PIONEER journalist Jing Ting learns some musical moves as she takes up the role of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Central Band's Drum Major.
Commanding a band. Twirling the mace, tossing it in the air and catching it swiftly.
Challenging? Check. Fun? Double check. Cool factor? Triple check.
Meeting the SAF Band's Chief Drum Major, Military Expert (ME) 1-2 Muhammad Hafis, was the easiest part. After agreeing to train me for a day, he revealed that he also had plans for me to command a 20-man band to give me a real taste of what it was like to be a Drum Major.
Learning the basics
I started off practising a clockwise twirl with a 0.6kg display mace (a normal one weighs about 0.9kg). The move began with holding the 1.4m mace upright with my right hand (thumb down) while my left hand (palm up) was positioned just below my right wrist.
As I twirled the mace clockwise with my right hand and let go, my left hand would continue the circular motion. And when the crown, or head of the mace, was upright again, my right hand would take over.
Considering that I'm rather strong for a female and my background in volleyball, I thought I would have no problems handling the mace.
However, I had a hard time twisting my right wrist just to hold the mace upright for the right-hand twirl. It got worse when I had to twirl the mace around my arm just using my wrist. My wrist ached with every twirl.
Let it go
ME1-2 Hafis then introduced me to the vertical throw. This turned out to be a nightmare. I had to flip the ferrule (the tail of the mace) up into the air completely with my right hand such that the mace did a 360-degree spin, and catch the mace as it came down vertically with the same hand.
The moment I threw the mace and looked up, I screamed and dodged. And every time I threw the mace, it flew all over the place. In the end, ME1-2 Hafis decided that I should attempt a less challenging throw.
It was the right-hand half flip from crown to ferrule that saved the day. This involved my right hand holding the top of the crown with the mace at a 70-degree angle to my waist while my left hand provided additional support. I then had to flip the mace up by the crown with my right hand and catch it upright with the same hand.
Finally, we moved on to the choreography that ME1-2 Hafis had created specially for me.
To my horror, I had to memorise a whole bunch of things - march, remember the sequence and moves of the display, all while counting to the beats under my breath. Luckily, ME1-2 Hafis was really patient and walked me through the steps tirelessly.
The real deal
The next day arrived almost too soon and I was a bundle of nerves. Each time I forgot a move, my stress level went up. I didn’t want to waste the time of the 20-man SAF Band who took time out just for this story, and worse, disappoint ME1-2 Hafis.
However, all that changed when I donned the SAF Band uniform. Perhaps it was the weight of the drum major sash strapped across my shoulder or the smart white coat, but I really felt that I could do it!
As I shouted my commands and began my 10-minute routine, ME1-2 Hafis was never out of sight.
As he silently cheered me on, I suddenly realised what it was like to be him as a Drum Major. It was powerful yet stressful.
One wrong move and I could mess up the entire routine and music. Yet, with every swing of the mace, I commanded authority. The feeling was awesome.
I picked up speed in my displays and despite my calm demeanour, it was a big challenge recalling the next routine while performing the current one.
And then it was over. As I thanked ME1-2 Hafis and the band, I never felt more relieved. Through this experience, I gained a newfound respect for ME1-2 Hafis - his passion and commitment to his job and the band.
Now, I stand proud to say that I've been part of the SAF Band.
For close to 10 hours, they stared hard through the windows of the C-130 transport plane at an altitude of about 700 to 1,000 feet. But all that the airmen could see was vast, open blue sea, and the occasional fishing boats or oil tankers that looked like tiny specks.
These servicemen from the Republic of Singapore Air Force were looking for signs of Malaysia Airlines plane MH370, which had gone missing on 8 Mar en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The search, which took place today in the Gulf of Thailand, North-east of Kota Bahru, was like looking for a needle in a haystack; the area of operation was over 11 times the size of Singapore. Despite the servicemen's efforts, they did not find any debris or other signs of MH370.
Maintaining focus for 10 hours and keeping the crew alert was a challenge, said C-130 pilot Captain (CPT) Reuel Yeow. But our focus is on doing our part.
Also on board the military transport plane were Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) who had volunteered for the operation as scanners. One of them was Corporal (CPL) Wong Hong Jie, a Regimental Policeman in 607 Squadron.
Despite physical fatigue, CPL Wong kept a vigilant lookout: Lives are at stake and I don’t want to miss out on any survivors or relevant signs of MH370.
This was the fourth day the C-130 transport aircraft have been deployed by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to assist in international search-and-locate efforts coordinated by the Kuala Lumpur Rescue Coordination Centre. Australia, China, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam are also taking part in the operation.
In all, the SAF has deployed C-130s in seven sorties, Formidable-class frigate RSS Steadfast with a Sikorsky S-70B Naval Helicopter on board, submarine support and rescue vessel MV Swift Rescue with divers onboard, as well as Missile Corvette RSS Vigour to search for the missing plane.
The crew of MV Swift Rescue, who were deployed on 9 Mar, were aware of the importance of their underwater search operation.
Senior Lieutenant Colonel Chow Khim Chong, who oversaw the operation, said: The nature of underwater search is inherently challenging. However, the crew is working diligently and tirelessly as a team to ensure no efforts and resources are spared in locating the missing MH370.
The crew of RSS Steadfast had just returned to Singapore for less than two days from an overseas exercise with the Royal Malaysia Navy when they were activated for the search-and locate-operation on 9 Mar. But they responded swiftly.
Said Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Rinson Chua, Commanding Officer of RSS Steadfast: The search area is large but the crew is totally focused on our mission to find the missing plane.
The international search effort is on-going.
Medical practitioners would be familiar with Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS), a training programme for managing acute trauma cases. However, few may be aware that the introduction of the United States-designed programme in Singapore was actually spearheaded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Medical Corps back in November 1991.
To date, about 7,500 doctors have been trained in ATLS at the three local training centres: National Healthcare Group Training Centre located at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore Health Services Training Centre at Singapore General Hospital and SAF Medical Training Institute (SMTI) at Nee Soon Camp.
Of the three, the SAF ATLS training centre is the oldest, and up to 16 courses are organised a year for 24 students each time. To run the two-day courses, the centres rely on a pool of about 25 Course Directors and 200 Instructors to teach the students, all of whom are volunteers from the civilian and military medical faculty.
One such volunteer is Dr Agnes Huang, an anesthetist in the Department of Anaesthesia and Surgical Intensive Care at Changi General Hospital. She has been an Instructor for about a year, lecturing on modules such as the management of airway breathing and circulation in trauma patients. On her reasons for volunteering, she said: It is a worthwhile course. I am happy to share my knowledge and skills. And it’s my small way to contribute and give back to society. To teach, she sometimes takes time off work, or uses her rest days.
During an annual National ATLS meeting held at The Academia in the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) campus on 8 Mar, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (Dr) Lo Hong Yee, Deputy Commander SMTI, expressed his gratitude for the volunteers: The success of the ATLS depends on volunteers. They’re vitally important, because they impart skills and knowledge to the juniors and they are teaching out of passion.
LTC (Dr) Lo himself was one of two Course Directors appointed during the meeting, together with LTC (Dr) Chong Si Jack.
As the ATLS courses are attended by both civilian doctors and SAF Medical Officers (MOs) who are either Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) or Operationally Ready National Serviceman (NSman), LTC Lo saw that SAF MOs had much to benefit from the experiences of the Instructors: A lot of these volunteers are very senior surgeons, anesthetists and doctors. This programme brings a group of very senior volunteers to teach very junior doctors.
Dr Huang, who sees many SAF MOs in her classes, believed that the broad spectrum of ATLS will definitely help in training and improving their medical capabilities. However, additional modules tailored to suit the requirements of particular groups of attendees-such as SAF MOs-are also available.
There are standard modules (that all must attend), and there are optional modules that we organise from time to time. In some of these modules, we deal with problems more specific to the military context, such as managing trauma in an out-of-hospital environment or trauma as a result of war injuries. NSman Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) (NS) (Dr) Kenneth Mak, a Course Director who was also one of the pioneer ALTS Instructors, elaborated on the types of training provided.
Having taught ATLS for 18 years, SLTC (NS) (Dr) Mak, who is also Chairman of the Medical Board in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, has also borne witness to the capabilities of SAF MOs who have passed through his classroom doors.
When it comes to the initial management and resuscitation of our patients, I think the SAF MOs are as competent as any of the doctors I see in public hospitals. I think they are able to manage and resuscitate patients well. They know when to transfer the patients quickly to the hospitals for the hospitals to take over. So I'm quite confident that the men will be well looked after.
Cooking, arguably one of the world's oldest jobs, needs no introduction. However, when the job entails working on a ship in volatile conditions with limited supplies, it's a little more than just putting food on the table.
Meet the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) chefs, the unsung heroesof every sea sortie.
Calculating food requirements, planning menus and maintaining supplies, the naval chefs make sure that the crew are fed enough to sail and fight.
And that’s just scratching the surface of what they really do.
The sea route less sailed
For some naval chefs, the journey begins with little more than a lovefor food and a sense of adventure, as was the case for Military Expert (ME) 2-2 Wisley Tay, the Chief Chef of submarine RSS Swordsman.
ME2-2 Tay signed on with the RSN during his Basic Military Training (BMT) days 22 years ago. Despite having no experience in cooking, he took a leap of faith, armed with just an eye - or rather, tongue - for flavour. I like to sample good food and then try to replicate the taste, he said.
As for mine counter-measure vessel (MCMV) RSS Punggol’s Chief Chef ME1-2 Jonathan Neo, it was the desire to travel the world that led him to jump on board as a naval chef three and a half years ago.
Even though his Diploma in Culinary Skills from the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (SHATEC) saw him working the restaurant line and rubbing shoulders with international chefs, this did not satisfy the 23-year-old's wanderlust. (By joining the Navy) I get to sail and experience cultural exchanges…(and) see the world.
Since 1998, the RSN has been engaging SHATEC to equip new enlistees with professional cooking skills. The collaboration provides naval chefs such as ME2-2 Tay the opportunity to obtain diplomas in various culinary skills.
This is a far cry from the past, when chefs from the Army, Navy and Air Force would train together at the Army Training School in Seletar Camp. However, the course was primarily designed for Army chefs. ME2-2 Tay, 40, recalled: One of the requirements of the course on field kitchen cooking was to convert a three-tonner into a mobile kitchen!
Now, potential chefs without experience have to complete their BMT and a three-month-long Basic Specialisations Course (formerly known as the Junior Rating Course) to learn basic seamanship skills before beginning their training as chefs.
A naval chef's life for me
A naval chef’s primary responsibility is to oversee all aspects of the crew's food supply during a sortie. Thus, like the rest of the operational crew, his work begins long before the shipsets sail.
From calculating the total amount of food required for a sortie to planning the menu for three to four meals a day, he must ensure that the ship carries enough supplies to last the entire trip.
Careful calculations are a must, especially for smaller ships and submarines. ME2-2 Tay explained: The challenge is in the limited storage. I cannot have a surplus, so I must plan the exact amount of food required.
Conversely, such prudence can also result in another problem: ships risk running out of food, particularly when sorties are suddenly extended. Thus, chefs must keep a close watch on food supplies at all times. If I receive notice at the last minute that we won’t be returning soon, then I need to source for fresh food supplies or minimise the serving rate, said ME2-2 Tay.
Food supply management is no easy task, which is why junior chefs usually cut their teeth working on smaller ships such as patrol vessels (PVs), where sorties are shorter and crew size is restricted to between 40 and 50 personnel.
With smaller crews, chefs have more opportunities to pick up seamanship skills. In addition, they get the chance to train up their sea legs as small ships are more susceptible to the roll of waves.
On top of galley (the ship's kitchen) duties, naval chefs perform a secondary operational role, doubling up as Medical ICs (In-Charge) to lead the medical team in assisting doctors and medics during long deployments. While all crew members are equipped with basic first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills, chefs are additionally trained to administer the automated external defibrillator (AED) and intravenous drips.
Naval chefs also play a lesser-known role: that of a gunner. To take on this role, chefs are trained in the use of the weapon and voice commands. However, this role is only restricted to chefs on board PVs, which carry machine guns.
Working the galleys
A chef’s day is usually long, beginning when the crew is still asleep and ending only after the last seaman has gone to bed. ME2-1 Xanda Chua, 27, who is the Chief Chef on board frigate RSS Formidable, knows this all too well.
To get the ship ready for a dawn sail-off, he has to be in the galley four hours before that, serving breakfast to a crew of up to 100. Due to the large crew size, he works with a team of three others, comprising a Junior Chef, a Senior Chef and a Supervisor.
He shares the responsibility of overseeing mealtimes with the Supervisor, who prepares breakfast and lunch while he sees to the dinner and night snack. Said ME2-1 Chua: This is to ensure that we have enough rest. Once you don’t have enough rest, there will be accidents, (caused by,) for example, blurred vision and fatigue.
And when one is working around sharp knives and boiling water while at the mercy of the open sea, maintaining alertness is of utmost importance. The chefs' greatest concern is the sea state (condition of the surface of the sea).
Although safety measures are in place to prevent accidents, such as the use of hotplates instead of open flames and metal railings affixed for stability, little can prepare the chefs for a sudden rock caused by a rolling wave or passing ship.
Horror stories of rice pots flying off counters even after being secured to surfaces are common. ME1-2 Neo recounted an incident: During a sail to Port Blair in the Indian Ocean, the ship sailed into the wave of a passing container vessel and caused oil from the deep-fryer to spill out. The meals were kept simple after that. But that’s what keeps things interesting as well.
While surface conditions are less of a problem for submarines, ME2-2 Tay often has to contend with sudden pitches: Sometimes we have to dive in a short span of time. We face steep angles and this will cause my utensils to move around. I still have to cook, but I'll use a bigger pot and less water.
To better prepare for such situations, he attends exercise briefs with the crew to keep himself abreast of the training schedule and anticipated sea state.
An unusual problem that ME2-2 Tay faces is the noise created when cooking, which can generate an acoustic signature for the submarine. I can't chop with a big knife, I have to slice slowly, because the sound will make us vulnerable to sonar tracing and give our location away.
This is the same for the MCMV, which, in turn, detects submarines. To reduce the noise produced, ME2-2 Tay uses wooden or plastic stirrers.
Don't mess with the chef
Considering how seriously Singaporeans take their food, naval chefs must wield a lot of power as guardians of the galleys (and stomachs). ME2-2 Tay laughed while sharing a running joke on board ships that the one and only person you must be friends with is the chef. The chefs are aware of the importance of their role and they, too, take their food very seriously.
The morale of the crew is on us, ME1-2 Neo explained. They look forward to their meal after a long day. So, I will try my very best to give them what I can.
The chefs also revealed that their crews often crave local fare during long sorties, with hawker favourites such as fried Hokkien mee and laksa topping the list.
However, as ingredients are limited to items that store well, the chefs have to be innovative when it comes to food creation. We use bread to make carrot cake, ME2-1 Chua let on with a cheeky grin. Sometimes, the crew feels like eating mee pok, so I use fettuccini and cook it longer (until) it tastes a little bit like mee pok.
The chefs sometimes buy additional ingredients on their own accord, just to ensure that their crews eat better. Other times, the ships' officers pay for special ingredients as a means of boosting crew morale, such as yu sheng during Chinese New Year and fresh cockles for laksa and fried kway teow.
Apart from food quality, ME2-2 Tay has also taken it upon himself to watch the crew's Body Mass Index (BMI). Through self-study and courses, he has been learning about calorie intake and now educates his crew on eating healthily.
We need healthy and fit bodies on board the submarine. So, based on the recommended calorie intake and output for the day, I will advise them to spread the amount across meals. If I notice someone eating more and working out less, I will give him a friendly reminder. Beaming like a proud father, he added: My sub has the best BMI average among the fleet!
On the greatest satisfaction of being a chef, the answer was unanimous: Seeing the crew enjoy a meal. Perhaps ME1-2 Neo speaks for all naval chefs when he said: Even though the sea state might be very bad sometimes, or I'm very tired, I still wake up and just focus on cooking.
At the end of the day, it’s about being able to boost everyone's morale and making sure everyone is satisfied with his food.
Even as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) continues to hone its fighting edge by upgrading weapons systems and acquiring more sophisticated war fighting technologies, National Servicemen remain at the forefront of a credible defence force.
Said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen: Whether we can deter would-be aggressors for another 50 years and achieve peace depends not on advance systems or weaponry, no matter how sophisticated, but our people and their resolve to defend our island home.
At last year's budget debate, Dr Ng announced that he would chair the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) and that it would be supported by two working groups chaired by 2nd Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing and Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman.
The three men gave updates on issues ranging from CSNS efforts, which engaged nearly 40,000 people from all walks of life over several months last year - to improved training technologies during the budget debate. Here are some of the key highlights from their speeches.
Better training, better soldiers
The SAF will increase the number of regular trainers, said Dr Ng. Arising from the CSNS, the SAF has decided to employ more regulars as full-time trainers, as a career path. This is a move that could potentially see the SAF employing an additional 1,100 regulars as full-time trainers.
This is not a totally new practice in the SAF. Some units, such as the Commandos, have been doing this for years. Compared to the current system where Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) receive their training mostly from their seniors, a Regular training cadre would reap benefits of efficiency and effectiveness.
Explaining this point, Dr Ng said: There is a limit to what a 22-year-old NSF can transmit to a 21-year-old NSF. Some of them do it very well and I am very proud of them but we have to accept that there are limits.
There may also be slight time savings of a few weeks at most, said Dr Ng. 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. But if there are time savings in terms of weeks, we will pass it on.
Operationally Ready National Servicemen will continue to serve the existing 10 In-Camp Training (ICT) stints, which typically spans 10 years. Explained Dr Ng: We need these 10 ICTs and those in MINDEF reserves to maintain the strength in our standing force. This will meet our defence needs, even with falling birth rates, until 2040.
Mr Chan added that the current ICT system has been refined over the years.
The SAF continually invests in training infrastructure so that its troops can train more efficiently. Last year, the SAF unveiled the Multi-Mission Range Complex (MMRC) which houses seven firing ranges into one building.
No longer at the mercy of the elements, soldiers can even do their night shooting training in the day with the flick of a switch. Putting into context the benefits of having the MMRC as a training tool, Mr Chan said: What used to take almost two days and two nights for a 500-man unit can now be done in just slightly under a day.
Another innovation, the Murai Urban Live Firing Facility will be launched soon. This facility bumps up the capacity from a seven-man section doing their urban live-firing training, to being able to train a company-sized force of more than 100 men.
Shorter wait time
Following public feedback gathered through CSNS, the SAF will also work on reducing the transition time before enlistment for full-time NS. Currently, those bound for NS could spend months waiting for enlistment after leaving school as different institutions end their curricula at differing times.
The goal is for enlistees to begin NS training within a fixed time frame, possibly between four to five months. Again, any policy changes have to be weighed against the SAF's operational needs. Remember that we are dealing with nearly 20,000 enlistees every year, so the logistics are very challenging.
But the Army is studying this seriously and expects to complete its detailed studies on the issues raised by the CSNS in the second half of this year.
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) is also working on setting up the SAF Volunteer Corps to allow more Singaporeans and Permanent Residents an avenue to contribute to Singapore's continued success.
Said Mr Chan: The proposed SAF Volunteer Corps should harness the different skills of the volunteers to complement our defence capabilities.
For example, volunteers who have specific specialist skills such as health care, communications or technology can be tapped upon to serve in their domain of expertise.
Also on the increase: leadership opportunities for NSFs. With better technology and decentralised operations, the SAF requires stronger small unit leadership skills. These are opportunities for us to better match each serviceman's background, potential and interests with the operational needs of the SAF, said Mr Chan.
In June 2013, the Safety and Systems Review Directorate was set up to review MINDEF and the SAF's safety systems. The Directorate has since set up an External Review Panel for SAF Safety comprising experts from outside the SAF.
After visits to the Basic Military Training Centre, Officer Cadet School and Specialist Cadet school, they have found the SAF safety system to be robust, said Mr Chan.
Come mid-year, construction will begin on the new SAFRA clubhouse in Punggol. Announced Dr Maliki: We will also be redeveloping SAFRA Tampines to include new sports and other exciting facilities, and also study the feasibility of a new SAFRA clubhouse in the north-western part of Singapore, to expand further the variety of offerings to more than 540,000 NSmen and their families who are SAFRA members today.
To boost commitment to defence, MINDEF and SAF have been actively reaching out to the community.
In February this year, MINDEF arranged for more than 260 stakeholders and their family members, and more than 10,000 students to visit the Singapore Airshow.
On the social media front, the cyberpioneerTV YouTube channel, and the Army, Navy and Airforce Facebook pages have attracted strong followings. It is heart-warming to read some of the personal reflections on these pages, said Dr Maliki.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 2030 will be a connected force, with all its parts speaking to each other to defend Singapore as a single unit. The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF will also continue its steady-hand policy when it comes to defence spending. It will also not let up on diplomacy efforts to ensure that Singapore has a voice on the international stage.
These were some of the key points brought up by Minster for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen on 6 Mar at the Committee of Supply or Budget debate, during which he updated Parliament on defence-related issues and MINDEF's long-term plans.
Dr Ng noted that we have Singapore's pioneer generation to thank for the strong SAF of today. We have done well and this transformation of the SAF speaks volumes of past efforts, and of the sterling and defining contributions of our Pioneers. We salute the Pioneers who laid the foundations of the strong SAF today.
And now, it is up to a new generation to form the SAF as the protectors of the nation.
With China's rise as an economic and military power, dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region are shifting. Asian military spending is also on the rise - surpassing that of Europe and projected to surpass the United States sometime within the next decade. These mean a militarisation of many Asian countries at a never-before-seen magnitude and this is the larger strategic backdrop against which territorial disputes and incidents amid rising nationalism should be viewed.
We... must adopt a more robust and resilient approach by building an SAF that can deter would-be aggressors and meet a wide range of security threats so that we would not be caught off- guard or flat-footed, said Dr Ng, in view of the uncertain regional security environment.
He added: Our planning horizons are intentionally long term and we spend prudently and steadily. This allows the SAF to acquire good buys, such as the Leopard tank, when the opportunity arises. This approach also provides the SAF with a long lead-time to train the troops adequately and to develop platforms, such as the Singapore Light Weight Howitzer Pegasus, that meet its specific operational needs.
Force of the future
The goal is to achieve an SAF which is even more highly connected than today by 2030, said Dr Ng. Be it the fighter pilots in the air, the sailor on the seas or the soldier on land, each will be a node in a larger network. They will be able to talk to each other, jointly target threats and coordinate responses like never before.
By 2030, the SAF also expects that future systems that are currently prototyped or thought about will be part of our day-to-day use, said Dr Ng. Soldiers could be equipped with multiple micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and autonomous robotic mules could be used to help soldiers carry heavy loads.
Already, the building blocks are in place. By 2030, the F-16 fighter aircraft will have upgraded radar systems and be armed with even more precise air-to-ground munitions. They will be deployed alongside their F-15SG brethren to defend Singapore's skies.
More robust ground-based air defences will also be in place, with the deployment of the Surface-to-Air PYthon-5 and DERby (SPYDER) and Aster-30 Surface-to-Air missile systems. While the SPYDER system is currently operational, the Aster-30 Missile System will soon replace the ageing i-Hawk system.
The current aerial tankers operated by the SAF - the KC-135Rs - will also have been replaced by the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft. These new utility aircraft can hold 20 percent more fuel and will further extend the range of the Air Force's fighter aircraft.
The Navy will also see additions in its seaward arsenal, with the addition of two Type-218SG submarines and the new Littoral Mission Vessels. On the back of the successes of the Sikorsky S-70B Naval Helicopters - which have proven themselves adept at counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden - the Navy will be acquiring two more such helicopters.
The SAF is also studying the need for larger Landing Ships Tank (LSTs) than the ones currently in operation. While effective during relief efforts following the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the current LSTs were limited by their carrying capacity - said Dr Ng.
We are therefore studying carefully the need for larger LSTs that can carry more helicopters as well as more cargo.
By 2030, the number of Army units operating vehicular platforms will almost double. This will make Singapore's land forces more mobile. Expect to see more Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles being fielded by the SAF, replete with UAVs to enable troops to see further and act more decisively.
In his speech, Dr Ng also gave an overview of efforts towards building defence ties with other countries. Singapore cooperates with its most immediate neighbour - Malaysia - in frequent bilateral exercises and joint exercises. The two navies recently commemorated the 30th anniversary of Exercise Malapura.
Speaking on the spat with Indonesia over the naming of its warship, Dr Ng said that while the episode had impacted relations with Indonesia, both countries continue to share many common interests in maintaining regional peace and security.
We want good defence ties with Indonesia and I hope that we can rebuild this important bilateral relationship, based on mutual trust and respect, said Dr Ng.
Relations with US and China remain strong, with both forces exercising regularly with Singapore's. Our close relations with US have provided us with many benefits such as access to high-end defence systems which contribute to the SAF's fighting edge, said Dr Ng.
With China, the SAF and the People's Liberation Army share many opportunities for professional exchanges, from courses to port calls.
In the region and further afield, Singapore continues to strengthen defence relations. Our ties with partners such as Brunei, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, India, France and Germany also remain strong.
Concluding his speech, Dr Ng said: We build the SAF for an uncertain future with unknown risks and new challenges. But MINDEF is confident that as long as we have the strong support of members of this House and Singaporeans, who are resolved to defend ourselves and willing to invest in building these capabilities, the SAF will be able to preserve our peace and protect our sovereignty.
The Officers, Warrant Officers (WOs), and Military Experts in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) don different rank insignias, but they belong to the same family. When all three Corps work together, they are an unstoppable force.
In the 16 days of Exercise Forging Sabre, about 700 SAF servicemen orchestrated and executed a complex integrated live-firing exercise across an expansive training area in Phoenix, Arizona, United States, as they lit up the desert from 2 to 17 Dec last year.
On the ground, it took members of the WO Corps like 1st Sergeant (1SG) Jess Ong Sze Hwee to work the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). And there were airmen like Air Force Engineer (AFE) Military Expert (ME) 4-3 Yogesh Mehta and pilots like Lieutenant (LTA) Lim Zheng Ee - both of whom work on the CH-47 Chinook helicopter - to keep the aerial dance going.
To LTA Lim, the exercise would have been impossible, if not for AFEs like ME4-3 Yogesh and the aircrew who are WOs and Specialists. The MEs make sure that the aircraft are serviceable and ready while members of the WO Corps assist the pilots to make sure that each operation goes smoothly.
Air Crew Specialist (ACS) Leaders take care of the rest of the crew and help the pilots to make sure that everything is going well in the back of the aircraft. They usually have been serving for a longer time and have vast experience and knowledge, said LTA Lim, 25.
As a pilot, I find their experience very valuable in helping me understand the intricacies and considerations of helicopter operations in different situations.
He recalled landing in the Arizona desert: During several of our night missions, we needed to insert our forces at objectives where brownouts were very likely.
Brownout is an aviation term used to describe landing in severely dusty conditions, such as in deserts, where visibility is reduced due to dust clouds. The closest thing to a brownout on land is probably trying to park a car with your eyes closed.
That's when the three Corps have to work closely together, said LTA Lim. During the landing approach, the ACS Leader and Air Crew Specialists assist the pilots by closely observing the landing from the windows and talking to the pilots. Once on the ground, the AFEs (who are MEs) quickly open the ramp for troops to exit the plane.
This is to ensure that the helicopter spends as little time as possible on the ground because that's when it is most vulnerable, explained LTA Lim.
After that, it is time for pre-flight checks conducted by the AFEs to make sure that the aircraft is good for a return flight.
So, would their missions have been possible without all three Corps? To this question, LTA Lim's reply came quick and fast - No.
It was a similar scene on the ground for the HIMARS crew, as personnel from the three Corps worked together to deliver precision fire on targets.
While 1SG Ong is well trained in operating the HIMARS, certain technical aspects of the system require the deeper knowledge of the MEs. The WO Corps are adept at using weapon systems - having trained extensively to fight using those systems -while the MEs concentrate on gaining intimate systems knowledge. Think James Bond and Q.
With their knowledge and expertise in planning and technical aspects, the guidance of the MEs and Officers really value-added to the training, said 1SG Ong.
Asked to describe how the WO Corps help the SAF achieve its mission objectives, she replied: Our expertise is in the operation portion. We are the ones who make things happen and translate plans into reality.
Exercise Forging Sabre 2013 was the most complex training exercise the SAF had conducted to date, manoeuvring against a thinking enemy (directed by two senior SAF commanders) and striking fast-moving targets. To operate at this level, a military force must be able to sense-make quickly and launch the right response at the right time.
It involved SAF assets such as the F-15SG and F-16C/D fighter aircraft, AH-64D Apache and CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), and the HIMARS from the Army.
With so many moving parts, one mis-step is all it takes for the battle to be lost. For example, it is not enough that the HIMARS crew are good at operating the advanced weapon system. They have to be able to integrate with the rest of the SAF. Likewise for the airmen, who have to keep their aircraft primed and ready to deal with the next target.
I think the three Corps are different functioning parts of the same body, they assist each other to get the mission done, said 1SG Ong.
After all, no one person or Corps can do all the work.
It takes more than just weapons to defend a country - it also takes great foresight, careful planning and proactive engagement. Here's a look at the happenings in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) over the past year that kept Singapore's defences sharp.
What is a small country to do in defending itself? With no hinterland and little natural resources to buffer against exigencies, its best bet lies in being prepared and investing in its people.
Some say Singapore suffers from a perpetual crisis state of mind and that it can afford to cut loose a little, but the facts tell us otherwise.
The nation has enjoyed almost 50 years of peace, so clearly, its defence plans have been effective. In addition, defence spending in the region rose 13 percent to US$24.5 billion (S$31.1 billion) in 2011 alone. This figure is projected to rise to US$40 billion by 2016.
In short, military modernisation programmes across South-East Asia are ongoing and geopolitics underpinning regional security continue to evolve, cementing the case for continued and steady investments in defence.
When he was Commander of Air Defence and Operations Command (ADOC), then known as Air Defence Systems Division, Brigadier-General (BG) (Retired) Jimmy Tan led a team in formulating and implementing the air defence plans for Singapore, following the 9/11 incident. That was when he was a serving as a regular officer in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
As an Operationally Ready National Serviceman (NSman) after 29 years of regular service, the 52-year-old later saw how the RSAF transformed itself into a stronger force with the adoption of technology. But what made him happiest was to see the smooth integration among all three Services - the Army, Navy and Air Force - and how they were able to fight as one Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
These were the things that inspired BG (Ret) Tan to volunteer his services even after he had reached his statutory age ceiling of 50 years. And he has never once regretted his decision.
I firmly believe that the defence of Singapore is important and we need to have capable people to do it, explained BG (Ret) Tan, whose last appointment as a volunteer was Deputy Commander ADOC.
I have a lot of experience which is valuable, and sharing my experience with the next generation is just my way of contributing to building up that capability to defend Singapore.
BG (Ret) Tan was among the 173 outgoing Key Appointment Holders, ROVERS and Volunteers whose contributions towards NS were recognised at an appreciation dinner held at the Flower Field Hall at Gardens by the Bay on 27 Feb.
ROVERS are NSmen who serve beyond their NS training cycle, but are still within their statutory age ceilings (40 years of age for NS Warrant Officers and Specialists, and 50, for Officers).
Volunteers are NSmen who serve beyond their statutory age ceilings, like BG (Ret) Tan.
Paying tribute to these servicemen who had shown great dedication towards defending the nation, Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Ravinder Singh said: NSmen make great sacrifices to fulfil their NS responsibilities. As citizen soldiers, they often have to balance the demands of NS responsibilities with their families and careers.
As he thanked the wives and families for their support for the NSmen, he also reminded the audience that Singapore's peace and security was hard-earned by every able bodied young man who has served National Service.
For 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) (NS) Ong Chee Ming, volunteering his services was a way to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation. It was also a way for him to engage the younger generation and understand some of the issues they faced, particularly in NS-related matters.
With him being called away often for his NS duties, the 42-year-old has his wife to thank for taking care of the family in his absence. He said: She is able to understand that it is the passion in me wanting to be involved in NS, in whatever small way I can… she is very accommodating, so we work around our schedules whenever there’s a need for me to be away from my daily obligations at home.
To businessman Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) (NS) Soon Fook Soon, safety for his sailors was always his top priority. The 47-year-old shared that one of the reasons he went back for his In-Camp Training (ICT) was to make sure that his men worked safely, and knew that they were needed and doing a good job.
If you're genuinely concerned about every man in your team, they can feel it. They also know that they are part of a larger team and the team depends on them, said the Group Commander of 191 Squadron.
He said this would reinforce a culture of working together and trigger good memories such that the NSmen would be motivated to come back for their ICT.
Having been a regular for 12 years and an NSman for another 17, LTC (NS) Dyason Ian Patrick felt proud of the readiness of the SAF.
Some people tell us that we are a 'paper army', said the Deputy Head Manpower Operations from Joint Manpower Division.
But I'm very happy to tell people that, if the button does ever get pressed, we have everything ready. It's just that I can't tell them what is ready!
To see how the SAF progressed and developed over time was also what drew him to volunteer his services. And as the time to relinquish his duties drew near, the 48-year-old felt rather reluctant, but knew that this was something he had to do.
If I don't move on, then new blood cannot come in to grow and continue to contribute, he said.
The dinner was also attended by senior SAF commanders, and families of the NSmen.
The Home of the Officer Corps has opened its doors to a new housemate.
On 25 Feb, the command of the Specialist and Warrant Officer Institute (SWI) was transferred from HQ 9th Division/Infantry to the SAFTI Military Institute (SAFTI MI).
The ceremony at Pasir Laba Camp was witnessed by Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Ng Chee Meng, who also unveiled the Commemorative Plaque.
In his speech, LG Ng explained that the aim of the command transfer was to strengthen the Warrant Officer (WO) Corps as well as consolidate leadership development in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
He said: The designation of SAFTI MI as the key driver to design, implement and promulgate various leadership initiatives for the three Officer Corps across the SAF will ensure that we are able to reap synergies in leadership training and develop a holistic and robust leadership framework in support of the three Officer Corps in the SAF.
While the WOs would be able to benefit from SAFTI MI's leadership development programmes, LG Ng also recognised that, in turn, our Officers and Military Experts will gain from our Warrant Officers' wealth of proactive experiences in last-mile leadership.
During the ceremony, held in the Leaders Hall, Chief Infantry Officer/Commander 9th Division Colonel (COL) Chiang Hock Woon handed the SWI flag over to Commandant SAFTI MI Brigadier-General (BG) Benedict Lim.
BG Lim presented the SAFTI MI formation patch to Commander SWI COL Lee Yong Heng and Chief Master Trainer SWI Senior WO (SWO) Tamizh Kannan.
The ceremony included a parade by two contingents from SWI and SAFTI MI, each comprising 33 soldiers, sailors and airmen. As a symbolic gesture to show the new oneness of the two institutes, the SWI contingent affixed their new formation patches before both contingents marched towards each other and merged to form a single unified body. The number 66 symbolised the year 1966, when SAFTI was first formed to train Officers and Non-commissioned Officers (predecessors of the WO and Specialist Corps).
On the plans for the WO Corps under SAFTI MI's command, BG Lim said: Looking ahead, what we will do is make sure that we chart out a development roadmap that focuses on three pillars: the first pillar is professional military education and training; the second pillar is leadership development; and the third pillar is continuing education. These three pillars are very important. We have done that for the Officer Corps, and we believe firmly that, with this transfer of command of SWI to SAFTI MI, we will be able to tighten and refine this development roadmap for the Warrant Officer Corps.
He also noted that the young Military Expert (ME) Corps, which attends courses at SAFTI MI, would also benefit from the merger: SAFTI MI can value-add specifically in the area of leadership development. We can certainly look at the leadership development packages, (as well as) programmes and practices. He added that, after attending these courses, the MEs would not only be good in their domains or areas of expertise, but their leadership competencies would also be enhanced.
The first and only bilingual radio station in Singapore doesn't put on any airs. Simply because all 88.3Jia FM wants is for its listeners to feel at home. After all, there is no better place than Jia.
Tired after a day's work, you get into your car or plug into your mobile phone and turn on the radio. Familiar tunes come to life and you feel your weariness slide away.
This sense of familiarity and comfort is what 88.3Jia FM works tirelessly towards. As DJ Kai Ying put it: We're a family to our listeners, that's why it's called Jia (home in Chinese).
First bilingual station
Formerly known as Dongli 88.3 FM, the station made the switch from a purely Mandarin station to become Singapore's first official bilingual radio station in March 2007. Along with this came the name change to 88.3Jia FM.
With that, the station launched The Good Morning Show, a bilingual weekday programme co-hosted by Kai Ying and fellow DJ Robin. During this four-hour segment, the pair hosts in both languages - Kai Ying in Mandarin and Robin in English. The station also includes English songs in its playlist every hour.
When they first hear about the show, a lot of people think it can't work, said Robin. But when they tune in, they realise it’s very natural because that’s just how we talk in Singapore!
Fans from everywhere
The programme's uniqueness means a unique set of fans, including non-Chinese ones. Recalling an encounter during an outdoor event, Kai Ying said: A couple came up to us - the husband was Indian and the wife was Chinese - and we were asking, 'Who's the fan?' It turned out that it was the husband!
He said that he understood what was going on in the show from what Robin says in English.
The DJs have also received positive feedback from parents who tune in every morning while sending their children to school so that their children can pick up new words.
As one of two radio stations under SAFRA Radio, 88.3Jia FM provides a light dose of National Service (NS) elements in its programme line-up, such as information about events like open houses, military exercises and call-ups.
In addition, the station houses an NS-centric programme titled Nites Off, hosted by DJ Di Jia. Held on weekdays from 8pm to 9pm, this programme covers health and fitness tips as well as SAFRA-related discounts and promotions. Many military personnel such as naval divers and members of the Red Lions Parachuting Team have been guests on the show.
Among her interviewees, 3rd Warrant (3WO) Shirley Ng, the first female Red Lion to take part in the National Day Parade, left the strongest impression. 3WO Ng told me that they take a few months just to prepare for that one jump. I'm very amazed and impressed at her dedication and passion, said Di Jia.
To spice things up for Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), Di Jia takes the radio station to the camps during lunch time. Together with a Power 98FM DJ, she entertains, plays games and gives out goodie bags to the NSFs. During the hour-long programme, the NSFs can also make song dedications.
With its birthday coming up in March, the 88.3FM DJs are making grand plans to entertain, excite and reward their listeners. The DJs will showcase some of their talents, and pole-dancing and belly-dancing are some possible activities in the works.
Family and friend - these are what 88.3Jia FM wants to be to its listeners.
As Robin said: I think it can be summed up by our name itself – we're not pushing to sell anything, we're simply there for you to come home to.
She may have met many people throughout her career in various fields, locally and overseas, but this was the first time Ms Hoon Wee Lian got to know a Singaporean from a broken family who had to resort to shoplifting for food and relying on his friends for survival during his growing years.
This happened at a social dining event held at the National Museum of Singaporeans on 20 Feb, where 25 Singaporeans from all walks of life gathered to share their stories.
It's heartening to discover that the human spirit is very strong, said Ms Hoon, a former public relations executive who is now a financial advisor. It makes you pause, to think and reflect, to realise you have to be mindful to learn from others.
Organised by Nexus, the event was held in conjunction with the on-going campaign that commemorates the 30th anniversary of Total Defence. It aimed to spread awareness that Total Defence is more than just military and civil defence, and also comprises social, psychological and economic defence.
Participants were divided into three groups, each comprising individuals from different backgrounds and age groups to encourage diverse discussion. Within each group, participants paired up and had three rounds of 1-to-1 conversation through an interactive card game.
By sharing their stories, they got to know how the other grew up in Singapore and what they felt were pressing issues facing the country.
While they had different backgrounds and life experiences, participants realised that there were also similarities that drew them together, such as food and national service.
For Mr Suresh S/O Ponnusamy, a communications executive, he realised through the sharing that all Singaporeans have a part to play to ensure progress for the country.
Despite the issues that Singapore faces (such as an ageing population), I am hopeful and positive that we can overcome all these challenges together, he said.
Everyone has a connecting factor that brings us all together and that is what makes us Singaporeans.
A special guest, former Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) 1st Warrant Officer (WO) (Retired) Chee Ah Leng, took to the stage to share his experience as part of the pioneering members of the Singapore Army.
The former School Sergeant Major of School of Infantry Weapons shared light-hearted anecdotes, joking that there were no more Rambutan trees left on Rambutan hill, a training area, because all leaves had been plucked by soldiers for camouflage practice. You could see 'walking rambutan trees' running around the hill, he quipped.
On a more serious note, 1WO (Ret) Chee especially wanted to engage the younger as well as female participants through his stories.
They must be positive and have the proper mindset that this is our country, everybody has to play a part to protect this country, he said.
To find out more about Total Defence and the various events held in conjunction with this year's campaign, visithttp://www.totaldefence.sg