A deep, dark, secret love affair - Singapore And Israel

Very interesting read, about the formative years of SAF from the perspectives of an Israeli advisor in the early years of SAF.
A deep, dark, secret love affair 

By Amnon Barzilai 

A team of IDF officers, known as the `Mexicans,' helped Singapore establish an army. It was the start of a very special relationship. 

Christmas Eve, 1965, is the unofficial date of the start of the great and continuing love story between Israel and Singapore, a love affair that was kept a deep, dark secret. The international press, like the Israeli media, tried to bring the tale to light. Occasionally, scraps of information leaked out; some were published, some were denied, many were disregarded. The Israelis, as usual, wanted to rush to tell all their friends, but managed to overcome that desire. The fear that the thies would be terminated if they became public knowledge had its effect. Israel imposed a total blackout on the story and the secret was preserved. Until the other side could no longer contain itself.

In his book, "From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965-2000," published in 2000, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father and its first prime minister, disclosed the secret that had been kept for almost 40 years: It was the Israel Defense Forces that established the Singaporean army. The Israeli military mission was headed by Yaakov (Jack) Elazari, then a colonel, who was later promoted to brigadier general. After leaving the army, he became a consultant to the Singaporean army. Hedied 15 years ago. "To disguise their presence, we called them `Mexicans.' They looked swarthy enough," Lee wrote.

Singapore's army is today considered the strongest and most advanced of the military forces in Southeast Asia. The alliance between the Israeli and Singaporean defense establishments intensified and expanded, and it now encompasses cooperation between the two countries' military industries, as well. The scope of the deals, according to foreign sources, indicates that the Singaporean army is one of the major clients of Israeli combat means and military technology. Singapore's aircraft industry is cooperating with its Israeli counterpart and with Elbit Systems in upgrading the F-5 warplanes of the Turkish Air Force. A few years ago, Singapore's defense minister revealed that the Gil antitank missile, which is manufactured by Raphael (Israel Armaments Development Authority), was developed in cooperation between the two countries.

Surrounded by Muslims 

Lee explained the need to maintain secrecy to his close friend in the leadership, and the first defense minister in his government, Dr. Goh Keng Swee. "We have to ensure, as far as possible, that the arrival of the Israelis will not become public knowledge, in order not to arouse opposition among the Malay Muslims who live in Malaysia and Singapore," the prime minister summed up. That, in essence, is Singapore's problem. The residents of the small island, which has an area of about 670 square kilometers (Israel is 30 times as large), are mainly Chinese, and they live between the two Muslim countries of Malaysia and Indonesia. Life in the shadow of the large Muslim majority and fear of a Malaysian incursion are an integral part of the history of the two countries. Until 1965, Singapore was part of Malaysia. In that year, the British government decided to withdraw from all its colonies east of the Suez Canal. In a rapid process it was decided to sever Singapore from Malaysia and to establish it as a new and separate country.

Singapore declared its independence on August 9, 1965. At the time of its creation, it had only two infantry regiments, which had been established and were commanded by British officers. Two-thirds of the soldiers were not residents of Singapore, and in any event the leaders of the nascent state had no faith in the strength of the minuscule army. The defense minister, Goh, contacted Mordechai Kidron, the former Israeli ambassador to Thailand, and asked for assistance. Kidron arrived in Singapore within days, along with Hezi Carmel of the Mossad. "Goh told us that they think that only Israel, a small country surrounded by Muslim countries, with a strong army, could help them build a small, dynamic army," Carmel says. The two Israelis met with Lee, who writes that he "told Keng Swee to put it on hold until Lal Bahadur Shastri, the prime minister of India, and President Nasser of Egypt replied to my letters seeking their urgent help to build up our armed forces." 

It's not clear whether Lee, in fact, believed India and Egypt were capable of, or interested in, building up Singapore's army. Many Israelis believe the two leaders were approached only for appearance's sake. After a few weeks of waiting, India and Egypt congratulated Singapore on its independence but did not offer military aid. Lee ordered Goh to push ahead in contacts with the Israelis.

At the same time, in the wake of reports sent by Kidron and Carmel, the Israeli defense establishment deployed to supply military aid to Singapore. In discussions conducted by the chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, with the participation of the deputy chief of staff and head of the Operations Branch, Ezer Weizmann, it was decided to make Major General Rehavam Ze'evi, who was then deputy head of the Operations Branch, responsible for building the Singaporean army. Ze'evi (nicknamed "Gandhi" ) paid a secret visit to Singapore and the preparatory work began on his return. "Gandhi said he wanted to create an ideal army for Singapore, something we hadn't built here," Carmel says. "Instead of setting up a Defense Ministry and a General Staff, Gandhi suggested an integrated organization, a more economical structure. So there wouldn't be too many generals and too few soldiers."

Ze'evi appointed Elazari, who worked under him in the Operations Branch, as head of the team he established. Lieutenant Colonel Yehuda Golan, then-commander of an armored division (he retired from the IDF with the rank of brigadier general), was subsequently added to the team. Some members of the team "concentrated on writing the chapters that dealt with building army bases. I wrote the chapters dealing with the establishment of an infantry," Golan says. Initially they produced the "Brown Book," dealing with combat doctrine, followed by the "Blue Book," dealing with the creation of the Defense Ministry and intelligence bodies. The Brown Book was translated into English and sent to Singapore's government for its perusal. In October 1965, a military delegation from Singapore arrived in Israel.

"The delegation arrived in order to tell us: `Well done, but to implement the book, you are invited to come to Singapore,'" Golan recalls. Prior to setting out, the members of the military mission were invited to the chief of staff's bureau. "Dear friends," Rabin said, "I want you to remember several things. One, we are not going to turn Singapore into an Israeli colony. Your task is to teach them the military profession, to put them on their legs so they can run their own army. Your success will be if at a certain stage they will be able to take the wheel and run the army by themselves. Second, you are not going there in order to command them but to advise them. And third, you are not arms merchants. When you recommend items to procure, use the purest professional military judgment. I want total disregard of their decision as to whether to buy here or elsewhere."

Wake-up at 5:30 

On December 24, 1965, about five months after Singapore became an independent state, six IDF officers and their families set out on an unknown mission. "Elazari and two other officers dealt with the establishment of the Defense Ministry," Golan relates. "My task, along with three other officers, was to establish the army."

Elazari operated according to a number of basic principles, from which the original Israeli team and those who followed did not deviate. The first was to build up a cadre of local commanders and instructors. The second was that the instructional material would be written by the cadets who would be trained as officers. And the third was that practical training would be conducted by Singaporean instructors.

"We wanted to recruit a group of 40-50 people who had some sort of military experience and would be ready to serve in a career army," Golan explains. "We organized things so that they would appoint one of their number to serve as commander. As head of the group, the cadets chose someone of Indian origin named Kirpa Ram Vij, who would eventually become chief of staff of the Singapore Armed Forces. For three months we gave an intensified officers course."

The first course had an IDF format: wake-up at 5:30 A.M., calisthenics, personal arrangements, parade. Training began at 7:30 A.M. and went until 1 A.M. "After a few days of training a group of cadets showed up and said, `Colonel Golan, the Arabs aren't sitting on our heads here. What do we need this madness for?' I called Elazari and explained the situation. He arrived a few days later with Defense Minister Dr. Goh, who told the cadets, `Do what Colonel Golan tells you to do, otherwise you will do double.'"

Parallel to conducting the course, the Israeli team supervised the establishment of the first military base, based on plans of the Israeli Engineering Corps. Construction of the base was completed in three months.

In under a year, the Israeli team conducted a course for new recruits, a platoon commanders course and an officers course, on the basis of plans that were sent from Israel. All told, about 200 commanders were trained.

Jobless instead of soldiers 

Once the staff of commanders was ready, it was possible to start creating the standing army on the basis of conscription. The Israelis prepared to establish two more infantry regiments, according to the IDF model, with each regiment consisting of three companies of riflemen, an auxiliary company and an administrative company - a total of 600 soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel Moshe Shefi, who was an instructor in a company commanders course, was sent as an adviser. "We discovered that there was psychological resistance to conscription in Singapore," he relates. "Of 10 professions, that of soldier was ranked last. In first place was the artist, followed by the philosopher, the teacher and the merchant, and the thief was in ninth place. Soldiering was considered a contemptible profession. In Singapore, conscription was considered a means to overcome unemployment."

The Israelis faced a problem. To evade service, most of the young men of draft age (18-24) who were of Chinese origin furnished proof that they were employed. Some 70 percent of the inductees were unemployed and of Malaysian origin - the opposite of their proportion within the population. Elazari and Golan complained to Lee and Goh, but the prime minister was undeterred. "I want you to recruit the most primitive people in the country, the uneducated and the jobless," he told them. Stunned, the Israelis tried to persuade him to reconsider, but he was adamant: "In the Second World War, I saw the Japanese and the British. All the British soldiers were intelligent and educated. But as soldiers they were worthless. The most primitive Japanese soldier gets an order and executes it, and they were extraordinary soldiers. The fact is that the Japanese army defeated the British army."

Golan says, "Yaakov and I tried to explain to him that it's not a question of education but of motivation. The Japanese soldier was motivated because he was fighting for his emperor, who for him was God. For him, he was ready to sacrifice his life. What motivation did the British soldier have, who fought thousands of kilometers from his home?" The explanations about the spirit of combat and about how to generate motivation persuaded Lee. 

Along with the two tracks of compulsory service and career army, Singapore also adopted the IDF's model of reserve service. Every soldier who completed his regular service was obligated to serve another 13 years, until the age of 33. A system to mobilize the reserves was established and the Defense Ministry carried out surprise call-up exercises. Because of its small size and its lack of areas for live-fire training, Singapore had to establish training bases in friendly neighboring countries.

Surprise tanks 

The unquiet in Singapore, and above all the fear of an invasion by Malay forces, together with the rapid development of the Singaporean army, generated additional needs. With the creation of the infantry, the Israeli team made an in-depth study of the battles fought by the Japanese in Southeast Asia during World War II and of how they succeeded in invading Malaysia and Singapore. Shefi was given the task of delivering a talk on the subject to Singapore's government.

On the basis of the lessons the Israelis drew from the engagements fought by Japan and Britain, they created a naval force based on sampans. "The boats were made of wood and could carry 10 to 15 soldiers, and they were appropriate for the conditions of the sea and for the jungle rivers," Golan says. "On a stormy sea they can be operated with oars or a motor. We asked the Singaporeans to purchase 20 boats and we set up a small base where infantry companies trained in raids and navigation."

Retired Colonel Asher Dar says, "The second team that arrived in Singapore applied what Yehuda Golan did in the form of combat doctrine. We trained in flanking maneuvers with small boats and in live fire using artillery. When the head of the training department, Yitzhak Hofi, visited Singapore, we carried out a model landing of an infantry brigade that set sail in boats at night at a distance of 12 kilometers with the aid of shore navigation only."

The waiting period in Israel on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War was a rough time for the Israeli team in Singapore. "We were relieved the Israelis were not defeated or our SAF [Singapore Armed Forces] would have lost confidence" in the Israeli instructors, Lee writes. In January 1968, Singapore decided to create an armored corps. In great secrecy, an agreement was signed for the purchase of 72 AMX-13 light tanks from IDF surplus. It was a bold decision: Malaysia, the country's large neighbor, didn't have tanks.

On Independence Day, August 9, 1969, a major surprise awaited the invited guests, including the defense minister of Malaysia: 30 tanks rolled past the reviewing stand. "It had a dramatic effect," Lee writes. Malaysia had cause for concern. Its defense minister recommended to his guests that they take steps to persuade the Malaysian government that its intentions were not hostile.

In the wake of the Israeli victory in 1967, the veil of secrecy over the ties between the two countries was lifted a bit. The Singapore delegate at the United Nations abstained in a vote on a resolution condemning Israel that was sponsored by the Arab states. Contacts began to establish full diplomatic relations. In October 1968, Lee permitted Israel to establish a trade mission and in May 1969 authorization was given for the establishment of an Israeli embassy in Singapore. The status of the Israeli military mission to Singapore was also strengthened, and the mission heads who followed held brigadier general rank. The first Israeli military delegation laid the foundations for an extensive network of relations between Israel and Singapore.

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." 

user posted image
Head of the delegation Yaakov Elazari (second from right), Yehuda Golan (left), and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin (second from left) in Singapore, 1967. Before the trip Rabin clarified: "We are not going to make Singapore an Israeli colony." 
(Haaretz Archive ) 

Malaysia Plans To Buy 18 Russian Fighter Jets

Royal Malaysian Air Force Sukhoi SU-30MKM fighters
The Malaysian defense ministry plans to buy 18 Russian Su-30MKM fighters fit to carry Russian-Indian BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, the Izvestia daily said on Tuesday.
The paper said, citing military sources, that Malaysian Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi plans on Tuesday to visit the Irkut aviation plant, producing Su-30MKI fighters for India. According to Izvestia, one such aircraft would cost Malaysia about $50 million, future maintenance included.
During the visit, the minister "may sign a contract to buy 18 Su-30MKM multirole fighters," the paper said.
The defense minister also plans to discuss installing new missiles, including BrahMos, on the 18 Su-30MKM fighters that Malaysia received in August 2009 under the $900-million contract signed in 2003.
Malaysia's mixed fighter fleet also includes Russian MiG-29N Fulcrum and the U.S.-made F/A-18D Hornet and F-5 Tiger in service.
The Su-30MKM is a multi-role Flanker version based on the Su-30MKI model and features a customized avionics package built to Malaysian specifications. Su-family fighters constitute the bulk of Russia's arms exports.
-Ria Novosti-


 China and Pakistan should pay attention to India’s newest anti-ship missile, the BrahMos. It is an anti-ship missile with a 660-pound warhead. It has a highly sophisticated ramjet engine, which speeds a three-ton missile to its target at Mach-3 speed.

In its initial flight trajectory it hugs the sea, making it impossible for jet fighters, anti-missile systems and rapid firing guns to stop it. In its terminal phase, it rises up to the sky and then drops on its prey like a giant harpoon. The missile’s high speed causes extensive damage to a ship on impact and the 660 pounds of explosives it carries cause the rest of the damage.

It can also be described as a sea-denial missile – denying an enemy access to the sea it defends.

The missile, originally called the Yakhont, was designed by the Soviets to kill U.S. aircraft carriers 200 miles away. In 1991 the United States expressed concern about its development and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, a U.S. friend at the time, shelved the project. This turned out to be India’s gain.

India took over the development work in 1998, agreeing to spend over US$250 million on the project. The Russian missile engine was married to an Indian guidance system in a 50:50 partnership, thus giving it the unique name of BrahMos, after India’s Brahmaputra River and Russia’s Moskva River.

The Chinese asked the Russians for similar collaboration on a similar missile system, but were flatly turned down. Instead the Russians equipped Chinese destroyers with Moskit class sea-skimming ramjet missiles. These are very capable missiles with a range of 90 to 150 kilometers. But these could neither be launched from aircraft nor have land-to-land use.

India expects about US$10 billion in orders for these missiles. The production line is gearing up to make 1,000 of these in various versions over the next ten years. If an additional export order for 1,000 more missiles is obtained the production line will have to be significantly expanded. Right now there no export orders – that will limit production to about 50-100 missiles a year.

A comparable missile in the U.S. inventory is the Tomahawk cruise missile, which has an extended range and larger explosive payload than others. But it is a subsonic missile, and thus can fall prey to fighter jets or anti-air or anti-missile system.

Collaboration between the Russians and Indians has produced a marvelous weapon. Future collaboration between the two nations is in the cards, in developing a fifth-generation fighter jet, a new tank design, etc. This is helpful to both countries. The Russians can defray the development costs and India gets a sophisticated weapon. Barring a few hiccups this collaboration will continue.

India has no intention of killing U.S. aircraft carriers, hence its development and operation were not questioned by the United States. On the other hand, a Chinese naval flotilla approaching the Indian Ocean on an aggressive mission would be fair game for this missile.

The same is true of any aggressive moves by the Pakistani Navy. The latter has always envisioned attacking India’s offshore oil and gas fields close to Mumbai, and repeating the Muslim destruction of India’s Somnath Temple on the Gujarat coast, 900 years back.

The version of the BrahMos that went into operation in 2005 is the naval version only. Another version, which can be carried by an aircraft or used in land-to-land combat, is still under development and should be operational in about three years.

Collaboration on the missile’s development was not easy. In 1998 the Russians were strictly following the guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime and would not export any missile technology beyond the 300-kilometer (186-mile) range. It also would not give India any help in building a sophisticated guidance system.

Hence this missile has a limited range of 290 kilometers (180 miles) and has an Indian guidance system. All testing and development since 1998 have been carried out in India, with the Russians as a 50-percent partner.

Beginning in 2002 when the missile first flew, it surprised most observers. Few thought that Russian-Indian collaboration could be successful and produce a weapon of that sophistication. Now it is a reality. Some Indian Navy ships are already equipped with it. Soon the air and land version will join the Indian forces, making them highly potent.

This technology acquisition and development was so important for India that the military went out of its way not to draw international attention. Technology transfer arrangements were such that no MTCR guidelines were broken.

Also in India’s neighborhood, Pakistan has acquired U.S. Harpoon and French Exocet missiles, and China has been buying Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers – hence India had to do something unique to put both China and Pakistan on the defensive. It appears that India has now achieved that task.

Although the missile is so successful, India was expecting other nations to order it. But no export orders have been received so far, despite an intense sales pitch over the last three years. None of the potential customers wishes to kill U.S. or other nations’ aircraft carriers; hence they do not need such a powerful weapon. Also, at US$2.5 million apiece the price is a bit steep. The original requirement of 1,000 missiles for the Indian and Russian navies still stands.

The future of this missile in Indian hands is very bright. It will permanently keep the Chinese navy out of the Indian Ocean. Closer to home, the belligerent Pakistan is unmindful of these developments. Their Harpoon missile inventory is very capable, but is subsonic and has a very limited range. The BrahMos, carried on ships and planes, can be fired from 200 miles away and hit its target with pinpoint accuracy.

The scramjet-powered BrahMos-2 will again be developed with Russian collaboration. That is the only way India will lay its hands on scramjet technology. The irony is that the MTCR will prevent its range from exceeding 300 kilometers.

This development work will take three years and will involve 20 Russian and Indian institutes and industrial units to finish the job. The only thing known about this newer missile, the BrahMos-2, is that it will fly at about Mach-5 to Mach-7 speed and will beat any known anti aircraft or anti-missile defense system.

It's a new cruise missile called the Brahmos. And it's what reportedly has Pakistan's defence planners scurrying to develop a land attack cruise missile, possibly a modified Harpoon missile acquired from the US in the 80s and 90s.

Brahmos combines the names of two rivers: the Brahmaputra and the Mosocow. It symbolises the close partnership that exists between India and Russia.

Here's why the Brahmos is considered the world's finest. It can fly at speeds of up to Mach 3, three times the speed of sound. It can destroy ships and targets on land. It can be launched from the air, submarines and onboard ships.

The Brahmos will be deployed on the Sukhoi 30 MKI, the mainstay of the Indian Air Force. The Sukhoi's ability to fly thousands of kilometres after being re-fuelled in-air means that the Brahmos can be used to strike targets across large parts of South Asia.

"It is the fastest and most precise cruise-missile in the world," affirms Pravin Pathak, Additional GM BrahMos Aerospace.

Today, with Russian assistance, and missiles like the Brahmos, the Indian Navy's frontline ships are fitted with the fastest and possibly most lethal anti-ship weapons ever developed

Damascus Steel - Sword Makers of the Islamic Civilization

Photo: GetaSword.com

In Sir Walter Scott's book The Talisman, he recreated the scene of October 1192, when Richard Lionheart of England and Saladin the Saracen met to end the Third Crusade (there would be five more after Richard retired to England, depending on how you count your crusades).

Scott imagined an arms demonstration between the two men, Richard wielding a good English broadsword and Saladin, a scimitar of Damascus steel, "a curved and narrow blade, which glittered not like the swords of the Franks, but was, on the contrary, of a dull blue colour, marked with ten millions of meandering lines..." This fearsome weapon, at least in Scott's overblown prose, represented the winner in this medieval arms race... or at least a fair match.

Damascus Steel: Understanding the Alchemy

The legendary sword known as the Damascus steel intimidated the European invaders into the 'Holy Lands' of the Islamic civilization throughout the Crusades (AD 1095-1270). 

Blacksmiths in Europe attempted to match the steel, using the pattern welding technique of alternating layers of steel and iron, folding and twisting the metal during the forging process. 

Sabre #10, Berne Historical Museum, Switzerland, Assad Ullah in the 17th Century.

(Pattern welding was a technique used by swordmakers from around the world, including Celts of the 6th century BC, Vikings of the 11th century AD and the 13th century Japanese.) 

In some cases, the European blacksmiths etched the blade or overlaid the surface of the blade with silver or copper filigree to imitate the characteristic watery lines of the Damascus steel blade. Some scholars credit this search for the Damascus steel process as the origins of modern materials science. But the European blacksmiths never duplicated the solid core Damascus steel, and the secret of its construction was lost even to the Islamic blacksmiths in the mid-18th century.

Wootz Steel and Saracen Blades

Sword of Saladin - Kingdom of Heaven

What is known today about "true" or "oriental" Damascus steel is that it was made from a raw material called wootz steel. Wootz was an exceptional grade of iron ore steel first made in southern and south central India and Sri Lanka perhaps as early as 300 BC. Wootz was extracted from raw iron ore and formed using a crucible to melt, burn away impurities and add important ingredients, including a high carbon content (nearly 1.5% by weight---wrought iron typically has carbon content around .1%). 

The high carbon content is the key--and the achilles heel--in the manufacturing process. High carbon content makes the keen edge and its durability possible; but its presence in the mixture is almost impossible to control. 

Too little carbon and the resulting stuff is wrought iron, too soft for these purposes; too much and you get cast iron, too brittle. If the process doesn't go right, the steel forms plates of cementite, a phase of iron which is hopelessly fragile. Somehow, Islamic metallurgists were able to control for the inherent fragility and forge the raw material into fighting weapons, an ability that somehow was lost in the mid-18th century. 

But the problem is: it doesn't really make any sense that blacksmiths would lose such a useful technology. Since the knowledge of the forgers has been lost many researchers have sought it, and in fact this report is based on their findings over the past decade or more. But in a recent article in Nature, a research team led by Peter Paufler at the University of Dresden report that they may have an idea of the mechanics of how the high carbon steel was created and why it disappeared. That idea lies in that most modern of materials sciences: nanotechnology.

The word 'nanotechnology' might seem a little odd to be applied to a technology that is clearly several centuries old. After all, a 'nanometer' is something that means one billionth part of meter, something no one could have measured until very recently. But in this sense, nanotechnology refers to the purposeful (and accidental) inclusion of very very tiny amounts of materials to create chemical reactions at the quantum level. 

Nanotechnology played a role in the mixing of Maya blue, that amazing color in Maya murals from 8th century America. Stained glass windows from the European Renaissance, colored glasses in Bronze Age Egypt, and violins from the 18th century master Stradivari all benefited from the creative use of tiny amounts of inclusions of foreign matter placed into created objects, creating quantum level qualitative changes in the product. Nanotechnology then is alchemy in its most pure form. 

And so, nanotechnology--the inclusion of tiny amounts of foreign matter into a smelted iron product--had a crucial role in the construction of the Damascan blade. But... what were those elements and how did they get in there? The secret alchemy of making a Damascan blade was lost by the middle of the 18th century.

 European blacksmiths before then, and all those who came before the end of the last century who attempted to make their own blades failed to overcome the problems inherent in a high-carbon content, and could not explain how ancient Syrian blacksmiths achieved the filigreed surface and quality of the finished product.

Damascan Steel and Electron Microscopy

What the research team led by Paufler has done has been to use current nanotechnology to examine the microstructure of a Damascan blade using a scanning electron microscope. Investigations have determined that there are two pieces involved to this puzzle: both inclusions into the raw ore itself and the forging process completed in the mideast.

 Known purposeful additions to Wootz steel include the bark of Cassia auriculata (used in tanning) and the leaves of Calotropis gigantea (a milkweed). Spectroscopy has also identified tiny amounts of vanadium, chromium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel, and some rare elements, traces of which presumably came from the mines in India. 

These materials were already in the raw steel, but what Paufler and associates also identified in the steel were quantum level changes made in the metal which must have occurred during manufacture. 

They postulate that during the smith's cyclic heating and forging processes, the metal developed a microstructure called 'carbide nanotubes', extremely hard tubes of carbon that are expressed on the surface and create the blade's hardness. 

Thus, by blending the unique characteristics of Wootz steel with a forging process that included tiny amounts of specialized materials, the blacksmiths of the Islamic Civilization were able to create the Damascan steel. 

What happened in the mid-18th century was that the chemical makeup of the raw material altered--the minute quantities of one or more of the minerals disappeared, perhaps because the particular lode was exhausted. Such a difference would not have been apparent to the blacksmith visually; but, interestingly, the blacksmiths may have extended the life of the process by including small pieces of the previous batch in each new batch. 

We modern archaeologists like to say that the elite stuff, the expensive goods that were restricted to the upper classes, really have no interest to us. But cracking the code of how metallurgists made the elite Damascus steel! I vote for that.

Helmut Föll. n.d. Damascene Technique in Metalworking. This is a fascinating website in English and German by materials scientist Föll of the University of Kiel, with lots of details about the process and history of Damascus steel.

Lee A. Jones. 1998. Blade Patterns Intrinsic to Steel Edged Weapons. On Helmut Föll's website.

M. Reibold et al. 2006. Carbon nanotubes in an ancient Damascus sabre. Nature 444:286.

Sharada Srinivasan and Srinivasa Ranganathan. 2004. India's Legendary Wootz Steel: An advanced material of the ancient world. National Institute of Advanced Studies and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

S. Srinivasan and S. Ranganathan. ca. 1997. Wootz Steel: An Advanced Material of the Ancient World.

John D. Verhoeven. 2001. The Mystery of Damascus Blades. Scientific American

J.D. Verhoeven, A.H. Pendray, and W.E. Dauksch. 1998. The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades. JOM 50(9):58-64.

Sword of Saladin - Kingdom of Heaven

“October 1192, Richard ‘The Lion Heart’, king of England who lead Christian crusading knights in an attempt to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims meet his great enemy Salahuddin Al Ayyubi (In western known as ‘Saladin’). They respect each other and become a legend”. Sir Walter Scott dramatized in his novel “The Talisman”.

They showed off their weapons, Richard used his large shiny blade made by greatest armourer in Great Britain while Salahuddin Al Ayyubi showed his favorite blade, a curved blade made by armourer in Damascus.

“He unsheathed his scimitar, a curved and narrow blade, which glittered not like the swords of the Franks, but was, on the contrary, of a dull blue colour, marked with ten millions of meandering lines, which showed how anxiously the metal had been welded by the armourer”.

Sir William Scott’s novel that has been published 2 centuries ego ensures us about the greatness of Damascus’s blade. The blade is so sharp so that the smoothest silk can be cut 2 pieces if it’s fallen on top of the blade, it can cut a mountain rock without losing its’ sharpness.

These ‘Damascus blades’ were extraordinarily strong, but still flexible enough to bend from hilt to tip. And they were reputedly so sharp that they could cleave a silk scarf floating to the ground, just as readily as a knight’s body.

These superlative weapons gave the Muslims a great advantage, and their blacksmiths carefully guarded the secret to their manufacture. The secret died eventually died out in the eighteenth century and no European smith was able to reproduce their method.

Now, Marianne Riebold and colleagues from the University of Dresden have uncovered the startling origins of Damascus steel using a technique unavailable to the sword-makers of old – electron microscopy.

Damascus blades were forged from small cakes of steel from India called ‘wootz’. All steel is made by allowing iron with carbon to harden the resulting metal. The problem with steel manufacture is that high carbon contents of 1-2% certainly make the material harder, but also render it brittle.

This is useless for sword steel since the blade would shatter upon impact with a shield or another sword. Wootz, with its especially high carbon content of about 1.5%, should have been useless for sword-making. Nonetheless, the resulting sabres showed a seemingly impossible combination of hardness and malleability.

Sword of Saladin - Kingdom of Heaven

Riebold’s team solved this paradox by analysing a Damascus sabre created by the famous blacksmith Assad Ullah in the seventeenth century, and graciously donated by the Berne Historical Museum in Switzerland.

They dissolved part of the weapon in hydrochloric acid and studied it under an electron microscope. Amazingly, they found that the steel contained carbon nanotubes (see left), each one just slightly larger than half a nanometre. Ten million could fit side by side on the head of a thumbtack.

Carbon nanotubes are cylinders made of hexagonally-arranged carbon atoms. They are among the strongest materials known and have great elasticity and tensile strength. In Riebold’s analysis, the nanotubes were protecting nanowires of cementite (Fe3C), a hard and brittle compound formed by the iron and carbon of the steel.

Here is the answer to the steel’s special properties – it is a composite material at a nanometre level. The malleability of the carbon nanotubes makes up for the brittle nature of the cementite formed by the high-carbon wootz cakes.

It isn’t clear how ancient blacksmiths produced these nanotubes, but the researchers believe that the key to this process lay with small traces of metals in the wootz including vanadium, chromium, manganese, cobalt and nickel. Alternating hot and cold phases during manufacture caused these impurities to segregate out into planes.

From there, they would have acted as catalysts for the formation of the carbon nanotubes, which in turn would have promoted the formation of the cementite nanowires. These structures formed along the planes set out by the impurities, explaining the characteristic wavy bands, or damask (see image at top), that patterns Damascus blades.

By gradually refining their blade-making skills, these blacksmiths of centuries past were using nanotechnology at least 400 years before it became the scientific buzzword of the twenty-first century.

The ore used to produce wootz came from Indian mines that were depleted in the eighteenth century. As the particular combination of metal impurities became unavailable, the ability to manufacture Damascus swords was lost.

Now, thanks to modern science, we may eventually be able how to replicate these superb weapons and more importantly, the unique steel they were shaped from.



Kehebatan Pedang Nano Salahuddin al Ayyubi

Kehebatan Pedang Nano Salahuddin al Ayyubi
Manusia mula menguasai seni membuat pedang sejak zaman Nabi Daud a.s. lagi sehingga Islam menghasilkan pedang berteknologi nano yang digeruni Barat pada zaman Salahuddin al Ayyubi.
Dunia Islam dikenali memiliki kandungan sumber alam yang melimpah ruah. Salah satu sumber mineral yang memiliki pengertian penting dalam sejarah teknologi Islam adalah besi. Pada era kegemilangan Islam, berkembang pesat teknologi penghasilan besi dan seni membuat pedang.
Salah satu pusat pembuatan pedang dengan teknologi yang termasyhur pada zaman kekhalifahan adalah Damsyik, Syria. Seni pembuatan pedang dengan teknologi tinggi dalam peradaban Islam bermula pada abad ke-9 M. Sejarawan Al-Qalqashandi dalam buku berjudul, Subh Al Asha, mencatatkan bahawa pada abad ke-12 M Damsyik menjadi pusat penghasilan besi yang sangat masyhur.

Pedang buatan Damsyik yang kerap disebut sebagai pedang Persia sangat lentur dan tajam. Kehebatan pedang dari dunia Islam sempat membuat peradaban Barat 'terdiam' dan kagum. Salah satu faktor penyebab kekalahan pasukan Tentera Perang Salib dari Eropah ketika bertempur melawan tentera Muslim adalah peralatan tempur. Selain memiliki kuda-kuda yang kuat di medang perang, pasukan tentera Muslim juga dilengkapi dengan pedang yang mampu membelah manusia dengan satu kali libasan.
Pedang persia sememangnya mengkagumkan. Ia mampu memotong sutera yang dijatuhkan dari udara. Bukan itu sahaja, pedang buatan Damsyik juga mampu mematahkan bilah pedang lain atau batu tanpa hilang ketajamannya.
Ketika zaman Perang Salib, peradaban Barat mula mencari rahsia teknologi pedang yang dikuasai dunia Islam. Tentera Perang Salib menyebut besi yang hebat dari Damsyik itu sebagai 'Damascus Steel'. Teknologi pembuatan besi dan pedang Damsyik begitu terkenal kerana mampu menempa wootz steel menjadi indah dan lentur.
Seni membuat pedang pada era kejayaan Islam mendapat perhatian khusus dari peradaban Barat. Secara khususnya, Robert Hoyland dan Brian Gilmore menulis buku bertajuk, Medieval Islamic Swords and Swordmaking. Buku setebal 216 halaman itu mengupas risalah yang ditulis ulama Muslim terkemuka pada abad ke-9 M, Yqub Ibnu Ishaq Al-Kindi, tentang  'Pedang dan Ragam Jenisnya'.
Sejak zaman Nabi Daud a.s.
Teknologi pembuatan besi nampaknya telah dikuasai manusia sejak zaman Nabi Daud a.s. Hal ini terungkap dalam surah al-Anbiyaa ayat 80. Dalam surah itu Allah SWT berfirman,
"Dah telah Kami ajarkan kepada Daud membuat baju besi untuk kamu, guna memelihara kamu dalam peperanganmu. Maka, hendaklah kamu bersyukur (kepada Allah)."
Fakta lainnya yang menyebutkan pembuatan besi yang telah berkembang pada zaman Nabi Daud a.s. juga dengan diungkapkan dalam surah Saba ayat 10.
"Dan sesungguhnya telah Kami berikan kepada Daud kurnia dari Kami. (Kami berfirman), Hai gunung-gunung, bertasbihlah berulang-ulang bersama Daud, dan Kami telah melunakkan besi untuknya."
Dalam surat Saba ayat 11, al Quran juga memerintahkan dan menjelaskan cara membuat baju besi. "Buatlah baju besi yang besar-besar dan ukurlah anyamannya, dah kerjakanlah amalan yang soleh. Sesungguhnya Aku melihat apa yang kamu kerjakan."
"Dan Allah menjadikan bagimu tempat bernaung dari apa yang telah dia ciptakan dan Dia jadikan bagimu tempat-tempat tinggal di gunung-gunung, dan Dia jadikan bagimu pakaian yang memeliharamu dari panas dan pakaian (baju besi) yang memelihara kamu dalam peperangan. Demikianlah Allah menyempurnakan nikmat-Nya atasmu agar kamu berserah diri (kepadaNya)." (An-Nahl:81)
Teknologi Nano
Keistimewaan Pedang Salahuddin al Ayyubi telah dibongkar oleh Prof Dr. Peter Paufler dan kumpulannya di Universiti Teknikal Dresden, Jerman apabila mereka menemui tiub karbon nano (carbon nanotube) di dalam pedang yang digunakan oleh Salahuddin Al Ayyubi dan tentera-tentera Islam dalam peperangan Salib.
Tiub karbon nano inilah yang telah menjadikan pedang-pedang pejuang Islam sangat istimewa; sangat tajam tetapi mudah lentur. Penemuan ini telah diterbitkan oleh jurnal Nature (antara jurnal saintifik paling bepengaruh di dunia) pada tahun 2006. Menurut sejarah, Salahuddinlah yang telah memimpin pembebasan Tanah Suci ketiga umat Islam daripada cengkaman Kristian hampir seratus tahun lamanya dalam Perang Salib.
Kunci kepada teknologi nano pedang mujahidin Islam ini terletak kepada teknik pembuatannya yang unik. Bijih besi dari India yang dikenali sebagai wootz mengandungi sejumlah peratusan unsur karbon (carbon) yang memberikannya sifat rapuh (brittle).
Apabila dikenakan suhu yang amat tinggi, sekitar 800c, campuran besi dan karbon tadi akan ditambah dengan unsur-unsur seperti Kromium, Mangan, Kobalt dan beberapa unsur lain yang telah memberikannya sifat-sifat sebilah pedang setiawan: tajam lagi lentur.
Sayang sekali, teknologi ini telah lenyap menginjak kurun ke-18 seiring dengan kepupusan bijih besi dan unsur-unsur penguat pedang tadi.
Penempa-penempa pedang ini, biarpun secara tidak sedar, telah meletakkan dua asas penting kepada permulaan sains bahan moden: pertama, campuran bahan-bahan kimia pada peratusan yang sesuai dan kedua, teknik penggunaan haba yang tinggi untuk pembikinan produk. Tentera-tentera salib terkedu ketika melihat pedang nano pejuang Islam.
Pedang nano Salahuddin Al Ayyubi yang berwarna kebiru-biruan dengan larik-larik mengufuk di sepanjang bilahnya telah "mengajar" pedang lebar tentera Britain kepunyaan Raja Richard I (panglima tentera salib) akan erti kehebatan teknologi Islam pada zaman itu seperti yang dihikayatkan oleh Sir Walter Scott di dalam bukunya "The Talisman".
Artikel : Mohd Adib Mohd Sidek
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