Singapore's Self-Propelled Howitzer at New Zealand

Netizen says Howitzer design is faulty but former operator disagrees

Following the death of local actor Aloysius Pang on Wednesday (23 January) in New Zealand after sustaining serious injuries while carrying out repair works inside the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH), a netizen questioned the design of the machine and said that the design is faulty.

Posting his view on his Facebook page, Raymond Ng, whose current job concerns the design of management and operations systems, opined that the design of SSPH is inherently dangerous and no amount of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) design or redesign is going to change the fact that it is a dangerous vehicle.

At the press conference regarding this incident, an officer mentioned that the late actor couldn’t get away in time when the gun barrel was lowered, resulting in him being crushed between the gun barrel and its cabin. Ng believes that this is nonsense as the space should not be occupied at any point given that all the potential movement of the turret would crush anyone who is there.

He also felt that it was not right that some officers indirectly blamed Pang by mentioning that he didn’t get out of the space fast enough as “usually most people would not have problem” doing it.

He wrote, “Did the tank even take into account of the recoil effect when the turret is firing? To take into account of the recoil effect all the space behind the turret cannot be used at all and access blocked off saved for maintenance purposes.”

The design of the turret is from ground up, which is wrong according to Ng. Therefore, he felt no amount of SOP would be able to compensate for an inherently dangerous design.

“Just basing on prima facie analysis of the design of the system, I am sorry the fault is with the design, so the fault is with the designer of the system and if the system is not locally designed, the fault is with the person approving the purchase of this system,” he wrote.

After reading his post, a former operator called Damien Lim disagrees and said that an investigation should be conducted to establish how the incident happened in the first place as there could have been something that we do not know that transpired during the parking of the barrel.

Replying to Ng’s point on why the tank didn’t taken into account of the recoil effect when the turret is firing, Lim said that recoil in this instance is not valid as the gun was down, which is why maintenance crew (Pang and his team) was called in.

He also noted that there are two places that no one should stand inside – under the transfer arm and along the recoil part. Hence, one needs to be in SSPH to understand why there is a low possibility anyone trained to operate or maintain the gun will not logically be standing in that position in that position in the first place when the turret and barrel is in motion.

Besides that, he also pointed out that we need to understand where all three personnel are situated in the gun at the time of the incident. The commander is seated on the commander seat elevated above the ground and away from the recoil path. “There were two of them in there. One got crushed in a spot where he should not be standing. This is drilled time and again and as mentioned, all personnel that are operating or servicing the gun have been taught and are expected to follow protocol when in the gun and when the barrel is in motion,” he explained.

Responding to Lim’s reply, Ng said that a simple machine like a cutter machine has safety feature where it can only operate when the plastic cover is on, in order to prevent the hand from being on the cutter when the blade comes down. So he questioned how such a big machine like SSPH does not have a fail-safe mechanism.

“Look back at the turret design, can anyone guarantee me that even a person highly trained in machinery, can any guarantee me that he would never be crushed…The key to system design is that even in the lack of any training, it is impossible to crush a person and kill him,” he noted.

Although the former operator understands Ng’s point, but he said that the interior of an SSPH was not designed for the same purpose as a paper guillotine. “Safety procedures are taught and drilled into Operators and maintenance personnel for a reason so that they know where and what to avoid when interacting with the machinery… If you know how stuff works and you have been trained to operate it properly following all safety protocols, incidents like these almost don’t exist,” he explained.

Even after Lim’s detailed explanation, Ng still feels that an SSPH needs a fail-safe mechanism in its design.

In response to Ng’s stand on bad design of SSPH, Lim said that military combat machine don’t have large space because one has to be near the breech for the charges to be loaded quickly for each round to be fired off. The entire machine is designed to be compact and machinery or equipment is within easy reach for the crew.

Replying to this, Ng said that although he appreciate the professional disagreement and can relate to extenuating factors, but he still feels the core of the design is bad so he can only give so much leeway on this matter.

Lim then said that the natural build of soldiers in Singapore is a lot smaller than Caucasian. “One of the main reasons for choosing a certain size is because of our enemy and the ease of manoeuvring an armoured fighting force through tight spaces in jungles and thick vegetation. Cover and concealment is also another factor. The bigger the armoured vehicle, the harder it is to conceal it,” he elaborated.