The SAF was formed in 1966. Singapore's military role stems from its strategic geographical location, an asset exploited by both local settlers and foreign colonists alike. Archaeological excavations have discovered remnants of fortresses and other forms of military fortifications in pre-colonial Singapore. Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of modern Singapore, chose Singapore in 1819 to establish a new British colony with the security concerns of the British in the Far East in mind against the Dutch. Thus, Singapore, which attained Crown Colony status, played an active role in British military interests for decades, particularly in the years leading up to the First and Second World War.
The Singapore Armed Forces has its humble origin in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF, formed in 1922) as well as Raffles Institution Army Corps formed on 15 May 1901, which in turn had its roots in the Singapore Volunteer Artillery (SVA, formed in 1888). The Motto of the SVA is "In Oriente Primus" (Latin: First in the East), which is still in use today by the artillery formations of the Singapore Army. In 1915 it helped to suppress the mutiny of the Sepoys in Singapore.
During World War II, the SSVF took part in the Battle of Singapore but most of its members were captured on 15 February 1942 when their positions were overrun by Japanese forces. After the end of the war, the SSVF was re-constituted in 1948, but the SVF was absorbed into the Singapore Military Forces (SMF, predecessor of the SAF) following the disbandment of the SSVF in 1954. Subsequently in 1961, SMF was renamed to Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
When Singapore achieved independence in 1965, its military consisted of only two infantry regiments, commanded by British officers and made up of mostly non-Singaporean residents. Britain pulled its military out of Singapore in October 1971, leaving behind only a small amount of British, Australian and New Zealand forces as a token military presence. The last of the British soldiers left Singapore in March 1976. The New Zealand troops were the last to leave Singapore, in 1989. Singapore believed that it need a larger, capable yet economic-efficient defence force to protect and defend itself, where the country's geographical location surrounded by larger neighbouring countries in the South-east Asia region. At that time, Singapore enlisted the covert assistance of Israel, which sent its military advisers who helped Singapore set up a defence force modelled in part after the Israel Defense Forces. Trainings such as jungle warfare were jointly studied so that the Singaporean army may engage in possible combat conflict on the soils of neighbouring countries, if need be. The army procured battle tanks from Israel before neighbouring Malaysia acquired theirs, having an edge for a highly effective fighting armed forces.
Singapore Armed Forces Day is commemorated by the SAF annually on 1 July, with a parade held at the Singapore Armed Forces Military Institute or SAFTI.
Deterrence and diplomacy have been the fundamental tenets of Singapore's military defence policy. Through the years, the military has developed extensive links with armed forces from other countries. In recent years, there has also been an increased emphasis on international peace-keeping and relief operations, notably the peace-keeping operations in East Timor and the Persian Gulf and disaster relief in the Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami of 2004, 2005 Nias earthquake and 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake in Central Java, Indonesia.
According to military and strategic analysts, such as Tim Huxley in Defending the Lion City, Singapore is known to be using a forward-defence military doctrine. Singapore is, after all, a very small island (693 km2) and it lacks the space for a Defence in depth strategy. Therefore, if a serious military battle were to take place on the island of Singapore the effects would be devastating to both the people and infrastructure. Press statements from Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) describe the SAF as a deterrent force. The SAF's declared mission statement is to "enhance Singapore’s peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor".
Today, a career military force of 38,700 is supplemented by 42,800 men on active National Service duty, the latter generally filling up the lower ranks. This group of just over 80,000 officers and servicemen/women staffs the command structure, advises the government, manages the bases, teaches at the tri-service SAFTI Military Institute, flies the on-call jets, crews the ships on-patrol and stands watch over the straits. They comprise both the top command structure and what might be called the "Standing Forces" which can go into a humanitarian relief or combat situation instantly. The main force actually comprises 400,000 or so Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (ORNSmen). This is the full mobilization force that can be called up within a few days. They are the 10-year ORNSmen with regular training and call-up cycles. Full sets of light equipment stands ready for them in armories and heavy equipment for their units is maintained in dedicated bunkers. Singapore is very high tech and individuals can be reached almost instantly; thus the system is highly flexible, so only the units and numbers needed for a particular task can be summoned. If called up they would be integrated into, augment and dramatically expand the "Standing Forces" up to five times its peacetime size, fully staffed and equipped, while maintaining a cohesive structure.
The SAF's policy towards Malays, who share religion and ethnic ties with Singapore's largest neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, has been a source of controversy over the years. Malays were virtually excluded from conscription from the beginning of the draft in 1967 until 1977 and, after the policy was eased, were assigned mainly to serve in the police and civil defence (fire brigade), not active combat roles. In 1987, Lee Hsien Loong (then Second Minister for Defence) stated that "If there is a conflict, if the SAF is called to defend the homeland, we do not want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may be in conflict with his religion" and in The Roar of the Lion City (2007), military analyst Sean Walsh claimed that "official discrimination against the Malay population remains an open secret". The Ministry of Defence contests the charge, noting that there are "Malay pilots, commandos and air defence personnel" and stating that "the proportion of eligible Malays selected for specialist and officer training is similar to the proportion for eligible non-Malays."
Women are exempt from full-time National Service, but can sign on as a career regular soldier in both combat and non-combat roles, some as combat officers, but mostly in clerical and logistic positions in the earlier years. The range of positions available to women has been expanded gradually, with some exceptions in vocations. In July 2007, the SAF held an exhibition highlighting the contributions of women in the armed forces. Annual women career seminars are conducted to inform Singaporean women of careers in the SAF facing competitive factors in the labour force. In recent years, some women in SAF have taken higher positions, more notably, with BG Gan Siow Huang being the highest ranking female officer, and the first female General in the SAF.
In 2014, a governmental Committee to Strengthening NS (CSNS) decided to establish a SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC). This will enable women, first generation Permanent Residents and new citizens to contribute to national defence and strengthen support for NS. The volunteers will undergo a four-week course to gain basic military skills and values. They will be orientated to their operational and professional roles in the SAFVC.
Under the Enlistment Act 1970, conscription is mandatory for all "persons subject to [the] act", defined as those who are not less than 16 years and 6 months of age and not more than 40 years of age, with some exemptions and with no specific bias to gender (not limited to males). In practice however, it is only compulsory for all fit and able-bodied Singaporean men who have reached 18 years of age, and are not deferred for certain reasons, to be conscripted in military service, or Full-time National Service (NSF).
NS was initially three years for commissioned officers and two years for other ranks, but it was later revised to two years and six months for soldiers with the rank of Corporal and above, and two years for those with the rank of Lance Corporal or lower. In June 2004, a major announcement review was conducted to NS was shortened to two years for all Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), regardless of rank, due to changes in population demographics, manpower requirements and technological advancements. Combat fit NSFs (PES A/B1) who obtain a silver or gold standard in the NAPFA test will have another two months reduction, serving 22 months of NS effectively. Upon completion of their NSF stint, servicemen will be considered as having reached their Operationally-ready Date (ORD) and will be known as Operationally-ready National Servicemen (NSmen). Almost all NSmen will have to go through a 10-year reservist cycle of military training with their assigned unit deployment. Almost all NSmen are obliged to be called up annually for a maximum of 40 days per workyear for national duties, refresher trainings, mobilisations, upgrading courses and physical fitness tests and conditioning, depending on their NS unit deployment.
Prior to enlistment, pre-enlistees (recruits) are required to attend a medical examination (PULHHEEMS) to determine their medical status to assess vocational suitability postings. They will then be issued a "Physical Employment Status" (PES), which will be used as a guideline to determine for which vocation groupings they are deemed suitable.
PES A and PES B1 (combat-fit) recruits go through a nine-week Basic Military Training (BMT) program, held either at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) on the offshore island of Pulau Tekong, or at various military battalion units that directly take in recruits via mono-intake route. Recruits who are considered obese, are required to attend a 19-week PES Bp BMT weight-loss program. PES B2 formally PES C1 (fit for some combat vocations) recruits will go through a nine-week modified BMT programme at BMTC. PES C (non-combat-fit) recruits undertake a nine-week modified BMT program in BMTC as well as in BMTV ( Basic Military Training Vocational) for various vocations as combat service support personnel, and PES E recruits undergo a four-week modified BMT program at Kranji Camp 3 for trainings to a combat service support vocation posting.
In standard BMT package, all recruits attend component trainings on fieldcraft, basic survival skills, weapon maintenance and a field camp, participate in live firing and hand grenade throwing exercises, go through a Standard Obstacle Course (SOC), and do daily physical training in preparation for the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). The selected ones among NS recruits in BMT are assessed via SITEST for suitability of commander trainings to become officers or specialists. They are posted to the Officer Cadet School (OCS) or the Specialist Cadet School (SCS) respectively for commander training. The majority of the rest of recruits, known as enlistees, are posted to various NS units or vocational training institutes where the newly minted privates undergo continuous, specialised and further vocational trainings to pass out successfully as a vocationalist.
Due to land space limitations on Singapore's territorial land and waters, some specialised training programmes and facilities are located overseas.
Initially, commissioned officers were drawn exclusively from the ranks of Singaporeans who had completed their GCE A levels or embarked on tertiary studies. While the requirements have since been revised, the SAF has still been criticised for "using a promotion system that is based more on education and scholarships than on proven competence".
Officers receive their initial leadership training at the tri-service OCS in the SAFTI Military Institute (SAFTI MI). As they progress in their career, they may undergo further formal military education at the SAF Advanced Schools and the Singapore Command and Staff College. On the other hand, specialists first receive leadership training at the SCS. Future platoon sergeants and Company Sergeants Major receive further instruction at the Advanced Specialist Training Wing (ASTW) in SCS. Specialists undergo further education at the SAF Warrant Officer School before receiving their appointments as Warrant Officers.
OCS and SCS both have an infantry-based curriculum; special-to-arms training for both officers and WOSPECs is conducted at various training institutes and establishments such as the SAF Medical Training Institute (SMTI), Artillery Institute (AI), Signals Institute (SI), Engineer Training Institute (ETI), Armour Training Institute (ATI), Motorised Infantry Training Institute (MITI), Supply & Transport Centre (STC) and Ordnance Engineering Training Institute (OETI).
Pointer is the official journal of the SAF. It is a quarterly publication distributed to all Officers and Warrant Officers, which helps with their ongoing professional education.
Singapore is part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, whose other members include the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. Designed to replace the former defence role of the British in Singapore and Malaysia, the arrangement obliges members to consult in the event of external threat against Malaysia and Singapore.
Singapore has consistently supported a strong US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1990, the US and Singapore signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which allows the US access to Singapore facilities at Paya Lebar Air Base and the Sembawang wharves. Under the MOU, a US Navy logistics unit was established in Singapore in 1992; US fighter aircraft deploy periodically to Singapore for exercises, and a number of US military vessels visit Singapore. The US Navy's Task Force 73/Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific is now located at Sembawang. The MOU was amended in 1999 to permit US naval vessels to berth at Changi Naval Base, which was completed in early 2001.
Singapore's defence resources have also been used for international humanitarian aid missions. They included United Nations peacekeeping missions in areas such as Kosovo, Kuwait and East Timor, participation in the Multi-National Force – Iraq, sending military equipment and personnel to assist in the humanitarian rescue and relief efforts in the United States after Hurricane Katrina, and establishing medical and dental assets for use by the Afghan people. Several of the SAF's top officers have thus overseas operational military experience.
Under the SAF Act the President of Singapore has the authority to raise and maintain the SAF. The President also has the power to form, disband or amalgamate units within the SAF.
The Armed Forces Council (AFC) administers matters relating to the SAF under the SAF Act. The AFC consists of:ministers who are responsible for defence matters and any other minister who has been assigned to assist them;
the Permanent Secretaries of MINDEF;
the Chief of Defence Force (CDF);
the Chief of Army (COA);
the Chief of Air Force (CAF);
the Chief of Navy (CNV); and
not more than four other members as the President may appoint if the President, acting in his discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) consists of the:Army (three Combined Arms Divisions: 3 Div, 6 Div & 9 Div, two Army Operational Reserve Divisions, 21st and 25th, and one island defence command: 2 People's Defence Forces)
Air Force (seventeen squadrons and four air bases)
Navy (eight squadrons and two naval bases)
The SAF is headed by the Chief of Defence Force (CDF), a three-star General (i.e. Lieutenant General) by establishment and the sole and only (active) SAF General that can be promoted or hold three-star rank; he is assisted by the three chiefs of the respective services (Army, Airforce, Navy), who are two-star generals/admirals by establishment (or Major-General/ Rear-Admiral). The SAF has a Sergeant Major who currently holds the rank of CWO. The CDF is supported by various staff from branches such as the Joint Operations and Planning Directorate, the Joint Manpower Department, the Joint Logistic Department, the Military Intelligence Organisation and the Foreign Military Liaison Branch.
The position of the Chief of the Defence Force was established in 1990. Winston Choo, as head of the defence forces was previously known as Chief of General Staff.
Supporting the combat role of the SAF, are other governmental organisations of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), such as the Defence Policy Group, the Defence Management Group, the Defence Industry and System Office and the Defence Research and Technology Office. Within these groups are the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), the Central Manpower Base (CMPB), and the Military Security Department (MSD). Domestic technology companies also play a role in building up Singapore's military capabilities, particularly the government-linked ST Engineering (formerly known as Chartered Industries of Singapore), which designed and built some of the SAF's more advanced weaponry and equipment based on specific local requirements which may be expensive for foreign companies to adapt and produce.
The Special Operations Task Force, composed of the selected members of the Special Operations Force, SAF Commando Formation, Naval Diving Unit and other forces integrated under one command, is formed to combat common terrorist threats. The notion of Special forces as with the SOTF was made public in 2009 when the integrated unit was formed. The practice and theory of Special Forces have been discussed in the inaugural monograph published by Pointer (journal), Key Perspectives on Special Forces. The monograph was edited and developed by former Commando Officer Kwong Weng Yap.
The SAF utilises technology as "force multipliers", especially in the area of C4I integration, which will enable its various units to fight in an integrated manner. The Army, Air Force and Navy are linked via advanced data-links and networks to enable coordinated attacks and support for various units and forces. Technology is an important element in the SAF's transformation into a 3rd Generation Fighting Force.
The SAF acknowledges that technology is crucial for overcoming the limitations of Singapore's small population. Having consistently had one of the largest defence budgets in the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore has focused on maintaining its spending on sophisticated and superior weaponry. Research and experimentation to develop a technological edge began as early as 1971, even though the SAF then had only rudimentary capabilities. The effort started off with a three-man team. At present, MINDEF is one of the largest employers of engineers and scientists in Singapore and the SAF continues to devote considerable resources to defence research and development (R&D) and experimentation – 5% and 1% of the defence budget, respectively. Singapore's education system has also produced national servicemen who can be trained to operate SAF's sophisticated platforms and systems.
In Sep 2008, the SAF officially opened its Murai Urban Training Facility (MUTF) to hone the SAF's networked urban operations capability. The MUTF resembles a typical town and allows the soldiers to train realistically in an urban setting. In the same month, the SAF's new combat uniform, as well as the Advanced Combat Man System, were also unveiled for the first time.
The country also has an established military manufacturing industry that is responsible for the design and development of the following military hardware:PRIMUS – Self Propelled Howitzer
Bionix II – Infantry Fighting Vehicle (An upgrade of the Bionix AFV)
MATADOR – Unguided Short Range Anti-Armour Weapon
PEGASUS – Light Weight Howitzer
SAR 21 & Bullpup multirole combat rifle – Bullpup Assault Rifle
Formidable-Class Stealth Frigate – Warships designed with stealthy characteristics, equipped with advanced combat systems and with longer endurance
Army Daze (1996)
Zo Peng (2006)
Ah Boys to Men (2012–2013, 2015)
Army Series (1983)
The Reunion (2001)
Honour and Passion (2007)
Army Daze (1997)
Every Singaporean Son (2010)
Every Singaporean Son - Epilogue (2011)
Ops Diaries: SAF in Afghanistan (2011)
Making The Cut: Guards Conversion Course (2011)
Every Singaporean Son II - The Making of an Officer (2012)