Ng Eng Hen: SAF training will be resumed in a gradual & safe manner over coming months

Covid-19 has had a minimal impact on SAF operations.

Matthias Ang| June 29, 2020, 06:00 PM

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be resuming training in a gradual and safe manner over the coming months, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen stated in a speech for the upcoming SAF day on July 1.

This includes some overseas training exercises, Individual Physical Proficiency Tests (IPPTs), IPPT Preparatory Training, Remedial Training, as well as certain In-Camp Trainings (ICTs) which had stopped during the Circuit Breaker (CB) period.

Currently, IPPT has been suspended until August 31.

He also stressed that the SAF has not compromised on security operations, despite the pandemic, and that training critical for the SAF to build up sufficient operational units to respond to threats has continued.

So what is the state of overseas training at the moment?

In his speech, Ng highlighted an upcoming international military exercise in July, Exercise RIMPAC, which will see one of the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Formidable-class frigate, RSS Supreme, setting sail for Hawaii to participate in.

Involving a total of 24 ships from 11 countries, and taking place entirely at sea for safety reasons, Ng explained the significance of the exercise to be as such:

"The Navy’s Exercise RIMPAC will be both a step of confidence, as well as a test for subsequent deployments, not only for the Navy, for the Army and the Air Force."

In addition, two more RSN's Formidable-class frigates, the RSS Steadfast and RSS Stalwart, had participated in passage exercises with the US Navy in May 2020 and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in June 2020, respectively.

Some changes in bilateral exercises due to Covid-19

Talks are also being held with the SAF's Australian counterparts to resume short-term overseas flying training detachments, while the Air Force training detachment on Guam is "on track, no delays."

Ng also noted that some overseas training exercises such as Exercise Panzer Strike in Germany, for armour training, had been cancelled, while others such as Shoalwater Bay in Australia, for Army and Tri-Service training, were reduced to either simulations or live training in Singapore.

He said this was due to the safety measures of the host country and the fact that they "were not comfortable in receiving overseas troops."

Ng added that talks regarding the Shoalwater Bay Training Area were being held with Australia under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and that these talks encompassed the development of "our combined arms air-rand ranges and urban operations live-firing facilities, our admin and logistic facilities", which are still on track to start later this year.

What about the state of training in Singapore?

On this point, Ng stated that training for the Specialist Cadet School (SCS) and Officer Cadet School (OCS), along with certain essential ICTs for NS units had continued during the CB period.

Basic Military Training (BMT) had been suspended from April to the start of June, in line with the government's circuit breaker measures to stem the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak.

BMT has since resumed with affected recruits having been progressively notified of their reporting dates from May 26 to mid-June.

Meanwhile, the SAFTI City project which aims to train Singaporean soldiers for urban combat has been delayed by an estimated six to nine months, from completion in 2023 to 2024.

Ng said that this was due to the Covid-19 situation in the dormitories and the suspension of work during the CB period.

Covid-19 impact on SAF is minimal

Ng added that he did not foresee much impact by Covid-19 on the operations of the SAF however.

The disruption of six to nine months is not going to make a huge impact, he said, explaining that by virtue of the units, there are "various cohorts within a unit so the capabilities are maintained".

He said:

"But if you ask me if these disruptions last two, three years will there be impact? I think the honest answer by all Ministries of Defence, all militaries, will say that invariably there will be some impact, that you have to find other ways to accommodate that. So the short answer to yours, is so far no foreseen impact. Critical operations continues, capabilities maintained, and we are hoping to resume these overseas trainings."

Left photo from Mindef, right photo from The Singapore Army Facebook