Rehire retired staff? SAF 'should focus on current regulars, NSFs'

Servicemen from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) participating in a military exercise on Pulau Sudong on 2 August 2011, which was part of a two-week-long drill to test the battle-readiness of Singapore's air force, navy and army units

SINGAPORE - The proposal to hire more career soldiers to replace full-time national servicemen (NSFs) as instructors will help the Singapore Army remain mission-ready in spite of a declining number of conscripts, said defence analysts.

But instead of rehiring retired personnel, the army should focus on retaining its current pool of regulars and NSFs, they said.

They were responding to proposals by the Committee to Strengthen National Service to improve the training system that nearly 20,000 qualified male enlistees now go through each year.

Due to declining birth rates, the number will fall to about 15,000 a year in future.

Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing, who sits on the high-level panel, told reporters on Monday that retired SAF personnel, women and civilian contractors are some groups that the army could consider hiring as instructors in its training schools like the Basic Military Training (BMT) Centre.

Doing so will free up NSFs to focus on combat duties in operational ground units.

Mr Chan said that the army will need to hire 15 per cent more regulars to replace outgoing NSFs.

While the Ministry of Defence declined to reveal exact figures, The Straits Times understands this works out to about 1,200 additional career soldiers.

Defence analyst Tim Huxley demurred on bringing back retired personnel. "If they left, they would already be doing something else, not sitting at home, waiting to come back."

According to Mindef, about 100 to 200 regulars - in their mid- to late 40s - retire from the SAF every year.

Among them, eight in 10 take only six months on average to land a new job. Many join government ministries, statutory boards and private contractors.

Dr Huxley, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (Asia), said the other option of offering short-term contracts - lasting between six and nine months - to NSFs who complete their NS stints is also a good way of retaining the institutional knowledge and military know-how.

"It makes very good sense as these people are at the peak of their fitness and can be good role models for the rookie soldiers."

Defence observer David Boey said the idea of hiring more career soldiers will allow defence planners to maintain the SAF's front-line units.

"To get the most out of every individual soldier, it is critical to ensure that BMT, as the first touchpoint in a citizen soldier's training cycle, is even more important."

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