Singapore's defence and security is a responsibility shouldered by national servicemen, who form the backbone of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). As the SAF adapts to face increasingly complex challenges, so must the National Service (NS) system to meet the needs of the Next-Generation SAF and a new generation of national servicemen.
In 2020, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) announced the establishment of the NS Review Committee (NSRC) to look into strengthening the NS system. To date, the NSRC has developed several initiatives to maximise national servicemen’s contributions, improve their health and fitness, and enhance their NS experience.
Review of the NS Deployment System
The SAF is leveraging technology and redesigning jobs to be able to deploy servicemen of varying physical abilities in a wider range of operational roles. This would enable a greater pool of national servicemen to be able to contribute in roles that they would not have been eligible for previously, maximising their contributions in NS without compromising operational effectiveness or safety. For example, the Unmanned Watched Towers used in the protection of installations leverage automation and technology to reduce manpower required, and will allow servicemen who were previously not suited to be security troopers to be eligible for deployment.
In parallel, the SAF will review the Medical Classification System and Physical Employment Standards (PES) System. The review will focus on the Operational Effectiveness of each individual, instead of the binary classification of whether one is Combat-Fit or Non-Combat-Fit. Medical exclusions that used to limit deployments may no longer be relevant in today’s operating context or with the use of technology. The SAF is therefore reviewing the use of functional assessments to determine our servicemen’s deployability in specific vocations, such as for the selection of Transport Operators. The assessment replicates the physical demands required for daily operations, enabling the SAF to better match servicemen’s functional abilities to the role’s actual demands.
MINDEF/SAF launched the Work-Study Diploma (WSD) for Army and Air Force Technicians in September 2020, in collaboration with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) will serve their NS while undergoing training and certification to obtain a diploma in Electrical Engineering (for Army Technicians) and Aircraft Maintenance Engineering (for Air Force Technicians), sponsored by MINDEF. Spending a total of three to four years with the SAF, these NSFs will be given a contract entitling them to the pay and benefits of an SAF Regular after completing a minimum period as NSFs. The first batch of 37 Air Force and Army Technicians on the WSD will commence their diploma course in April 2021, at the start of the ITE term.
These WSDs and the Cyber NSF Scheme launched in 2018, are work-learn schemes that aim to not only support our NSFs’ professional development but also provide them the opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt and contribute to MINDEF/SAF. MINDEF/SAF will explore more of such work-learn schemes in future.
Expertise Deployment of Operationally Ready National Servicemen
In March 2019, MINDEF/SAF announced that Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) with specialised civilian expertise can be deployed to new roles that require such expertise under the Expertise Conversion Scheme. MINDEF/SAF will continue to build on this scheme and systematically expand opportunities to deploy NSmen with relevant civilian expertise. This will serve to maximise the contributions of NSmen and support the SAF’s operational requirements. The areas that servicemen with specialised civilian expertise can be deployed to will be increased, and a dedicated deployment centre will be set up within the SAF to oversee the expansion of expertise deployment.
Pre-Enlistees Exercise Programme for National Service (PREP4NS)
In November 2019, MINDEF and SAFRA launched a trial of the Pre-Enlistees Exercise Programme for National Service (PREP4NS) which provides eligible pre-enlistees with a one-year complimentary SAFRA Energy One (E1) gym membership. PREP4NS aims to encourage pre-enlistees to use the gym facilities to improve their general fitness so that they will be better prepared for their pre-enlistee Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and the subsequent physical demands of NS.
Since the launch of the trial, about 5,000 pre-enlistees have been accorded the PREP4NS membership. More than 80% have visited the SAFRA gyms since mid-June 2020, when Singapore moved into Phase Two of reopening after the circuit breaker period. Almost all pre-enlistees who had provided feedback found the initiative useful in helping them meet their IPPT goals. Many also reported improvements in their IPPT scores. It was observed that 33% more pre-enlistees attained a Gold after receiving their PREP4NS membership.
To provide more avenues and convenience for our pre-enlistees to improve their fitness, MINDEF is working with SportSG to extend the PREP4NS membership to its 24 ActiveSG gyms conveniently located across Singapore. Registration for the ActiveSG gym membership will be announced later this year.
Pre-enlistees must fulfil the following criteria to be eligible for the one-year complimentary gym membership: (i) have registered for full-time NS but yet to enlist; and (ii) are assessed to be medically fit for NS. The PREP4NS trial is ongoing.
Enhanced Health Screening Programme (HSP)
NSmen who are IPPT-eligible and aged 35 and above have to undergo the Health Screening Programme (HSP) to ensure they are in good physical health to safely participate in strenuous activities during In-Camp Training. Previously, the HSP had to be completed over two visits to the medical centre.
To provide greater convenience to NSmen who have to undergo the HSP, MINDEF/SAF has introduced two enhancements:
Completion of the HSP in a single trip. Since October 2020, the process of the HSP has been streamlined so that the HSP for most NSmen can be completed in a single session instead of two.
Setting up a HSP centre in the Military Medicine Institute at Kent Ridge by mid-2021. This provides NSmen with an alternate and central location option for greater convenience, and NSmen can also expect shorter booking and waiting times for their HSP appointments.
Upcoming Areas of Review
The SAF is exploring additional ways to provide NSmen with more convenience and flexibility for NS fitness activities, to motivate them to keep an active lifestyle and ensure that they remain operationally ready.
Plans are also underway to consolidate all digital services throughout the NS journey on a single digital platform for national servicemen, making NS-related services and processes more convenient and seamless for them.
More details on these initiatives will be announced in due course.