Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, At the NS Square Groundbreaking Ceremony on 19 Mar 2024, 1400hrs, At The Float @ Marina Bay

Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, At the NS Square Groundbreaking Ceremony on 19 Mar 2024, 1400hrs, At The Float @ Marina Bay


Good afternoon. Let me just acknowledge the presence of my colleagues, Senior Ministers of State Mr Heng Chee How, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State Dr Muhammad Faishal bin Ibrahim, Chairperson and members of the Government Parliamentary Committees (Defence and Foreign Affairs), senior officials, distinguished guests, members of the business community, leaders, NSmen from the SAF, SPF and SCDF, ladies and gentlemen. When the chairman of this board who will oversee the NS Square, Ming Yan, received me, he said, “Welcome to this construction site.” It is a construction site but I think many of you agree with me it is quite a magnificent construction site. We are all excited and happy that the building of NS Square begins in earnest, after today’s groundbreaking. You already see heavy machinery and a steel dam being built so that they can evacuate the water. Things are progressing. Looking at the video, our excitement increases because we can envision how this place will become. Now it is bare earth, but when fully built, it will be transformed with all the facilities that the video shows when this place is completed.

What are we building? You might ask. Monuments to honour soldiers can be found in many countries. I know Singaporeans travel widely, and many of you, including myself, would have visited some of these grand edifices during our travels, usually and particularly in countries that have a long history of wars and famous battles – whether they have won or lost the battle, they build monuments. Each time I visit the Pentagon at Washington D.C., before I enter the Pentagon, I cross Arlington National Cemetery. Their tombstones are shorter than ours, smaller, very immaculate, all white, neatly kept because that is their military cemetery. A sombre moment for everyone who wants to go to the Pentagon. Many of you I am sure have visited the USS Arizona Memorial based in Honolulu when visiting the Pearl Harbour. The oil from the sunken ships still bubbles to this day. Those who visited Australia, Australia has a war memorial in Canberra. You enter a magnificent courtyard, where there are records of their battles fought in stone tableaux. The first battle that the Australian Military fought was in Sudan, as part of the British Empire in 1885.

I could go on, but the point I wanted to make by way of introduction to this and by way of contrasts, is to put into perspective what we are building at Marina Bay today and what we are not. That is very important for us to understand, because I can well imagine that some people would say, “We want to honour our national servicemen, let’s build a memorial.” Our country Singapore, is a relatively young nation, we are only 59 years old. For those of you who know our history, prior to independence, Singapore did experience physical violence. Some of your relatives, your fathers perhaps, but definitely your grandparents would have experienced physical violence if they were in Singapore – the Japanese invasion in 1942, Konfrontasi in 1963. We do have monuments for these, to honour the men and women who showed bravery or their sacrifices. We have memorials such as the Kranji War Memorial, the Singapore General Hospital War Memorial, the Civilian War Memorial, the Cenotaph, and the Konfrontasi Memorial – that one we built recently, opposite the McDonald House.

Since our independence in 1965, we count ourselves fortunate that we have had no physical conflicts, no battles or wars with other nations, or with organised non-state actors, including terrorists. And we hope that with a strong SAF and Home Team that deter aggression and with a strong Total Defence, this peaceful country of ours will always remain peaceful. We do not want to build a war memorial for independent Singapore. That is our hope and I am sure I speak on behalf of all of us, not a single one here hopes that in your lifetime, we will have to build a war memorial, even if we win the battle. However, as history has taught us, and what we see in Ukraine and the Middle East so vividly demonstrate, nothing is ever assured. We hope that Singapore will always be peaceful, nobody can guarantee that. But the harder we work at keeping a strong SAF, Home Team and Total Defence, I think the greater the odds of keeping Singapore safe.

A strong SAF and Home Team can only be as strong as its people, and NSmen form the bulk of our fighting and operational forces. Without that commitment of national servicemen, our SAF and Home Team cannot be strong and our deterrence will fail. And I am very glad that the support for National Service is indeed strong and overwhelming. The Institute of Policy Studies conducted a survey in 2022 and 98% of respondents agreed that National Service was necessary for Singapore’s security, both now and in the future. I challenge you to find a similar question that can get 98% agreement.

To honour this support and to show our appreciation to national servicemen, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the Golden Jubilee of NS, during the NS50 celebrations in 2017, for a fitting and permanent tribute to all our national servicemen to build on these magnificent grounds. It will be a physical monument to thank our national servicemen, both past, present and future, for as long as Singapore which they defend, stands. Construction was delayed during COVID, but today, we press on with full vigour and purpose.

NS Square aims to be a place for national servicemen and their families to enjoy the peace and prosperity of a Singapore which they have protected over the years. As Mr Lee Kuan Yew reminded us time and again while he was alive, “without security, there can be no progress”.

This NS Square will be a new facility from ground up, but it will build upon the strong foundations of rich traditions and legacies in our journey together as a nation. Some of you are wondering, what traditions and legacies, you might ask? Well, we have a few, let me mention that. First of all, National Day Parades (NDPs). All of us and your children, Singaporeans know about NDP. Singaporeans will again be thrilled with the NDPs held in this permanent site, just as they were with the NDPs on The Float in this Marina Bay. All of us remember the NDPs on The Float. There are very few sites in the world where a parade and show can have air, land, sea components against the backdrop of these majestic skyscrapers. There is no other site in the world. You sit here and you think, “Can this be true? Helicopters flying, fighter jets flying”. There is no other site in the world where you can have this in the middle of town. This Float was actually temporary. Some of you may not know the history. MINDEF had a problem: where to hold the NDP when the Kallang Stadium was being demolished. You cannot hold it at the Padang all the time. So, they were looking around. We built a temporary platform, that’s why it is called a Temporary Floating Platform. They said, “For how long?”, and we said, “Well maybe for five years after the Kallang is already done.” As it turned out, we held 11 NDPs here. Singaporeans love the NDPs here. I heard from many Singaporeans that this is their favourite site. But unlike the temporary Floating Platform, this will be a permanent site for all NDPs in the future. How about that? One day when ready, not only will our F16s and F15s fly past, our F35s will fly in the sky.

The second tradition, BMT graduation parades. Our old timers would not know about this but ask your children. For many years now, the SAF recruits completed their BMT here. They did a long road march, started out at East Changi, then they came across the Benjamin Sheares Bridge. I am told that your sons, my sons, became emotional when they were ending the march. I am not sure whether they got emotional because they could see the Marina Skyline, or it was because it was the end of the route march. But as they saw the Marina Skyline, some of them teared up. This is what you are protecting. This city is worth protecting.

Third tradition, the passing of duty from one generation to the next. Another tradition, we call it ROD, now it is called MINDEF Reserve. NSmen ROD-ed will pass on a national flag to new soldiers, and that is to symbolise that they have completed their duty faithfully, and now they pass on the responsibility to the new generation. I think it is poignant, symbolic and very good that the SAF started this tradition.

I have named you three traditions. There is one more, the last one. The fourth tradition and legacy, also rich in symbolism, the reason why this place will be called the NS Square. Now you are going to ask, “Where is the square?” Let me tell you. The name NS Square refers to our humble but instantly recognisable icon of military life. What is that? What do all of us recognise instantly? The Parade Square! Right! First day as a recruit, I went to Dempsey, not Depot Road. They bring you to the parade square. You say, “Siong, siong. Ok now I am in NS.” Sergeant Major will meet you there. Your military life begins. You saw the video, there will be magnificent facilities around. But amid the magnificent facilities, there will be a small Parade Square marked out. That Parade Square, amid the refinement and luxury, is both a recognition and reminder to all national servicemen that their journey to become full-fledged soldiers began on the Parade Square – where discipline, strength, camaraderie, loyalty, integrity, among other important values were forged in them and their SAF units. I think it is a fitting tribute too, to our Non-Commissioned Officers. We have Chief Warrant Officer Chua here, who is now the highest-ranking NCO. It is to people like the late Encik Shamsudin, Tiger Hong, who made us into becoming soldiers. We hope that soldier-fathers and mothers who have been soldiers will tell their sons and daughters of their own experiences when they walk on the square. Because we do not want them to just bring their children here and say, “You see, these facilities are to thank me for my contribution.” We want them to teach them about what it means, hardships and sacrifice, why are they doing National Service.

I am sure that all Singaporeans from all walks of life will wait in anticipation for this completion. I believe when it is completed, it will become a national landmark for all Singaporeans. It will add another jewel to the already impressive skyline around Marina Bay.

What can our national servicemen and their families expect from NS Square when it is completed, I am told hopefully in 2027, not too long to wait right? Three years. As you have seen in the video, an open-air stadium, 30,000 seating, it can host NDPs, it can host River Hongbao, sporting events, concerts.

It will have sports facilities, food and beverage outlets, you saw the new waterfront promenade. Singaporeans can come in, free access all year round, bring their communities together.

There will be an NS gallery which will showcase our NS stories, their efforts, their sacrifices, their aspirations.

Now, it is designed to reduce energy consumption and sustain our environment. It will tap on the Marina Bay District Cooling network for its air-conditioning systems. Solar panels will be here. Rainwater will be collected to irrigate greenery. The demolished materials from the Floating Platform – the concrete, the steel, will be used to supplement the materials for constructing the new NS Square. Remember the bucket seats we saw NDPs on? They will be reused – you can find some of them at Choa Chu Kang Town and others at the new SAFTI City! So well done, I think that was a good move.

Since 1967, more than one million national servicemen in the SAF, SPF, and SCDF have answered the call to defend and protect Singapore and Singaporeans. They have been strongly supported by their families and employers.

This permanent NS Square in the magnificent Marina Bay will be a fitting tribute to the contributions of national servicemen and to all who support NS. NS Square serves as a permanent reminder that Singapore’s sovereignty depends on our commitment to our own defence and security.


In closing let me thank Mr Lim Ming Yan, I made a speech but you know, somebody has to do the work. I want to thank Mr Lim Ming Yan, Chairman of the Board of NS Square. Ming Yan was himself a Regular in SAF before becoming a successful CEO. He has gone into MINDEF reserves for some years now, but we call on him to do some more National Service. He agreed. Over the next few months, Ming Yan will approach others to do NS too, on his board. I think he and his committee knows how special and how important this NS Square will be not only to national servicemen but to Singapore. Let us give him and his future team our strongest support to build something precious, something iconic that will withstand the test of time and that all national servicemen and their families can enjoy for many years to come, and show our appreciation in safeguarding our security, sovereignty and way of life.

Thank you.

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