Mr Leong Horn
Kee, Dr Ong Chit Chung and Dr Loo Choon Yong raised various issues
on deferment, disruption, flexibility on call-ups for in-camp
training and the role of women for full-time National Service.
Recently, this House debated the issue of NS defaulters following
the Melvyn Tan episode. It was a useful debate because it allowed
MINDEF to explain the fundamental basis for National Service, it
also caused Singaporeans to examine what the SAF call NS-liable men
to service, and under what terms do we implement the Enlistment Act.
Let me summarise what Mr Teo has articulated. There are three
fundamental messages. First is that National Service must be for
meeting a critical national need of national security and survival
and to the nation. The second and third principles are universality
and equity in implementing the liabilities and duties of NS men. Why
universality and equity? Because otherwise it is very difficult to
impose this liability to Singaporeans. These same three principles
also govern our approach to issues related to deferment, disruption,
flexibility in call-ups and women in NS.
Let me first touch on deferment and explain the basis for deferments
that we have previously allowed and the recent changes that have
been put into place.
Under the Enlistment Act, any NS-liable male can be called up for NS
as soon as he turns 18 years old. There is a reason for this
enlistment age. We should be clear that the SAF must be able to
maintain and project a credible force to achieve the critical need
to ensure our security and survival at all times. And it has to do
so with a conscript army because of our small population. In other
words when the button is pushed, who do we depend on? We depend on
ORNS men, they form the backbone of our SAF. Not only do we require
them to be trained to be soldiers and leaders within the two years
of NSF, they also play a critical role as operationally ready
soldiers during their remaining NS liability. For many, this means
that they are required to serve up to the age of 30 plus. By
enlisting them around 18 years of age, we optimise the ability of
the SAF to fulfil its missions with an energetic and able-bodied
Despite the legislated enlistment age and operational requirements,
MINDEF had exercised flexibility in the past by allowing some groups
of students to complete their studies before serving their NSF.
MINDEF had granted deferment to those who could start their
full-time course of study before the age of 18 for local courses and
before 17½ for overseas courses, and this was assuming that such
courses would not last more than 3 or 4 years. Similarly,
pre-enlistees are granted deferment for ¡®A¡¯ levels and polytechnic
diploma courses if they are below 19 years old as at 1 January of
the year of commencement of the course.
Such exceptions were workable if the majority of NS-liable males
entered into a few institutions with fixed starting terms. We could
predict quite reliably the proportion and number of students that
would be deferred. But educational opportunities have expanded
exponentially in the past few years. We now have a proliferation of
institutions with a variety of modules in Singapore. New compressed
integrated courses have also been introduced, so that students could
theoretically start anytime within the year. The opportunities to
study abroad and at different times of the year have also increased
as Singaporeans have become more affluent. Many more Singaporeans
would be able to start universities or other courses before ages 17½
abroad or 18 locally.
It is no therefore no longer tenable to grant deferments based on
past criteria. MINDEF has therefore decided to get back to basics,
rationalise our deferment policy based on operational needs and the
primary goals of National Service¡ªthis is a starting principle and a
fundamental one. In rationalising our policy, it was understood that
NS is a sacrifice which may mean that Singaporeans would have to
defer their university studies till after they have completed
National Service. We applied the key principles of universality and
equity to ensure that everyone within the same cohort would receive
more or less the same treatment in allowing them to attain their
Therefore, MINDEF will only grant deferment for pre-enlistees to
gain their basic educational qualifications of ¡®A¡¯ levels,
polytechnic diploma, or below. This is reasonable as most of our 18
year old NS enlistees would either have completed their basic
qualification programme or are about to complete it. As university
degrees are considered higher educational qualifications, deferments
for university studies will no longer be allowed. This new policy
for deferments has been in place from the end of last year.
Now, the vast majority of our enlistees will not affected by this
rationalisation. Our past records show that under the old previous
deferment policy, less than 100 a year were granted deferment for
university studies in the past¡ªthis is a special 100. Moving on,
this will no longer be allowed. For those affected, what it means is
that they have to serve NS like the rest of their peers before going
for their university studies. This is the norm, even for those who
do their pre-university studies overseas. More than 75% of those
granted deferment for pre-university studies in the past returned to
serve their NS before proceeding to university.
As part of our rationalisation, ITE students will now be able to
proceed to undertake a polytechnic diploma course ¨C a basic
educational qualification ¨C before enlisting for NS. Even then, we
will only allow such deferments if they are below 20 years old as at
1 January of the year of commencement of the course.
Now I know there are many NSFs with ITE qualifications who are
already currently serving in the SAF. We will allow early disruption
to all those who have completed their BMT to pursue their
polytechnic diploma in Apr 2006 or Apr 2007, provided that they
qualify for the deferment under the new policy.
Now let me talk about disruption. Mr Leong, Dr Ong and Dr Loo
called for greater flexibility in granting disruption from full-time
NS for tertiary studies. Dr Loo asked, some of the members have
asked that disruption from full-time NS to be granted to all
Let me qualify that disruptions not only affect the training and
operational readiness of the individual; it also impacts the unit as
a whole ¨C because the army fights as a unit. It will compromise unit
standards and its operational readiness. This is especially so
because the duration of NS has been reduced to 2 years.
MINDEF therefore allows disruption only in selected cases and based
on the three principles. First it must be subject to the operational
readiness of their units not being compromised. For equity, we will
allow disruptions for those who are enlisted for NS in later intake
batches, so that they are able to start university in the same year
as their peers or of the same school cohort, who were enlisted
earlier. Now, let me give you a few examples so you can understand
what I am saying.
For example, NSFs belonging to the same ¡®A¡¯ level or Polytechnic
cohort are typically enlisted over two intakes¡ªwe can¡¯t bring them
all because of the flow ¨C so they are split over two intakes due to
capacity constraints at the training schools. ¡®A¡¯ level holders are
typically enlisted in the December and March intakes¡ªthere are
basically two intakes, while Diploma holders are typically enlisted
in the June and September intakes.
In each of these cases, MINDEF will allow disruption of up to 2
months to those who were called up in the later intake so that they
could enter university in the same year as those who were enlisted
in the earlier intake¡ªthe principle of equity.
Allow me to illustrate this with an example because it can get quite
confusing. An ¡®A¡¯ level NSF enlisted in December 2005, will complete
his 2-year NSF liability in December 2007 and be able to commence
his university studies, if he wanted to, say in February 2008, if he
starts in an Australian university. But his classmate who was
enlisted in April 2006 will only complete his NS liability in April
2008. In other words, the classmate who was enlisted late and his
peers can now start university in February 2008. For such cases due
to different call up dates, MINDEF may grant a 2-month disruption to
pursue his university studies.
However, MINDEF does not allow disruption to those who are trying to
start an overseas course or a local course one academic year ahead
of their male peers within the same cohort. This is the very example
that Mr Leong brought up. Mr Leong has suggested disruption of up to
3 months for tertiary education. Using the same example, we would
not allow disruptions for an ¡®A¡¯ level NSF enlisted in December 2005
to start university in September 2007. That would be unfair to his
peers of his cohort in Singapore who can only commence their studies
in 2008. It is in fact untenable. Because of the expanded choice of
universities both here and locally, almost all students could find a
place to start at some university earlier and apply for disruption.
As for disruption for scholarship holders, only PSC scholars have
been given special consideration for disruption after serving 6 to
10 months of NS to do their university studies, before returning to
complete the remainder of their full-time NS. Now annually, only
about 30 are granted such early disruptions. This is not extended to
other scholarship holders as early disruption has significant impact
and needs to be minimised. Such special consideration is only given
to PSC scholarship holders as it is an important conduit for
bringing key talent into the Public Service.
NSmen - Deferment for ICT
Dr Loo asked for greater flexibility with regards to deferment for
In-Camp Training for NSmen. There is already a high degree of
flexibility and we have granted deferments for those who have just
started a new job or are getting married during the ICT. But for
operational reasons again, such deferment cannot be free for all.
Every NSman has a role to play and the unit is affected if he is
deferred from in-camp training. There is thus a need to strike a
balance between the inconvenience caused to the NSman by the In Camp
Training and the impact on the unit if the NSman is granted
deferment. The commander on the ground is in the best position to
make that judgement, and rightly so, because it is the commander who
is held accountable for the readiness of his unit. All requests for
deferment are therefore decentralised and put up to the unit
commanders for consideration.
Dr Loo also asked for women to be called up for NS in non-combat
roles. As stated by our Minister before, we currently have no
operational need for women conscripts to serve in the defence force.
NS, yes, must be for the critical need of security and survival.
While National Service can help in national education and character
building, these are not sufficient reasons in themselves to call up
women for NS. Dr Loo will also be interested to know that indeed
there are volunteers, women volunteers in the SPF as well as the
Civil Defence. There are presently about 5,666 volunteers out of
which 36% are women.
Mr Chairman, let me now move on to
Record IV, and I have spoken at length on how MINDEF balances
its operational and training requirements. All male Singaporeans are
called to serve National Service. Despite many competing demands for
their time, our national servicemen understand the need for NS and
have remained committed in fulfilling their duty to the nation.
I am therefore happy that the Government and MINDEF has accepted the
key recommendations put forth. We have circulated the report, but I
won¡¯t go into details. As Dr Loo had said, it¡¯s not quid pro quo to
register our thanks. It is a simple way of saying thank you for all
The key recommendation was to give more to NSmen in the next surplus
sharing exercise. This additional sum is called the
40th Anniversary NS Bonus and is part of the ¡®Progress Package¡¯.
The Prime Minister has announced details of this in his budget
speech. This is a strong recognition of the role our NSmen have
played in the defence of Singapore.
We have also announced several other RECORD IV recommendations that
the Government has decided to implement immediately. This includes
the Operationally Ready NS Completion Award, where NSmen who
complete their training cycle from 1 January this year will receive
a monetary award of $300. The first payment will be made in April
2007. Thereafter, MINDEF will give this award on an annual basis to
those who complete their training cycle in the previous work year.
The Prime Minister also announced that the Government has agreed to
the additional tax relief of $2,000 for NS key command and staff
MINDEF has accepted RECORD¡¯s recommendation to relax the Mindef
Notification Centre requirement. Currently NSmen who go overseas for
24 hours or less are required to notify MINDEF of their trip.
Henceforth NSmen who have already completed their Operationally
Ready NS training cycle and have been phased into MINDEF Reserve
will now be exempted from MNC notification, even if they are below
the statutory age.
MINDEF has also agreed to relax exit control measures for full-time
national servicemen. Currently, NSFs are required to apply for an
Exit Permit whenever they travel overseas, regardless of the trip
duration. With the change, they will be required to apply for Exit
Permits only for overseas trips of 3 months or more.
MINDEF will also improve the convenience of other exit control
measures recommended by RECORD. As these changes to exit control
take time to implement, details will be announced in the next 4
months or so.
We also strengthened the Total Defence effort and as a start, the
role of the Advisory Council for Community Relations in Defence will
be expanded to engage more Singaporeans in Total Defence.
In the area of recreation, RECORD IV has recommended that a SAFRA
clubhouse be developed in Jurong to cater to the needs of NSmen
living in the West, this has been accepted. In addition, the
committee has also recommended that the existing Toa Payoh clubhouse
be upgraded so that it remains relevant and attractive to NSmen and
their families. SAFRA has agreed to the recommendations and will
announce its development plans in due course.
By fully accepting all the RECORD IV recommendations, we hope to
underscore again the Government¡¯s and the people¡¯s appreciation of
the role of National Servicemen and the contributions they have
made. They are the bedrock of our defence. They remain as critical
as ever in light of the changes in the security environment.
Research and Development
Sir, let me now address the comments raised by Dr Teo Ho Pin on
defence Research & Development.
Key Functions of DSTA and DSO
Apart from its key function of acquiring systems to meet the
SAF¡¯s requirements, the Defence Science and Technology Agency, or
DSTA, undertakes R&D in building protection and developing
critical real-time command and control (C2) systems for the SAF. It
also manages the defence R&D budget for MINDEF by investing in
promising R&D activities with potentially high payoffs for defence
DSO National Laboratories, our universities, our defence
industry and other research institutions.
It is DSO which does the bulk of our front-end defence R&D. It
undertakes R&D to sharpen the cutting-edge for our defence in areas
such as sensors, electronic warfare, guided weapons, information
systems, and chemical and biological defence.
Delivering High-Payoff Capabilities For The 3G SAF
An excellent illustration of how our R&D capabilities have
multiplied the fighting capabilities of the SAF is in the
development of the combat management system (or
CMS for short) for our
frigates. The ship may have been designed and developed in
France but the CMS, which is the brain of the ship, was developed
locally by our own defence scientists and engineers from DSTA and
DSO. This Combat Management System fuses the information from the
myriad of combat sensors, evaluates the threats faced by the ship
and matches the appropriate weapons to neutralize any threats. The
CMS enables the commander to make superior decisions to deal
decisively with any operational situations. Without it, the
commander would have required a much larger crew, taken much longer
to understand the situation and decide on the appropriate response,
and thus put the ship and its crew at greater risks. The force
multiplying effects of a system like the CMS is therefore clear. And
this also helps to explain why we are able to reduce the ORNS full
time national service from 2½ to 2 years.
DSTA also works closely with our defence industry to produce
platforms and capabilities to meet the unique requirements of the
SAF. Some examples of such successes are the
Bionix vehicle, the
Primus self-propelled howitzer and the
Pegasus Lightweight howitzer.
These products, together with the CMS of our stealth frigates, are
but some of numerous high-payoff capabilities which has made
possible for the transformation of the SAF into
3G SAF. Such capabilities have resulted in sensors and weapon
systems which are more effective and better networked, resulted in
platforms and combat systems which have better survivability,
enabled our commanders to have better situation awareness and make
better decisions, and enabled our soldiers to enhance their combat
R&D Is A Long-Term Investment
Sir, defence R&D is about building up expertise in our people
and building up intellectual capital. It is a long-term investment
therefore, we have commited about 4% of our defence budget to
defence R&D and a further 1% to experimentation of new operational
Commercialisation Is Not The Primary Focus
Dr Teo also asked about whether there are plans to commercialise
the output of our R&D efforts. Let me just say that the primary
purpose for us to undertake defence R&D is to create knowledge and
build up new defence capabilities. While there are dual-use
technologies that we have built up that have commercial potential,
we have indeed explored commercial opportunities for them.
Examples of technologies that have been licensed to commercial
companies include a portable biochip system to detect pathogens,
originally developed jointly by DSO and NTU for biodefence, and an
intelligent information search and analysis software developed
jointly by DSO and a US research institute. A consortium comprising
of DSO, NUS and two A*STAR institutes had also successfully
developed a multi-layer substrate packaging technology that can be
commercialised. However, in pursuing such commercial spin-offs, we
are mindful that our engineers and scientists must not be distracted
from their primary mission of defence R&D.
We have to rely upon our defence industries to produce the
commercial spin-offs. Indeed, ST Engineering now earns more revenue
from their non-MINDEF work than they do from MINDEF. But ST
Engineering would not have the capability to successfully win non-defence
contracts if not for the core competencies they have built up in
developing systems for MINDEF. For example, ST Engineering has made
breakthroughs in selling C2 systems to customers in Hong Kong in
recent years. Its C2 capabilities grew due to C2 work done for
In summary, we have strong capabilities, R&D capabilities, strong
R&D capabilities in DSTA and DSO to ensure that SAF¡¯s unique
requirements are met. Commercial spin-offs will be generated as and
when there are opportunities.
is a Long-Term Investment
Sir, defence R&D is about building up expertise in our people and
building up intellectual capital. It is therefore a long-term
investment. Today, we commit about 4% of our defence budget to
defence R&D and a further 1% to experimentation of new operational
concepts. This is a necessary investment to ensure that the SAF is
at the cutting edge, and sustain it.
Release 6 Mar 2006