SINGAPORE: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said one of the biggest challenges facing the future of the SAF concerns the demography of the country. He said National Service enlistment is expected to dip to about 19,500 in 2025.
Last year, there were about 26,000 Singaporeans and PRs serving NS.
Dr Ng said even with the reduction in enlistment, the Singapore Armed Forces will still be credible.
In an interview ahead of SAF Day on Sunday, Dr Ng notes that after 45 years of National Service, the public has consistently affirmed that NS is necessary.
Hari Krishnan migrated to Singapore from India 15 years ago. The 23—year—old is now a Singapore citizen and is currently doing National Service.
"Having entered NS, I’ve met different people, I’ve learnt to work as a team to help each other. I now treat this as the place I want to be, the place where I want to have my kids and get married," he said.
Since 1967, successive generations of NSmen, over 900,000 thus far, have served their duties.
The Ministry of Defence’s periodic surveys conducted regularly show that more than 90 per cent of respondents — comprising NSFs, NSmen and members of the public — consistently affirm that NS is necessary.
Dr Ng pointed out that National Service is key to Singapore’s security.
He also said that Singaporeans will stand up and fight to defend their way of life and protect the country’s sovereignty.
Dr Ng said Singapore’s fertility rate has come down and the SAF has been preparing for this demographic change.
"So, moving forward we have to continue to find ways to optimise the contributions of each NSman. It’s not only in terms of the skills and capabilities which we have to enhance our systems, to be able to train them, it’s also about how the SAF functions," he said.
The SAF is moving from a hierarchical to a flatter command and control structure. Rank and file soldiers will be able to make important decisions quickly.
Dr Ng said this transformation is on—going and will take a few more years for it to be realised.
There will not be any major policy changes as the Defence Ministry had taken into account the impact of Singapore’s demographic changes.
"We have said that for our defence spending, we spend what we need. We have said that we can spend up to 6 per cent, but in actuality, we spend less than that, so that will continue to maintain," Dr Ng said.
"Our basic philosophy in defence spending is that we spend steadily because that removes the vicissitudes of cycles, and it allows for better planning to optimise your platforms, and that’s what we have been continuing to do. So there will be no change in policy in terms of defence spending."
The SAF is also not dependent on the inflow of new citizens nor permanent residents to grow the number of enlistees. New citizens and second generation PRs must serve National Service.
Dr Ng also commented on the issue of permanent residents and National Service.
"Better don’t take up the PR if your children are not going to do NS. It’s as simple as that. In our system if you don’t fulfil your NS liabilities, even if you choose to give up your PR, there are harsh penalties," said Dr Ng.
"I have received many letters from families that are separated and they cannot come back to Singapore," he added.
Over the last five years, about a third of male foreigners who became PRs under the sponsorship of their parents renounced their PR status prior to serving NS.
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