Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The effectiveness of NSmen system

I have just come back from 3 weeks of overseas reservist training in Australia, well known code named "Ex Wallaby".

Many people wonder why am I in reservist training when I am already 39? Well, I just have bad news for officers: all officers have to serve up to 50 year old, unlike NCOs and other ranks who will have their National Service "terminated" after 10 years of service (7 high key with 3 low key) or retired into MR (main reserve) once they reach 45 year old.

Yes, I was told that Officers are to serve up till 50 year old instead of the usual "7 high key 3 low key" as announced months ago. They have made a mistake in making that announcement without stating that officers will have to serve longer.

I don't mind serving my National Service (well, it would be great if there isn't any IPPT for old bones like me! ;)) but it seems that something is not very right in terms of cost and benefits along with its effectiveness.

I met a "store man" who is actually a GM of a MNC based in Singapore. It is interesting to note that SAF is paying thousands of dollars (I guess his pay is at least $8K or above) just to get a "store man" to serve in the unit. Well, that is not all. Although SAF paid him thousands to become a store man, he could have contributed more as a GM to the economy for the 3 weeks. This opportunity cost of lost productivity is really difficult to be accounted for.

It is very difficult to expect reservist unit to achieve professional proficiency as a fighting force when they only train at most once a year. We do have very good helpful trainers to guide us along throughout these 3 weeks but how much of such experiences could be registered and pass down for future training? Especially so when the turn around time and disruption of personnel is pretty high in a reservist unit. Simple things like setting up tents and field craft have to be taught all over again for each and every in camp training, not to mention important skills and strategic concept of military planning for officers.

While we have various aide memoir, SOPs and trainers' guidance to depend on, it will really take time for officers and men to digest, master and execute properly. Besides, there are quite a lot of constrains during the exercise, from inadequate equipping, staffing to cancellation of some drills which really undermined our training objectives and purpose.

I am not saying that our unit is not performing well. In fact, our unit is performing pretty well in spite of the many constrains we faced during the whole 3 weeks. I have overheard NSF boys conversation commenting about how "on the ball" our reservist NSmen are which is way beyond their expectation. They thought NSmen are just demoralized old soldiers who could do much less in training but we proved them wrong. We have a good core of officers and NCOs to take the training seriously and making it as good as they could with various constrains. In some instances, we are more serious and on the ball than the NSF in training, poking them for many responses to make the exercise more real. However, having said that, we could not achieve higher proficiency as compared to any regular trained army although the cost of having us to train is very much higher.

Although I do not have the exact figures but I think the cost of getting NSmen to come back for training for whole year round would be tens of millions if not hundreds of millions or even billion. Would it not be more cost effective as well as more proficient to use these money to build a couple of divisions of regular, professional army instead?

Singapore has the highest defense expenditure, in terms of total amount as well as percentage of our GDP in this region. Such spending would have crowded out other expenditures like Healthcare, Education or even social welfare spending.

Defense budget is always regarded as "sacred" as the emphasis on defense is always portrayed as the utmost top priority for the Nation. The attitude of "no question ask" is eminent for the past decades even when it escalated throughout the years. Defense spending has long become the top item in our annual budget and intriguingly, nobody seems to be interested in questioning the rational behind the ballooning budget year after year.

Could we achieve more productive, proficiency and effective defense with less money? We could if we stop paying thousands of dollars for just a store man. The whole concept of NSmen system will have to be modified or even changed radically.

We could have maintained a professional army of 2 or even 3 Divisions with supplements from Voluntary corps and even paramilitary divisions via the 2 years National Service system. We could have trained enough drivers, technically skilled soldiers from the early days of 2 years NS. From the cohort, those who are willing to become part of the regular army will form the 2 Divisions of regular Guards while NS officers and NCOs could opt to become part of the Volunteer Corps that will train regularly with the professional army just like what we are doing right now as NSmen. This will close the loop of first tier reserves for the regular army and they could well become the leaders of the paramilitary force formed by the bulk of other ranks in time of war.

The paramilitary force could well be called up for refresher courses 3 (for combat troopers) or 5 years apart. This will minimize cost, be it real or opportunity costs to the Nation's economy in terms of productivity lost. It will also minimize unnecessary disruptions to Singaporeans' livelihood.

War does not occur suddenly in modern times. There will always be a build up time for war to occur, most probably 6 to 12 months lead time. If there is such urgency in the situation of eminent threat of war, paramilitary groups could be called up more advanced training schedule to equip them with refresher program and crush course on handling of new military equipment and such. Stretching over a period of 6 months would be sufficient enough for war preparations.

This three tier defense setup would have saved a lot of resources with certain level of assurance of proficiency in the first contact forces i.e. the 2 Divisions of regular professional army. These forces are back up by the Volunteer Corps which are capable to lead the paramilitary forces into war if necessary.

To maintain a highly proficient army based largely on conscripts is never easy. The problem will be expounded when this is done in a prolonged manner without real threat of war eminent. We are unlike Israel or Taiwan which face clear and present danger of war each other day. Even for Taiwan which is technically at war with PRC, it has cut down its conscription. The besiege mentality of Singapore must change to make ways for better utilization of resources.

There are many other ways to moderate our defense spending and I believe there may be people with more creative, effective and efficient plans to help us in this without compromising on our safety. What I am stating here is just my thoughts of changing our defense strategy and structure after attending 3 weeks of overseas training. It may not be a perfect plan but I hope it could get people start thinking about containing our defense spending, wastage of productivity and manpower etc.

Goh Meng Seng


Anonymous said...

You are only 39???????????????/

You can fake off as 50 man!!!! LOL

Anonymous said...

The purpose of ICT is to refresh NSmen. How does having 2 Divisions of regular professional army help refresh Nsmen?

You got your priority wrong. I understand where you're coming from but you got to get the priority right. The cost of it is inevitable. What they can also do is to make companies absorb the cost but then another group will come and say not fair to companies again.

Life is not a zero sum game so live and let live.

Anonymous said...

i thought for NCO, it stops at 40?
You said 45.

Anonymous said...

this ns ict policy is really ridiculous. this forced conscription and serve reservist till you die policy, together with the fact that numerous PAP ministers hold important positions in the army, is designed to let the PAP government maintain a firm grip on both the army and the general populace at the same time.

Unless we finally get to kick PAP out of the parliament, any attempts to change the NS policy will always be shot down by fear mongering with the same old tired reasons, like what anon 6.31 had attempted to relate in the earlier comment.

Anonymous said...

1) Israel does not call up reservists except in times of war. I believe Taiwan does not either.

2) I guess Taiwan and Israel has their priorities wrong.

3) Companies do foot a share of NSmen costs in the form of Employer's CPF that is not reimbursed. Companies that persist in Singaporean men clearly have their priorities wrong too.

Galven Lee said...

i was at wallaby too, and i saw your name, and for a moment i wondered whether it was you. guess it was. sam hill or camp growl?

Goh Meng Seng said...

Hi Galven,

Yes, that is me. I was at Sam Hill, North Camp.

Goh Meng Seng

Anonymous said...

Run for the next election. I will vote you as the Minister for Defence!

Vincent Sear said...

Meng Seng, stage a millitary coup with your tanks and helicopters. Galven, provide backup troop support. Injured soldiers can send to medic Shin Leong.

Anonymous said...

Wah MTO, so fast got blog post about Wallaby liao! :D

It was nice chatting with you in person. Still remember you from the old sammyboy alfresco coffee shop forums.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, very.Taiwan i believe is going all professional...

We can look at the French Army model. Instead of Divisions, we build combined arms brigade.

Force projection:
1) 4 combined arms bridages
2) 2 Armoured brigades
3) 1 Parachute Regiment (Guards)
4) 1 Boat Regiment (Guards)
5) Special Operations Command (SOF Commandos)

6) 2 Artillery Command (Brigade size)
7) 2 Combat Support command (SCE)
8) 2 Service Support command
9) 1 People's Defence Force (Volunteers/reservist)

Each brigade comprise of 3 regular battalions & 1 reserves battalion (they managed their own "home" reserves).

Guards will go airborne! (2 battalions, light)+ (2 battalions amphibious)They take some of the roles as traditionally performed by commandos.

SOC will be full fledge SOF! SOF commandos.

the 6 army brigades - rotation ideally: 2 on standby/operations, 2 on training and 2 on R&R/forming.

At anyone time Singapore is protected 24/7 by 2 fighting brigades (8 battalions of combined AI, Mech Infantry and infantry)plus fighter squadron and Naval assets. Not to mention our geo (spy) satellite "ON" 24/7. ALL PROFESSIONAL FORCE!

Entice young Singaporeans to sign up (~ 4 years full time contract + 6 years reservist) Reservist - No IPPT, have only 1st yr ICT, recall Mob exercise and briefing updates. Wars don't happen over night. Subsidised HDB, Healthcare, education and partial pension. THEY DESERVE THIS.

Granted out manpower strength will be drastically reduced to a number that truly reflects our size and convey to our neighbours that our technological superiority CAN and WILL neutralise them BUT, we have no desire to hold ground such as in the form of an occupying campaign. Good diplomatic foresight for ASEAN. Continue forging close relations with our neighbours' armed forces as well as with the USA and even China! Continue hosting the US 7th fleet and create a permanent Chinese military "adviser" post in Mindef!

i'm checking myself into IMH later...thanks.