SINGAPORE — The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be employing more regulars as full-time trainers of National Servicemen to make training more effective and efficient. Up to 1,100 more regulars could be hired in a move that could also possibly result in the shortening of the National Service (NS) stint by a few weeks.
Announcing this in Parliament yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen nevertheless stressed that the army was “under no pressure” to reduce the duration of NS.
“The largest impact of employing more regular trainers … will be on the training of our full-time National Servicemen (NSF), and I think there can be some time savings,” he said. “Because in the present system, some time is required for second-year NSF trainers to adapt themselves to the training environment in their units and training schools. So, having regular trainers will smooth this transition.”
But he added: “Let me quell unrealistic expectations. The time savings will be a few weeks at most, if any. I am not making any promises here because the Army has to study many details to ensure that we can continue to generate operationally ready units.”
Speaking during the Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF) Committee of Supply debate, Dr Ng also outlined plans to buy and develop military hardware, but stressed that people remain the SAF’s most important resource and Singaporeans’ full commitment to NS is crucial for defence.
The SAF’s move to hire more professional trainers followed servicemen’s criticism — collected through the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) — that time committed to the SAF during NS and In-Camp Trainings (ICTs) could be better utilised.
“I think that’s a fair comment. The SAF takes this criticism to heart because those who gave feedback were not asking for lighter loads or less involvement,” said Dr Ng. “They, in fact, wanted NS to better strengthen our national identity and social cohesion, and instil discipline and values, which many members of this House have echoed. They said there should be less time wasted and more effective training systems. I agree that these are good outcomes.”
Dr Ng noted that the current full-time NS system, where second-year NSFs train and lead new servicemen, has its merits such as building leadership skills and a sense of ownership.
However, “compared with having professional trainers which will have a greater impact on training outcomes, inculcating discipline and more importantly, transmitting values, there is a limit to what a 22-year-old NSF can transmit to a 21-year-old”, said Dr Ng, who noted that the SAF Commandos deploy only regular trainers to train their recruits.
Hiring up to 1,100 more regulars as trainers is expected to increase the proportion of these trainers in the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) to about one in three trainers, up from the current one in six.
NSmen who had served as BMTC instructors during their NSF days welcomed the move. Recounting their own experiences, they agreed that NSF trainers like themselves tend to require a settling-in period — usually the time it took to train their first batch of recruits — to gain the necessary experience to fully adapt to the training environment.
Mr Jonathan Lee, 27, pointed out that new NSF trainers are usually more lenient on recruits as they are not used to exerting their command. He added that by getting more regulars to become BMTC trainers, this can free up NSFs for operational roles.
Mr Leroy Lim, 28, nevertheless felt that NSFs should still be given the chance to become trainers. He added that his experience as a BMTC instructor had taught him leadership skills and how to manage people.
In Parliament, Dr Ng also addressed waiting times before enlistment, which vary between a few weeks to six months, depending on whether the students are from junior colleges, polytechnics, Institutes of Technical Education or overseas institutions.
Dr Ng said he has asked the SAF to develop an enlistment system with a fixed time frame, such as four to five months. “But please remember we are dealing with nearly 20,000 enlistees every year, so the logistics are challenging,” said Dr Ng.
He ruled out reducing the number of ICTs. He reiterated that Singapore needs sufficient reserves for defence and ICTs were already cut from 13 to 10 in 2006. “We will need the 10 ICTs and those in MINDEF reserves to maintain the strength in our standing force, which will meet our defence needs, even with falling birth rates, until 2040,” he said.
The Army expects to complete its detailed studies on the issues raised by CSNS in the second half of the year.