Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday announced new measures to boost training safety in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) while revealing fresh details in Parliament about the recent training deaths of two national servicemen, including actor Aloysius Pang.
Stressing that the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and the SAF are responsible for the lives of all national servicemen under their charge, Dr Ng said he was "deeply sorry for the loss of four precious national servicemen in the last 17 months".
"Mindef and the SAF will hold ourselves accountable for every single national serviceman entrusted to us... The SAF will strengthen its safety systems," he added.
Other than them, two national servicemen and a regular have died since September 2017, following a period of zero fatalities from 2013 to 2016.
Dr Ng said CFC Liu's Land Rover was mounted by a reversing Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle on Nov 3 last year during a field training exercise despite repeated commands by the rear guide to stop the Bionix.
Investigations are under way on whether the communications set used by the Bionix crew of four was working at that time, said Dr Ng, sharing preliminary findings by the independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the incident at the Jalan Murai training area.
Dr Ng said two additional emergency horn buttons have been installed in all Bionix training vehicles since last November to allow crew members to sound the alarm in the event of an intercom failure.
• Inspector-General’s Office (IGO) to be set up in the first half of this year to ensure safety compliance and culture. It will be headed by Chief of Staff-Joint Staff, who will report to the Permanent Secretary (Defence) and the Chief of Defence Force.
• Unit commanders who do not meet safety standards or who commit safety lapses will be marked in their performance reviews even if accidents do not occur.
• More safety measures will be added to Bionix vehicles, including more emergency horn buttons and rear-view cameras.
• Army will conduct safety table-top exercises for all high-risk, non-live-firing exercises.
• More regulars have been added as trainers to supervise and train national servicemen.
From next month, rear-view cameras will be progressively installed on the Bionix training fleet.
On the incident involving CFC Pang, Dr Ng said inspections of the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer, which the actor was doing repair works on during a military exercise in New Zealand, did not detect any machine malfunction of the gun-lowering mechanism.
CFC Pang, 28, failed to get out of the way of the barrel as it was lowered on Jan 19, leading to injuries to his chest and abdomen.
Dr Ng said the servicemen involved in both incidents have been redeployed from their operational roles.
Police investigations are ongoing to determine culpability in CFC Liu's case, and the Attorney-General's Chambers will decide on possible criminal proceedings. Even if no charges are filed, Mindef may charge those who breach military law in military court, said Dr Ng.
In CFC Pang's case, the Chief Military Prosecutor will decide if any serviceman is to be prosecuted for criminal or military offences. Neither the police nor the state coroner has jurisdiction over deaths outside Singapore, he said.
On the "systemic measures" the SAF will undertake, Dr Ng said that commanders who are responsible for safety lapses will be marked in their performance review even if no accident takes place.
He also said that the newly announced Inspector-General's Office (IGO) will be headed by the Chief of Staff-Joint Staff.
Mindef said the IGO, to be set up in the first half of the year, will have powers to conduct independent audits and promote safety culture across the service and formation headquarters.
MPs filed 20 questions on training deaths and safety standards in the SAF, with opposition Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) speaking on the importance of NS in an adjournment motion.
In his speech, Dr Ng acknowledged that military training poses risk but stressed Singapore must never give up on NS, which forms the backbone of the SAF. "This imperative of NS and our national defence does not absolve or reduce the accountability of the Ministry of Defence and the SAF in any way to ensure safe training," he added.
"On the contrary, it compels Mindef and the SAF to do all that is humanly possible to prevent training deaths for NS men because we are fully aware that precious sons have been entrusted to us by their families," he added.