SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be lowering its training tempo across all services, with the aim of giving commanders and troops the time and space to review its systems and process so as to focus on safety.
Chief of Defence Force Melvyn Ong revealed this move at a media briefing on Thursday (Jan 24), as part of measures being taken after Singaporean actor Aloysius Pang's death from injuries suffered during a military exercise in New Zealand.
He said he has asked all services to review their training tempo, with a view to lower it to focus on safety for all personnel, including full-time national servicemen (NSFs) and operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen).
“What does this mean? This will take the form of lowering the duration, the intensity, the frequency of existing training, take some things out, to do training better at a more sustainable pace, to focus on safety. So all services will review this, lower their training tempo in the weeks ahead."
“This reduction of training tempo following the safety timeout will be enforced for as long as it takes for us to get it right. And we want to do it right, we want to do it safe for every activity, we want to do it right every time,” added Lieutenant-General Ong.
He later gave the assurance that a lowered tempo would not affect SAF’s operational readiness, as it would not involve those on operations and deployments.
At the briefing, he and Chief of Army Goh Si Hou, as well as other senior commanders, also shared details about the circumstances leading to the death of Corporal First Class Pang, 28, who was an NSman.
Major-General Goh said that CFC (NS) Pang was with another technician and a gun detachment commander inside a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) last Saturday.
They had been called in to perform diagnosis on a suspected fault in the gun. As part of the rectification process, the gun barrel had to be lowered to a standby position.
MG Goh said that when the gun barrel is lowered in the howitzer, the space in the cabin would be reduced.
"However, it is typically sufficient for artillery operators as well as our technicians to be able to operate within this cabin," he added.
"What we found is that unfortunately he was unable to get out of the way of the barrel as it was lowered. He was caught between the end of the gun barrel and the interior of the SSPH, and he suffered crush injuries as a result."
Colonel Terry Tan, Commander of Combat Service Support Command, said CFC (NS) Pang was qualified and competent to carry out his work as an armament technician.
His lungs, heart and kidney were damaged and he underwent three operations. He was put on artificial life support but died at 8.45pm on Wednesday.
Col Tan said the actor had undergone refresher training when he reported for reservist duty in the annual live-firing exercise called Thunder Warrior. He had undergone seven in-camp training stints previously.
The two other SAF personnel inside the howitzer were not injured.
Col Tan said the gun barrel could be operated only within the howitzer’s interior cabin, via either mechanical or automatic functions. When fully upright, the gun barrel would require around 10 seconds to lower to a standby position.
In this incident, the barrel was lowered automatically, but no details were given whether it was done so accidentally.
When asked, the SAF commanders at the briefing did not reveal whether any safety procedures have been breached in this incident.
But in the aftermath, MG Goh said the army called for a safety pause in the artillery training in New Zealand and also for an immediate pause in all maintenance-related work and training, both in New Zealand as well as in Singapore.
It has also called for an armywide safety timeout in order to give units the time to review their safety processes and to review their training tempo so that they could reinforce safety procedures as well as drills in the field, he added.
"And this is also a good time for us to remind all our soldiers to take care of their own personal safety, as well as that of their fellow buddies and soldiers."
He had held a safety call on Thursday morning with 1,200 army commanders as well as trainers.
"I've told all my commanders that this cannot be business as usual. We're very sorry for every training death that happens in the SAF. I've told them that we must do better, that we must do our utmost to restore confidence in our training safety and to ensure the safety of all our soldiers," said MG Goh.
"I've told my commanders that we will review our training tempo and training activities because we want to put a singular focus on training safety. If this means removing training activities, reducing some of the training that we do in the meantime, we will do that in order to give time and focus on training on the ground," said MG Goh.
In a Facebook post on Thursday night, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the SAF is fully assisting the family and that the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s KC-135 has been sent to New Zealand to repatriate CFC (NS) Pang’s body.
“Our grief counsellors are on the ground to comfort the family. But I know that no words or deeds can relieve their sorrow or replace their loss. I hope and pray that the passage of time will bring them some comfort,” he added.