Move to simplify IPPT shows SAF is listening

Move to simplify IPPT shows SAF is listening

THE Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) seems to be adopting the "keep it simple" approach with its decision to review one of the sacred cows of its combat fitness standards - the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

The last time this was reviewed was 30 years ago, resulting in today's IPPT which has five stations: the chin-up, standing broad jump, sit-up, 4x10m shuttle run and 2.4km run.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in an interview ahead of SAF Day, hinted at a simpler test format with fewer stations.

He said that many militaries around the world already use simpler tests with fewer stations and asked if there is really a need to make the SAF's golden standard for fitness assessment more complicated than it is.

Many of the 300,000-plus operationally- ready national servicemen (NSmen), who form the backbone of the SAF, would agree.

Besides juggling daily work commitments, some already find that they have to jump through hoops to get in shape.

According to a 2010 news report, about 50 per cent of NSmen pass their IPPT every year.

Paring down complicated test criteria, which arguably may not be accurate indicators of how fast one can clear battle obstacles, would be a relief to those who falter on stations like the standing broad jump.

Granted, some citizen soldiers who grumble about the IPPT may really be unfit.

But there are also those who hit the gym every other day and can outrun and outpull most people yet just cannot reach the broad jump's 216cm passing mark.

To the SAF, they are centimetres away from fitness and have to undergo remedial training.

For many professionals with nine-to-seven work routines, shuttling to and from these far-flung camps for the dreaded extra training can be a chore. In turn, this breeds resentment towards the IPPT.

The Defence Ministry has insisted the IPPT serves as a "baseline measure of physical fitness", even amid questions about its relevance and accuracy as a yardstick of fitness.

As Dr Ng noted, fitness cannot be seen "an imposition or a test" but as "a lifestyle".

The aim of the changes is to allow more NSmen to "train in his own environment for types of exercises which are just simpler to do", added Dr Ng.

Reviewing the IPPT is also necessary at a time when sweeping changes to national service (NS) are afoot to ensure the rite of passage remains relevant and responsive to a new generation of servicemen who report for duty with different lifestyles, habits and attitude to their predecessors.

The changes proposed by the Committee to Strengthen National Service are aimed at easing the impact of NS commitments on the lives of citizen soldiers.

For instance, NSmen only need to notify authorities of their overseas trips if they are longer than 14 days.

They also get up to twice the current timeframe to pass their IPPT and complete remedial training.

That the SAF is now simplifying the IPPT format and easing restrictions on physical training signals that it is willing to listen to and cater for citizen soldiers.

Gone are the days when it would build a man by first breaking him down and putting him through a battery of rigorous tests.

Making them more responsible for their own fitness empowers national servicemen to take ownership of their well-being and the country's defence.

People who think the SAF is going soft on its combatants, or worse yet, lowering fitness standards at the expense of the nation's defence, might be missing the point.

Dr Ng was quick to point out that the changes are not aimed at removing the pain points to make the test easier.

The starting point, he said, is still to keep the IPPT the measure of fitness standards, even though it is not the "be-all and end-all of fitness".

"We want a fit SAF, we want fit NSmen," he added.

Indeed, in attempting to keep the IPPT simple, the SAF shows it is not stuck in its ways but is practical and pragmatic about adapting to people's changing needs.

Dr Ng is perhaps prescient when he said it will not be the last word of the conversation.

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