Sunday, October 13, 2013

Half empty, half fool: Comments on Singapore's National Service (NS) system by Alex Liang and Alvin Lim

Taken at face value, the comments on National Service (NS) mouthed by ex-Singaporean Alex Liang seem like a story of a hard luck citizen made good after quitting our island nation.

From our side of the fence, Alex's decision to start life afresh in the United Kingdom after completing his full-time NS around 1997 seems to show the grass is greener on the other side.

Is it really?

Alex Liang's story
"I was born and bred in Singapore but moved to the UK when I was 21 and eventually naturalised as a British citizen after seven years here - I am 37 today," the BBC News Magazine quoted Alex in a story that profiled 20 readers on the reasons why they left their country of birth. The story went online on 2 October 2013. Click here for the story.

"I left Singapore because I had no faith in the government there. Singaporean males were discriminated against by the government because of the compulsory national service and many years of reservist obligations afterwards. That is compounded by the fact that the Singapore government is actively wooing skilled migrants to Singapore. Their "foreign talent" programme gives these migrants all kinds of advantages that locals are not entitled to. I gave two years and four months of my life to serve in the army and my reward is to be treated like a second-class citizen. I wasn't prepared to fight the system, so I simply left and settled in the UK instead."

Alex's point of view provided the catalyst for Singaporean blogger, Alvin Lim, to post this thoughts on NS on his Alvinology blog on Friday 4 October. His self-confessed "rant" against NS attracted some 100,000 page views that weekend alone and some 6,000 Facebook shares.

The duo's take on compulsory military conscription in Singapore generated such a buzz online that Yahoo Singapore ran a story on the reactions it triggered.

This blog has been made aware that comments by Alex to the BBC News Magazine carry a different tone and emphasis from his comments, penned five years ago, which indicated that he left Singapore because of "pull factors from abroad".

Writing on the discussion forum of the website,, with his nickname "ecity", Alex talked about the reasons that led him to move to the UK. In that discussion, the sole push factor related to NS, which were his Reservist obligations, was ranked third on the list (which may or may not have been ranked in order of importance).

Alex (i.e. ecity) said:"Many people here assume that those who have left Singapore HATE Singapore - when that couldn't be further from the truth. I remain very fond of Singapore, but as a result of the pull factors from abroad, I have decided to leave because I have found that there are other places that are even more attractive than Singapore as a place to live and develop my career. 

PUSH factors:
1. Poor career opportunities in my field
2. Long working hours
3. Reservist obligations
4. Unpleasant, hot, sticky weather
5. Simply bored with S'pore
6. Recognizing that Singapore is not going to change in my lifetime ref: attitudes towards gay people, attitudes towards the PAP etc

PULL factors:
1. Much better career development opportunities
2. Better working conditions
3. Free from reservist obligations
4. Experiencing 4 seasons
5. The thrill of living in a new place, meeting new people, finding new challenges

"These factors all vary from person to person. Some of you may love Singapore weather and shiver the moment the temperature drops below 20 degrees. Whereas I just find Singapore weather way too hot, monotonous, sticky and unpleasant. 

"I am easily bored and don't want to be stuck in one place too long - hence in my current job whilst being based in London, I've worked all over: Manchester, Frankfurt, Ibiza, Brighton, Dubai, Bristol, Birmingham,Crete, Liverpool, Paris, Dundee, Edinburgh ...

"Whereas my sister's the total opposite, she's 8 years older than me and she changed jobs for the first time in like 15 years recently, and she was soooo (sic) nervous about it. She's now happily settled in the new job but she was one person who didn't like change, whereas I relished it."

This blog understands that Alex's sister, Ms Liang Hwee Ting, left her job as a Straits Times journalist some years ago.

Winding up his comments in the 2008 discussion, Alex wrote:"There's nothing the government can do to pull me back to Singapore. Like I said, I left because I was in search of a change in routine and environment, I had spent 21 years in Singapore and wanted to experience different cultures and I am doing exactly that now. I love trying radically new things in different countries, such is my sense of adventure."

So why has National Service been caught in the crossfire in 2013?

A year before he bared his soul to netizens, Alex made it to the Singapore Parliament Hansard  - the word-for-word record of parliamentary proceedings - when his decision to emigrate was summarised by Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong during a debate on gay issues.

NMP Siew Kum Hong said in October 2007:"Mr Alex Liang e-mailed me a few months back. He is a former Singaporean who renounced his citizenship and is now a UK citizen. By all objective measures, Mr Liang is someone who would have served the country very well. We had invested heavily in him. He received a sports award for 3 years running, and was also a humanities scholar. He represented the nation in gymnastics, receiving generous training allowances. He speaks 8 languages, and had excellent academic results.

"But the moment he completed National Service, he left for Europe and he stayed there. He had long decided to leave Singapore, as he did not see a viable future for himself in Singapore as a gay man."

Fast forward to 2013. Alex sings a different tune.

It is almost funny that Alex claims he "wasn't prepared to fight the system" when any shortcoming from his country of birth seems reason enough for him to bang out another letter, sarcastic jibe or bitchy retort of some sort. If you know where to look, you will find cyberspace littered with his handiwork.

His recent comments on NS sweep aside those he made in 2008 that recounted the pull factor for moving abroad. In addition, his comments to the BBC about FTs shows extraordinary prescience for a young man back in the late 1990s. This because the spike in immigration did not take place till early this century, years after he had decided to start a new life in London.

As for Alvin Lim's rant, his behaviour is a classic example that shows that while everybody grows old, not everyone grows up.

The Operationally-Ready National Servicemen's grouses about his perceived shortcomings on NS expose his poor appreciation of the obligations, duties and responsibilities of a citizen in the nation-state dynamic. One wonders how well he adapts to the regimentation imposed by rules and regulations that any Human Resource department would have on its staff (grooming standards, time discipline, annual leave approvals and so on).

Of late, Alvin's blog has been a curious juxtaposition of postings that take pot shots at NS to blog entries on films, fashion shows as well as advertisements for cafes, restaurants and corporate events. For someone whose blog probably creams off advertising revenue from a slew of corporate sponsors, the spurt in eyeballs must be like manna from heaven as it would boost the visibility of products and services hawked on his blog.[This part of the blog post is a social experiment.]

That's not to say our NSmen cannot or should not voice their thoughts on NS in public. 

Over the years, our citizens armed forces has benefited from feedback from successive generations of NSmen, NSFs and Singapore Armed Forces Regulars and Singaporeans at large, all of whom stepped forward with suggestions on how NS can be adapted, tweaked and improved. 

But it does beg the question whether the likes of Alvin, who made the clarion call for a "review" of NS, has invested even one second of his own time attending the many dialogues and focus group discussions on NS spearheaded by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). 

I bet he hasn't.

In my opinion, his blog's product reviews and junkets are probably way more important. He is probably content to just sit back and bitch away, stirring shit online and walking away from the mess he created by waving the immunity bracelet that says he is exercising his right as a citizen to free speech. All this while, oblivious that his career success and blog presence feeds off the security and well-being that an economically viable and stable Singaporean economy delivers, protected by the security the SAF provides 24/365.

Lessons for IOs and media planners
From an information management perspective, it is clear that the topics of National Service and Foreign Talent make a powerful combination. Seen in isolation, each topic is already a guaranteed conversation starter in any social setting with Singaporeans present.

Pair them together, add a dash of personal misgivings about how the system is unfair and the story becomes a ready-made cause celebre.

As Singaporeans lapped up Alex's comments and went into a tizzy over Alvin's blog, the takeways for information managers and media planners are as follows:

1. Discussions on National Service as a strategic lever/thought-driver.
It is clear that discussions on NS can stir emotions among Singaporeans. The tip sheet of talking points for anyone who wants to exploit NS as a cause celebre should be obvious by now to public relations professionals and media planners, so we will refrain from sharing the recipe here.

From this blog's perspective, the worry lies not with the odd social critic, blogger or strategic corporal who can be expected to occasionally elevate his or her experience with Singapore's NS system as a national talking point.

These rants are par for the course. Indeed, such situations often force Singaporeans to reflect on NS and national security issues.

The bigger worry stems from situations when entities with a more ambitious agenda choose to hijack the mass appeal and juiciness of NS as a talking point to advance their self interests. We are in trouble when this is executed deftly and steathily to the detriment of the well-being of Singapore.

For example, it could be exploited to score political brownie points or engineered by foreign elements to advance their agenda. In the case of the latter, Singaporeans must be aware that such elements may attempt to fracture national cohesion by operating anonymously or by masquerading as concerned Singaporeans. In cyberspace, we are often none the wiser.

What will save you is a deeper insight into why we still have NS and the downside risks that come with whittling down our national security. Which brings us to Point 2.

2. FAQ on National Service
Regardless of the agenda or motivation of the conversation starter(s), we must be prepared to help Singaporeans understand and appreciate the strategic fundamentals that underpin our NS system.

Strategic fundamentals is a mouthful. It essentially covers the "why" part of NS. The "what", which encompasses the duration and duties during NS, are better known to NSFs, NSmen and their loved ones.

Activities in 2012 that marked 45 years on National Service succeeded somewhat in recognising contributions and sacrifices Singaporeans made to safeguarding their country.

But aside from the touchy-feely, a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that address why NS is relevant, necessary and important may help Singaporeans gain meaningful insights into defence and security matters that many heartlanders are blissfully unaware of. 

This FAQ could tell Singaporeans whether reasons that underpinned the NS Army back in 1967, as outlined by then Minister for Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee, are still relevant in this day and age.

Is there a silver lining to the comments on NS by Alex Liang and Alvin Lim? Yes, it has once again brought NS to the forefront as a national talking point.

What Singaporeans need want deserve is a better understanding and appreciation of the reasons which are at the heart of our NS system.

This blog appreciates the crowd-sourced intelligence that contributed to the IPB phase and Internet forensics over the past week. The time and effort you have all put in is much appreciated.


Anonymous said...

David, you have firstly noted the contradiction between Alex's recent comments and his cited reasons for leaving in 2008:

Quote "Many people here assume that those who have left Singapore HATE Singapore - when that couldn't be further from the truth. I remain very fond of Singapore..."

Could you alternatively view it that every Singaporean abroad misses his homeland to some extent as Alex said in 2008, and under some circumstances would consider returning home, but makes a continuing decision to remain abroad for reasons he expressed recently.

Secondly, while some may view Alex as an ingrate whose success

Quote "feeds off the security and well-being that an economically viable and stable Singaporean economy delivers, protected by the security the SAF provides 24/365;"

one should not forget that all voting citizens, and especially who make a contribution to the common security through the SAF, should not have their views dismissed and should have a say in the direction of the country. Attempts to dilute their voice are unjust.

This point is irrefutable and completely independent of Alex's views.

Let all Singaporean soldiers know, There is a big difference between being an unpatriotic ingrate and asking for justice.

Anonymous said...

The big issue that the propaganda dept of the SAF has to handle is, as you rightly pointed out, the issue of foreigners being let into Singapore so liberally and the obligation of locally born Singaporeans in serving NS.

In the past when there were not that many foreigners in Singapore, people complained about NS but nobody really felt the great injustice, because it was an even playing field (more or less) within the domestic labour market.

Fast forward to today, when such a huge proportion of the labour force within the domestic market is made up of NS-free foreigners, the issue of NS becomes a very sore one for Singaporeans who have spent 2.5-2 years of their lives in NS while their now-competitors advance in their education and careers. Add in the IPPT, IPT, RTs and ICTs, and people get even more pissed.

If the govt fails to recognize even this very simple source of unhappiness and find ways to even the playing field (if that is even possible), the unhappiness will continue. It may not be politically correct to slam NS as an institution (even that is no longer a given), but that unhappiness will remain.

I don't have a solution to that, but it shouldn't stop me from pointing out the problem. Afterall, we do pay the civil servants and politicians lots of money to figure out solutions to our problems.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the need for this citizenship if the governement as representatives of the citizens to lead import so many foreigners and treat the foreigners better than its own citizens. If the citizens don't even feel that this is their own country and they are protected and taken care by their leading represenatives, does anyone think that they will naturally be inclined to serve NS and see the benefits of NS to their country?

Anonymous said...

In the past, NS was not an issue because you really felt like there was a country worth defending. Now it feels like an aging security guard at a budget hotel, watching guests having a good time and being paid pittance and having to work overtime for free. Not careful about job performance and you might be the one who end up being scre**D.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering, are you a Singaporean or Malaysian .....Have you complete NS if you are a Singaporean...and why didn't you convert if you are a Singaporean PR...

Thanks..just wondering..

Anonymous said...

Just wondering, are you a Singaporean or Malaysian .....Have you complete NS if you are a Singaporean...and why didn't you convert if you are a Singaporean PR...

Thanks..just wondering..

Anonymous said...

NS is for real men. It is not an obligation but a duty bore by real men. Yes, it is a sacrifice, on behalf of your family and love ones. To downgrade this system, criticize it and link it to the foreign talent issue is one only afforded by low life like Alex and Alvin. These people are ingrate and do not understand what it takes for Singapore to survive and how by opening our doors to the world, we can make our living. That is the same in UK. Shouldn't Alex be chased out of UK if the Brits has the same phobia against foreigners like he did?

We are real men, and we love our country and our families. That is why we serve NS. We will not hesitate to break the bones and burn to ashes of any country that dares to invade us.

Anonymous said...

Real man - write your real name lah....what a joke...

Anonymous said...

That is compounded by the fact that the Singapore government is actively wooing skilled migrants to Singapore. Their "foreign talent" programme gives these migrants all kinds of advantages that locals are not entitled to

This include the ASEAN scholars..and Malaysian FTs LBW/ Ms Saw / Ms Oliva Lum etc..and it is part of the PAP policy to recruit Malaysian or Nepals / Burmanse into the country lah...and not only recently...lah

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with foreigners, who eventually became Singaporeans, who worked hard and earn their keep? They are way better and contribute more than 100 Singaporeans who whines and do not take responsibility for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Well, we need billionaires and not clerks, storeman, F & B workers....

Anonymous said...

I am the guy who fuck your mother and made your dad a cuckolded. Did expect your mum to give birth to a faggot like you.

Anonymous said...

Mr Real Man, Most countries have no NS, why don't you call their men pussies. Go and watch cyberpioneer, see who the real pussies are.

AhBengBoPianMustStayingAtHome said...

Aiyaz can go other country and not do reservist than good lah.

Some people not so easy mah.

With regarz foreigner, if come to Singapore, bring the ones who appreciate the opportunity lah. Gahment kay kiang get people who economically mobile can suka suka leave also.

Singaporean got benefit of house, medical saftey net then maybe reservist is worth it lah. Club memeber must have perks mah?

forwardthinker said...

I feel it is the government who is a bit behind the times.

The modern day Singaporean has more choice and is fleet of foot. This is only the natutral course of things.

At the same time, some entrenched views on the part of the ruling autocracy has not helped particularly attitudes to gays.

Compound with the unequal playing field with regard NS Reserve service and the leg up foreign talent enjoy and it is not surprising that some may find emmigration a viable option.

Rather than discount these voices, we should be taking some of these gripes seriously, particularly if they represent a growing pattern.

Don't bury your head in the sand.

Perhaps a more prudent question in this day and age is how large an army do we need?

The current NS Reserve obligations stand from requirements in the 70s when thinking was on a matrix of 3 to 1 to overcome any potential threat particularly with a forward defense strategy in mind.

Do we need that sort of numbers when we can leverage on technology and with a substantial lead in Air assets established these days?

Would regular NS and a substantially cut down Reserve period suffice?

Rather than hold to the dogma currently, the SAF should put more research into this matter particularly bearing in mind most top end armies have undergone size reductions in recent years to no detriment to combat capability.

Do we need to sustain such a big force size?

Anonymous said...

I am 33, lived in the UK for more than 10 years like Alex but unlike him, I kept my citizenship and returned to Singapore last year

I think it's unfair that you criticize him for a change of stance between 2008 and 2013. When I graduated in 2004, the opportunities in finance (which is what I do) is definitely greater in London than Singapore. This was pre-Lehman and London was a boomtown. Fast forward to 2013, Singapore is hands down the boomtown, with most requests for transfers from West to East rather than the other way round

I would admit the unknown fear of how reservist liabilities could impact my career was a big push factor. You see, when I worked in London, I was working 14-16 hour days, 6 days a week, I don't recall taking any holidays apart from maybe a week in Singapore every other year. Yes, I am a workaholic but I got ahead in my work that way. I wasn't sure that taking 2-4 weeks off every year for reservist would go down at all within the firm. I'm not talking about getting paid a bit less, I'm talking about not having a job. Maybe my fears are unfounded, but I did enjoy having a fair competition with my colleagues and not as someone who is on a backfoot for having to get called for 2-4 weeks every year

So as I said, I did return. I'm not sure how my job is going to work out. I returned because all else being equal, I do prefer to live in Singapore. Again the push/pull balance has changed, Singapore has become more dynamic, there are more opportunities and taxes are lower

Yet, I can also, hand on heart, say that as a Singaporean male in the workplace, I am a second-class citizen. In my 9 years working in London, I have never felt discriminated against. Not once. Never have I felt that the white guy will be promoted ahead of me because of his colour. Not once. Here, my peers use up their holidays and plan for 2 X 2 weeks holiday. I have to think about whether I can take a holiday after my 3-week reservist without pissing off my boss. There are conferences I attend which are immovable, i.e they take place at the same time every year, can I tell my unit that look, if I don't turn up for that, I might as well quit my job? No. But apparently, the government doesn't think this ball and chain is a form of discrimination. Look, if I were an employer, I would also prefer to hire someone who's available and willing to put his heart and soul into his work. Boss, I'm able and willing but the army wants me back. What to do? LanLan

No, NS is not fair. It's not fair that after A levels, all the guys get their heads shaven and sent to Tekong while the girls sip cocktails at W Hotel on Sentosa. It is not fair that girls are now eligible for SAFOS (yes, SAFOS) but not liable for conscription

So guys, wish me luck, I hope my trip back to Singapore works out. I probably have a backdoor back to London. But I don't want to go back to London

Anonymous said...

i am thinking - current SAF strength stands at 300,000 right ?

Say give 12,000 men to x01 division. We have an equivalent of 5 Divisions (exclusing the 25th Reserves Division) - a total of 60,000 men.

Say we plus 40,000 men for all the HQ staff, Airforce, Navy, training schools, Music and drama company, REMFs, etc. - Giving a grand total of 100,000 men.

So with 300,000 men we can fight 3 times over? ... LOL !

Of course no Army in this world will say they have too many soldiers liao. Usually they are forced to cut manpower by gov budget and political forces at play in their country.

Am just thinking if we can re-look our force structure and get it in tune with the global and regional geopolitical reality, balance with our projected realistic manpower draw down, i think SAF should still be a very formidable military force till 2040.

Granted, in the future we may not have the luxury to claim we have 300,000 men but by then we can project a fully integrated Air-Sea-Land force structure - expanded Air Force and Naval assets which combined with our Land force is more than the sum of the individual parts.

Anonymous said...

Continuing from above 2:00 PM.

Served 2.5 years, completed 7 high 3 low with deferments ...sustained slipped disc during the middle of the high keys, now living with the consequence, more than 10 years liao... in recent years funny feeling that right shoes (several pairs) are always "bigger" than the left side haha.

My bugbear with the NSmen thingee is the yearly IPPT. Don't really mind the ICT though. I would think life as a reservist will be more bearable without the IPPT. And i sincerely belief it can be achieved without sacrificing individual combat fitness. But it will involves some give and take.

Why not build-in reservist physical conditioning exercises into their annual ICT? Say for the first week of ICT, they do physical training in the morning sessions followed by combat/trade refreshers in the afternoon. With gradual build up of intensity. The unit is split into age groups for better targeted physical conditioning. Followed by unit and then battalion exercises the next week. Very pack right? So some give and take is in order. May need to employ professional Physical conditioning sports physiotherapist or sub out the activity to a Pte. Ltd. Have a professional arms kote (CISCO) taking care of small arms and heavy support weapons issuing and accounting to speed things up. Expand vehicle washing bay to accommodate one company worth of combat vehicles! Cannot get bangla to wash your vehicle lah, the horse, the saddle then the man still holds true. Then no need to draw lots kena wash vehicle at 3am after exercise cut. But can get bangla to clean up the washing bay, free up the soldier to tend to his weapons and fighting systems. Pampered? No choice, give and take.

Bear in mind we are a conscription force. citizen soldiers. Remember the CO related his experience while training with the US army, all all volunteer force. He was in a command post out field, there was no NS boys cheap labour avail to them, so the Captains and Majors take turn to top up the diesel electric generator.

Maybe in the SAF, we have too many NS boys (aka cheap labour) so give rise to a certain culture? But the "slaves" are now fighting back? Haha...

yk said...

It seems like you prefer attacking the messenger rather than the message. This whole blog post appears to be written to cast aspersions on Alex and Alvin; as if that diminishes their arguments in any way. Why don't you try rebutting their points instead, and not just point to some FAQ or what Dr Goh Keng Swee said in the 1960s?

With regards to Alex, he actually posted his full interview with BBC on his blog. I think you should be able to find it, given that you seem to be quite good at digging out what he said in the past. As a former journalist yourself, I think you should know that BBC couldn't have put his full interview in the magazine and only included selected portions of the interview in that article. I don't think the selected bits in the BBC article give a full picture of his motivations in leaving Singapore.

By the way, his most recent post: , appears to be written partially in reply to what you wrote above. I would suggest you read that.

As for Alvin, saying that he is immature doesn't make your arguments more coherent or mature. Please focus on his arguments rather than make ad hominem attacks on his maturity or his interests. And please understand that there is a vast difference in the degree of regimentation in the outside world vs the SAF (which Alvin was referring to in his blog). Just because you are in love with the SAF doesn't mean that people outside follow the same practices. It will be a terrible day if the rest of society is subjected to the kind of regimentation that exists in the SAF.

Anonymous said...

Whether Alex left Singapore because he was gay isn't and should be relevant in the discussion on NS. The points he made about NS and Singaporean men being treated like second-class citizens in our own country holds true - situation has improved slightly after the drubbing the PAP took at the polls in 2011, but no where near the inequality Singaporean men are subject to.

And to the commentators who think that NS is the highlight and pride of your life, the issue here is the forced conscription of Singaporean men and the inequality they have suffered in their own country as a result. You can talk about your national pride and nonsense like that - by all means go sign on or even volunteer to serve the SAF more than your legally required minimum but do not assume that everybody wants to be like you!

asdf said...

David, I think your post exemplifies everything that is wrong about NS in Singapore. The army thinks that NS should be placed above everything - it doesn't matter if you get sacked from your job if you leave for 2 weeks or if you are unemployed and really need those 2 weeks to search for a job - just come back for ICT. Every one who doesn't believe in that is immature and unpatriotic. Please remember that NSmen like us will only defend Singapore if there is something to defend. If your country doesn't care about your livelihood, why should you care about its survival?

I'm really disappointed that you chose to attack Alex and Alvin personally instead of answering their statements. But then again, as someone who is beholden to the defense industry in Singapore, you probably had no choice.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering what point Mr Boey was trying to make by dragging Ms Liang Hwee Ting, whom i assume is probably a former colleague, into this argument.

Maybe try limiting the collateral damage a bit?

Anonymous said...

Leave him and his sister alone, Mr. Boey.

This is not an honorable post.

Not everyone who leaves is a quitter; not everyone who stays is a stayer.

I usually enjoy your posts and insights but I really do feel you've crossed a line here.

Should you enjoy pursuing this brand of putative investigative journalism, it will be better spent on political leaders and our senior military leaders who emigrated after their stint.


DChopra said...


The way we are moving, we are creating the Singaporean male into a sort of martial order in our social structure.

In which case perhaps, rather than fight it we should embrace it but add in necessary benefits to encourage the completion of Reserve service.

1) Work out better perks for membership particularly based on length of service in the Reserves. Particularly in fields of housing, medical and pension.

2)Re look at the optimal size of the army and the necessary force structure we will need whilst leveraging on technology and force multipliers/high end systems.

3)Increase quotient of regular servicemen (this is already happening to some extent) + perhaps bolster shortfall in infantry with slight increase in Gurkhas.

4) Cut down length of Reservist service. Add more flexibility to scheduling of Reserve training particularly in low key years. Again to some extent this is already being explored.

5) Afford a more inclusive and tolerant social environment to our straight jacket approach over many decades in lieu of a changing world. just as Expats/PRs in Singapore have means and mobility to leave, so do Singaporeans in this increasingly flat and connected world. By ignoring the warning signs and sweeping them under the carpet, we are myopic to the changes that are happening around us currently.

Military manpower issues are real with falling birth rates despite generous incentives and a good number of PRs choosing to abscond their duty when called to.

The gripes range beyond mere service length to more social/environmental issue. Alas the one thing that will be difficult to fix will be the weather but overcrowding due to poorly thought out plans to increase population levels have exacerbated this.

Clearly, more thought has to be invested into these issues rather than castigating the naysayers and poo pooing their opinions as simply 'immature'.

This is what I am getting from the discussion here. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I am also wondering why we need such a big army.

Nowadays many Army (British example) much smaller and brigade based for mobility.

Some more, birth rate as mentioned dropping, the quality of manpower available suffer.

Some of the soldiers in certain units really, I rather serve without.

Army size is previously dictated by size of military of nearest neighbour in matching 3 to 1 advantage for forward defense.

We did not have that strong an air force then.

Maybe now is time to rethink how we can reduce force level whilst keeping (increasing) the high end technological edge.

I think we are in danger of defending a system that may need a bit of updating.

I am also not sure we use our available manpower in the most efficient manner.

Remember when I was serving there was a guy who was an aerospace drop out (due to educational funds). he had 20-20 eyesight and tried to apply to the Air force but they would not take him (or even consider him) because of lack of paper qualifications. This is quite myopic no?

Do we need to fill five divisions these days to defend our property?

Regular force + NS is presently close to 70K probably dropping to 55-60K due to drop in NS numbers.

Both UK and Malaysia hover around 100K in manpower.

Do we honestly need 300K++ and out of shape 30-40 year olds struggling in 30c++ heat following 11 months of air conditioned office work?

Maybe in our case presently, it is an issue of less is more. Cut down the manpower(units) and increase the available number of better quality manpower in the process.

For that matter, this whole perennial debate about Malays, are we neglecting a strong pool of manpower in funneling a higher percentage of Malays to the Police force and Civil Defense? Should Civil Defense instead be composed of older reservist? Do we need that many NS Policemen in this day and age of cameras and technology enhancers.

I feel Singapore is a bit behind the times with regard these issues.

Some thought needs to go in to review what we consider conventional wisdom when it comes to manpower and the army/SAF.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous above,

Yeah considering the size of the force that the US had to dismantle Sadaam (Granted overwhelming air superiority and in numbers), I'd say the matrix has changed whereby previously it was assumed you need a 3 to 1 advantage in attack.

Better fewer but competent (and fit) soldiers than more but with some rough edges due to manpower limits trying to meet unrealistic number goals.

I'd say SAF should adopt a more nuanced approach in providing incentive to serve NS and Reservist service. There should be a concrete benefit in serving that should at very least reward those who go through the full service and if not motivate others to complete.

Present system is unimaginative and present size I feel is only there as paper strength to funnel through the hordes of BGs we graduate through.

As an institution the SAF is in danger of becoming self serving rather than tailored to need.

Whilst ideal to have numbers, I'm not convinced we can't do without.

ah seng said...

get lost every NS haters. If you keep on complaining, I doubt you can ever find a solution. Best solution for you guys - migrate elsewhere.

I am a proud Singaporean. I enjoyed my time in NS and will be more than willing to serve the country in times of peace or war. Hopefully, war will be faster coz I could not wait to see JB as another territory of S'pore.

BuaykengBuayChutPeng said...

I refer to Anonymous Oct 15 12.05am

"And to the commentators who think that NS is the highlight and pride of your life, the issue here is the forced conscription of Singaporean men and the inequality they have suffered in their own country as a result. You can talk about your national pride and nonsense like that - by all means go sign on or even volunteer to serve the SAF more than your legally required minimum but do not assume that everybody wants to be like you!"

Based on replies like these I really think we should scrap the current ICT/IPPT/RT system immediately to give our citizens a fighting chance in the workplace and start restructuring the SAF for an all-volunteer National Service system.

I had a horrendous near-miss experience in my BMTC live-firing 300m rundown, where some of us nearly got shot due to one inattentive asshole’s mistake. 2 details were in the butt for their 300-200-100-50m rundown. The firing detail was at the 50m mark while the other was at the 300m, ready to start after the 50m firing detail were finished. Command was given for the 50m ppl to load and make ready and somehow one guy at the 300m mistook the command for his detail and proceeded to do the same.

When the OTOT command was given, the 300m guy let off 4 rounds towards the targets AND the 50m firing detail before being stopped by the commanders on the ground. It was a miracle no one at the 50m mark were hit or injured, but then again back in those days we were still using iron sights with low accuracy for beginner shooters.

From what I know, the 300m guy was just plain bo-chup and just trying to go through the motions, like the majority of Singaporean guys in NS. Over the course of my NSF life, I can safely say the majority of conscripts I encountered were like this idiot. Based on my experience, it’s really no point in making these people serve if their hearts and minds are not in it, especially in the countless risky/dangerous situations we are forced into. We are better off with an all-volunteer force, which should be compensated at market rates, along with benefits like subsidies for further education and housing to put them on par with their compatriots who did not serve.

I dare say the current inefficient state of the SAF, along with the abysmally low morale of the conscripts is unsustainable in the long run. Traditionally, the SAF has thrown manpower at any problem, big or small because they can afford to since they have a captive pool of low-cost resources at their disposal, which essentially ends up dumbing down our male Singaporean core, making it harder for guys to re-integrate into society and the workforce at the end of their NSF days. With a smaller force, commanders will be forced to use their manpower much more wisely and “employ technology as a force multiplier”.

AhBengTioBayPiowGoHoliday said...


eh bruther don't bedek lah, anchua ani siow on?

I also proud Singaporean mah but nimpeh oready sacrifice 2 years, why must serve Reservist until 40? For what? Got see lao peng boh?

Gahment too many BG, system oready like that lor. Bo pian. For us LPPL

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the number of speccys in Recon units?

One guy got 800 eyesight. When he lost his glasses, habis! Blind. Unit have to lead him out of jungle. No productivity, vulnerable to everything. This is suppose to be an elite unit.

Instead of combat glasses, Army prefer to issue goggles.

No point having big size army when quality of manpower suffers.

Look good on mindef sponsored youtube site but reality is very different my friend.

Go JB? Sorry Recon party cannot find their way. Forgot to carry spare glasses.


Anonymous said...

Reservist sucks.

My unit is older but our equipment is also old.

We don't get the fancy new SBO load bearing gear etc that the NS Regular boys get.

Instead we lao chiow have to suffer with older and heavier equipment after having to adapt to hot jungle environment following long and hard work through the year in an office environment.

Some more my unit is understrength.

7 man section infantry becomes 5man because so many report sick. Platoon can barely muster 15 at times particularly during the June ICT.

Makes you wonder if we are just wayang or can really work as advertised during emergency.

Currently, new tech military have many specialized units. This put strain on already shrinking NS regular cadre.

then when they recycle to Reservist, they have to re-role.

I feel not much thought is put into how to use manpower most efficiently, instead a lot (Reservist especially) concentrating on paper strength in reality.

I don't mind serve reservist but I cannot stand wasting time, particularly when job is at stake.

Anonymous said...

Personally I don't mind serving but I already did my time utang to country serving the 2 years ++

At most I can expect to serve another 6 years + in reservist.

Why must Reservist be so long?

IMO no one (except special unit/skills) should be serving past 30.

If at most past 30, then those guys should go to Civil Defense duty not, bashing through jungle.

IMO 6 years is about right. Give you another 6 units replicating what you were in when in NS (say an Infantry unit = 2 brigades worth)

After that you are pushing up your civilian job ladder and then the NS really becomes a hindrance especially if you are moving into more senior management positions

Not sure why the reservist service is so long. Some of the older units don't seem very fit for combat or we are simply collecting more units than we need to. This should not be confused with capabilities.

Would be interesting if David can help shed light about how MINDEF goes about allocating manpower resource. Not sure what the numbers are but curious.

Anonymous said...

Have completed all my ICT already and now under MR.

Even from my little role I can sense that manpower planning was inefficient: Too many NSFs were assigned to roles that expired after they ord. My reservist unit was operating at 50% combat strength while there were always excess cooks, clerks, storemen, drivers, signallers, RPs. Am not undermining these vocations - most of these guys are not even familiar with their NSmen vocation becos their 2-2.5 years were spent on jobs that has no reservist equivalents. It also gives NS a bad name because some people, in fact, are recalled back to do nothing. Word spread around.

Cross training will also improve manpower utilisation. I have never understand the need for specialised driver vocation. These guys suffered fatigue during long convoy movements but have nothing much to do once the unit is deployed. Accidents can also be reduced if such tasks can be rotated. During an exercise involving foreign counterparts, I noticed that there was no qualms for the foreign NCO to take over the wheel while his subordinate takes on the vehicle commander role. Their focus was to avoid accidents arising from fatigue and boredom. SAF requirements would be the same three persons (driver, vehicle commander, 2IC at truck rear) throughout the entire convoy movement, be it a 15min sprint or 15hour ride.

Raider said...

Even though i do not hate NS and find the two years in a combat unit exciting, i hate the current Government for not placing our citizens first when it comes to jobs, way and quality of life, housing, education. They even have the cheek to say we are serving for the "priviledge" of being born here and enjoying the fruits of our country's prosperity!

Take a good look at Holland Village, Clarke Quay, expatriates all around. Are they NS serving Singaporeans? Enjoying the peace and freedom that the SAF ensures 24/7?

Look at NUS/NTU. Foreign students with paid Singapore Government scholarships? How many of our guys are paying fees on their own or thru parents or how many were rejected to make way for these "talent".

So what is the "priviledge" of a Singaporean IC or serving our country, living thru the worse conditions a soldier has to bear, "Temburong Jungle anyone?"
For us to be trodden on by our own Government?

Not being a keyboard warrior and having served two years NSF and 3 out of my 6 years NSmen obligation (compared to 10 years for other vocations), i am still looking for the brightside of being a Singaporean.


Frank said...

Serving NSF and NSReserve should come with tiered benefits.

The more you serve the more rewards you get as an incentive.

If you are combat side, you should also get better rewards.

Like in other countries, if someone serve military, they are taken care of for life.

Maybe we don't need to go quite as far but at least there should be better reward the more you serve.

Instead government think we owe the country big time.

Nowadays, this is outdated. Singaporeans don't like, they can always leave.

Government bring in all these new Singaporeans but they are all able to leave when they want and will when the going gets bad

The thinking is all wrong. We are not engendering a sense of belonging. We are creating a sense of self alienation.

If this guy in the blog is part of the thinking of the younger generation, then you should wake up and pay some attention and not get left behind and castigate him instead (however flawed you feel his thinking is)

Frank said...

Serving NSF and NSReserve should come with tiered benefits.

The more you serve the more rewards you get as an incentive.

If you are combat side, you should also get better rewards.

Like in other countries, if someone serve military, they are taken care of for life.

Maybe we don't need to go quite as far but at least there should be better reward the more you serve.

Instead government think we owe the country big time.

Nowadays, this is outdated. Singaporeans don't like, they can always leave.

Government bring in all these new Singaporeans but they are all able to leave when they want and will when the going gets bad

The thinking is all wrong. We are not engendering a sense of belonging. We are creating a sense of self alienation.

If this guy in the blog is part of the thinking of the younger generation, then you should wake up and pay some attention and not get left behind and castigate him instead (however flawed you feel his thinking is)

Anonymous said...

@ Frank

The problem is numbers.

There is nothing wrong with the NSF/Reservist set up apart from maybe length of service can be further trimmed.

However manpower drain (as will be the main concern for the military above the personal choices of the bloggers) will be the main concern (should be) for military planners.

Our population is too small to sustain the numbers the army requires presently particularly with birth rate in mind.

Thereby if the foreigners being admitted do not sink roots or are not committed to the NS ideals, then the situation is not rectified.

There are two solutions :

1) Reduce Army strength.

2) Increase Population.

If increase in population then we must also factor other criteria into our selection process aside from academic or economic considerations.

For example, maybe the granting of citizenship or PR must come with a bond for the child to serve his NS.

Also we may like to target a percentage of immigrants who have kids.

There should also be a carrot as mentioned by others above that service as such will bring rewards.

This should be made clear.

One group of individuals I never really understood why the govt does not grant some form of possible citizenship are children of Gurkhas serving here.

Also instead of running to India and China all the time for immigrants to play their race percentage game, why not look for kin folk in neighboring countries? Malaysia has many disgruntled Tamils of poor economic opportunity.

Indonesia may have very wealthy Chinese but there are also Chinese who are not quite as wealth disposed.

Both groups will face far less problems settling in to our social context.

If the answer (and it could be both) is to reduce the Army strength, this will also ease pressure on manpower.

Either way if population is set to increase, it is obvious that pressure on land will be a very big issue. We should be looking at alternatives in housing some of the expected population Singaporeans, PR or Expats through arrangements with neighboring countries (SIROJI triangle being the best bet)

Finally I think the govt needs to also figure out the percentage of foreign talent/Expat/PRs to new citizens.

Ideally in context of the army, we should be comfortable if the local citizenship nears 5m. That represents a big 1.6m increase to where we are now but if we are going to bring in foreign workers or talent, we may as well bring some of those in on a permanent basis, particularly the ones who prove they are ready to work hard and settle in.

Perhaps a probationary period can be given to assess these individuals whether they fit in socially after which grant them citizenship, allow them to bring in family or set up one.

I suspect the govt will find this difficult though because of it's elitist policies. But you need both to work, both the brains to create jobs and the hands to do it.

Some 'low end' immigration may be benefitial particularly as these are the sort of people who would appreciate the opportunities Singapore gives and stay to earn their stripes.

Anonymous said...

I think SAF needs to trim its personnel to fit changing/evolving operation needs in addition to upcoming changes to NS (hopefully) as Def Min completes his visits of Swiss and Finnish conscription to "strengthen" NS. Even US Army is going away from Divisional-level deployments and focusing instead on Brigade and Battalion-level ops. We're quite top-heavy (too many officers): All our Apaches are operated officers, but I've never seen US Army's Apache operated by officers. They are Staff Sergeants and WO. Maybe the thinking was only officers had the educational background to operate hightech equipment. Not anymore. NCOs can do it.

Anonymous said...

Even though it is recorded in the Hansard that Alex Liang is gay, he is still brazenly denying it.

What a disgrace!

Anonymous said...

am just thinking... if we can be more than 75% secure in sourcing for our own water and not have to rely on the water falls from Malaysia, this reality will alter the whole SAF doctrinal and thus manpower drawer plan. Maybe we can don't need 300,000 men (?) Because by then there is no strategic need to "cover ground" all the way to Muar.

Anonymous said...

minum air laut lahh kawan..

Anonymous said...


SAF is planning a voluntary corp for Women and PRs. They will also go through combat training and subject to annual call up.

Me just hope that they do not go thru' a watered down version of our BMT. Else they think that wah, SAF training so chicken feet one ah, even a PR like me also can pass ...chey!

Can do a write up on this?


Anonymous said...

Above, very interesting.

I'm wondering how this would be done. Women regulars are already present in most vocations, and they tend to be highly motivated as they are volunteers.

If you mean a voluntary corps of reservists, I wonder who would want to do this. It amounts to creating such problems for your employer as would disadvantage your own career, and creating a real childcare challenge if one's husband is already subject to annual call up. That second problem itself is a strong reason not to subject women to NS.

Anonymous said...

Yes, was also thinking along the same line, i.e. women have their own family to take care off especially their husband kena recall back to camp during war time.

But then again looking at the demographic trend of female sinkies, increasingly there are more women not going to get married. No doubt not many, if the SAF can muster one battalion size of 500+ that is considered a coup! And if they can spread the combat trained female troopers into the homeland defence battalions and/or KINS, they do have a role to contribute ...

But PR should not be given the ticket to enter SAF. Dangerous. By looking at the racial profile of the current PRs in sinkie land and the coming regional flare up in the south china sea ...even though sinkie land is not a claimant but...

Anonymous said...

Don't even talk about trusting PRs. I was thinking, it might be practical to enlist women into the police and civil defence as patrol constables, paramedics and drivers. And move our male citizens from the police and civil defence into the army.

But does the government trust them to be in the army?

Anonymous said...

I don't think NS is about defence anymore these days. It's more for social engineering purposes. Put impressionable potentially rebellous teenagers through NS for 2 years and out comes the average compliant Singaporean.

Defence is best left to regular career soldiers who like being soldiers and who train everyday. Singapore can afford to do this.