Civilians to run SAF firing ranges

Civilians to run SAF firing ranges
A firer lets loose with a SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle at a Singapore Army rifle range.

Civilians will, for the first time, take over the running of the army's 14 outdoor firing ranges from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) by year's end.

The staff of these private commercial companies will take over the repairing of the ranges, keeping count of the scores and retrieving the spent cartridges, say recently released tender documents.

These jobs have, until now, been done by 22 soldiers who have to be deployed by each unit using the range.

The contract up for bidding includes the repair and upgrading of electronic targets at these ranges.

The SAF will, however, not let go of the teaching of marksmanship to soldiers or the issuing of ammunition.

The firing ranges are in Nee Soon, Mandai, Poyan, Safti and Pulau Tekong.

Varying between 25m and 500m in length, these ranges are used by the SAF for small-arms live-firing practice.

The SAF's move to outsource the running of its firing ranges comes two years after it first asked private companies to submit their plans.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the Defence Ministry confirmed on Wednesday it had put up a tender to "work with a commercial company to conduct and supervise range training".

Mindef's spokesman, Colonel Darius Lim, said the SAF will continue to be responsible for ammunition control and "ensure that training requirements and safety standards are met during range training". 

The upshot of outsourcing operations to contractors: Being able to free up servicemen to focus on combat training.

This development is the latest instance of the SAF farming out non- core or non-combat services, which it began doing in the 1970s.

Already, cookhouse operations, some aircraft maintenance and logistics services and even naval training in navigation and weaponry have been turned over to contractors such as Singapore Food Industries and ST Engineering.

Even fitness training in SAF camps has been outsourced. More than 50 Certis Cisco fitness trainers, certified and supervised by the SAF, are already training recruits at the Basic Military Training Centre on Pulau Tekong.

By the end of next year, civilians will also conduct gym training, aerobics, endurance runs and the military's Individual Physical Proficiency Test at fitness centres where NSmen go to train and take the tests.

Besides freeing up manpower to focus on training or core defence tasks, the practice of outsourcing racks up significant dollar savings. The Defence Ministry reckons it saves the SAF millions of dollars a year.

In 2004, then Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean described outsourcing as a key cost-saving measure, at a time when other ministries had their budgets cut by 2 per cent.

Outsourcing is a common practice among militaries elsewhere. Government agencies here, such as the police and Singapore Civil Defence Force, also do it.

Mr Michael Palmer, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, agreed that outsourcing peripheral services will enable the SAF to concentrate on building a capable fighting force.

He noted that the SAF enjoyed a close relationship with its contractors: "Those who take up the more sensitive jobs are probably former or retired SAF officers, so there is this control and trust that ensures things run smoothly."

jermync@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 7, 2010.
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