous. The reports indicate that they were shipped from the Taiwan port of Kaohsiung to Singapore. Which by itself is another ridiculous comment. It was mentioned by MINDEF that the Terrexes were:
The Straits Times said, “the armoured vehicles were being used by infantry troops who were undergoing their annual combat proficiency test, which is conducted by the Army Training Evaluation Centre, or Atec, in Hukou Camp in Hsinchu county, south-west of Taiwan.”
I know the Hukou camp very well, having been there many times. The Hukou camp is nowhere near the South West of Taiwan. In fact, it’s in the north East, close to the Port of Taipei and the Port of Keelung. If you have to ship sensitive cargo like AFVs out of Taiwan from Hukou, you would do it at one of those ports and not ship them all the way south to Kaohsiung. Kaohsiung is primarily an infantry training area for the SAF while Hukou is the one for SAF Armour. So this is an outright lie. Cargoes such as these Terrexes should be shipped directly to Singapore and not transit anywhere. Better still, a RSN vessel like an Endurance class Landing Platform Dock Ship (LPD) should have been used to transport these AFVs back to Singapore. The Endurance class can easily accommodate all the AFVS and more. Why was the RSN not tasked with the transportation of these AFVS, this is a role that they are familiar with and have done in the past? MINDEF needs to stop stretching the LPD resource by sending them to the Middle East as part of this useless task force or that useless support mission. They need to stop scoring brownie points with the US and other countries and take care of our own business.
You can also see here the effect that the loss of NOL has on this situation. Now that NOL is not a GLC , some idiot at MINDEF decided to use the cheapest shipper not knowing that they stopped off in HKG. If NOL was used, hopefully, some reservist or experienced person would have noticed that this is not a direct journey and notified some idiot in SAF to take care of it. In a worst case scenario, the ship can be diverted and re-routed away from HKG after the mistake was discouvered, but guess what, we don’t own the frigging shipping company anymore.
MINDEF has been shipping AFVs all over the world for decades. We shipped KP and AMX-13 tanks to Taiwan, and also M113s. We ship AMX-13s to Brunei, and Bionix, Leo 2 and AMX-13 and M113 to Australia. There has never before been an incident like this. Something has changed with the mindset and intelligence level at MINDEF and the SAF. How do you expect to successfully propagate a war or defend the island when you cannot get a simple thing like this straight any more? A scarier thought is that the shipment was hijacked instead of discovered during transit in HKG. Its possible that the Terrexes were placed on a direct ship to Singapore, but the ship was a China national flag and owned vessel. The Chinese could have ordered their own shipping company to order the ship captain to divert to HKG. That way, they are sending a message to the Taiwanese and to Singapore not to have this sort of co-operation again.
3) This is a political escalation by the Chinese. 3 days ago, Lee Hsien Loong told China that they are not the Middle Kingdom anymore, and telling China they will have to fit into a global network. The Chinese decide to repay him by confiscating the AFVs. Now, MINDEF says that “they expect the shipment to be returned expeditiously”, which is basically telling the Chinese to return our crap ASAP. I would think that the PAP are the only idiots in the room that do not realize the Chinese hold all the cards. I mean they have possession of our property, the property is illegal in China, and it was shipped on board a vessel without any approval or paperwork and docked in China. If I were the PAP, I would stop making public demands from the Chinese to “expeditiously return” the AFVs and work behind the scenes to get this done. Is this too hard for the SAF Ex scholar generals to comprehend? This is why you do not put ex Eye Doctors to become your Minister for Foreign Affairs, for the simple reason that they can’t tell foreign policy from a puddle of dog excrement. This whole affair should have been handled through the back channels and never even made the light of day, even if Factwire broke the news.
Why has our relation with Taiwan deteriorated to this level? We have a substantial investment in the Hukou camp in Taiwan. We paid them a lot of money to build a camp within a camp for our SAF Starlight deployments for armour units. We used to have KP tanks and AMX-13s in tank sheds in Hukou, with the maintenance perm staff and other supplies there. Why aren’t we stationing the Terrex there instead of shipping them back? Did the Taiwanese tell us to remove them immediately, and hence there was a rush to get them out and ended using an inappropriate shipper? We have been doing ATEC training in Australia under Exercise MAthilda for a long time now why switch back to Taiwan? We used to station our tanks in Taiwan for months and years, so I am just wondering why we are shipping these back.
This incident in my opinion will torpedo the ST Engineering bid to supply a version of Terrex to the US Marine Corp in their Amphibious Combat Vehicle competition. ST Engineering and its American partner were one of 2 finalists for the competition. The winner will supply the USMC with its next generation amphibious assault vehicle and initial order of over 200 units with follow on orders for potentially much more. This could be a multibillion dollar contract with ST wins it. The version of the Terrex being marketed to the USMC and under trials now for the competition is an improved version. It has the same basic Caterpillar C9 engine but puts out about 200HP more. And it is heavier at 29-30 tons versus 24 tons for the Terrex in SAF service. Nontheless, there are still many similarities with the version that the USMC is trialing. This confiscation will allow the PLA to completely analyze and evaluate the Terrex. THere is nothing to stop them from stripping the entire Terrex down and examining their hydropneumatic suspension, and water jet propulsion engines, these are 2 areas that the Chinese would like to see improvement in their own AFVs. Heck, they could drive one around to evaluate the mobility, fording, open water performance of the Terrex, and drive it to the ground, then set it up as a target fire all sorts of weapons at it to see how strong its armour protection is and where the vulnerable parts of the AFV are. The modular MEXAS armour would be of prime interest to the Chinese as they can reverse engineer it and find out its performance. Not to mention too that the Terrex has some other unique systems like an all round camera system for closed hatch driving, such goodies like GPS and a surveillance system that shows the driver where the vehicle is on a display screen. The vehicle also has a weapons detection system which is an acoustic system that allows the vehicle commander to see where enemy fire is coming from. The Terrex NBC suite (its defence against Nuclear, Bio and Chemical weapons) is almost certainly more sophisticated then anything the PLA has. The remote control weapons system (RCWS) is also unique to the Terrex and the Chinese would love to see how it works and it it can be used in their own AFVs. Finally, the brains of the Terrex, the Battlefield Management System is now fallen into the hands of the PLA. If I were the US Marine Corp, I would be feeling pretty naked now, knowing that the Chinese have their hands on my potential future AFV and knowing it intimately. Would the Chinese pass up this chance to dissect the Terrex, knowing that it is a potential buy for the USMC, I would think not. So, ST is pretty much screwed on this.
6) There has been some speculation that the Terrexes were being trialled in Taiwan for potential sale to the Taiwanese. I don't think this is the case as it would create a shit storm from the Chinese and as well, many components of the Terrex are US made and hence needs an approval or licence from the US.
In any case, I think this is a huge mess and not only is it scary to the PAP and MINDEF, it is scary to Taiwan and all potential countries that Singapore ships equipment to, as well as to the US in that the vehicle is potentially compromised for their USMC trials.
Just my 2 cents.
*Author allows this article to be re-produced.