To tackle manpower challenges brought on by lower birth rates in recent years, the military’s medical service is reviewing requirements to “increase flexibility” and allow more soldiers to be deployed in various vocations in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
A review by the SAF Medical Corps on these requirements is expected to be completed soon, and changes will be implemented “progressively over the next few years”, shared Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in an opening address at the Asia Pacific Military Health Exchange on Tuesday (May 23).
By 2030, the pool of full-time national servicemen is expected to shrink by one-third.
“Because of our manpower constraints, each soldier is valuable, whose contributions need to be optimised and put to full use for the nation’s defence,” said Dr Ng, who also acknowledged military medical practitioners for their contributions in humanitarian aid in disasters, pandemic and terrorism control, and care and rehabilitation for casualties, among others.
The review, which is expected to completed by the end of this year, will increase flexibility for deployment. But it is unclear if the revised requirements set in pre-enlistment or after full-time national servicemen have completed their basic military training (BMT). When asked, the ministry said it will share more details at a later date.
Currently, pre-enlistees are assigned a physical employment status (PES), which is one factor determining their vocation during the National Service period. For example, those assigned PES A are deem fit for all combat vocations, including frontline duty. Those in PES C are fit for combat support vocations and undergo a modified BMT programme, while those in PES E are fit only for administrative duty.
This review was first announced at the debate on the ministry’s budget this year. Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung noted then that as technological advancements in the SAF have altered the nature of military vocations, vocation requirements are being reviewed to deploy full-time national servicemen (NSFs) more effectively in accordance to their fitness and abilities.
As part of efforts to encourage greater ownership among NSFs and create a more positive NS period, the first batch of pre-enlistees were allowed to express their interest in 33 vocations across the SAF, the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) during their pre-enlistment screening at the Central Manpower Base from November last year.
Twenty-three courses conducted by the SAF are also now accredited under the Workforce Skills Qualification scheme, a move aimed at giving national servicemen a leg-up in their future careers. These include the BMT for most recruits except for commando or naval diver trainees.
The Asia Pacific Military Health Exchange, in its third iteration, is held for the first time in Singapore. Jointly organised by the SAF Medical Corps and the United States Pacific Command, the four-day conference brings together 500 military personnel from over 25 nations to discuss the latest in military health and medicine.