Although the SAF was established in 1965 and Singapore only gained her current version of a National Service-based armed forces in 1967, the history of her defence started long before that.
The first local forces involved in Singapore's protection were the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps (SVRC). Though our current generation of the armed forces is worlds apart from the SVRC of 1854, it still shares a commitment to excellence and loyalty to Singapore.
1819 - Beginning of colonial rule. Singapore relied on British forces to protect her from all threats.
1854 - Creation of the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps (SVRC), a volunteer organisation to maintain internal security.
1888 - The SVRC became the Singapore Volunteer Artillery (SVA), and its success prompted formation of other volunteer corps.
1901 – SVA and other volunteer corps were consolidated into the Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC). Army Cadet Corps, precursor of the National Cadet Corps, started.
1915 - The SVC acquitted itself extremely well in the Singapore Mutiny.
1922 - The SVC was renamed the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF) to include volunteer forces from Malacca and Penang.
1934 – The Straits Settlements Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSRNVR) was formed.
1941 - The Japanese campaign into South East Asia had begun. The British commanders had thought that Singapore was an "impregnable fortress", but troops stationed here were inexperienced compared to the Japanese forces.
10 Dec 1941 - Disaster struck when two British battleships, Repulse and Prince of Wales, were sunk by Japanese planes.
Jan 1942 - The British, fighting a losing battle, chose to retreat. They blew up a section on Johore Causeway in a bid to slow down the Japanese advance into Singapore.
Feb 1942 - Japanese troops entered Singapore and seized control over Tengah Air Field and Johore Causeway.
8 Feb 1942 - The Japanese crossed the narrow Straits of Johore into Kranji and Sarimbun, beginning their invasion of Singapore. For the next seven days, the British put up stiff resistance but were no match for the Japanese. Volunteer forces also fought alongside regular forces in the Battles of Bukit Timah and Pasir Panjang to fend off the Japanese.
15 Feb 1942 - Despite all their efforts, Singapore was surrendered. During the Japanese occupation, the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF) and local forces were indispensable to the war effort. SSVF corpswoman Elizabeth Choy was detained and interrogated by the Kempeitai alongside other locals following the Double Tenth Massacre. Men and women such as Lim Bo Seng joined special operations forces, gathered intelligence and fought where they could. The Chinese in Singapore's volunteer armies were targeted during the Sook Ching Massacre, or sent with other prisoners of war to build the Death Railway.
May 1945 - The war in Europe ended with Germany's surrender.
Aug 1945 - The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki signalled the end of Japan's war efforts.
15 Aug 1945 - The Japanese invaders in Singapore laid down their arms and the Japanese occupation was over.
1948 - The Malayan Naval Force was formed by the colonial government in Singapore to bolster its sea defences.
1949 - The Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF), which had been dissolved, was reinstated as the Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC) to keep peace domestically.
Mar 1957 - Establishment of the first battalion of regular soldiers, the First Singapore Infantry Regiment (1 SIR).
Apr 1957 - Britain agrees to Singapore self-rule with partial internal self-government
1959 - Singapore granted full internal self-government.
1962 – Formation of 2 SIR.
1963 - When Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia, its armed forces was transferred to federal control. Singapore's naval force, then known as the Singapore Division of the Malayan Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, became part of the Royal Malaysian Naval Volunteer Reserve. This association only lasted two years till 9 August 1965 when Singapore became an independent nation, responsible for its own defences.
1963 - President Sukarno launched Konfrantasi in response to formation of Malaysia. Singapore's troops were deployed to protect strategic interests. 1 SIR, 2 SIR, the Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC) and the Vigilante Corps (VC) were all deployed to protect strategically important sites. The VC found incredible support from citizens, with 91.4% of eligible men volunteering.
9 Aug 1965 - After more than 100 years of British colonial rule and two tumultuous years under the Malaysian Federation, Singapore was declared a sovereign and independent nation. An urgent priority after independence was to build up Singapore's own defence capability. Singapore then had only two infantry battalions of 50 officers and some 1,000 men and two ships. There was no air force. Singapore's armed forces had to be created virtually from scratch.
Aug 1965 - The Ministry of the Interior and Defence (MID) was established with Dr Goh Keng Swee as its first Minister. The key priority then was to build up the Army into a credible force as soon as possible. With its small population and the need to channel resources to economic development, it was decided that Singapore's defence would be based on citizen armed forces. However, there was no military tradition in Singapore. The bulk of the population had traditionally held military service in low esteem. An intense educational effort was required to overcome such attitudes. Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior civil servants and community leaders volunteered to serve in the People's Defence Force. In this way, they set an example and drove home the message that it was the responsibility of every citizen to defend their nation.
1965 - Singapore Volunteer Corps was renamed People's Defence Force.
1966 - The Singapore Naval Volunteer Force (SNVF) started with just three ships - RSS Panglima, RSS Bedok and RSS Singapura. RSS Singapura, moored at Telok Ayer Basin, served as the SNVF's first headquarters. Thus, the newly formed naval force had only two seaworthy ships to form its sea defences.
1967 - National Service was established. The NS (Amendment) Bill, 1967 was first read in Parliament on 27 Feb 1967. After a spirited debate in Parliament, the Act was finally passed on 14 Mar 1967.
28 Mar to 18 Apr 1967 – Registration of NS began at the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) and its district offices in Katong, Serangoon and Bukit Panjang. Pink reminder cards were sent by post to the first batch of citizens who were born between 1 Jan 1949 and 30 Jun 1949 - some 9,000 of them. Only the top 10% of the 9,000 were chosen for two years of full-time military training in two new NS army battalions – the 3rd and 4th Singapore Infantry Regiments (3 and 4 SIR) at Taman Jurong Camp. The first batch of enlistees for full-time military service reported from 17 August 1967. A total of 450 men were absorbed into each battalion with formal training commencing on 11 September 1967. Those who were not selected for full-time military service served in the Peoples’ Defence Force (PDF), the Vigilante Corps and Special Constabulary.
1967 - The SNVF boost its numbers to 89 mobilised personnel and 278 volunteer officers and men. Some were women from the Singapore Women's Auxiliary Naval Service (or SWANS), which had been formed in 1957.
5 May 1967 - The Singapore Naval White Ensign was hoisted with pride, signalling that Singapore finally had a navy to call its own.
Aug 1968 - The SNVF was renamed the People's Defence Force (Sea) under the Sea Defence Command. In December that year, the Sea Defence Command was renamed the Maritime Command.
1968 - The Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) was formed. It started with eight Cessna 172-H aircraft to train its pilots.
1968 - The British announced their intention to pull out all their forces from Singapore by 1971.
1970 - Hawker Hunter fighter aircraft was added to SADC’s fleet.
1970 - The Ministry of the Interior and Defence (MID) initially oversaw both internal and external defence, but as the defence structure grew and the work became more defined, it separated into two specialised ministries. Thus, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) were formed. MINDEF moved from Pearl's Hill to Tanglin Complex at Napier Road. The latter served as MINDEF's headquarters until April 1989 when the ministry shifted to its present site at Bukit Gombak. Today, MINDEF continues to be the Service headquarters for the Army, Navy and Air Force, providing policy direction, managerial and technological support to the SAF.
1971 - When the British forces were withdrawn, Tengah, Seletar, Sembawang and Changi airbases were entrusted to the SADC.
1975 - The Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) was renamed the “Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)”. The Maritime Command was renamed the "Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN)".
When the SAF first started in the 1960s, the most urgent focus for what we now call the 1st Generation SAF was to provide for Singapore's basic defence. The 2nd Generation SAF, from the early 80s to late 90s, saw the upgrading and modernising of our Army, Navy and Air Force. Post-9/11, there was a shift in the security landscape, which widened to include non-conventional threats such as terrorism and piracy.
Resource constraints and the emergence of advanced warfighting technologies also drove the SAF to rethink our development trajectory. To meet new security challenges effectively, the SAF embarked on a 3rd Generation transformation journey in 2004 and continues today to upgrade its capabilities into an advanced networked force.
1983 - Last battalion of the People's Defence Force is disbanded.
1983 - RSAF acquired Super Puma helicopters.
1988 - Singapore's first locally produced Howitzer gun FH-88 used.
1989 - MINDEF moves to its current Bukit Gombak location.
1990 – The RSAF added F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to its fleet.
1990 – The SAF deployed troops to help in the humanitarian effort after an earthquake in the Philippines.
1997 - The RSS Challenger, Singapore’s first submarine, launched by the RSN.
1999 - Singaporean-made SAR 21 rifle was introduced.
1999 - The SAF deployed a medical team to central Taiwan for the relief mission after a massive earthquake there.
1999 - The SAF contributed to peace-keeping efforts in Timor-Leste from 1999 to 2003.
2001 – The RSAF sent a humanitarian aid package worth S$50,000, on behalf of Singapore, to provide relief for the flood victims of Pulau Nias in Indonesia.
2001 - The SAF contributed S$200,000 in the form of tents and groundsheets to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
2003 – The SAF contributed to the reconstruction efforts in Iraq from 2003 to 2006.
2004 - 9th Singapore Division (9 Div) merged with the Infantry Formation, to take on greater roles in training the infantry.
2004 – The SAF activated Operation Flying Eagle, its humanitarian aid plan, after the Boxing Day Tsunami in Indonesia.
2004 - The SAF embarked on its 3rd Generation transformation.
2005 - The RSAF participated in a week-long relief mission for Hurricane Katrina, USA.
2005 - The SAF deployed a medical team to assist at the Sanglah General Hospital to treat and manage the victims of the deadly blasts from the terrorist attacks in Bali, Indonesia.
2006 - The SAF deployed a medical team to Yogyakarta, as part of Singapore's humanitarian assistance to Indonesia following the earthquake which hit central Java.
2006 - The SAF deployed a medical team and three CH-47 Chinooks as part of the HADR efforts on the flash flood in Thailand.
2007 – The SAF deployed a medical team to Afghanistan and operated as part of the New Zealand Defence Force's (NZDF) Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan.
2007 – The SAF assisted Indonesia in Search and Locate Operations for the missing airliner Adam Air Boeing 737.
2008 - The SAF donated US$80,000 worth of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) package to Chengdu, China to support the People’s Liberation Army's relief efforts.
2009 - Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle introduced to the Army.
2009 - The SAF deployed the RSS Persistence, a Landing Ship Tank (LST) with 240 personnel and two Super Puma helicopters embarked, to the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations.
2009 - The SAF deployed a medical team to provide medical aid to victims of the earthquake which hit West Sumatra.
2010 – The SAF launched the Military Domain Experts Scheme (MDES) for highly specialised personnel.
2010 - Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopters added to the RSN improved integration between RSAF and RSN.
2011 – The RSAF acquired the Surface-to-air PYthon-5 and DERby-Short Range (SPYDER-SR) Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) system and the Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to update its technology.
2011 - The SAF commissioned the first High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) battery at Khatib Camp.
2011 - Operationalisation of 2nd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (2 SIR) as the first Motorised Infantry Battalion.
2011 - The SAF joined rescue operations and provided humanitarian aid to victims of the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
2013 - The Committee to Strengthen NS (CSNS) was set up to examine how the NS system can be strengthened for the future, to better serve Singapore and Singaporeans.
2014 – The SAF deployed a water purification team to produce clean drinking water for the affected residents in the Kelantan Flood.
2014 – Formation of the SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC).
2014 – The SAF joined international search and recovery efforts for AirAsia plane, flight QZ8501, which crashed en route from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore.
2014 – The SAF supported the Search and Locate operation in the South China Sea for the missing MAS aircraft flight MH370.
2015 – The SAF commissioned the Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicle (PRV). The PRV will replace the aging fleet of V200 armoured vehicles, which have been in service since 1970.
2015 – Soft launch of Terrex 2 (Infantry Carrier Vehicle) at Defence and Security Equipment International in London.
2015 - The SAF deployed personnel and assets to assist in fighting forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia.
2015 - The SAF deployed C-130 aircraft to airlift the Singapore relief contingent and their equipment to assist in the affected area of the Nepal earthquake.
2015 – The SAF and the Singapore Civil Defence Force were deployed in firefighting operations in northern Thailand.
2015 – Commemoration of 50 years of the formation of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF50).
2017 – Commemoration of 50 years of National Service (NS50).
2017 – Commemoration of 50 years of the formation of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN50).
2017 - The SAF deployed medical teams to Iraq to provide medical support to coalition forces contributing to counter ISIS efforts in Iraq.