Young men starting their national service from the end of next year will for the first time get to indicate which vocations they want to serve in. Their choices will be taken into account after they are posted to the the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), police or civil defence.
While operational needs will still be the main consideration, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the move will better match an enlistee's capability with his role in NS, and encourage him to take ownership of his responsibilities.
Speaking in his annual interview ahead of today's SAF Day, he said: "Obviously, operational requirements will come first but if their vocations, their aptitudes match their indicated interest, we will try to give as many as possible.
"The caveat is that the entirety of the unit's mission and capability must not be compromised. But I think that will increase ownership and match capability with the duties of full-time NSmen."
From the end of this year, pre-enlistees will be given a range of vocations to choose from as part of their screening at the Central Manpower Base. Details of more than 30 vocations in the various forces will be put online later this year.
This matching of interest to vocation was one of 30 recommendations made by the Committee To Strengthen NS in 2014. So far, 24 recommendations have been implemented, including free insurance coverage for all servicemen, which was announced last week.
But even as the country continues to recognise its national servicemen, Dr Ng highlighted how the SAF has to do more with less, and fight smart, given an expected one-third reduction in manpower by 2030.
He announced a raft of new high-tech additions, including an armoured fighting vehicle with laser-assisted guns for the army, unmanned navy vehicles as a countermeasure to sea mines, and the transformation of Changi Air Base into a smart one with more automation.
Dr Ng also said the SAF is strengthening its anti-terrorism capabilities with a new unit: the Army Deployment Force (ADF). It will be able to respond swiftly to terrorist attacks alongside the Home Team.
"The basic task for the ADF is the rapid response element, because speed is important in counter-terrorism... You have to respond in minutes," said Dr Ng, who also announced a new Cyber Security Operations Centre 2.0.
The initiative aims to beef up the Defence Ministry's arsenal against cyberthreats by using advanced content scanning and data analytics. To attract top engineering and science talent, his ministry will be offering a new Defence Science scholarship, which will be on the same level as the prestigious SAF scholarship.
These efforts are all aimed at improving the SAF, said Dr Ng, so that "we are always prepared, ready to meet today's challenges, as well as adapt to new challenges on the horizon, and even unseen ones".
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SAF to fight terror with rapid response