SAF aims to recruit at least 500 more women by 2018

A female SAF officer scrutinises one of the uniforms on display at Mindef's first ever exhibition on the achievements and contributions of women in the Singapore Armed Forces in this June 4, 2007 file photo. The SAF is looking for more women to join
A female SAF officer scrutinises one of the uniforms on display at Mindef's first ever exhibition on the achievements and contributions of women in the Singapore Armed Forces in this June 4, 2007 file photo. The SAF is looking for more women to join as career soldiers as the pool of qualified male enlistees shrinks. -- ST FILE PHOTO: LIM WUI LIANG

Military aims for 3,000 women as number of male enlistees is expected to shrink

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is looking for more women to join as career soldiers as the pool of qualified male enlistees shrinks.

For a start, it wants at least 500 more women by 2018. When that happens, one in 10 career soldiers will be a woman.

Beyond that, the military hopes to double its current female population to at least 3,000, said the SAF's chief recruiter Gan Siow Huang.

Latest statistics revealed to The Sunday Times show that 1,500 women now hold combat jobs, with 60 young women signing on every year as officers, specialists and warrant officers, and military experts.

These female combatants, who serve as artillery gunners, pilots and intelligence analysts, among others, account for 7.5 per cent of the SAF's pool of regulars.

By comparison, women make up 14 per cent of the United States military and more than 10 per cent of the Australian Defence Force.

Colonel Gan, one of the first four women who received the SAF Merit Scholarship in 1993, heads the Joint Manpower Department. She said the number of female troops in the SAF is "way too low", adding: "There are many top-quality women out there who can contribute so we need to be more aggressive to get them to sign up.

"We also don't want to be overly reliant on the pool of male enlistees. Today they may be our main group, but the numbers are going down."

About 21,000 males enlisted for national service in 2011. But given the declining birth rate, the number is expected to shrink to about 15,000 a year in future.

Adding more women will boost the ranks and ensure that the SAF can still mobilise about 300,000 soldiers from regulars, full-time national servicemen and operationally ready NSmen, said Col Gan.

The army recruited its first women combatants in 1986.

Australia, South Korea, Germany and Israel allow women to serve in combat roles. Last month, the Americans revealed plans to open up more combat positions to women.

Col Gan said the SAF will be doing more to hire women who can perform well in areas like cyber-defence, military intelligence and air warfare surveillance.

The army and air force recently started recruitment drives targeted at women. Among other things, the Defence Ministry's publication Pioneer was bundled with women's magazine Cleo for the first time last year.

The navy will start its recruitment campaign for women later this year.

Defence analyst Bernard Loo said that while the SAF has been progressive in integrating women into its ranks, some "apparent barriers" need to be removed.

Noting that the highest-ranked SAF female officer now is a colonel, Dr Loo said: "The perceived glass ceiling will truly be broken if a female officer becomes a general and shows that there is true meritocracy within the SAF."

But Col Gan, the only female colonel in active service now, said: "We are not about to put a woman in a job or promote her for the sake of doing so or to make a statement.

"It is about who is the best man for the job."

jermync@sph.com.sg

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