Source: COL(Ret) Ramachandran Menon
When Singapore became independent in 1965, one immediate task was to build up our defence. As Singapore had limited manpower, we could not have a regular armed force of sufficient size to deter external aggressors. It was also highly unlikely that voluntary National Service (NS) would provide a sufficient number of capable volunteers who would complete full-time NS and In-Camp Training (ICT). Neither could we rely on mercenaries or soldiers who are paid to fight for us.
Hence, the Singapore government decided to introduce compulsory conscription of male youths as the best way to build up Singapore’s defence force. The NS (Amendment) Act was introduced in 1967 and a call-up was initiated for 9,000 youths born between 1 January and 30 June 1949. The first batch of full-time national servicemen (NSFs) enlisted into the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the People’s Defence Force, the Vigilante Corps and the Special Constabulary. Since the inception of NS, more than a million people have gone through the NS rite of passage, serving in the SAF, Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
“If you who are growing up, do not understand that you have to defend this, then in the end, we will lose. Other people will come, smack you down and take over.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew, speaking in 1967, on the importance of NS
Find out how NS has evolved over the past 55 years.
Find out how NS has evolved over the past 55 years.
Full-time NS was introduced. The NS (Amendment) Act was passed in Parliament followed by the enlistment of the first 900 of around 9,000 male citizens who were eligible for conscription. At the same time, part-time NS was introduced for the Special Constabulary and Vigilante Corps in the SPF.
The first Officer Cadet Course for NSFs was conducted at the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI).
When NS was introduced, officers had to serve three years while the other ranks served two years, followed by 10 years of reserve service. In 1971, the length of service was changed to 2½ years for servicemen holding the rank of corporal and above.
In January 1974, a group of foreign terrorists hijacked the ferryboat Laju and held five crew members as hostages. The Laju Incident demonstrated the need to have a sufficient reserve of trained Police officers who could supplement the regulars during a security crisis.
Full-time NS was extended to the SPF to supplement the regular forces.
The Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) was introduced, requiring reservists to take this test twice a year.
The Civil Defence Command was formed under the SPF and the pioneer batch of Civil Defence NSFs was enlisted.
The training cycle for reservists was extended from 10 years to 13 years.
The Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) was established as a channel for the community to provide feedback on issues concerning national defence.
The Open Mobilisation system was introduced, where servicemen had to report for mobilisation after their unit code names were broadcasted on radio, television, cable radio and in cinemas.
The Hotel New World collapse highlighted the need for a strong civil defence force to tackle public safety incidents effectively and efficiently. This incident later led to the transfer of SAF and SPF NSmen to augment SCDF.
The Committee to Recognise the Contribution of Reservists to Total Defence or RECORD was formed to further recognise the contributions of national servicemen, their families and employers to Total Defence.
Reservists were renamed “Operationally-Ready NSmen”. In the same year, national servicemen from the SPF and the SAF were also mobilised to protect Singapore’s key installations.
The SAF played a major role in combating the SARS outbreak by contributing to detection, contact tracing and quarantine management efforts.
The SAF embarked on a 3rd Generation (3G) transformation to meet new security challenges effectively.
The Operationally Ready National Service (ORNS) training cycle was reduced from 13 years to 10 years.
The Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) was established. 30 recommendations, based on feedback received from the public, were made to strengthen the NS system for the future, to better serve Singapore and Singaporeans.
We commemorated 50 years of NS. PM Lee announced that The Float@Marina Bay will be redeveloped into NS Square, a permanent space that commemorates NS, and is a tribute to all national servicemen.
The Cyber NSF scheme was launched to tap on the nation’s best cyber talents in the NSF pool to defend MINDEF/SAF systems and networks.
The SCDF Rescue Battalions, led by NSmen, were re-organised into smaller and more capable Rescue Units and Medical Units for greater operational flexibility.
SPF’s pioneer batch of Protective Security Unit NSFs completed their Inaugural Operationally-Ready National Servicemen Transition Course.
New Skillsfuture@NS initiatives to support our NSFs’ lifelong learning journey were introduced.
The NS Review Committee (NSRC) was formed to review aspects of NS to fulfil the operational demands of the Next- Generation SAF, and meet the needs of a new generation of national servicemen.
The SAF and Home Team’s NSFs and NSmen were deployed as part of national Covid-19 response, to help out in areas such as contact tracing, managing quarantine facilities, and participating in the Forward Assurance Support Team (FAST) Ops at migrant worker dormitories.
The Singapore Army completed its transformation to a 3rd Generation Army.
The NSRC announced several initiatives to enhance the NS experience, such as the Enhanced Health Screening Programme, OneNS Platform, review of the Medical Classification and Physical Employment Standards (PES), and introduction of the NS Fitness Improvement Training (NS FIT) Programme.
SPF’s Protective Security Command embarked on a transformation journey to give NSFs more opportunities to take on leadership roles and lead other fellow NSFs to conduct patrols.
The nation commemorates 55 years of NS.
The NSRC concluded its review with 10 key initiatives introduced.