SINGAPORE - Almost all full-time national servicemen (NSFs) will enlist together in the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) on Pulau Tekong, said Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung on Friday (March 2).
Previously, some NSFs did their BMT at the camps of selected combat units, in what is commonly known as the mono-intake system.
The change means that, for example, a serviceman who is enlisted into the 3rd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (3 SIR) will no longer do his BMT where the unit is located, at Selarang Camp in Loyang.
Instead, he will attend a common nine-week course on Pulau Tekong. This move is aimed at strengthening both unit identity and the common national service (NS) experience.
Recruits at the BMTC selected to be part of a unit, such as those from the infantry, armour and Guards formations, will also stand a higher chance of being posted back there if they attend command school after their basic training.
The Straits Times understands that this change exempts NSFs enlisted as commandos and naval divers, and those in support vocations.
"These NSFs will benefit from BMTC's dedicated training experience, infrastructure and use of technology. Most importantly, they will share a common experience, within the unit, and within the SAF tribe," said Mr Ong, speaking during the debate on Mindef's spending plans.
The One-BMT programme was fully implemented in November 2017. More than 2,500 NSFs have gone through it since a trial began in August 2016.
This change is one of a number to tackle key challenges to national service, which was the focus of Mr Ong's speech and "remains the bedrock of the strong and credible SAF that we have today", he said.
One challenge is a demographic one, due to falling cohort sizes and the shrinking enlistment pool. Another is the "evolving new unconventional security threats", such as terrorism, cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns, added Mr Ong.
"The future capability and effectiveness of the SAF will not be based on the quantity of people we have, but their quality and ability," he said.
One way to achieve this is through a review of vocation requirements, a solution enabled by technology.
"So many more servicemen can now perform what could have been done by servicemen who met the most stringent physical requirements in the past," Mr Ong said. He gave the example of a serviceman operating an autonomous system in a control room being in combat, even though he is not doing something physically demanding.
Mr Ong revealed that since last year, the SAF has deployed more than 600 servicemen to vocations that they were previously ineligible for. Another 1,500 are expected to be deployed to more vocations this year.
On the vocation interest initiative announced in 2016, where pre-enlistees can indicate their interest in 33 national service vocations, more than 32,000 pre-enlistees have indicated their interest to date.
Based on surveys conducted at the Central Manpower Base (CMPB), where pre-enlistees go for their medical check-ups, Mr Ong said more than 80 per cent of those surveyed felt that the initiative encouraged them to take greater ownership of their NS roles and responsibilities.
The first batch of about 4,000 enlisted from November last year will have their interest indication considered when they complete their BMT this month.
Recruit Liew Yong Quan, 22, who enlisted on Nov 9 last year, indicated Guards as one of his vocation choices at CMPB. He was posted to 1 Guards from the first day at BMTC and is currently being trained by both 1 Guards and BMTC commanders.
"For Guards, we're not a very big unit, so we're very close-knit. Even if we're in different companies, we know and talk to one another," he said, adding that he is considering signing on as a Guardsman.
Second Sergeant K. Dinessh Raaj, 22, is part of the first unit to have embarked on the One-BMT programme.
"Knowing that these people came from the same BMT as me, it was much easier for me to communicate with them, because we had the friendship and camaraderie from the beginning."
The platoon sergeant with 3 SIR, who enlisted in October 2016, was given a 6 Division formation patch and physical training singlet when, on his arrival at BMTC, he was told he had been posted to the unit.
"It drove me even further to do my best in command school to return to the unit, and take care of them throughout the two-year full-time NS, and also for the 10 years (of reservist duty) after that," he said.