Sunday, May 13, 2007

Time to end military training in Taiwan and Thailand

My condolences to the family of the national servicemen who were killed or injured in Taiwan. I think it is about time we should ask ourselves: Why are our troops in Taiwan?

I do not fear an imminent military Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Both governments, are too concerned with chasing money to cross swords. What is going on now instead, is a war of words, and a war of language. China does not like to see any official language for Taipei that suggests their sovereignty, but that is precisely what the Taiwanese wants, and is pushing towards that incrementally. Already, Singapore was played like a pawn during Lee Hsien Loong's visit shortly before he became the PM. And even though the PM may be the most eloquent politician in the world, as shown by his world number one salary, he managed to offend both sides of Taiwan Straits, by first seemingly supportive of Taiwan, and then seemingly berating Taiwan, leading to the "peesai/lampa" comment.

When the British troops announced their intention to leave the then newly independent Singapore, nobody was willingly to help Singapore with our national defence. Nobody except equally pariah states like Israel, and later Taiwan. This is something we ought to remember. But just as Israel does not expect Singapore to send troops to defend them, neither does Taiwan need Singaporean troops. To continue our military presence in Taiwan makes our relationship with China, difficult. In times of war, will the Singaporean troops help the Taiwanese? It is a rhetorical question, and if we were pressed for an answer, we will offend someone. Let's end this diplomatic timebomb sooner, rather than later.

If we cut out the Taiwanese training, I believe we can cut back NS by at least 3 months. Will this compromise our operational readiness? Not at all! Who in the world needs two full years to train footsoldiers? Are Singaporean footsoldiers especially slow learners? The Swiss only train their conscripts for as little as 6 months. Anybody who claims that a shorter NS will compromise the training of our soldiers are really saying Singaporeans are a bunch of world class retards.

The same can be said about Thailand. Singapore going to war with Taiwan is a laughable prospect. Singapore going to war with Thailand is not that far fetched. It is not hard to imagine the discomfort felt by the Thai generals over Singaporeans getting too familiar with their terrain. And given our relationship is totally soured, keeping a military presence is like playing with fire while doused in kerosene. Shut the base down. End the troop training. Cut back on the length of NS. Cut both Taiwan and Thailand, and we can shorten NS to just 1.5 years. The men can start university just one year later than the women and foreigners!

Then, MINDEF may have some extra pocket change out of that 10.6 Billion budget to support the lives destroyed by NS.


  1. Jimmy,

    Your rhetoric is embarrassing in its ignorance. Our troops are in Taiwan not to protect them or have any sort of "presence". We are there for selfish reasons. It is because we don't have the space for training in Sgp. whether or not we go to taiwan, NS length will still be the same -- Mindef will simply find some other ulu place for the exercises conducted in Taiwan / Thailand. Except it is cheaper in those places.

    The Swiss NS can be so short coz they have a nice, professional standing army. They are wonderfully neutral and surrounded by first world, democratic, friendly countries. 6 months is not enough to turn out good soldiers. The fact that the Swiss are doing it is less because they can turn out good soldiers in 6 months but coz they DON'T NEED to have good conscript foot soldiers.

    having said that, i am against NS as it is presently. it is in fact a hidden, regressive labour tax. it also puts singaporean males at unfair disadvantage as PAP carry the balls of FTs. and i think Mindef is reprehensible in the callous and unremorseful disregard of conscript welfare after such accidents. 3 million a year for a president who does nothing. some of that should go to compensating these people whose lives are destroyed by NS.

  2. Hello!

    Appreciate your ideas on how to cut short NS, but I have to disagree on your ideas - ie not train in Taiwan or Thailand. As anon above put it, we are there simply because these countries have more space for us to train, and this I think translates into more effective training (I trained overseas while doing NS and honestly I think it was a good experience), which ultimately is what we want to achieve if we want to reduce the duration of NS without sacrificing quality.

    If we insist to train locally, with the limited training ground and everyone jostling for training space, we end up being less efficient and less effective - a good reason for planners to argue against cutting short NS.

    When I trained overseas, safety was a major concern - there were plenty of briefings and checks and supervision. I don't think we could have prevented the deaths and injuries this time - no storeman would really expect a fighter jet to crash into their store - but I think Mindef needs to seriously review their insurance and compensation plans for full time national servicemen and reservists.

  3. Jimmy,

    Have you served in a combat unit?

    It may not take 18 months to train an infantryman, but it does take more than 6 months to train 500 men into a cohesive, self-sufficient combat unit. It will take time to train a unit, and we conduct overseas training for reasons of terrain and space - overseas training are not just another item on the check-list to be ticked off for formality's sake.

    The fact is this accident has very little to do with the fact that we train in Taiwan. Given that our own airforce flies over our own airspace, if a fighter-jet is going to fall out of the sky, the chances of a Singaporean being killed by one in Singapore is actually higher than that of him being killed overseas, isn't it?

    Having said that, I will agree that casualties in overseas training will tend to be more severe, but that is not a function of how far we are from home, but a reflection of the very reasons why we choose to train overseas: oversea training areas are large, far from urban centres, and the type of training we do there are intrinsically more dangerous.

    Your analysis of the Thai situation displays your ignorance of our training agreement with the Royal Thai Army and Air Force, as well as our ability to project our military power.

  4. Taiwan does not need Singaporean troops for defence

    But just because Taiwan does not need us for defence doesn't mean we are exempt from being played like a pawn in the PRC-ROC war of words. See China suspend ties with St Lucia. Where is St Lucia anyway? I think it is better if we walk away at our terms rather than wait for things to get messy.

    If MINDEF chooses to fill the gap with more training in Brunei/Australia/New Zealand, so be it. But let's not wait till we sour our ties with China. I think the "Peesai/Lampa" experience is enough warning.

    6 months training too short?

    Let's say 6 months is too short. So how long should it be? Do a check. How long does it take to train a US Marine? How about a British Royal Marine?

    Most countries with conscription do so because they have manpower intensive tasks, like occupied territories to patrol (Israel), a very long 38th parallel to man (South Korea) or frontline islands like Kinmen and Mazu to defend (Taiwan). Countries with less manpower intensive needs, tend to have shorter conscription period, like Switzerland or Finland. We spend the two full years on nothing but training. There is no lack of training space if we just choose not to waste time training!

    If we need two whole years to train a Singaporean footsoldier, we must absolutely be the dumbest most retarded people on earth.

    Besides, what's the hurry? We do not get shipped off to some frontline at the end of two years. Another ten years of TRAINING awaits!

    What I did in NS?

    I was not in a combat vocation, but I served in a combat unit for 2 years and 3 months, after BMT. Only regulars hanged around for longer in one unit. All I saw was wanton waste of time as the RSMs tried to fill the non-training time with "aesthetic" activities like landscaping, fish ponds, area cleaning to keep the footsoldiers "occupied".

    Which army in the world sends bulk of their conscript soldiers to THREE different countries for basic training? I concede defeat if you can find me one.

    Most of you objecting my opinion are probably officers, and I totally agree there is no way in the world we can train an officer in 6 months.

    Just as NS was extended to 2.5 years in the past to be fair to the officers, we are still stuck at 2 years because we want to be fair to the officers. I suggest that, to be fair to the officers, any extension beyond the basic 1.5 years for officer training be should be compensated with a near regular salary. The reduction in salary the footsoldiers is more than enough to pay the officers a good salary. In fact, I have other ideas for officer training, like integrating it to NUS/NTU studies, but that can wait for another day.

    Oh, and lastly, I thought we had a water-tight agreement with the Thai PM over Shin Corp too.

  5. Jimmy,

    The more you say/write, the more it shows that you are truly ignorant about NS and the geo-political situation in the region.

    In essence, you seem to be arguing that only 6-mths is needed to train a soldier. The qn is what kind of soldier?! Maybe this is sufficient for your type of vocation (persumably non-combat - clerical or admin). But for the common infantrymen, it is at least close to 1yr for BMT, section, platoon, coy and finally Bn trg. Such combat unit training is based on the lowest common denominator, and NOT by his/her qualifications. It involves cohesion, teamwork, fitness & vocational knowledge. By yr argument, does it mean that a Mensa member takes a shorter time (say just 3 mths) to be well-trained? This is ludicrous.

    For NS to be meaningful, it must be effective - i.e. must be able to achieve its mission of defending S'pore. There are 2 parts to NS - training & deployment. What is the point of training up to standard and ORD immediately?! One will still need to be deployed for mission and sharpen one's skills. If it is yr kind of (ineffective) 6-mth NS, I'd argue that we should abolish NS altogether. Why bother to waste 6-mth of our lives for your kind of ineffective defence.

    I also find it laugable that you used Royal & US Marines as examples. For yr info, their training package is more comprehensive and longer than ours, simply due to their wide spectrum of vocation and they are all career soldiers. Also the training will continue during their deployment.

    Finally Singapore is a small country, so what is wrong with going to THREE different countries for basic training. At the minimum, it shows that S'pore's diplomatic relationship with these countries is satisfactory. And having been to these o/s training, I believe that the terrain is challenging & realistic, and it sure beats training in the same local terrain.

    For your own sake, please read more abt the your subject topic (esp on the cross straits relation), before you start to embarrass yrself.

  6. I have to agree that 6 months is too short and 2 years is too long. Having served as a Man in an obscure unit, I beleive that I have spent merely half of my NS days doing what is required of a responsible soldier, ie Maintaining equipments and training. Rest of the times, my platoon and I were merely bangla workers to the commanders: digging drains, sweeping roads, clearing rubbish, gardening plants and overgrowth, carrying and preparing bbq pits for the officers etc etc etc. You get the picture right? Sometimes when I was doing the aforementioned items, I feel as though my mother had lied to me. "Study hard or else you will become a road sweeper!" Haha. These words always ring in my head when I am standing in the drain, pulling out the damn weeds clogging them. I am a JC student who didn't do too badly for my A's.

  7. Still at 6 months is too short? That is exactly what the Swiss and the Finns are doing now. Even the Taiwanese is actively shortening the military service to 14 months this year, and 12 months the next. But I guess these countries are ran by amateurs who do not know how long it takes to train a cohesive fighting force. Or that Singaporeans are just by nature anti-social and takes longer to warm up to each other. Or they are just joking about military training, unlike us. We are really dead serious.

    The US Marines are trained for about 1 year before being deployed in the war zone. We need 2 whole years?

    Do not blindly defend the status quo. If I am ignorant, enlighten me. None of you have presented anything to disprove the fact that we have the most kiasu training regime in the world.

    BTW, I propose cutting NS to 1 year 6 months, not 6 months. In case your memory is faulty, it was Taiwan that called us a Peesai country and our PM was out to carry China's lampa. China had already asked Singapore to cease training in Taiwan, and train in Hainan island instead. As for good relations with Thailand, well, that's news to me. Now I know our million dollar ministers have world class diplomacy skills, but why risk it?

  8. Oh yah, thanks for reminding me. If our NS is already so compact, why do we still have time to arrange flowers for IMF meeting or pack goody bags for the NDP?

  9. Jimmy

    I will disagree with your geopolitical analysis.

    However, in regards to NS terms, yes, it should be reduced to say 1 year within 5 years and to reduce to 1.5 years within 2 years.

    However, it may mean no weekly weekend leave and more focused training and R&R periods.

  10. Jimmy,

    If you're interested in the real story behind why Singapore is training in Taiwan, I suggest you read this article (in Chinese), before you embarrass yourself further on your analysis on the Taiwan-China situation.

  11. Jimmy,

    You are being disingenuous.

    You start off your post with a reference to the servicemen who were injured and killed in Taiwan, and go to say that that is a result of our armed forces training in Taiwan. You go on to give your analysis of the cross-straits relationship and how Singapore should not be involved.

    However, the death and injury of the servicemen were an accident and has nothing to do with the cross-straits relation whatsoever. They were killed or injured by a plane which malfunctioned. That could have happened anywhere, even in Singapore.

    You then go on to argue that if we cut out the Taiwan training, NS can be shortened by 3 months. When it was pointed out to you that the overseas training was required because of training area restriction, you change you tune and argue that other nations manage to train their armed forces without overseas training (ignoring the fact that these nations have adequate local training areas) and in a shorter period compared to us; so is the problem training in Taiwan, or is it the lengthy NS? Certainly neither of them accounts for the deaths and injuries in and of itself, which can occur locally or overseas, and with a 6-month or 2-year NS. Physical danger is a part of military training, and in this case the casualties were not even involved in 'front-line' training.

    I agree that we should review the length of NS and tailor it to real needs, but I think it's sad that you choose to push your agenda using the death and injury of the servicemen as a platform, and bulking it up with poor analysis of the cross-straits relations and our training agreement in Thailand.

  12. ahmad,

    your link didnt present any point that contradict me. Can you help me understand how I should feel embarassed? Like China didnt ask Singapore to leave Taiwan perhaps?


    yes, I wouldnt write the blog post if it werent for the deaths. I certainly think it is appropriate that we do some soul searching in times of pain. But you cannot accuse me of hijacking some platform; this is my blog after all, not like I am preaching at the servicemen's funeral.

    I am committed to encouraging MINDEF to cut the length of NS, and I had been working on the details for a long time. I certainly didnt change my tune in response to comments. Let me reiterate my points:

    1) The dynamics of the relationship between Singapore, China and Taiwan had changed. It is no longer a good idea to put ourselves in the line of fire between the war of words of the two government.

    2) Our relationship with Thailand had soured as well.

    3) We can do anything with the time freed up, but given the space constraints, given I am not convinced that two or three more months of training will make that much a difference in our fighting efficiency, we should just cut our NS. This is the global trend. How can Singapore citizenship be competitive internationally if we still have one of the longest NS in the world?

    Most countries that lack the space for big armies, simply dont have a big army. The British lost Singapore to the Japanese even though they had a vastly larger army, because they prematurely withdrew the aircraft to defend Europe, and left their finest battleships without air support. Today, we have the finest airforce and navy in the region. Do we still need to be so paranoid with the size of our army?

    Military training is always dangerous, or it is meaningless. I didnt write about ending military training. I wrote about ending military training in a place we should be in.

    And, have you thought about it, how expensive training in Taiwan and Thailand is? It can easily cost 1 billion each out of the 10 billion MINDEF budget. There is so many things we can fund with that extra money. Now I am not suggesting we cut all overseas training either. I am merely suggesting we make ourselves scarce in places that do not welcome us.

  13. Tiny amendment for the last line in the second last paragraph should read:

    I wrote about ending military training in a place we should NOT be in.

  14. Jimmy,

    If you have a case and valid arguments to back it up (and I think you do), by all means do so.

    But the servicement did not die or get injured because we trained overseas, or because we trained in a country we should not be in, or because of the length of our NS.

    They died or were injured because a plane crashed into a building they were in. All the soul-searching in the world about how we organise our NS and diplomacy will not prevent similar deaths or injuries. This accident wasn't even about military training - a plane may well crash into say NUS for example.

    Don't use a tragedy to lend weight to your argument.

  15. Jimmy,

    I think you wasted your life in NS doing "shit work" for others that makes you think 6 months to 1 year is enough to train a combat unit.

    Unless anyone says I am talking crap, I can't be bothered to list out all the time frame for each stage of training in a combat unit.

    I feel that 2 years is perfect for an effective and efficient infantry unit. I served 2.5 years and did spent 2-3 months doing "sai kang". With good logistic, I believe 2 year is just right.

    If you think 6 months you can walk into a jungle at night(say 6pm) and come out at 4-5 am with 500 men intact, I will recommend you as my general.

    Our SAF was not praised for nothing. Its because we did what they can't do that makes them praise us that well.

    Tell me where u want to train if not in Taiwan or Thailand? You can say china, but I will ask you if they got any terrain close to what we have near singapore and the cost implied to build a new base there?

  16. Why is 2 years just right? Why nobody has the view that 2 years is too short? Israeli male conscripts serve 3 years. South Koreans serve 27 months. What makes 2 years so Goldilocks perfect?

    All I am saying as a layman, is that comparing with what is being done internationally, we CAN shorten how NS. We CAN start by cutting down to 1 year 6 months, and see if the sky comes falling down. If we cut down on training, we will not need to seek new training grounds.

    If I am embarassingly silly, tell me exactly how so.

  17. Jim,

    You are half-right. You indeed qualify as a layman - but a rather idiotic & silly one.

    You said "We CAN start by cutting down to 1 year 6 months, and see if the sky comes falling down."

    Yo, Defense is NOT a trial and error business, and they are often irreversible. Your comments are trivalizing the effects of war (READ: plain stupid & dangerous).

    "If we cut down on training, we will not need to seek new training grounds."

    Another stupid statement. The size of training grounds is not determined by the duration or frequency of training. It is simply a factor of the level of training, i.e. Battalion, Brigade or Div size. Even if S'pore decides to "cut down" our trg tempo eventually, S'pore's level of training demands terrain much bigger than local land can offer. In any case, any planners worth their salt will constantly seek new training grounds to ensure that short term diplomatic issues (e.g. Thailand coup, Cross-straits tension, etc) will not adversely affect the mdeium to long term training regime.

    Enuf said. Of course you are "embarassingly silly"!!

  18. At 1 year 6 months, our NS is still ONE WHOLE YEAR longer than that of the Swiss or the Finns. Finland shares a long border with Russia, BTW.

  19. And I don't know who is the greater fool. If a division cannot fit into Singapore, don't you think there is something wrong with the size of our army? Seriously, can you think of another country that has so many soldiers, they cannot train in their own country?

    I know NS whipped you guys well into obedient slaves, but it is okay to put on your thinking cap every now and then and do some *THINKING*.

    Who is the greater fool here? The one who challenges the status quo, or the one who fights change with dear life?

  20. "And I don't know who is the greater fool." Make no mistake. You are.

    "If a division cannot fit into Singapore, don't you think there is something wrong with the size of our army?"

    I have no time and patience to give u lessons, but you do not even know abt the concept of defense. You think the declared 5 S'pore Divisions will defend from the main island? Think offensive actions... Go read up on power projections in time of war. A Marine Bn's Area of Operations (AO) in Iraq is already bigger than S'pore. Go figure.

    "Seriously, can you think of another country that has so many soldiers, they cannot train in their own country?"

    Qn is irrelevent. Why are you obsessed with trg within S'pore?!

    "it is okay to put on your thinking cap every now and then and do some *THINKING*."

    No quarrel with your notion of THINKING. Go ahead & think! But don't disguise fallacies as facts and call it thinking.

    "Who is the greater fool here? The one who challenges the status quo, or the one who fights change with dear life?"

    Go challenge by all means. But please do some research and have rock solid arguments, rather than always using a "layperson" & erroneous views, and hence embarrassing yrself repeatedly. Do not Champion change for the sake of change. It's just noise.

  21. It is okay to disagree. My sister is in New Zealand with her family, and I am glad she was able to go. Not happy to serve? Migrate. Her son is better off with no NS, no reservist, no hidden tax. Best regards,

  22. If Indonesia wants Singapore to suffer, all they need to do is to recall all their maids working here, and can sit back and laugh while Singaporean families fall apart.

    If Malaysia wants Singapore to suffer, all they need to do is to recall the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians working in Singapore.

    What good are soldiers then? Send them across the Causeway to kidnap the workers back here to work?

    The PM had mentioned that if PAP didnt win big in the GE, the foreign investors may think twice about investing in Singapore.

    If ever Singapore gets anywhere close to war, what do you think the foreign investors and the foreign talents will do? In this age of globalisation, Singapore is dependent, not just on water, on oil, but on people and on capital, all of which are internationally mobile and has no interest sticking with Singapore through the bad times. When we reach the projected 8 million population, half of Singapore will be foreigners.

    It is nice to have big scary numbers in the armed forces, and may be good for intimidating our neighbours but if the fighting efficiency of SAF is ever tested, Singapore would already have lost.

    It is hard to handle the truth: The emperor has no clothes.

    We can continue to delude ourselves with cowboy talk about power projections, or we can have a look at what nations like Switzerland or Finland is doing that helped them survive at the fronline of two World Wars and one Cold War practically unmolested.

    To me, NS is just a waste of time and money, and we be better off abolishing it altogether. Our navy and air force does not depend on conscripts and is very adequate for power projection. Even then, I know there will be plenty of Chicken Littles who will freak out, and that is why I only suggested a minimalist cutback of 6 months, but that is too much for some to handle.

    No matter, if I do not see further plans for NS cutback, I will take my two sons and leave Singapore before they get too old.

  23. "Before they get too old" - can any one indicate how old is too old? Is it 12 years old before the govt makes you come out with a bond before your son can leave overseas to study? How much is the bond? Does anyone have the information?

  24. Go Jimmy, bring your kids elsewhere, I wouldn't want to train so hard to protect people like you.

    As I said before, you must be sleeping through your NS, you thoroughly wasted your 2.5 years.

    You think moving through an AO with 2000 men are easy? Let me opened up some thoughts for you to ponder. If you are not trained in brigade level, you will think twice about shooting when you see an enemy 300 metres from you. Because you will not know if he is your own country men.

    Shorter time means tougher NS for your child, think about it.

    My unit went brunei for training, 3 weeks of training was shorten to 16 or 18 days(I can't remember). All the time taken out are our rest time. The 16 days are like hell to us. All of us slept less than 3 hours a days in camp.

    Your thoughts on NS really amazed me.

  25. 11: Passport validity reduced to 2 years at renewal.

    13-16.5: Passport validity reduced to 1 year at renewal, exit permit required for all overseas trips of over 3 months.

    For pre-enlistment males 11 and above who go overseas for any reason other than accompanying their parents for overseas employment, a monetary bond is required. The monetary sum is S$75,000 or 50% of the combined gross annual income of both parents for the preceding year, whichever is higher.

    As you can see, once the boy turns 11, it gets messy. I do not want my sons to turn into another Melvyn Tan or Ike See.

  26. A more gracious blogger would have admitted his ignorance and apologised for using other people's misfortune to promote his cause... but at least now we see your real agenda.

    "If a division cannot fit into Singapore, don't you think there is something wrong with the size of our army?"

    If you think a division's role is just to form a line around the island, then you are wrong.

    "It is nice to have big scary numbers in the armed forces, and may be good for intimidating our neighbours but if the fighting efficiency of SAF is ever tested, Singapore would already have lost."

    I agree with this point, but the key here is a credible intimidation or deterrence. Unfortunately whether deterrence works or not is hard to prove: you can't say it works just because nobody has attacked us, and once somebody does it obviously no longer works.

    A guard dog will not stop a determined burglar from breaking into your home, but it will at least make sure he weighs his options before he decides to do so.

    "Our navy and air force does not depend on conscripts and is very adequate for power projection."

    If war was all about projecting firepower, the US will not need their marines or army.

    "No matter, if I do not see further plans for NS cutback, I will take my two sons and leave Singapore before they get too old."

    "I do not want my sons to turn into another Melvyn Tan or Ike See."

    Ironically, of all your arguments I respect these two sentences the most; at least they are honest.

    I'll say this: conscription sucks, and having to fight in a war whose cause you may not identify with sucks. But at least I don't pad my case with other unrelated arguments.

  27. Hi Jimmy!

    You brought up two issues here. The first is a reduction of NS duration. To that, I cannot support or oppose your proposal, since I know too little of military training to even comment.

    The second issue is, as your title states, to end overseas military training. Personally, I have been through a whole lot of local training and one overseas training in Brunei. While I totally loathe my time in Brunei because of the sheer toughness of the training there, I think it is rather beneficial from a training point of view. Firstly, the training area is HUGE and difficult (Mt Biang, anyone?). Secondly, local training areas are so "overused" that I can memorise all the important localities (I can still remember which hill is ".74" and ".76"!); and if you have a battalion, that's even more repetitive, because there are just these few places you can simulate a mission.

    One reason you brought up for withdrawal from Taiwan and Thailand is the political situation in both countries. However, if we were to maintain overseas training, MINDEF would have to find another country, and it takes a pretty long time to set up a training area (keep in mind the infrastructure and personnel). What if the political situation changes again?

  28. I never said we do not need an army. In this age of globalisation, it is important to reexamine what is the optimal investment of our money and manpower. One guard dog is good. Two guard dogs are better. Three thousand, better still, nevermind if you have no space for them. How many is too many? I'm surprised nobody commented two years of NS is too short. Defence is too important to fool around with. Let's extend NS to 5 years then.

    Did you know that Singapore has a slighter larger active troop size compared to Australia? Approx 60k vs 54k? This is not counting our very active reserves.

    Doesnt it beg the question: Is our army too big, or is the "sheriff" of South Pacific too complacent? Remember, Australia has boots on ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and probably Solomon Islands.

    Did you know the Swiss reservists get to bring their assault rifles home? HOME. WITH. AMMO. The Swiss are expected to serve as militiamen until their 50s. The Swiss is ready to defend their homeland even if the command structure is destroyed. Try invading Switzerland, and you will find insurgency in every town, not unlike Iraq. That's what I call Total Defence. And strangely, they dont get much gun deaths, and certainly no Virginia Tech type massacre.

    We do not have anything near to that level of trust in Singapore, do we? But yet, the Swiss conscription period is only 6 months for the footsoldier.

    I know you guys are experts of SAF. But have you seen had a good look at how other countries do things?

    I know it is painful, the thought that after 2 years or more of blood and sweat, there are people who thinks that you wasted your time for a wayang show.

    "You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe."

  29. Just a little comment on the Australian army numbers. If I were the Australian Defence Minister, I wouldn't be too concerned if the army size of Australia is smaller than that of Singapore, so long as the navy and perhaps air force is sufficiently powerful. Think about Australia's unique geographical situation.

    In any case, I do support some changes in the way the army does things. For example, I think efficiency ought to be improved... maybe reducing the time spent lobo-ing in camp and stuff like that by arranging training in a better way (but I have no idea how that can be done). Also, I support Mr Wang's idea of insurance for all servicemen in combat vocations. There are many things to improve; but overseas training is not one of them (in my opinion). NS length may be one, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on it.

  30. Instead of admitting your ignorance, you seek to confuse the issue with more irrelevant arguments.

    "I'm surprised nobody commented two years of NS is too short. Defence is too important to fool around with. Let's extend NS to 5 years then."

    Setting up a straw-man there. Just because some people disagree with your assessment of the optimal length of NS does not mean they want to extend NS.

    On the other hand, you yourself reveal that your call for a shorter NS is tied to your sons having to serve NS, and that you in fact wish for NS to be abolished altogether. So why don't you argue from those points instead of putting up a facade of wanting to just reduce the length of NS with all the other arguments?

    "Did you know that Singapore has a slighter larger active troop size compared to Australia?"

    Again you are being disingenuous. Australia's diplomatic situation and defence policy are different from that of ours. If you want to criticise our defence policy and diplomacy, do so in the context of our nation's situation.

    "Did you know the Swiss reservists get to bring their assault rifles home?"

    "We do not have anything near to that level of trust in Singapore, do we?"

    So now it's about not being able to bring rifles home? Or are you sore that the government doesn't trust you? What does this have anything to do with the optimal length of NS? Please, Jimmy, try to focus on the issue at hand.

    "But yet, the Swiss conscription period is only 6 months for the footsoldier."

    And the IDF conscription is 3 years; but of course it would be unfair for me to use that as a benchmark since their security situation is different from that of the Swiss', which are in turn different from ours.

    "But have you seen had a good look at how other countries do things?"

    Every country plans its defence on whom it is likely to go to war with, and how it plans to win. Each country is different.

    Instead of harping on the fact that other countries are different, which in itself tells us nothing about the thinking behind their defence planning, perhaps you can find out more about whom we think we are likely to go to war with, and how we plan to win if we ever go to war, and criticise from there.

    What makes you think that one division is too many? What makes you think our airforce and navy are able to win the war on their own without ground troops?

    I'm not saying that the Ministry of Defence is right on all its premises and predictions, but if you think you have good reasons to prove they are wrong, please let us have them instead of just making comparisons to other countries.

  31. Hi Pandemonium,

    my vision for NS, is to model it after the Swiss system. Like Singapore, the Swiss system is one of a full time service complemented by years of reservist training. Israel and Taiwan, in contrast, has no reservist training that I am aware of. If the reservists are tapped, it will be for war.

    Cutting back on overseas training will have an effect on both the footsoldiers and their commanders. But is it so bad that they will become totally incompetent? I think not. No matter how much we train, we are still rookies in the real battlefield.

    OTOH, no matter how competent the footsoldier and their junior commanders are, we are limited by the abilities of our generals. I am not the first one who say that our generals seem too young and inexperienced. I am also not the first one to wonder if the scholarship selection system is a good idea for picking generals. Neither am I the first one to feel uncomfortable that our generals play musical chair a bit too often.

  32. So now it's about our young and inexperienced generals?

    Come on now, Jimmy. You haven't even answered the questions raised on the relevance of the other issues you've raised, and now you're raising new ones?

    If you are really so sure NS can be shortened or abolished and our defence can be dependent solely on our air force and navy, do share with your readers how you arrive at that conclusion.

  33. Jimmy,

    There are a lot of opinions you have that I think a few of us share. However, your reasons for these opinions are out of touch with reality.

    First, overseas training. If you know exactly who Singapore thinks she is up against, you'll understand why we train in different terrain that always happens to have a simulated map the shape of an archipelago. If we ever had to fight a battle within Singapore I think the war is already lost.

    Second, international relations. Despite our strained relations with our neighbours it's somewhat surprising that they still provide space for military training in return for some monetary compensation. However, to believe that the presence of our troops means that we will be involved in the host country's international affairs is quite misleading.

    Third, NS duration. I am very happy that NS was reduced from 2.5 to 2 years, but like you I think it can be shortened further to 1.5 yrs. However, any reduction must take into account the full basic training cycle as well as unit training. Basic training takes anywhere between 3 months to 1 year depending on vocation, and unit training would probably take another few months. If NS was further reduced it would mean some elements have to be compressed or cut out. MINDEF is obviously not very interested in doing this.

    You can name examples such as NDP and the months of sai kang that show how inefficient NS is, but if these inefficiencies are not cut out, it's difficult to reduce NS duration further. Singapore tends to be paranoid and believe that she needs an effective standing army that isn't focussed on defence but more offence.

    Otherwise really, if it were just about defending this island then we should have built more mock-ups of Orchard Road or HDB housing estates and done many months of FIBUA training instead. Obviously, that is not what's on the minds of our generals.

    Like everybody here though, I fail to see how this is relevant to the deaths of our troops abroad. You should just de-couple your gripes about NS with the training accidents and start another post altogether. You have so far not presented any credible argument why Singapore should abolish military training in overseas locations apart from picking bones with how inefficient NS is... But the inefficiency is nothing new. 50% of Singaporeans know that already!

  34. Hi Christopher,

    thanks for your comment. I know I tend to drift in my comments, and this is something I need to work on.

    300,000 troops. Minimal FIBUA training. Plenty of jungle training. Even someone as ignorant as me would know that our soldiers are not meant to fight in this island. This doctrine makes plenty of sense, in the past. Taking the fight to the enemy so we can suffer minimal infrastructure and civilian losses. Sounds a bit like the justification for the Iraq war, dont you think?

    But like the Iraq war, can we trample into our neighbour's homeland, teach them a lesson, and then pat our backsides and leave?

    Even for Israel, invading Lebanon created the monster that is Hezbollah, a demon they cannot exorcise even after retreating from Southern Lebanon. And unlike Israel, where MNCs will stick through rocket fire and suicide bombings, the MNCs we attract will jump ship at the first sign of geopolitical uncertainty.

    In this age of globalisation, Singapore will collapse if Malaysian and/or Indonesian workers refuse to work for us. We have no military solution against Malaysia or Indonesia. Not to mention if we occupy our neighbours, would their Muslim brethren still send us their oil?

    The only peace we can enjoy is to appeal to the self-interests of our neighbours. Some people speculated that Switzerland was spared from Nazi Germany precisely because they were safekeeping their ill-begotten gold.

    Of course, threats can come from beyond our neighbours, and our military can be more useful fighting side by side with our neighbours, rather than against them, and our navy and airforce can better complement their ground forces in such scenarios. If we have to send our ground troops, we will coordinate better by sending a small number of professional soldiers, rather than a big unwieldy conscript army.

    IMHO, our excessively large infantry is a relic of the cold war and it is about time we learn to relax a little, if not in numbers then in length of training, and free our male citizens to compete against the foreign talents, and free some military budget so we can pay our ministers more without raising GST.

    Lastly, our excessively large infantry is destabilising to the region.

    If Singapore is an individual, and this guy not only stores big guns in his home, he also rents flats identical to that of his neighbours to practice pre-emptive strikes, what would you call such a person? Psycho? How would you feel if you live next door to such a psycho?

  35. Can someone point to a laymen like me to a detailed analysis of our
    geopolitical situation, our defence strategy and training regime in contrast with a variety of countries, ranging from those in the most hostile of regions like the Middle East to the more peaceful ones like Europe?

    You can take it that I've served NS (in a logistics unit however) and have played enough war games and simulations to be relatively saavy about military strategies and tactics.

    I keep hearing about how precarious Singapore's position is but have never heard or read an exposition that enumerates the threats and efficient responses to them without resorting to handwaving, either because of groupthink or the perception that the information is too sensitive to share (rightly or wrongly).

    Quite frankly, I think we are way too paranoid.

  36. anon,

    You can try "Defending the Lion City". Yes, 'official' information can be hard to come by if you are not in the 'need to know' loop; it's also hard to know whether the info you receive is 'groupthink' because there is no real way of verifying them most of the time.


    To a certain extent I agree with your assessment. As far as I know the SAF has read the lessons the Americans are learning in Iraq, and some changes are being made.

    I also agree with your 'Nazi gold' diplomacy as a means of deterrence.

    I doubt I will see further reduction in my NS liability before I serve them all, but I hope your sons will not have to serve as many years as I (and no doubt you) did.

  37. I know too little with regards to military matters to comment if a reduction in NS duration is workable, or if Singapore can follow the Swiss military force. Of course, I would wholeheartedly support any reduction in duration so long as MINDEF deemed it possible.

    However, I still think overseas training has to remain. Let me just put it this way: it does provide a very different kind of training. Yes, even after two years of training, the soldiers may not be highly capable, but I think given any amount of time, what should be done is to maximise their abilities. It's still better to be a level 10 rookie than a level 6 rookie! And I think overseas training is a good way for some quick powerlevelling in a short time!

    As for generals being too young, I do agree that is true, but I think it is a separate matter. Just because our generals are not good doesn't mean we can just easily mow down training time; what we should be correcting is the generals themselves. However, I might add that the reason for the fast promotions of officers is to prepare them for top civil service jobs (a.k.a. ministers), since the military is a traditional source where potential ministers are sought.

  38. "War is too serious a matter to be left to the generals. " - Georges Clemenceau, French PM WW1

    There is no question the Ferrari F360 is a better car than a Nissan Sunny. If the cost of the former is anywhere close to that of the latter, nobody will want a Sunny. However, on Singapore roads, the Ferrari is good for showing off, but would not get you anywhere a lot faster than a Nissan Sunny without breaking laws.

    Our NS is no doubt the Ferrari of conscript armies. But is it at a cost we can comfortably afford?

    How are we going to use this army? If the objective is a pre-emptive aggressive war, we almost certainly will not get any supporting UN resolution beforehand - in other words, an illegal war. Israel can break a thousand UN resolutions because of US backing, not just in words, but also in billions of dollars in aid. Outside Iraq, no country receives more US aid than Israel. We are not Israel. Singapore is not the birthplace of Jesus, and the Singapore lobbying group in US , if it even exists, is nowhere as powerful as the AIPAC.

    In the aftermath of our invasion, we will look no better internationally than Iraq after they invaded Kuwait. Also like Iraq, we will look like we are trying to disrupt world oil supply by choking the Malacca Straits. Retribution will be fast and furious.

    I believe the objective of the US military is that they can engage in WW2 style conflicts, engaging enemies in two fronts simultaneously. To that end, they will need x number of aircraft carriers and y number of soldiers.

    What is the mandate the Singapore people gave to our military that demands our level of NS commitments? Do we want to give them the mandate to invade and occupy West Malaysia? Can we leave all the war planning to the generals, unquestionably?

    The generals, by nature, will always want the biggest, best trained army they can get, just as a child will want all the sweets available to him.

    It is the people's job to ensure MINDEF, and our cabinet jammed packed with generals, is not eating far too many candies and risking tooth decay.

    "Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians." - Charles de Gaulle

  39. Well I understand your frustration. The ministers got richer as we look on helplessly, while 2 soldiers passed away in peacetime. Err...but that is a lot of factual mistakes. We don't place our troops in Taiwan to protect them (You think Pasir Laba very big ah?), and I don't know where the 3 months come from. (I'm sure they had cut NS period to as little as possible)Well, we need to understand a lot of European countries have short trainings, but these trainees turn into reserves instead of active personnel. A defence force is noble at its core anywhere in the world, even as its execution may not please everyone.

  40. Ah bing ge,

    I never said Singapore had the intention of protecting Taiwan. However, Taiwan politicians had tried to spin Singaporean soldiers are in Taiwan as an ally against PRC. We are already wearing the same uniform as the Taiwanese soldiers. The numbers is not an issue. Just as countries like El Salvador or Mongolia have hardly any meaningful number of troops in Iraq, it is their symbolic presence that is more important.
    You can see why China is so eager to get us out of Taiwan.

    As for comparison with European countries, you pointed out what I am trying to convey: as a peaceful gesture, we should cut down the aggressiveness of our defence force. Let our reserves be reserves. A peaceful nation does not maintain a huge army regularly trained and mobilised to invade our neighbours.