A NEW military volunteer corps will be set up for those who are exempt from national service but want to pitch in for the country's defence.
Women and permanent residents in their 30s and 40s are among those targeted for what is being dubbed the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Volunteer Corps.
Just like national servicemen, volunteers will have to don uniforms, undergo combat training and be available for call-up every year. Those not medically or combat fit may be assigned to support roles such as logistics.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced the new military set-up in an interview on Tuesday, amid efforts by a high-level panel that he heads to strengthen support for and commitment to NS. There is room, he said, for women and first-generation PRs to play "meaningful military roles".
"The way the SAF has shaped up, where we fight with a lot of technologically abled capabilities and competencies, does expand the role, not only for women," said Dr Ng, adding that it required "different subsets apart from just sheer combat power".
While defence planners and military top brass are still drawing up the job specifications, Dr Ng stressed that they will not be "administrative" roles.
Observers said the new tasks could also include stints in new warfare areas such as cyber-defence and military intelligence.
The current volunteer scheme allows women who do not want to be career soldiers to do their bit in the SAF but only in non-combat roles such as by becoming nurses and medical officers. The last published figures on female SAF volunteers from 1995 said there were "more than 80" in those roles.
The topic of women and first-generation PRs volunteering attracted intense discussion in recent focus groups led by the Committee to Strengthen NS.
In a recent Institute of Policy Studies survey, seven out of 10 Singaporeans said women should be allowed to volunteer for the country's defence. This could include helping out at National Day parades and military open houses.
Dr Ng indicated he prefers the Swiss and Finnish system in which female military volunteers train alongside combat soldiers.
"Once you're a military volunteer, you're subject to discipline, the rules, the mission requirements as a military person. And that's a very serious undertaking."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.