Saturday, 9 May 2015

NSmen fill every post on some warships due to manpower crunch

Ex-regulars keep navy's capabilities sharp as manpower crunch looms
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 May 2015

FROM the captain to the gunner, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has become one of the few sea forces in the world to deploy reservist servicemen to fill every post on some of its warships.

These operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) are former regulars who left the navy but are now being called back to the fleet to be retrained to operate missile corvettes.

Previously, the crew of such ships were made up mainly of regulars and a handful of full-time national servicemen (NSF).

The US and Canadian navies are among the few with warships wholly manned by reservists.

The Straits Times learnt that the RSN began training reservists for naval duties in the middle of last year. So far, more than 100 are qualified to fully and independently operate the ships.

Faced with a looming manpower crunch, having NSmen man warships will help the RSN continue to sharpen its defence capabilities. The army is the only other branch of service in the Singapore Armed Forces that has units run fully by NSmen.

The Defence Ministry confirmed the move, saying that NSmen with relevant shipboard experience make up two teams that operate the RSN's missile corvettes "fully and independently".

Rear-Admiral Timothy Lo, who heads the naval operations department, said former regulars have "a great deal of operational and technical knowledge and experience" that can be tapped by the SAF.

He added that this will also allow those who get called up to "contribute at a higher level and find their NS experience and in-camp training more meaningful and interesting".

The NSmen go through a structured training programme to learn to operate the current fleet of missile corvettes that were recently upgraded and fitted with an unmanned aerial vehicle system and enhanced sensors for better surveillance.

They will have to meet the same standards as regular servicemen.

Under the RSN's scheme, NSmen are called up for in-camp training for up to 14 days a year to go through shore-based drills that will familiarise them with manoeuvring the ship.

They will also go out to sea for exercises, including naval drills with other countries, such as the US-hosted Rim of the Pacific Exercise (Rimpac).

Lieutenant-Colonel (NS) Kelvin Lim, commanding officer of RSS Vigilance, left the navy after 15 years to work in the government-linked Agency for Integrated Care.

The reservist told The Straits Times: "Initially, my officers and I did not know for certain whether our crew had retained sufficient skills to be effective.

"We knew we had to put in effort to ensure that we could keep ourselves and our ship crew safe during drills.

"By the end of the in-camp training, the crew that I took out to sea was one that I had full confidence in."

Dr Tim Huxley, executive director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (Asia), said: "Having additional manpower will allow the navy to maintain its operational readiness while giving crews proper rest.

"With competing industries in the economy, it will get more difficult to recruit more career sailors. It makes sense to tap the past experience of former regulars and just give them refresher training."

Navy trains sights on mid-career professionals
Navy chief also plans to double number of women
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 May 2015

IF YOU are 35 and hoping to find a second career, the navy wants you.

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is looking for engineers, commercial sailors, communication specialists and even lawyers who want to jump ship.

Navy chief Lai Chung Han hopes to boost the navy's manpower by embarking on a recruitment drive targeted at mid-career professionals.

Speaking to reporters to mark the RSN's 48th anniversary, Rear-Admiral Lai said those who choose to trade their office wear for sailor fatigues will enjoy another 25 years of a "full career".

"We must tell people out there that the navy is not just a viable but attractive second career... we want to be very receptive to people who decide to give the second half of their work life to a military organisation like the navy," said RADM Lai, who took the helm of the navy nine months ago.

"A Sharper, Smarter and Stronger Navy for Singapore."Chief of Navy Rear-Admiral Lai Chung Han spoke to the media and...
Posted by Republic of Singapore Navy on Sunday, May 10, 2015

Currently, only one in 10 navy personnel is a mid-career sailor.

A combat systems engineer with a degree, who holds the ME4 rank, can draw a starting salary of more than $4,500, including shipboard and sea assignment allowances.

RADM Lai, 42, said the navy will remunerate mid-career sailors attractively, as it already does today. "(But) you have to believe, you have to give yourself to the uniformed organisation and an organisation with a mission and purpose that goes beyond the bottom line."

What is more, those who join in the middle of their careers can expect to work for a long time.

Mid-careerists will be recruited as "military experts" in the Singapore Armed Forces' Military Domain Experts Scheme and can retire at 60. Commissioned officers, warrant officers and specialists have to retire at between 50 and 55. But many choose to leave in their mid to late 40s.

The RSN, like the air and land services, traditionally recruits 18- to 21-year-olds who are fresh out of school or from the pool of national service (NS) enlistees. But with declining birth rates, the number of young men enlisted for NS in 2025 will be 25 per cent lower than the number today.

Coupled with the shrinking NS pool, the RSN faces fiercer competition for talent in a tightening labour market, noted RADM Lai.

As part of the search for manpower, he also wants to double the number of women, who currently account for 7 per cent of the RSN's pool of regulars. To this end, the RSN is in the midst of reviewing its policies to make the navy more family-friendly.

This includes being more flexible in holding off professional development courses, to allow women to have children or let those who have just started a family serve on smaller ships that go on shorter sailing deployments.

In the wide-ranging interview that touched on how the RSN is deploying more unmanned platforms and combating piracy, RADM Lai also spoke about deploying reservist servicemen to fill every post on some of its warships.

The Straits Times reported that these operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) are former regulars who left the navy but are now being called back to the fleet to be retrained to operate missile corvettes.

RADM Lai said he is hoping that in the future, NSmen will be running the unmanned surface and underwater vessels, which account for a quarter of RSN's fleet.

"It doesn't mean that if we can't grow in size, we can't grow in impact, effect and outcomes. That's why being sharper, being smarter and being stronger will help us. We want to be able to do more with what we have more productively and more effectively," he said.

S'pore moves closer to inking F-16 upgrade deal
US approves $173m sale; total investment would be largest in RSAF's history
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 May 2015

SINGAPORE moved a step closer to inking a deal to upgrade its ageing fleet of F-16 fighter jets, after the United States State Department approved a US$130 million (S$173 million) arms sale.

The latest agreement, announced by the Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on Thursday, is in addition to a US$2.43 billion package that was first announced in January last year.

The total investment, if it happens, will be the largest and most ambitious yet in the 46-year history of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

It will allow Singapore to fit its F-16s with new radars, laser-guided bombs and smart cluster bombs - one of which is enough to strike an area the size of 20 football fields.

These upgrades are likely to extend the lifespan of the F-16s and make them operationally relevant for the next 20 years.

Also included in the package are training, aerial refuelling and logistical support services.

American defence contractor Lockheed Martin is most likely to carry out the upgrades.

According to Thursday's DSCA statement, the latest proposed sale "contains additional requirements not previously identified" in a notice issued in January last year to the US Congress highlighting the billion-dollar deal.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had announced in Parliament in 2013 that the RSAF was looking at upgrading the F-16s to "extend their lifespan".

The Defence Ministry (Mindef) said last night that the latest congressional notice "is not a formal contract of purchase".

Its spokesman said: "Programme negotiations are still ongoing, no contract has been signed and Mindef will ensure all our operational requirements are fulfilled before committing to the upgrade programme."

The spokesman added that value for money and long-term programme reliability are key factors, among other requirements.

"Mindef is mindful of our responsibility to spend carefully and wisely," she said.

We saw some online excitement with the news that there are plans to upgrade our F-16 fleet! And we've got this special...
Posted by The Republic of Singapore Air Force on Friday, May 8, 2015

The DSCA, which oversees US weapon system sales abroad, also said on its website that the latest round of proposed upgrades "improves both the capabilities and reliability of the RSAF's ageing fleet of F-16s".

The newly upgraded F-16s will enhance the RSAF's ability to defend its borders and contribute to coalition operations, the US agency added.

"The RSAF will have no difficulty absorbing this additional equipment and support into its armed forces."

The latest add-ons to the F-16 upgrade package do not come as a surprise to defence expert James Hardy, who said they were incremental upgrades.

"There are small adjustments after the RSAF reassessed what the F-16s really need. They also want to put in the newer generation or most up-to-date operating systems to allow Singapore to do more high-level training," said Mr Hardy, the Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.

The F-16s have been deployed in most, if not all, of RSAF's war games at home and overseas. Ace pilots from the RSAF's aerial display team, the Black Knights, also fly the F-16s to perform aerobatics.

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