External expert panel to review SAF policies on combat vehicle safety

Troops from Singapore and Australia preparing to board a Chinook helicopter on the RSS Resolution as part of Exercise Trident in Australia earlier this month. In Parliament yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the army is reviewing the experie
Troops from Singapore and Australia preparing to board a Chinook helicopter on the RSS Resolution as part of Exercise Trident in Australia earlier this month. In Parliament yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the army is reviewing the experience level and roles of safety, supervising and conducting officers to further strengthen training and safety outcomes.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

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 yesterday, 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 in the 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, died of his injuries about 25 minutes after the incident, and was given a military funeral three days later. He was a transport operator from the SAF's Transport Hub West.

EMPHASIS ON SAFETY

The SAF will continue in its efforts to instil a strong safety culture to achieve zero training fatalities, which can be achieved only 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.

DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN

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 Parliament will get a full account "when all facts have been gathered", as has been done for previous incidents.

The COI is chaired by a civil servant outside of the Ministry of Defence; a consultant medical specialist; a member from the External Review Panel on SAF Safety; 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 past three years, there was one other training-related vehicular incident that resulted in death, he said, replying to Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC).

It happened last year and involved Third Sergeant Gavin Chan. The 21-year-old, a vehicle commander from the 41st Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment, was thrown out of the Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle that he was in as it overturned.

Dr Ng 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 be achieved only 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2018, with the headline 'External expert panel to review SAF policies on combat vehicle safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe