SINGAPORE - Citizen soldiers are spending less than half the time on administrative processes than they were four years ago thanks to recent improvements in mobilisation exercises.
These used to involve spending 10 to 12 hours in camps waiting for weapons and combat kit to be issued and filling in forms. Now operationally-ready national servicemen (NSmen) take only four to five hours to get ready, said Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing.
The time savings have allowed the NSmen to undergo refresher training to maintain basic soldiering skills like weapon use, first aid and battle drills. At the same time, commanders have been freed up to draw out simulated battle plans.
Mobilisation exercises test the operational readiness of NSmen. They were introduced in the 1980s and are typically held on weekends. Servicemen have to report to mobilisation centres within two to six hours after they are activated.
A series of improvements to make the process more efficient has been made since 2009. These include the introduction of Mobilisation and Equipping Centres, which allow soldiers to report for duty, get kitted up and conduct training in one location.
Communication equipment is now packed into luggage bags to make it easier for soldiers to assemble them while some paper forms are now done by computer.
The convenience and more efficient use of time have created a more "positive experience" for NSmen, according to Mr Chan.
"We must make sure that once they have their equipment, their skills are ready, the planning is done concurrently," he said. "With these concurrent actions on the ground at the same time, you will find that the mobilisation system is much more effective."
Mr Chan was speaking to reporters after visiting 3,000 NSmen from the 76th Singapore Infantry Brigade who took part in a mobilisation exercise on Saturday.
Also with him at Nee Soon Camp were Minister of State for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman, defence chief Ng Chee Meng, army chief Ravinder Singh, selected employers and members of Accord - the Advisory Council for Community Relations in Defence.
Mr Chan, a former army chief, was heartened by the changes, some of which were suggested by NSmen themselves. "They feel much more confident because they have refreshed their skills," he said.
Lieutenant-Colonel (NS) Chua Kim Peng, commanding officer of the 755th Singapore Infantry Regiment, said: "Its not just going through the motions, testing timings... its about putting the men through more realistic training by letting them fire weapons."
Defence observer and Accord member David Boey was impressed by how the transition from civilian to soldier was done "swiftly and efficiently", allowing NSmen to spend their time on "purposeful and meaningful mission-oriented training". He added: "The call to arms hasn't changed since the first mobilisation exercise decades ago but thanks to constant improvements and suggestions from NSmen, that has resulted in the SAF's ability to mobilise and deploy citizen soldiers much faster than before."
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