Professional trainers may help shorten NS

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will hire more regular soldiers to become professional trainers, in a move which will not only beef up training, but may also see the duration of national service (NS) shortened by a few weeks.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said during yesterday's Committee of Supply (COS) debate that up to 1,100 more career soldiers will be needed to fill these roles.

Currently, only one in six instructors in the Basic Military Training centres are regulars, while the others are full-time national servicemen (NSFs). This ratio could rise to one in three.

Having second-year NSFs train and lead new recruits has its "merits", said Dr Ng, such as developing commanders and giving a sense of ownership.

However, professional trainers can have "greater impact" on training outcomes, and instilling discipline and values. "There's a limit to what a 22-year-old NSF second-year can transmit to a 21-year-old," he said.

The largest impact of the change, Dr Ng said, could be in the form of "time savings" in the training of NSFs.

"But let me quell unrealistic expectations here, the time savings will be in the few weeks at most, if any...the Army has to study many details to ensure that we can continue to generate operationally ready units," Dr Ng said.

He added that the SAF has been looking into how time could be more effectively used during NS and in-camp training (ICT), in response to public feedback.

Dr Ng said the number of ICTs - which had already been reduced from 13 to 10 in 2006 - will remain to maintain the strength in SAF's standing force.

SAF is, however, "seriously studying" reducing the waiting time before enlistment, and Dr Ng said it could be possible for those who have completed their tertiary education to start their NS within four to five months, in most cases.

"But please remember that we are dealing with 20,000 enlistees every year and the logistics are very challenging," he noted.

Defence analyst David Boey said that raising the training cadre will ensure there is more "consistency in the standard of training" as these regulars would have been in the role for a longer period.

This could make training safer as well, observers said.

Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing said during yesterday's COS debate that there were no training-related fatalities last year.

While the number of near-misses reported increased by 60 per cent in the first half of last year compared to 2012, this is "due to the increase in the command emphasis to have more incidents reported", Mr Chan noted.

In 2012, an NSF died after suffering an allergic reaction to zinc chloride fumes from six smoke grenades thrown by his commander. In a separate incident that year, another NSF died after the jeep he was in overturned.

Polytechnic student Cheong Chong You, 20, who is currently waiting to enlist, asked if there would be fewer opportunities for NSFs to become officers, should their roles as trainers be taken over by regulars.

Fellow student Wong Wing Lun, also 20, said: "It will mean fewer chances for enlistees to experience leadership roles."


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