The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will, for the first time, lower its training tempo across all services, with the aim of giving commanders and troops the time and space to review the safety of its systems and processes.
The move is part of measures the military is taking after Singaporean actor Aloysius Pang died from injuries suffered during a military exercise in New Zealand.
Chief of Defence Force Melvyn Ong said at a media briefing yesterday that he had asked all services to review their training tempo and focus on the safety of all personnel, including full-time national servicemen and operationally ready national servicemen.
The change in tempo will involve lowering the duration, intensity and frequency of training, and include recalibrating some training activities for a more sustainable pace for greater focus on safety.
"So, all services will review this, lower their training tempo in the weeks ahead," added Lieutenant-General Ong. "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."
He said a reduced tempo would not affect SAF's operational readiness as it would not involve those on operations and deployments.
The death of Corporal First Class (NS) Pang is the fifth reported since September 2017, following four preceding years of zero training-and operations-related fatalities.
Lt-Gen Ong and Chief of Army Goh Si Hou, as well as other senior commanders, also shared the initial findings of the circumstances leading to the death of CFC Pang, 28, who was an NSman.
Major-General Goh said CFC Pang was with another technician and a gun detachment commander inside a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) last Saturday.
The trio had been called in to diagnose a suspected fault in the gun. As part of the rectification process, the gun barrel had to be lowered to a standby position.
Maj-Gen Goh said when the barrel is lowered, cabin space would be reduced but is typically sufficient for artillery operators and technicians to operate within it. "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," said Maj-Gen Goh.
The actor's lungs, heart and kidney were damaged, and he underwent three operations. His condition worsened on Wednesday and he was put on artificial life support, but died at 8.45pm that day.
Colonel Terry Tan, Commander of Combat Service Support Command, said CFC Pang was qualified and competent to carry out his work as an armament technician. He said CFC Pang had undergone refresher training when he reported for reservist duty. He had also undergone seven in-camp training stints.
The two other SAF personnel inside the howitzer were not injured.
When asked, the SAF commanders did not say whether any safety procedures had been breached in the incident. An independent Committee of Inquiry will be set up to investigate what happened.
In its aftermath, Maj-Gen 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 and Singapore.
It has also called for an army-wide safety timeout to give units the time to review their safety processes and training tempo to reinforce safety procedures as well as drills in the field, he added.
NEED TO ENSURE SOLDIERS' SAFETY
I have told all my commanders that this cannot be business as usual. We are very sorry for every training death that happens in the SAF. I have 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.
CHIEF OF ARMY GOH SI HOU
Maj-Gen Goh said he held a safety call yesterday with 1,200 army commanders and trainers, and told them that the SAF needs to do better to restore confidence in its training safety.
"I have told all my commanders that this cannot be business as usual. We are very sorry for every training death that happens in the SAF. I have 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," he said.
Among those who paid tribute to CFC Pang yesterday were Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Workers' Party chief and opposition MP Pritam Singh.
There may be plans to hold a memorial service for the public to pay their respects, CFC Pang's manager Dasmond Koh said at the airport last night after returning from New Zealand with the actor's second elder brother Kenny Pang, 32.