Budget debate: SAF to review PES medical classification system to let more NSmen take on operational roles

The Singapore Armed Forces is looking at using functional assessments to determine enlistees' deployability in specific vocations.
The Singapore Armed Forces is looking at using functional assessments to determine enlistees' deployability in specific vocations.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - More national service enlistees will soon be able to take on operational roles within the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), regardless of medical fitness, as the organisation reviews the way it classifies their fitness for different vocations.

This is as the SAF introduces new vocations and redesigns existing ones in response to a changing threat environment, such as having cyber specialists to protect key digital networks and systems, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said during the debate over the Ministry of Defence's (Mindef) budget on Monday (March 1).

"We are redesigning our Medical Classification System (MCS) and the Physical Employment Standard (PES) System to shift away from the binary classification of combat-fit versus non-combat-fit deployment," he said.

"Medical exclusions that used to limit deployments may no longer be relevant in today's operational context or with the latest technology."

The current MCS sees full-time national servicemen (NSFs) classified as either combat-fit or non-combat-fit, while the PES system categorises NSFs by suitability for combat vocations, ranging from PES A and B1 for combat vocations to PES F, where they are deemed medically unfit for any form of service, according to the Central Manpower Base website.

The SAF is looking at using functional assessments to determine NSFs' deployability in specific vocations, said Mr Heng.

This will look at the physical demands needed for daily operations, to better match a serviceman's functional abilities to a role's actual demands.

Functional assessments are being used to guide the SAF's selection of transport operators, and if successful the trial will be extended to other vocations like tank operators, he said.

"The key idea is to deploy every soldier in a meaningful operational role, without compromising safety or operational effectiveness," said Mr Heng.

This change is among the items on the agenda for the NS review committee, which also includes expanded opportunities for NSmen with relevant civilian expertise, and a streamlined health screening programme and work-study diploma for NSFs in certain vocations.

The committee, which was set up last year, is also looking at ways to make NS fitness activities more convenient and flexible.

Mr Heng added that an audit by the Inspector-General's Office found notable progress in the strengthening of the SAF's safety culture, with the organisation responding positively to safety measures.

"There has been a sustained uptrend in open reports received in the past two years, where servicemen, regardless of rank, report near-misses and safety hazards," he said.

"Our units have also made significant adjustments to their training schedule to commit time for safety, including conducting daily safety briefs and catering dedicated training time to obtain feedback from soldiers on safety."

In his speech, Senior Minister of State for Defence Zaqy Mohamad said that Mindef will engage more with Singaporeans to play a greater role in Total Defence as the country emerges from Covid-19.

He said the ministry launched two engagement series last year, Strengthening Commitment To Defence and Total Defence For A Future Singapore, which were held in conjunction with the Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversations.

"In the sessions that I attended, participants shared with me that Covid-19 had reinforced the importance of NS and Total Defence in preparing Singapore for crises," said Mr Zaqy, adding that more sessions will be held this year.

In response to various MPs' suggestions to add new Total Defence pillars, such as a biological defence or climate defence, Mr Zaqy said that the current concept and pillars of Total Defence are already relevant.