SINGAPORE - A panel of external experts has been tasked to review policies and measures on combat vehicle safety in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), following the death of a full-time national serviceman that has raised a number of questions, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
In a written parliamentary reply on Monday (Nov 19), Dr Ng said the army is also reviewing the experience level and roles of the safety, supervising and conducting officers to further strengthen SAF training and safety outcomes.
These moves are among the measures taken since the death of Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu Kai on Nov 3 from a vehicular incident at Jalan Murai training area.
Dr Ng, in his written reply to MPs such as Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC), also gave preliminary findings of the incident.
He said a Bionix vehicle, which was responding to a simulated enemy encounter in the field training exercise, had reversed and partially mounted the Land Rover that CFC Liu was in.
The Land Rover was stationary when it was behind the Bionix Armoured Fighting Vehicle, he added. A trainer who was in the Land Rover with CFC Liu was unhurt.
CFC Liu, 22, who enlisted in April 2018, died from his injuries about 25 minutes after the incident, and was given a military funeral three days later (Nov 6). He was a transport operator from the SAF's Transport Hub West.
Dr Ng said there are "obviously a number of questions that need to be answered in determining the cause of this incident".
"They include: Were safety protocols followed by the crew of the Land Rover and the Bionix vehicle during this phase of the exercise? Were the vehicle commander, driver and crew of the Bionix aware of the Land Rover behind them and did they conduct their reversal safely?" he added.
"What was the physical state of exercise participants and did it have an effect on their attention to safety protocols? Was there any mechanical malfunction of vehicles or platforms? Did safety officers and vehicle commanders perform their responsibilities?"
Dr Ng said these questions and other related queries will be fully examined by a Committee of Inquiry (COI) and the police investigating CFC Liu's death, and that the Parliament will get a full account "when all facts have been gathered", as done for previous incidents.
The COI is chaired by a civil servant outside of the Ministry of Defence (Mindef); a consultant medical specialist; a member from the External Review Panel on SAF Safety (ERPSS); a senior-ranked national serviceman and a member of the Workplace Safety and Health Council.
"The COI has full access to material and witnesses to determine the facts and will make specific recommendations to rectify any systemic or human lapses found," said Dr Ng, adding that its findings will be made public.
In the last three years, there was one other training-related vehicular incident that resulted in death in the last three years, he said, replying to Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC MP).
It took place last year (2017) and involved Third Sergeant (3SG) Gavin Chan.
The 21-year-old was a vehicle commander from 41st Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment, who was thrown out of the Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle he was in as it overturned.
This took place after the vehicle had entered an area with a steep incline at night on Sept 15 during Exercise Wallaby in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia.
A fortnight ago, the director for Exercise Wallaby this year (2018), Colonel Seet Uei Lim, said measures recommended by the Committee of Inquiry that looked into 3SG Chan's death has been implemented.
This includes intensified training for army commanders and operators of military vehicles when moving on uneven terrain.
The Chief Guards Officer added that all armour training for this year's exercise, which ended last week (Nov 17), have also been completed without any safety incidents.
After CFC's Liu's incident, an army-wide safety pause was declared for both local and overseas training, so that safety systems could be reviewed.
Dr Ng said: "Particular attention was paid to the safety management plans for high-risk activities such as live-firing and training which require the use of vehicles and military platforms."
He said the SAF will continue to find ways to improve its safety systems and ensure the processes remain sound and robust.
"The SAF will continue in its efforts to instil a strong safety culture to achieve zero training fatalities, which can only be achieved if every soldier has an ingrained concern for the well-being of himself and his fellow soldiers.
"This will be emphasised to every commander and soldier," he added.