2 milestones to mark on Mindef's calendar

The Singapore Armed Forces has taken on domestic security and is no longer just a conventional fighting force.
The Singapore Armed Forces has taken on domestic security and is no longer just a conventional fighting force.ST FILE PHOTO

Singapore will mark two important, intertwined defence milestones next year - the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, and the 50th anniversary of national service.

The island's unexpected fall in 1942 during World War II will be commemorated as always on Feb 15, what is now known as Total Defence Day. The 75th anniversary of the British surrender, and the ensuing three years of oppressive Japanese rule, will be used to drive home the day's core message - that Singapore cannot rely on others to defend itself.

It is also fitting that the year will see the 50th anniversary, or jubilee, of national service (NS), started in 1967 to build up a citizen military for a newly independent Singapore.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) has yet to announce what it has in store, but a previous milestone provides some guide.

In 2012, to mark the 45th anniversary of NS, dubbed NS45, a series of special events were rolled out.

The Army Open House was staged at the F1 Pit Building in the heart of the city, the first time it was held outside an army camp. Stories and images from past batches of NSmen were featured in an exhibition, which later also toured different locations in the heartland. NS45 vouchers worth $50 to $100 were also given out to eligible servicemen.

For NS50, the authorities will likely be planning even more activities and rewards. But it will be a challenge to ensure that the celebration matches the significance of NS' jubilee year.

  • 2016: Notable events

  • Terrex vehicles seized in HK

    Nine Singapore Armed Forces armoured vehicles were seized in Hong Kong last month while in transhipment, on their way back from a military exercise in Taiwan.

    The Terrex infantry carriers have not been returned yet, although the Ministry of Defence has made formal representations to Hong Kong over the matter.

  • Expanding Aussie training grounds

    Singapore and Australia signed an agreement in October to expand training grounds for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops in Australia.

    This will involve jointly developing a new military training area in Townsville that is four times the size of Singapore, and also growing the Shoalwater Bay training site, where the SAF has trained since 1990.

    Singapore has committed A$2.25 billion (S$2.34 billion) over 25 years to develop military facilities. Construction will begin in 2019.

    By 2021, 14,000 SAF troops will be able to train for 18 weeks a year in Australia, up from 6,600 who currently train for six weeks.

    But the deal has hit a snag - 23 farmers are reluctant to sell their land for the development in Townsville, and have asked the Australian government to look at other sites.

  • New boots for soldiers

    Singapore Armed Forces troops will be getting boots that are more rugged and last longer than the current Frontier boots, whose soles come apart after prolonged storage.

    The new boots - available in two variations, the Army Combat Boot and the Enhanced Combat Boot - are more durable as they have either directly moulded soles or cupsoles that are fully stitched.

    This footwear will progressively replace the Frontier boots, in use for the past four years.

    Chong Zi Liang

More monetary rewards and the like will no doubt be welcomed but may be seen by recipients as more of the same.

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said NS50 is a good opportunity to take stock of what NS means to Singapore.

While the Government has reiterated that NS' primary purpose is defence and security, Singaporeans have increasingly seen it as a forger of national identity, he said.

"NS will have to start embracing this aspect more and the defence role may have to share its spot with other factors such as nation building," Mr Ho said.

NS was made compulsory after the National Service (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament in March 1967. There was some resistance to the idea and anti-NS protests took place, with the largest one drawing 300 demonstrators.

But in August that year, the enlistment of 900 men in the pioneer batch went ahead. NS has since gained widespread acceptance and is now seen by many as a rite of passage for Singapore men, and a crucial builder of national identity.

But Mr Ho said that continued support for NS cannot be taken for granted and notes that countries such as Germany have done away with conscription.

"The impetus for NS must continually be re-examined and reinforced to keep it relevant," he said.

Over the last 15 years, the Singapore Armed Forces has taken on domestic security and is no longer just a conventional fighting force.

To combat the ever-present menace of terrorism, the Government is encouraging citizen vigilance and launched SGSecure in September to increase people's preparedness and resilience in a crisis.

Mr Ho said the heightened awareness of the terror threat has reminded Singaporeans that NSmen serve not just in the military, but also in the Home Team agencies such as the police and the civil defence.

For instance, most of the Transport Command officers who patrol trains daily are full-time national servicemen, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2016, with the headline '2 milestones to mark on Mindef's calendar'. Print Edition | Subscribe