Wednesday, 2 July 2014

IPPT to become simpler, with fewer test items: Ng Eng Hen's SAF Day media interview 2014

By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2014

EVERY career and citizen soldier will find it easier to train for - maybe even pass - his annual physical fitness test, as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) finalises changes to simplify the Individual Physical Proficiency Test, or IPPT.

The highly anticipated move, the first in more than 30 years, will likely include scrapping some test stations. The aim is to make the IPPT "simpler to administer and simpler to train for", said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Today's IPPT has five stations: the chin-up, standing broad jump, 4x10m shuttle, sit-up and 2.4km run.

Noting that most armed forces around the world "use simpler tests" with fewer components, Dr Ng said the Singapore Army has studied their fitness tests and "found a format that meets its needs which you can do with fewer stations and... is able to maintain the fitness standards or at least signal the fitness standards".

Dr Ng, however, did not disclose the changes during his annual media interview ahead of SAF Day today. The new IPPT will be announced by army chief Perry Lim "within the next few months", he added.

But Dr Ng said the changes will let SAF servicemen, including active personnel and operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen), "train in (their) own environment for types of exercises which are simpler to do".

About 116,000 men take the IPPT every year with about 50 per cent of NSmen passing the test every year. Failing it means the serviceman has to undergo remedial training.

Dr Ng said the SAF will still keep the IPPT as a "marker of fitness" and servicemen must put in effort in training for it. But "simpler is not easier", he stressed, as IPPT changes will be made "without diluting fitness standards".

He added: "We want a fit SAF, and a fit SAF is a desired goal and a good goal for all Singaporeans."

The Straits Times reported last October that likely IPPT changes could include axing the standing broad jump station and adding push-ups as a testing criterion.

The upcoming changes will put the SAF test in line with its US and Australian counterparts, which have three or four test components.

The impending changes follow the Government's approval last month of 30 proposals made by the Committee to Strengthen National Service to better recognise NSmen and boost public buy-in for the conscription scheme that started in 1967.

NSmen will also get up to twice the current timeframe to pass their IPPT and complete remedial training.

In his interview, Dr Ng stressed the changes do not mean the SAF is getting "softer". Rather, it is a response to a new generation of servicemen, with a different psychological make-up.

"It is, in a sense, not taking that strictly dogmatic approach but being flexible and listening to the NSmen, responding to them."

Move to simplify IPPT shows SAF is listening
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2014

THE Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) seems to be adopting the "keep it simple" approach with its decision to review one of the sacred cows of its combat fitness standards - the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

The last time this was reviewed was 30 years ago, resulting in today's IPPT which has five stations: the chin-up, standing broad jump, sit-up, 4x10m shuttle run and 2.4km run.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in an interview ahead of SAF Day, hinted at a simpler test format with fewer stations.

He said that many militaries around the world already use simpler tests with fewer stations and asked if there is really a need to make the SAF's golden standard for fitness assessment more complicated than it is.

Many of the 300,000-plus operationally-ready national servicemen (NSmen), who form the backbone of the SAF, would agree.

Besides juggling daily work commitments, some already find that they have to jump through hoops to get in shape.

According to a 2010 news report, about 50 per cent of NSmen pass their IPPT every year.

Paring down complicated test criteria, which arguably may not be accurate indicators of how fast one can clear battle obstacles, would be a relief to those who falter on stations like the standing broad jump.

Granted, some citizen soldiers who grumble about the IPPT may really be unfit.

But there are also those who hit the gym every other day and can outrun and outpull most people yet just cannot reach the broad jump's 216cm passing mark.

To the SAF, they are centimetres away from fitness and have to undergo remedial training.

For many professionals with nine-to-seven work routines, shuttling to and from these far-flung camps for the dreaded extra training can be a chore. In turn, this breeds resentment towards the IPPT.

The Defence Ministry has insisted the IPPT serves as a "baseline measure of physical fitness", even amid questions about its relevance and accuracy as a yardstick of fitness.

As Dr Ng noted, fitness cannot be seen "an imposition or a test" but as "a lifestyle".

The aim of the changes is to allow more NSmen to "train in his own environment for types of exercises which are just simpler to do", added Dr Ng.

Reviewing the IPPT is also necessary at a time when sweeping changes to national service (NS) are afoot to ensure the rite of passage remains relevant and responsive to a new generation of servicemen who report for duty with different lifestyles, habits and attitude to their predecessors.

The changes proposed by the Committee to Strengthen National Service are aimed at easing the impact of NS commitments on the lives of citizen soldiers.

For instance, NSmen only need to notify authorities of their overseas trips if they are longer than 14 days.

They also get up to twice the current timeframe to pass their IPPT and complete remedial training.

That the SAF is now simplifying the IPPT format and easing restrictions on physical training signals that it is willing to listen to and cater for citizen soldiers.

Gone are the days when it would build a man by first breaking him down and putting him through a battery of rigorous tests.

Making them more responsible for their own fitness empowers national servicemen to take ownership of their well-being and the country's defence.

People who think the SAF is going soft on its combatants, or worse yet, lowering fitness standards at the expense of the nation's defence, might be missing the point.

Dr Ng was quick to point out that the changes are not aimed at removing the pain points to make the test easier.

The starting point, he said, is still to keep the IPPT the measure of fitness standards, even though it is not the "be-all and end-all of fitness".

"We want a fit SAF, we want fit NSmen," he added.

Indeed, in attempting to keep the IPPT simple, the SAF shows it is not stuck in its ways but is practical and pragmatic about adapting to people's changing needs.

Dr Ng is perhaps prescient when he said it will not be the last word of the conversation.

New scheme allows SAF to tap civilian skills
NSmen with relevant expertise can 'convert' to take on specialist roles
By Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2014

PROFESSIONALS - such as lawyers, doctors and communication specialists - who have completed their national service cycles can now volunteer to contribute in their areas of expertise, the Defence Ministry said yesterday.

Under the new Expertise Conversion Scheme, they will be given Military Expert (ME) 4 ranks.

"With the need to conduct a full spectrum of operations, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is seeking to expand operational capabilities, especially in niche areas of expertise," Mindef said in a statement.

Operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) will be able to take on roles such as legal advisers, dentists, nurses and radiographers in the SAF.

The scheme is mainly intended for warrant officers, specialists and enlistees who have fulfilled their NS commitments. However, those with existing commitments will also be considered on a case- by-case basis.

Interested parties can register with their NS units and will be assessed to ensure that they have the relevant specialised professional qualifications. They must also have "sound leadership qualities" and "good character attributes", Mindef added.

They will then attend training sessions over several years to hone their professional, leadership and job skills.

Depending on operational demands and availability, up to two batches of NSmen will be converted to military experts every year.

More details on the training duration will be made available after the first cohort, which is still being trained, is inaugurated later this month.

Like officers, newly converted experts must serve until they are 50. They will be required to serve in their new ranks and roles for at least three years, and can be called up for up to 40 days a year.

The new scheme is an addition to those currently in place for people who wish to volunteer or extend their service.

One of these, the Reservist On Voluntary Extended Reserve Service (Rovers) scheme, allows key appointment holders - such as brigade commanders and regimental sergeant-majors - to continue serving until 50 years of age, for officers, and 40, for specialists. Beyond that, they must serve under the SAF Volunteer Scheme.

Women, new citizens and first-generation permanent residents can also volunteer their expertise as specialists in legal, medical, psychological and maritime fields, under the recently announced SAF Volunteer Corps.

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said the new scheme is "an efficient form of military manpower and resource management".

"Volunteers will be able to hit the ground running with little additional training and feel appreciated as experts in their respective fields," he said.

Lawyer Ranjan Indiran, 33, who is now in a support platoon doing administrative work for his reservist training, said he will consider converting. "I don't mind serving for a longer period, as long as I'm comfortable with the work and can contribute meaningfully."

SAF may buy large warship for use in disaster zones
By Jermyn Chow And Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2014

THE Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is likely to acquire a bigger warship that can carry more helicopters as it looks to expand its role and do more in the world's potential flashpoints, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Such roles include participation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for incidents like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, when the navy deployed three of its landing ship tanks (LSTs) to Indonesia.

"While the LSTs have served us, we're seriously considering a larger joint multi-mission ship that will have greater capacity and greater range," said Dr Ng, adding that his ministry was evaluating the requirements of such a ship. He noted how this ship would have been "very useful" in res- ponding to catastrophes like last year's Super Typhoon Haiyan, which knocked out almost all communications in the Tacloban area in the Philippines.

The 141m-long landing ship tanks, the largest warships at the SAF's disposal, have been deployed for anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Indonesia.

While its remit becomes larger, the SAF will have to "do more within the means accorded to us", and defence spending patterns will not change dramatically, Dr Ng said.

"We avoid sharp spikes and we avoid deep dips because that kind of defence spending is what we have experienced and what other militaries recognise as the most productive outcome."

The SAF is also expected to do more to tackle non-traditional threats. One example is in the arena of cyber defence, where it is ramping up training, deployment and hiring of officers for its Cyber Defence Operations Hub, established last June to monitor cyber threats around the clock and improve IT security.

The SAF is also setting up a centre in Singapore to coordinate regional efforts in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

This move, which follows a visit by military chiefs to the Changi and Command Control Centre, has earned support from other countries, said Dr Ng.

"They feel that it is an idea that meets the needs of the times, and I would say that we are working out the mechanics."

Amid the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, Dr Ng said, small countries like Singapore have to be "very careful".

"We have a very difficult job not getting sucked into any vortex or any orbit. We want to maintain our independence, we do not take sides and we want an architecture that allows room for small countries like Singapore to be able to maintain our own space, to be able to decide our own course."

Political will is needed to defuse tensions and solve the disputes peacefully, he added.

"It is really political will to see how you want the region shaped, what tensions you want resolved and what people see as a situation which benefits everyone."

Q&A with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

What can be done to tighten the lapses in protocol when dealing with servicemen with mental health problems?

The basic principle is that if the psychiatric board assesses that the person can serve a vocation in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), we will deploy him and we will enlist. If he can serve a meaningful role and a vocation in the SAF, and safely - to himself, as well as to others - we would deploy him like other NSmen.

What do you make of the conversations about NS on social media?

(Social media) doesn't completely represent the entire population and we don't, shouldn't let that drive our considerations for main policymaking. And even if you say social media, there is a broad spectrum of voices. What we do is to try and take from the broad society, not only from polls but face to face, through different communities, and then see what the general view is.

What is the risk of Singapore citizens becoming self-radicalised?

It's a very globalised world. You can pick up not only ideas but be further radicalised and pick up expertise. I'm not at liberty to share details but this is an area of concern...As you know, we've had, even in Singapore, people who were self-radicalised on the Internet. And that in itself was obviously a risk.

How satisfied are you with the progress of Malays in the SAF?

I'm race-neutral... If you believe in the defence of Singapore, we want you, whatever the colour of your skin.

While others have encouraged (the senior) Malay commanders to step forward (and be identified as Malay), some of them have been reluctant to do so.

They say: "Why should I do it? Because, you know, I'm put in this position, not because I'm a Malay, so why should I come out as a Malay?"

I will respect that but neither am I discouraging them from coming out to say so.

How far will recent proposals by the Committee to Strengthen National Service go to foster goodwill and increase support for national service?

All our changes are made on the premise that NS is a duty, that this is for the collective good, for defending our way of life, of what we treasure. And practically responding to the needs of NSmen when we think it is reasonable, simplifying things, and taking this approach, I would say that I think this is one of the reasons why we have been able to have such strong support for defence.

SAF chief goes out of his way to know 'way of life'
He lugs combat gear and goes on 32km route march with fellow soldiers
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 2 Jul 2014

SINGAPORE'S eighth Chief of Defence Force may be the top man in the country's military, but that did not stop him from lugging 20kg of combat gear on a 32km route march among junior comrades less than half his age.

Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng volunteered for the army combat skills course last year, taking part alongside 20-year-old trainees.

He also completed a two-week naval diving course.

An ace pilot more comfortable within the confines of the fighter jet, he said he wanted to understand the "way of life" in the army and navy.

"I've done the route march as a young man. I wanted to go through it again just to understand what the people who serve together with me go through," said Lt-Gen Ng in an interview ahead of yesterday's Singapore Armed Forces Day.

People seem to be the main focus for Lt-Gen Ng, who took over the helm from Lt-Gen Neo Kian Hong in March last year.

The graduate of the prestigious US Air Force Academy joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1986, and is only the second man from the air force to be promoted to the top job in the SAF's 49-year history.

More than a year into his job, he paid tribute to the 350,000- plus men and women he leads, calling them the SAF's "biggest asset" and part of a "tribe" that sets high standards.

In Lt-Gen Ng's tribe, there is an open culture in which commanders, and the rank and file, speak their minds and do not mince words so as to "derive the best decision".

And with a more vocal and questioning generation of servicemen reporting for duty, the defence chief sees great opportunities.

"I was a 21-year-old before, I embrace the idealism of the younger generation," he said.

He added that he will take on their views, but as a 46-year- old man now, he will "try to imbue in them a balance of idealism and pragmatism".

Lt-Gen Ng said getting people to share their opinions promotes a sense of ownership of the SAF.

But he cautioned that an "open culture is not equating to anarchy". "As a military force, once a decision is taken, I do expect my commanders to carry (out) those decisions and implement those decisions successfully on the ground... you cannot have a discussion at a time of crisis and have different divergent instructions all over the place."

While SAF combatants train hard to sharpen its fighting edge, Lt-Gen Ng stressed that he trusts his commanders to "do the right thing" and ensure training is conducted safely.

"But there's inherent risk involved in the military and in any daily activities... if you're going to be very, very safe, well, stay at home."

Soldiers salute SAF Day online
They post photos, videos on social media platforms in tribute to NS
By Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 2 Jul 2014

IT WAS not just at ceremonies and parades in schools and army camps that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day was celebrated yesterday. The special day was marked online too.

Thousands of servicemen, past and present, took to social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to post photos and videos paying tribute to national service.

Some, such as user "fnkwh", uploaded old photos of themselves in military fatigues, while others shared group shots taken with their NS buddies.

The hashtag #SAF Day also became a popular trending topic on Twitter throughout the day.

At press time, there were more than 1,200 posts on Instagram with the #SAFDay hashtag.

A separate effort launched by the SAF to get the public to pin virtual "badges" on their Facebook display pictures to commemorate the occasion drew more than 13,000 users.

Many used pictures of themselves in uniform, while some even put up shots taken with their loved ones at commissioning parades.

One such user, undergraduate Melvyn Teo, 24, posted a photo of himself during military training in New Zealand.

"It's one of my fondest memories, because I got to go outfield despite being downgraded, to experience the weather and shoot other soldiers in action," said Mr Teo, who served his NS in the SAF Film Unit. "I noticed my friends putting up the badges, and thought it was a good way to show my support for SAF Day and our soldiers."

Elsewhere, more than 3,000 servicemen attended the SAF Day parade, officiated by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at Safti military institute yesterday.

These included top military brass, SAF regulars, full-time national servicemen and operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen).

President Tan presented the 1st Commando Battalion, which won this year's Best Combat Unit award - its 11th consecutive victory - with the State Colours.

Earlier in the day, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen delivered the annual SAF Day message at a re-dedication ceremony at ITE College Central.

"We pledge ourselves individually to be committed, well trained and professional soldiers," said Dr Ng.

"When called upon, we will serve with pride and honour, flying our Singapore flag proudly, as we did over this past year, whether in distributing masks during the haze, searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 or relieving the humanitarian crisis following Typhoon Haiyan," he added.

Some 650 NSmen also reaffirmed their allegiance at three other such ceremonies. These were officiated by Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

Male teachers at schools, such as North Vista Primary, also turned up in their uniforms, to recite the pledge and rededicate themselves.

"We got our teachers to share with the students about NS, and the students to write thank-you notes to people who serve... One concept we use to explain defence, so that they understand easily, is how Singapore cannot be 'bullied' by outsiders," said North Vista Primary principal Phua Kia Wang, 53.


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