Changes afoot for SAF

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen at a media interview ahead of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen spoke to reporters last week ahead of Singapore Armed Forces Day, which is celebrated today.

He shares his views on what lies ahead for the SAF.

Will there be changes to IPPT?

Dr Ng: We want to move towards an environment which allows the NSman (operationally ready national servicemen) to keep fit more in his natural environment rather than having ... to only have to go to Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) camps to do it.

This is coming from not only the NSmen but SAF commanders themselves: Can you make the IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) simpler? Is it possible, without eroding fitness standards, to, instead of five, have less stations? So Army is again, in the last legs of evaluating and trying to see whether we can come up with simpler tests. I will quickly tell you that the gold standards won't change.

If you want to get the incentive award from the SAF, you will still have to meet whatever is there.

That, I don't think will change but there may be a bigger range in terms of what it means to be fit. That's about as much as I can tell you but the Chief of Army will come out... when he is ready to talk about the new format... within the next few months.

What is being done to tighten the lapse in protocol following the death of Private Ganesh Pillay Magindren last July?

Dr Ng: The SAF... takes very seriously the issue of mental health of our servicemen.

We recognise and we approach it as we do similar to physical illness, because an illness ought not to have that sharp line between physical and mental. We have tried to take a very practical approach to avoid stigmatisation, to avoid an outcome which is not medically or professionally based.

The basic principle is if the medical board... assesses that the person can serve a vocation in the SAF, we will deploy him. Mental conditions (occur)... not only within the Army, (but) in any part of their life, whether they are in the military or not. We recognise that the condition is not static and... are trying to beef up ... the monitoring mechanisms.

On social media and expatriate forums, there are people talking about how they can get themselves exempted from NS or even get their children exempted. How can we continue to have our citizens and PRs to play a big part for national service?

Dr Ng: Citizens are liable. Second-generation permanent residents (PR) are liable. If they do not meet those commitments, there are severe penalties.

As I have said publicly, and I repeat this again: If your child is not willing to do NS, do not take up PR because the penalties are very severe.

The specific issue of PRs and new citizens... was one of the main reasons why the idea of a volunteer corps came up. Not only for new citizens who came in older and are not liable, but women.

It will be good for Singapore for these avenues to open up for people who don't have the NS commitment but despite that... want to show... commitment to Singapore. It won't be in the huge numbers, but it is something of an idea that we should nurture.

As the Committee to Strengthen National Service wraps up its work, do you think that the changes will foster goodwill and increase the support for NS, or might it be blind optimism?

Dr Ng: I wouldn't cast it like that, we're hoping too much or blind optimism. We recognise that whatever it is, NS is a duty for all of us and it is a collective responsibility for a collective aspiration - to protect what we love For some, they don't need these changes.

They say whatever it is they feel so passionately about Singapore and what we have built up and for some of the older generation, they ... need no convincing. For the others, it may never be enough. All our changes are premised on that NS is a duty, that this is for (the) collective good for defending our way of life of what we treasure. 

And practically responding to the needs of NSmen when we think is reasonable, simplifying things, and taking this approach... this is one of the reasons why we have been able to have such strong support for defence.

Any updates on Singapore hosting a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief coordination centre?

Dr Ng: We had thought about this and rather than respond ad hoc... we thought we could play a role as a coordinating centre. We had floated the idea during the ASEAN-US Informal Defence Ministers' Meeting in Honolulu and it was well received. Since then, I would say that a number of countries have supported us and said it was a good idea and they want to collaborate with us.

A number of military chiefs have visited our Changi Command and Control Centre. They feel that it is an idea that meets the needs of the times, and I would say that we are working out the mechanics. You have to pre-position networks because… no single country will have all the resources to meet the size of the challenge, because frankly you (won't know) how large the scale is. 

So we are actively seeking to build these networks. It is important to have the conversation with these partners, to know what are the best practices, what are the standard operating procedures and so on. If your child is not willing to do NS, do not take up PR because the penalties are very severe.

This article was first published on July 1, 2014.
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