A slew of initiatives to strengthen National Service (NS) was announced at the 2021 Committee of Supply debate on the defence budget on 1 Mar. Here are five key developments that you need to know.
1. PES system to be refreshed
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will update and refresh its traditional Medical Classification System, which includes the Physical Employment Standards (PES) system, said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen during his debate speech on the defence budget.
The intent, he said, is to move away from the old binary classification of whether one is combat-fit or non-combat-fit, which has become outdated for many roles in the Next Generation SAF.
With job redesign and new technology, "a larger pool of servicemen will now be able to contribute in areas for which they were previously not eligible or capable," he added, citing examples such as maritime security and protection of installations, through the use of unmanned surface vessels and unmanned watch towers.
"Moving forward, the SAF will use an updated and refreshed Medical Classification System, which together with its PES system, will better match vocations and deployment of national servicemen. The new system will also take into account their civilian jobs and skillsets."
Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How elaborated that this change will better match servicemen to meaningful roles without comprising safety or operational effectiveness.
He noted that the SAF is reviewing the use of functional assessments to determine if a serviceman is suitable to be deployed in a specific vocation.
For example, the selection of Transport Operators now uses functional assessments which replicates the physical demands required for daily operations – this allows the SAF to better match the servicemen's functional abilities to the actual demands of the role.
"If successful, we will then extend this trial to other vocations such as Tank Operators," said Mr Heng.
2. More work-learn schemes for NSFs
To further harness the potential of Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), MINDEF launched a Work-Study Diploma (WSD) with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in September last year. For a start, the WSD is open to those serving as Air Force or Army technicians.
The first batch of 37 WSD servicemen will start their programme next month in April.
Under this scheme, NSFs will undergo training at ITE to obtain a MINDEF-sponsored ITE diploma in aircraft maintenance engineering for Air Force technicians or electrical engineering for Army technicians.
Spending a total of three to four years with the SAF, these NSFs will be given a contract with the pay and benefits of an SAF Regular after completing a minimum period as NSFs.
The WSDs are the latest additions to work-learn schemes for NSFs in the SAF. In 2018, the Cyber NSF scheme was launched to develop talents for cyber defence.
Mr Heng said that MINDEF will continue to explore more of such schemes to "support our servicemen's professional development, while allowing them to put their learning into practice to contribute to MINDEF and the SAF in the defence of Singapore".
3. More opportunities to match NSmen’s civilian expertise to their operational roles
The SAF is expanding opportunities to deploy Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) in roles that tap upon their knowledge and skills attained through their studies and civilian work, said Mr Heng.
Under the existing Expertise Conversion Scheme, NSmen in specialised fields such as law and psychology can be deployed earlier in their Operationally Ready NS cycle to roles requiring their expertise.
This scheme has served the SAF well against a growing range of non-conventional security threats in domains such as info-communications and maritime, he noted.
"Moving forward, we will systematically expand opportunities to deploy NSmen with relevant civilian expertise, and we will increase the areas that they can be deployed to, and establish a dedicated deployment centre to oversee this expansion."
4. More fitness facilities for training
Pre-enlistees will soon be able to work out at ActiveSG gyms near their homes for free.
MINDEF is expanding its Pre-Enlistees Exercise Programme for NS (PREP4NS) trial to include admission to 24 ActiveSG gyms across Singapore. Registration details will be announced later this year.
Under the current PREP4NS programme, pre-enlistees can register for a free one-year membership to six SAFRA gyms to improve their fitness.
About 5,000 pre-enlistees have received PREP4NS membership since the first PREP4NS trial in November 2019. And more than 80 per cent have visited the SAFRA gyms since mid-June last year, when Singapore moved into Phase Two of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many reported improvements in their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) score – for instance, 33 per cent more pre-enlistees achieved the Gold award after receiving their PREP4NS membership, Mr Heng noted.
For NSmen, MINDEF and the SAF are currently exploring more ways to provide greater convenience and flexibility for NS fitness activities, said Mr Heng, adding that details will be announced soon.
5. Faster, more convenient health screening for NSmen
The Health Screening Programme (HSP) can now be completed in one session, instead of two, for most NSmen.
This is a mandatory health screening for NSmen, who are aged 35 and above and eligible to take part in IPPT. It helps to ensure that they are in good health to safely participate in strenuous training activities.
To provide further convenience, a specialised HSP centre will be set up by mid-2021, at the Military Medicine Institute located in the National University of Singapore campus at Kent Ridge.
"This centralised location will bring greater convenience to our busy NSmen, who can also expect shorter booking and waiting times," said Mr Heng.
About 11,000 NSmen annually will benefit from these two HSP enhancements.