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National Service must adapt to changing defence tech, security landscape, MPs say

SINGAPORE — Rapid changes to military technology as well as terror threats call for fundamental shifts in the way Singapore’s defence force is shaped and trained, Member of Parliament Vikram Nair said on Monday (Nov 6). He urged the authorities to explore “game changers” to help national servicemen (NSmen) keep up with technology.

While drones are being used for army and naval operations here as they are in the United States, most servicemen were trained under a “largely infantry based” model, said Member of Parliament Vikram Nair, when the largest manpower component of any traditional army was the infantry. TODAY file photo

While drones are being used for army and naval operations here as they are in the United States, most servicemen were trained under a “largely infantry based” model, said Member of Parliament Vikram Nair, when the largest manpower component of any traditional army was the infantry. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Rapid changes to military technology as well as terror threats call for fundamental shifts in the way Singapore’s defence force is shaped and trained, Member of Parliament Vikram Nair said on Monday (Nov 6). He urged the authorities to explore “game changers” to help national servicemen (NSmen) keep up with technology.

Mr Nair, who is also chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, had tabled an adjournment motion on the future of National Service.

While drones are being used for army and naval operations here as they are in the United States, most servicemen were trained under a “largely infantry based” model, he said, when the largest manpower component of any traditional army was the infantry.

“Will that still be the case with more advanced forms of warfare? Also, how would our (NSmen) keep up with the technology and drills needed to counter the use of automated warfare by potential aggressors?” Mr Nair asked.

He also questioned if NSmen are equipped to deal with unconventional terror threats, noting that lone wolf attacks are most likely handled by the police.

While the Defence Ministry has made “admirable adaptations” in achieving better outcomes with less resources, more fundamental changes — such as entirely different forms of drills and training grounds — may be needed as the birth rate here continues to fall and available training spaces are reduced due to competing needs for land in Singapore.

In response, Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman assured the House that security forces here, including the police, the Singapore Civil Defence Force, and the military, are prepared to deal with “all types of emergencies (and) threats”.

“Our crime rates are low and while the terrorist threat is a grave one, our security forces are vigilant and prepared to deal with an attack when it comes,” he said.

Agreeing that roles in the military must be optimised using technology, Dr Maliki said that servicemen are already trained to operate new air defence weapons, unmanned aerial vehicles and use data analytic tools for maritime threats. They will form part of a 2,600-strong cyber defence force over the next 10 years, he added.

More servicemen would be equipped to operate unmanned platforms, use artificial, data analytics and robotics as “force multipliers”. For instance, the military is developing its own unmanned ground vehicle armed with a suite of sensors, which will allow it to respond to security threats more efficiently.

Ms Joan Pereira, a Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC, urged the Defence Ministry to step up safety during training.

“Every injury and life lost is one less fighting force for Singapore. With such a small fighting force due to our small population and low fertility rates, we cannot afford to be careless or suffer from any oversight,” she said.

She also called for more platforms for NSmen to report on blind spots, negligence and abuses, as well as offer ideas for improvement.

To these points, Dr Maliki said that the military would continue to review and strengthen its safety systems with regular inspection and external professional advice.

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