Thursday, August 4, 2011

Singapore Armed Forces training safety in the spotlight once again

Military training was suspended for a day on Wednesday after the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) reported one fatality out of two training incidents over the past three days.

Singaporeans who are tracking the SAF's safety record may ask why such time-outs, which allow the SAF to review and reassess safety protocols, only seem to be triggered after training incidents take place consecutively.

In June 2008, the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF announced a three-day "time-out on physical and endurance training" after suffering two deaths in as many days.

In March 1997, the SAF halted training temporarily after three full-time National Servicemen died in two fatal incidents. Two NSFs were killed when their FH-2000 155mm heavy artillery gun blew up in New Zealand because of a defective Made in China fuze. One NSF was killed in Singapore after an unexploded warhead from a misfired Armbrust light anti-tank weapon picked up by infantrymen blew up. Five others were injured, including a Lieutenant who lost his arm.

But no training halts were reported in 2009 eventhough the 10 deaths that year is the highest on record. Do you wonder why?

Taken at face value, people might nurse the wrong idea that training deaths spread out over time have less impact on SAF safety awareness compared to a string of deaths over a compressed timeframe. Such logic may be flawed, but this is what defence watchers may conclude after trying to figure out when an incident merits a training halt and when it does not.

SAF training halts are discussed at length in a previous blog entry here. An audit on SAF training safety for the 2001 to 2010 period by this blog can be found here.

With the latest incidents both involving Specialist Cadets, unit morale is likely to take a hit. The loss is probably keenly felt among budding Specialists. SAF commanders and Specialist Cadet School instructors must therefore step forward to help the young soldiers cope with the loss of one of their own during this trying time.

Superstitious minds - and there are many of all races out there - who have theorised that these incidents could be linked to the Hungry Ghost month, which started on Sunday, are wrong.

During the decade just past, the month of August emerged as one of the safest months along with February, March and December with one fatality logged for each of these months. August usually coincides with the Chinese Seventh Month, which is also known as the Hungry Ghost month.

For the record, the deadliest month from 2001 to 2010 was June, with eight deaths during the period.

Internet chatter over the training deaths show once again that Singaporeans will demand, and are indeed entitled to, a clear and frank appraisal of the SAF's training safety record.

Telling Singaporeans realistic training is necessary and that training fatalities may occur despite all best efforts is of cold comfort to those with loved ones in uniform.

Whether MINDEF/SAF chooses to shares such statistics or not, Singaporeans will form their own ideas anyway.

And if people are going to do so, the system should help them make up their minds on the basis of accurate and reliable statistics, not street talk and wild rumours.

1 comment:

Derek said...

The streak of bad luck actually started in late 1996 when a cadet from OCS Foxtrot Coy was killed by a misfired GPMG round during Company Live Firing. I was the School Duty Officer when the incident happened. The unexploded warhead incident at the M203 firing range in 1997 had something to do with Foxtrot Coy as well. The 2LT knocked the shiny conical warhead against the concrete bay, was from the same Foxtrot Coy.