SINGAPORE - The Singapore Army has made it mandatory for all high-risk and field training to be inspected for safety compliance, said Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How on Friday (March 1).
"We want, through concrete action, to reassure Singaporeans that training safety is a top priority for Mindef (Ministry of Defence) and the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces)," he said.
From April, the Inspector-General Office (IGO) will add another layer of safety audits and inspections, in addition to such work already done at the unit, division and formation headquarters, and service levels.
But the newly appointed SAF Inspector-General, Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee, said that his office would not be duplicating what the service inspectorates are already doing.
Instead, the IGO will look at "weakness areas" so that the inspectorate system can be strengthened, and examine if there is "a gap between policy, doctrine and implementation", added BG Tan, who assumed the role on Feb 27.
SAF training safety has come under the spotlight after the death of Corporal First Class (NS) Aloysius Pang on Jan 23 - the fifth reported since September 2017, before which the SAF had four years of zero training- and operations-related fatalities.
BG Tan was speaking to reporters at a media visit to Pasir Laba Camp on Thursday, where he was observing an inspection by Army Safety Inspectorate officers on an active armour unit doing small arms live firing at a range - an activity considered "high-risk".
Previously, field training not considered high-risk was not subjected to these compulsory detailed checks.
Such inspections can be conducted by unit headquarters, the division or formation headquarters, or by the Army Safety Inspectorate (ASI).
Field training is generally more high-risk in nature due to the outfield environment and complexity of the training.
The ASI conducts about 300 safety audits and training inspections a year.
It does at least four inspections per unit each year, and audits each army unit at least once a year. These figures have remained stable in recent years.
Other high-risk training can include parachute-jumping and rappelling, while non-high-risk field training includes section tactical drills without the use of ammunition.
Colonel Tong Yi Chuen, head of the ASI, said that units are generally compliant with regulations, but they have observed occasional documentation errors and issues with compliance.
These include making references to the wrong chapter of the Training Safety Regulations, not having the supervising officer's signature on some documents, or soldiers not completing the Individual Marksmanship Trainer simulator training before heading to the live range.
He added that ASI inspectors have the authority to stop training for any safety lapses to be rectified.
On Thursday, BG Tan accompanied the ASI on an unannounced inspection of a live firing activity by the 41st Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (41 SAR) with their SAR-21 weapons.
The two inspectors checked the documentation, such as lessons plans, and whether the weapons have been certified as fit for firing.
They also observed the training conducted for the soldiers to ensure they were proficient in their drills, should any weapon stoppages happen.
On how new safety initiatives can help to prevent accidents, BG Tan told reporters that what his office is trying to do is to connect the policy and system level to the behaviour on the ground.
"At this point, we have some ideas, but we need to go through a certain period of observation to confirm some of our hypothesis before we begin to develop the provisional modality of how we do the inspections on the ground, and how we feed it back to the SAF system.
"Because in the end, we believe that by strengthening the inspectorate system, by strengthening the safety culture, the entire safety will be much better served," he added.
Asked about sentiments on the ground to recent safety initiatives, Lieutenant-Colonel Low Youwen, commanding officer of 41 SAR, said: "I think recent events have enhanced the soldiers' sensitivity that we do dabble in a risky business. All the more they must be able to take care of themselves and look out for their friends.
"But overall, my sense is that they remain confident."