SINGAPORE - It is "not possible" to outsource all maintenance work for heavy vehicles and machinery, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Monday (Feb 11), as he emphasised the importance of national servicemen, including technicians, to national defence.
He said well-trained servicemen contribute towards the deterrence effect as he reflected on the deaths of four servicemen in the past 16 months. There were no NS training deaths from 2013 to 2016.
"We must never give up on NS that forms the backbone of our SAF for national defence," said Dr Ng.
"This imperative of NS and our national defence does not absolve or reduce the accountability of the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and the SAF in any way to ensure safe training.
"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.
He was giving a ministerial statement on recent training deaths in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), including that of Singapore actor and operationally ready national serviceman (NSman) Aloysius Pang on Jan 19 during a military exercise in New Zealand.
Corporal First Class (CFC) Pang, 28, was an armament technician from the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery. He was carrying out repair works inside the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer when the gun barrel was lowered. He could not get out of the way of the gun barrel in time and was crushed. He died of his injuries four days later.
Dr Ng said NS technicians are required to be with their units to perform basic maintenance so that the equipment can function during operations.
Maintenance work that are complex and require specialised tools and equipment are outsourced.
Following the incident that happened to CFC Pang, members of the public suggested reducing the need for NSmen to perform maintenance for heavy machinery, such as for artillery guns and armoured vehicles.
In November last year, CFC Liu Kai, 22, died after a Bionix armoured vehicle reversed and mounted the Land Rover he was driving.
While acknowledging the impact of the deaths of four national servicemen since September 2017, Dr Ng explained the importance of NSmen to a strong SAF.
He said: "When the founding generation pledged themselves to build a strong SAF, they were fully conscious that a strong military is only possible with fully committed NSmen drawn from every family in Singapore.
"They knew the costs and sacrifice that would be required.
"Not only in terms of resources that we invest in at every Budget, but much more precious would be the time, the sweat, the tears, even the lives of precious sons."
He said that on any given day, thousands of NS men train hard "amid moving tonnes of steel, bullets, munitions and other explosives".
"Inherently, military training poses risk... Our NS men do it to protect Singapore.
"Without NS men, we cannot have an SAF or the Home Team that can deter terrorists from attacking Changi Airport or Jurong or harming innocent civilians in shopping malls and crowded places.
"Without NS men and the SAF, potential aggressors would not shy away from simply marching into and occupying today's affluent Singapore, as Iraq did to Kuwait.
"Without a strong defence, our air and shipping routes in and out of Singapore could easily be blocked - as Qatar now faces. These are not imaginary security threats but real - they have happened elsewhere and can occur to Singapore too."
Dr Ng noted there were no training- and operations-related deaths from 2013 to 2016, after four fatalities in 2012.
"I think the new measures we put into place after the devastating incidents of 2012 had an effect," he said.
"If we all put our minds and effort to achieve zero training fatalities, it can be achieved."