Wednesday, 1 July 2015


SAF Honours Best Units 2015

RSS Vigilance wins inaugural Best NS Naval Unit award
Former regulars were 'rusty' at the start, says commander
By Derek Wong, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2015

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL (NS) Kelvin Lim's first reaction when told he would be leading a missile corvette vessel fully manned by reservist servicemen was, "Is this possible?"

Two years later, the commanding officer of RSS Vigilance and his crew of mostly regulars who have left the force have clinched the inaugural Best NS Naval Unit award. Previously, the crews of such ships were made up mainly of regulars and a handful of full-time national servicemen.

It wasn't always smooth sailing for Lt-Col (NS) Lim and his men, some of whom had been civilians for up to six years since leaving the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

"We were rusty when we first started, and forgot things that used to come naturally, but it did not take long to regain our confidence - (it is) like cycling," said the 38-year-old, who is chief of the social care division at the government-linked Agency for Integrated Care.

The NSmen were even able to share their experience from their RSN days with the regulars guiding them, Lt-Col (NS) Lim said.

Eighteen active and 11 national service (NS) units from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be recognised for being the best in their formations, the Defence Ministry announced yesterday.

The awards are given annually to units that do well in combat readiness, operational proficiency and administrative excellence.

Up in the skies, the 144 Squadron operating the F-5S/T fighter planes won the Best Fighter Squadron award for the fourth time, ousting its more modern F-15 and F-16 counterparts. It last clinched the award in 2009.

It did this by emphasising the smallest details, said commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Tsai Hong Pin, 43. He said: "We demand standards in whatever we do, and pay close attention to daily administration processes that may be overlooked, such as properly entering flight details upon the return of an aircraft."

The squadron will be in the National Day Parade Flypast this year.

The RSS Tenacious won the Best Fleet Unit award for the first time since its commissioning in 2008. The stealth frigate took part in a 103-day counter-piracy operation last year in the Gulf of Aden, where the crew endured blistering weather in the Middle East, and encountered a typhoon on the way back.

"Cups were flying and the waves were 6m high," said commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Ho Jee Kian. "The ship was rolling for four days and we could not walk straight."

They were stranded after a port of call at Djibouti was called off due to a suicide bombing onshore. "We did not have replenishments for 29 days and were missing basic ingredients... but the chef ensured our food came out as good," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen will present the awards at the SAF50 Parade at the Safti Military Institute tomorrow (1 July).

Special parade for SAF's 50th year
500 pioneers also in attendance as force commemorates its golden jubilee
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 2 Jul 2015

The Singapore flag soared over the Safti Military Institute yesterday as Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel past and present reunited for a grand parade, five decades after the force's formation.

Viewing stands at the SAF50 Parade were packed with some 3,500 spectators from the SAF, including 500 pioneers who saw the force through its early years.

Some came in wheelchairs, others with limps and canes. But as the State and Regimental Colours were paraded past the stands, they sat up a little straighter, or rose to their feet, hands raised in proud salute.

Major (Ret) Leong Kwai Wah, 74, said: "It's nice to come back here, to the home of the officers, and it's an honour to be invited."

The bus ride past the Pasir Laba Camp - where his former training ground, the old SAFTI, once stood - stirred up memories of his days in the SAF.

The retired air operations and communications officer joined the SAF in 1966 as part of the first batch of officer cadets. He retired more than two decades later, in 1988.

He was on the front lines during Konfrontasi, when Indonesia opposed the formation of Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part.

But what he recalled most, and fondly, were his training days.

"We were sometimes punished for nothing, made to run up and down Peng Kang Hill," he said with a chuckle. "It gave us a good sense of loyalty and determination. It was a lot of hard work. I'm sure today's SAF, with the new 3G SAF, will definitely be one of the best."

There were a series of firsts at the SAF50 Parade, which was officiated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. An SAF Day parade has been held annually on July 1 since 1969, but this year, with Singapore and the SAF celebrating golden jubilees, saw the grandest parade yet.

Aside from inviting pioneers for the first time, a trio of helicopters carrying the Singapore flag flew over the parade in another first, followed later by a flypast by five F-15SG fighter jets.

The Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, led the crowd in reciting the SAF Pledge, and a minute of silence was observed for personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty.

The parade also paid tribute to Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23, aged 91. Pictures of Mr Lee were shown on a screen on the parade ground, accompanied by a narration of Mr Lee's support for the development of the SAF and a strong defence.

Later, PM Lee presented the 1st Commando Battalion, which won this year's Best Combat Unit award, with the State Colours. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen presented 28 Best Unit and Best National Service Unit awards.

Earlier, over 650 NSmen and employers from over 350 companies attended SAF Day ceremonies around the island, pledging to protect Singapore's independence.

Said Captain (NS) Chen Fuwei, the Navy's NSman of the Year, who has volunteered to extend his reservist stint: "There's a bit of sacrifice, having to forgo work opportunities, spending some time away from my family ... But I'm not alone in this. There are many more thousands of servicemen working hard, day and night, to keep the country safe. This camaraderie and sense of purpose and unity spur me on."

The SAF Celebrates 50 years of National Defence at the SAFTI Military Institute this evening. The parade was Officiated...
Posted by The Singapore Army on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#SAF50 draws thousands of posts
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 2 Jul 2015

While ceremonies and parades were being held across the island to commemorate Singapore Armed Forces Day officially, people also went online to put their own stamp on it.

Thousands of servicemen, past and present, took to social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter to post photos and videos paying tribute to National Service.

The hashtag #SAF50 became a popular trending topic throughout the day as the SAF, started in 1965, is also celebrating its Golden Jubilee, along with Singapore.

Users, including Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and MP Lim Wee Kiak, uploaded old photos of themselves in military fatigues or with their NS buddies, evoking nostalgic times when they did their full-time NS stints.

One netizen, mr-ment, put up a photo of him and his bunkmates during an overseas exercise with the caption: "Blast from the past! Days of infinity push-ups, Jumping Jack, change parades, crawling across the parade square were moments I will treasure for life. Glad to have served with you all."

Another user - @kenny.pd - posted a photo of himself on his last outfield training exercise with a tongue-in-cheek caption: "We are the silent warriors. We don't need any damn recognition or fancy parades because we do the dirty work for those who won't."

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen posted a photo on Facebook of himself and senior SAF officers pledging their allegiance to the country at a re-dedication ceremony at Safra Toa Payoh.

SAF Day interview with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

SAF adapting to tackle new threats
Armed forces undergoing revamp to ensure S'pore can defend itself despite its small size
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2015

Singapore has started to reorganise its fighting forces to ensure that, even as a small state, it can defend itself against emerging threats.

The revamp comes against the backdrop of extremist groups such as Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and Al-Qaeda spreading radical ideologies based on false religious precepts, and carrying out hybrid warfare - a military concept that involves conventional weapons and unconventional tools, such as spreading disinformation, to achieve victory without resorting to open warfare.

Also looming are cyber threats with the "potential to wreak as much havoc", said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen last Friday in his annual media interview ahead of SAF Day today.

He added that the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) modernisation drive, which is dubbed the "third-generation" (3G) transformation, is going well, as troops are given more precise combat information and are able to close the loop between "what you see and how you effect responses".

But the armed forces must "keep transforming" to address the fundamental change in how information is collected and used in today's battleground.

The SAF is enlisting more "cyber soldiers" to beef up its online defence, and doubling motorised ground units to ensure that half of the army moves on tracks or wheels. More money will also be invested in new technology such as unmanned fighting platforms and robotics, while existing war machines will be souped up.

Next year, Singapore will spend more than US$2.4 billion (S$3.2 billion) to modernise its ageing fleet of F-16s. The upgrades, which will be completed by 2022, are likely to extend the lifespan of the F-16s and make them operational for the next 20 years.

Citizen soldiers will be trained to do more, said Dr Ng, who became Defence Minister in 2011. "I'm confident that they can because they are better-skilled, better-equipped and just as committed."

He said the strategy is to ensure that Singapore never competes only in terms of troop numbers.

Instead, Singapore makes up for manpower shortages with "superior skills, knowledge, intelligence, information and technology".

It was a different picture when the SAF started in 1965, with no tanks, two wooden ships and no warplanes.

Dr Ng paid tribute to Singapore's pioneer soldiers. He said: "They learnt that you can only own what you can defend. If you can't defend it, you don't own it. But you cannot build a modern military just through dreams and passion.

"You've got to have capable leadership; you've got to have resources and, most importantly, an unwavering commitment by the leadership and the people to want to build a strong defence."

Deferment: Mindef can be flexible but must be fair too
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2015

The Defence Ministry can be flexible on the issue of letting sportsmen and artists juggle their competitive commitments with their national service (NS) obligations more deftly. But it also has to be fair, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in his first comments on the issue.

There must also be "a touch of practicality", ensuring that deferments are granted to those with "exceptional talent, who can bring honour and glory to Singapore", Dr Ng said last Friday in his annual media interview, ahead of SAF Day today.

While Mindef has routinely allowed short-term NS deferments for certain athletes ahead of major competitions, swimmer Joseph Schooling broke new ground in 2013 when it held off his enlistment until August next year to allow him to focus on training for the 2016 Olympics.

In granting long-term deferments of two to six years, Dr Ng said his ministry has to be "very careful because we want to be transparent".

"And there I'm keen, if we do it, to make it public, as we did for Joseph Schooling, so other Singaporeans know, and they can give feedback."

Dr Ng said the 20-year-old, who won nine gold medals at the recent SEA Games and whose gold medal at the Asiad last year was the first in 32 years for Singapore in men's swimming, was a "clear-cut case".

He said: "The way we approached this issue is, this person has the potential to win an Olympic medal, for instance... It was a clear-cut case, and I am sure, for clear-cut cases, if they were to write to me, I will respond similarly."

But the "tricky part" is when a person feels "special", when he may not be that exceptional. "The problem is when they don't meet the criteria and they say, 'If you give him a little bit more time, maybe he can meet the criteria' - that becomes more difficult," said Dr Ng.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who is president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, first suggested easing the criteria for NS deferment two weeks ago, adding that he hopes to work with Mindef to see if more flexible solutions can be worked out for sportsmen on a case-by-case basis.

Such a move will benefit the SEA Games' most bemedalled swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, who is due to enlist next month. If he does, it could throw into disarray his preparations for the Fina World Championships in Russia this month as well as the Rio Olympics next year.

It is understood that he has applied for deferment, but the issue has yet to be resolved.

Dr Ng said Mindef has been working with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to give "as much latitude" to Team Singapore athletes to train so they can do well.

Of the 400 male athletes who participated in the SEA Games, about 30 were full-time national servicemen, who continued doing their full-time stints while training.

The majority of athletes were NSmen, who did not want short-term deferments, with only 24 taking up the offer, said Dr Ng. "They said, 'I can come and do my in-camp training and train at the same time, and win a medal.'"

No brass ceiling for women officers
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2015

There has "never been a ceiling" on how high women can climb in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has stressed.

His comments during this SAF Day interview last Friday came ahead of the promotion of air force officer Gan Siow Huang, who is the first SAF woman combatant to rise to the rank of brigadier-general.

Asked whether Brigadier- General Gan has broken the "brass ceiling", he replied: "We promote based on merit. There's never been a ceiling. Not based on gender, not based on race."

Dr Ng pointed out that BG Gan rose to her position on her own merit, and said: "She just happens to be female."

He added that Singapore Armed Forces recruits progress because of their capabilities, "not because of anything else".

BG Gan, 40, was among seven colonels who received their first star as brigadier-general or rear- admiral last Friday. They will wear their new ranks on SAF Day today.

In 2009, Brigadier-General Ishak Ismail became the first Malay Muslim to become a general.

His promotion was hailed as a milestone in efforts to fully integrate Malays in the military - a controversial issue ever since it was disclosed in 1987 that the SAF adopted a cautious approach in placing them in key positions.

But Dr Ng said an able officer will rise to the top "because we (the SAF) need you".

"Anyone who can pull his (or her) weight, we'll expect you to pull your weight and (we will) push you to a position where you have to pull your weight and more."

Dr Ng added that anyone who feels he is being "held back and discriminated (against) because of any other reasons, you talk to me and I'll make sure that will never happen. It will not happen under my watch".

Women now make up just 7 per cent of the SAF, but Dr Ng noted that modern militaries are more

receptive to skill sets such as intelligence and administration, so "there are more opportunities for women to hold pinnacle positions".

He added: "So my pitch is, if you feel you're good enough to be a general, come and join the SAF."



You want to do it not so much to make yourself proud, but to recognise how difficult the journey was, that it could have gone very wrong. To acknowledge not only specific individuals, but you know this is such a big endeavour that there were so many people involved in it, to acknowledge (them).


One in three marriages of Singaporeans is to non-Singaporeans. You have a population that will grow up with diverse influences. This is already ongoing, and yet, we have been able to maintain and integrate, and bring in each year new national servicemen who identify with the needs, the ethos, the history of Singapore, and why we need a strong SAF. We need to keep doing this, so national education is obviously important.


I'm old school... But I was persuaded to come out of my comfort zone because it is a new generation. It is a more touchy-feely generation. And to the point that if you don't speak in the first voice, then when people hear it, they hear it from others. And that's a disadvantage. That hearing from the first voice allows people to hear what you believe, what you feel more strongly.

And that's fundamentally, I think, what a family is. You have shared experiences, shared responses. So, it's been good.

Non-combat troops can help in cyber defence
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2015

Soldiers who may not be fit enough to take on combat roles can instead help the Singapore Armed Forces in its fight against online threats.

Calling this group of soldiers a "resource pool that we can draw from", Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said they can work alongside their combat-fit counterparts to monitor cyber threats and beef up the Singapore Armed Forces' networks against virtual attacks.

Dr Ng said the SAF will add more regulars, full-time and operationally ready national servicemen to the SAF's Cyber Defence Operations Hub.

The unit, which was formed in 2013, brings the SAF's cyber-security experts under one command.

Soldiers with medical conditions are usually exempted from activities such as long marches and field camps during their full-time NS stints. They form about 6 per cent of the cohort and are referred to in military parlance as "Pes C", short for Physical Employment Status C.

Dr Ng said: "You have now a new arena where more and more people can make a fundamental difference, even a bigger impact, contribute more. So this works to our advantage."

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