Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on Singapore's Declining Birth Rate and Impact to the Singapore Armed Forces

Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on Singapore's Declining Birth Rate and Impact to the Singapore Armed Forces

Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Defence in light of Singapore's declining birth rate which will translate into fewer soldiers (a) how will the Government ensure that the Singapore Armed Forces will continue to remain a formidable and effective force; and (b) whether the use of military technology will assist our Armed Forces to continue to be effective and formidable.

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen: Mr Speaker, as National Service (NS) enlistees are drawn from eligible male Singaporean Citizens and Permanent Residents, the SAF is affected by birth rates and demographic trends. To illustrate let me give you some figures. So if you look at the 1990s, we were drawing in about 15,000 NS men that were enlisted into the SAF each year. This was in the 1990s. From the year 2000, we experienced higher numbers because the children given birth by cohorts of baby-boomers came of enlistment age, and this included the males born in the year of the Dragon in 1988. So as a result, the SAF enlistments increased and reached a peak of about 21,000 in 2011. Going forward, due to an ageing population and declining fertility trends, SAF enlistments are expected to gradually taper and revert to levels in the 1990s, of about 15,000 each year. With these enlistment numbers, our long term projections till 2040 indicate that the SAF will still be able to mobilise about 300,000 soldiers from Regulars, Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) and Operationally Ready NS men (ORNS). 

The SAF has taken into account our manpower requirements over the longer term through our transformation toward a 3rd Generation SAF. Through advances in technology and with more effective systems and platforms, various units within the 3G SAF are now more potent and yet need fewer men to operate. 

Let me give you some examples. The recently acquired High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) needs only 3 men to fully operate the system compared with 12 men needed for other artillery systems with less precision and destructive effects. For the Navy, the Formidable-class frigates needs a full complement of about 70 men, a very lean crew compared to similar warships from other navies, which typically operate with about 100 men. The recently acquired Heron-1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) also gives us greater aerial surveillance capabilities for the same number of people deployed, as compared to older UAVs. 

The SAF will continue to invest steadily and prudently in such advanced technologies to sharpen our capabilities and to be more efficient in the use of our manpower resources. 

Beyond investing in technologically advanced platforms, we also leverage on technology to network our platforms together to provide us greater synergy in training and operations. So one example is the recently inaugurated community for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence. 

Another important factor driving up the overall capability and productivity of the SAF lies in the rising quality of our servicemen. Our servicemen are more educated now, and also more technologically savvy and are able to train more effectively as well as operate the sophisticated systems within the 3G SAF. 

So as a whole, the higher quality of our NS men combined with the advanced platforms and effective use of technology to network our systems, will ensure that the SAF continues to be an effective military force and a strong deterrent against any aggression. 

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