SAF and the MH370 Tragedy
The SAF has been involved in peacekeeping, humanitarian and evacuation missions for some time, especially in the region. Flying Eagle was the most public when SAF conducted its tsunami relief operation in Aceh, 72 hours after the tragedy happened, one of the earliest there to assist. The SAF Chinook were vital then as they were the only medium and heavy lift choppers around lugging needed supplies to and fro until the US came into the picture on Jan 15, about 2 weeks later.
In the MH370 tragedy, the SAF has again shown itself as a good neighbour by offering help to the Malaysians if they needed it. As a result, apart from ships and planes, the RSN deployed its submarine search and rescue capabilities which the Malaysians lacked. The ground picture for the RSN and the SAF is gaining experience from operating in a real world situation, not an exercise. The other gain which is more important, is goodwill and trust from working with regional armed forces in the search, rescue and recovery operation in the MH370 tragedy.
There are many critics-cynics that the SAF is inexperienced, unbloodied and therefore is an uncertain deterrence when push comes to shove. This is a valid criticism but the alternative is for the SAF to engage in large scale or sustained conflict to gain combat experience, which means that Singapore is involved an armed conflict and do we really want that. Hence, helping out in such rescue and recovery missions, albeit at a smaller scale than Flying Eagle, is the closest thing for the SAF to gain experience without getting into a bloody fight.
Besides the humanitarian priority, helping our neighbours builds trust and goodwill in a realist perspective. With the SAF seen as a belligerent force by some because of Singapore’s siege mentality arising from historical geopolitics, it is always good to help the neighbours if they want it because it minimises mutual suspicions. In fact, many of the region’s armed forces e.g. Vietnam and China which are both jumpy neighbours in the South China Sea, are sharing in the heavy lifting as the hunt for MH370 is a good confidence building effort. All are united in a common humanitarian goal in this tragedy.
I deeply hope for an early emotional closure for the friends and family of the passengers of MH370.