Civilians take over fitness training at SAF

First Warrant Officer Mohamed Suhaimy bin Abdul Rashid (in white), 46, coaching Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) recruits. Mohamed Suhaimy has been awarded for his excellent physical fitness by the SAF. He also holds a Diploma in Sports and Wellness and is the head specialist for physical fitness training at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) in Pulau Tekong.

The days of the much-feared physical training instructor of the Singapore Armed Forces are numbered.

That taskmaster in a white singlet who puts every chrome dome through punishing physical training will be replaced by civilians, as physical training throughout the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is outsourced to commercial fitness outfits.

The Straits Times understands that the PTIs, known as fitness specialists in the SAF, will replaced by the end of next year.

Current fitness specialists will be redeployed to combat jobs in the SAF.

Since the middle of last year, more than 50 fitness trainers from Certis Cisco have been put through the paces, training all recruits at the Basic Military Training Centre on Pulau Tekong.

The civilians have taken over jobs such as conducting gym training, aerobics, endurance runs and the military's annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) - duties traditionally carried out by the army. The civilians will be supervised by these soldiers and will stick to the army's training manual.

Other core training such as swimming and the running of the Standard Obstacle Course will still be done in-house by a core team of fitness specialists.

When contacted, Defence Ministry spokesman Darius Lim said it was tapping "professional expertise" to provide effective fitness training for its recruits.

He added that the SAF is mulling over plans to also replace PTIs with commercial fitness instructors at its three Fitness Conditioning Centres for NSmen. These centres are where NSmen go to take their annual IPPT or to train for it. 

The move to farm out physical training to civilian fitness instructors is the latest in a practice since the 1970s to have outsiders run non-core or non-combat services for the military.

The SAF has turned over all its cookhouses, some aircraft maintenance and logistics services and even naval training in navigation and weaponry, to contractors such as Singapore Food Industries and ST Engineering.

Outsourcing jobs saves the SAF millions of dollars a year, improves efficiency and frees up servicemen to focus on combat training, the ministry has previously said.

For instance, handing over SAF cookhouses to contractors freed up more than 750 soldiers. Outsourcing aircraft maintenance, from front-line work to depot overhauls in the 1990s, freed up about 1,600 air force personnel.

Outsourcing is a common practice among militaries. It is estimated that the United States armed forces hires 15,000 to 20,000 private contractors to work in Iraq as cooks, truck drivers, technicians, security personnel, translators and even interrogators.

Defence analyst Tim Huxley said it "makes sense" for the military's bottom line and operations to outsource physical fitness training.

Dr Huxley, an executive director at the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "Faced with a manpower crunch, the SAF will have at their disposal more combat-fit servicemen for combat operations or training."

Certis Cisco declined to comment, but its job advertisements require would-be fitness instructors to be combat fit and have attained at least a silver award in the IPPT or National Physical Fitness Assessment test.

Candidates would then be trained at the Old Police Academy along Thomson Road for a month, followed by a theory and practical test.

Among the civilians are some former BMT instructors who completed their two-year national service stint and are waiting to enter university.

One trainer, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times that these former full-time national servicemen were hired by Certis Cisco because they were more "familiar with BMT training".


"Faced with a manpower crunch, the SAF will have at their disposal more combat-fit servicemen for combat operations or training."

Defence analyst Tim Huxley, who said it "makes sense" for the military's bottom line and operations to outsource physical fitness training

This article was first published on April 14, 2010. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.