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Singapore Armed Forces
Flag of the Singapore Armed Forces.svg Singapore Armed Forces Crest.svg
Flag and Crest of the Singapore Armed Forces
Service branches Singapore Army Service Flag.svgSingapore Army
Naval Ensign of Singapore.svgRepublic of Singapore Navy
Republic of Singapore Air Force Service Flag.svgRepublic of Singapore Air Force
Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean
Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Desmond Kuek Bak Chye
Military age 16.5 years of age (voluntary)
Conscription 18 years of age, 24 month period
Available for
military service
1,292,471, age 18–49 (2005 est.)
Fit for
military service
934,317, age 18–49  (2005 est.)
Active personnel 72,500 (incl. 39,800 conscripts)
Reserve personnel 312,500 (2005 est.)
Budget SGD 11.447 billion (FY09)[1]
Percent of GDP 6.00% (FY09) [2]
Domestic suppliers ST Engineering
Foreign suppliers  France
 United States
Related articles
History Military history of Singapore
Ranks Singapore Armed Forces ranks

The Singapore Armed Forces (abbreviation: SAF, Malay: Angkatan Bersenjata Singapura, Simplified Chinese: 新加坡武装部队; Tamil: சிங்கப்பூர் ஆயுதப்படை) is the military arm of the Total Defence of Singapore; as well as the military component of the Ministry of Defence. The SAF comprises three branches: the Singapore Army, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The SAF protects the interests, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Singapore from external threats.

The SAF relies heavily on a large pool of conscripts in the active and reserve forces. It has an active strength of around 72,500 personnel and is capable of mobilising over 300,000 reservists.



Singapore's military role stems from its strategic geographical location, an asset exploited by local settlers and foreign colonists alike. Archaeological excavations have discovered remnants of forts and other forms of military fortifications in pre-colonial Singapore. Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of modern Singapore, selected Singapore in 1819 to establish a new colony with the security concerns of British interests in the Far East in mind against the Dutch. Thus, Singapore played an active role in British military interests for decades, particular in the years leading up to the world wars.

The Singapore Armed Forces has its humble origin in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF, formed in 1922), 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 Singapore Army.[3] In 1915 it helped suppress the mutiny of 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. After the end of World War 2, the SSVF was re-constituted in 1948, but the Singapore Volunteer Force (SVF) in the SSVF was absorbed into the Singapore Military Forces (SMF, which is the predecessor of SAF) following the disbandment of the SSVF in 1954. Subsequently in 1961, SMF was renamed as Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

At the time it achieved independence in 1965 however, Singapore's military consisted of only two infantry regiments, commanded by British officers and made up of mostly non-Singapore residents. The small nation, surrounded by its much larger neighbors believed that it needed a larger force. To that end, Singapore secretly contacted Israel, which sent military advisers who helped Singapore set up a defence force modeled in part after the IDF.[4]

Singapore Armed Forces Day is commemorated on July 1 with an annual parade.[5]

Defence policy

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,[6] Singapore is known to be using a forward-defence military doctrine. Press statements from MINDEF describe the SAF as a deterrent force.[7] The SAF's declared mission statement is to "enhance Singapore's peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and shoun a relatively quick and cost-effective fashion. Today, a career military force of 32,700 is supplemented by 39,800 men on active National Service duty. The main force actually comprises 350,000 or so Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (ORNSmen).

The SAF's policy towards Malays, who share a religion and ethnic ties with Singapore's largest neighbors 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[8] and, after the policy was eased, were assigned mainly to serve in the police and civil defence (fire brigade), not active combat roles[8]. 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"[9] 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"[10]. 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."[11]

Women are exempt from National Service, but have served in both combat and non-combat roles, some as combat officers, but mostly in clerical and logistic positions in the earlier years[12]. The range of positions available to women has been expanded gradually, but is still limited[10]. In July 2007, the SAF launched an exhibition highlighting the contributions of women in the armed forces.[13]

National Service

All fit and able-bodied Singaporean men are enlisted into military service, or Full-Time National Service (NSF). It is compulsory for all said men who have reached 18 years of age and are not deferred for educational reasons.

Full-time national service (NSF) was initially three years for commissioned officers and two years for other ranks, but it was later changed to two years and six months for soldiers with the rank of Corporal or higher, and two years for those with the rank of Lance Corporal or lower. In June 2004, NSF was shortened to two years for all full-time national servicemen (NSFs), regardless of rank, due to changes in population demographics and manpower requirements. 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). Most NSmen will have to go through a 10-year cycle of military training with their assigned NS unit. NSmen are called up annually for training, courses and physical fitness tests.


All combatant troops go through a 3-month Basic Military Training (BMT), held either at the Basic Military Training Centre on the offshore island of Pulau Tekong, or at the various military units which directly accept mono-intake recruits. Recruits go through courses including field craft, basic jungle survival, camouflaging, operating their personal weapon and basic marksmanship. Non-mono-intake recruits are also assessed during BMT to spot potential officers and specialists, who are thereafter posted to the Officer Cadet School or the School of Infantry Specialists respectively. Other recruits are posted to various units or schools, where they may continue on specialised vocational training.

Due to limited space within Singapore's territorial land and waters, some training programmes and facilities are located overseas.

Military education

Initially, commissioned officers were drawn exclusively from the ranks of Singaporeans who had completed their GCE A levels or embarked on tertiary studies[14]. While the requirements have since been relaxed, the SAF has still been criticized for "using a promotion system that is based more on education and scholarships than on proven competence"[10].

Officers receive their initial leadership training at the tri-service Officer Cadet School (OCS) in the SAFTI Military Institute (SAFTI MI), which is the Home of the Officer Corps. 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, also at SAFTI MI.

In parallel, Specialists first receive leadership training at the School of Infantry Specialists (SISPEC) at Pasir Laba Camp, home of the Warrant Officer and Specialist Corps. Future Platoon Sergeants and Company Sergeant Majors receive further instruction at the Advanced Specialist Training Wing (ASTW) in the SISPEC. Specialists undergo further education at the SAF Warrant Officer School before receiving their appointments as Warrant Officers.

OCS and SISPEC 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), Supply & Transport Centre (STC), Ordnance Engineering Training Institute (OETI), etc.

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.

Foreign defence relations

Singapore is a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangements together with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia. Designed to replace the former defence role of the British in Singapore and Malaysia, the arrangement obligates members to consult in the event of external threat and provides for stationing Commonwealth forces in Singapore.

Singapore has consistently supported a strong U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1990, the U.S. and Singapore signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which allows the U.S. access to Singapore facilities at Paya Lebar Airbase and the Sembawang wharves. Under the MOU, a U.S. Navy logistics unit was established in Singapore in 1992; U.S. fighter aircraft deploy periodically to Singapore for exercises, and a number of U.S. military vessels visit Singapore. The MOU was amended in 1999 to permit U.S. naval vessels to berth at the Changi Naval Base, which was completed in early 2001.

Singapore's defence resources have also been used for international humanitarian aid missions. These missions included United Nations peacekeeping abroad in areas such as Kosovo, Kuwait and East Timor,[15] participating in the multinational force in Iraq[16], 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.[17]

It comes under the command and control of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), which is headed by the defence minister. The current defence minister is Teo Chee Hean, also formerly the Chief of Navy who crossed over to the political side.


Under the SAF Act[18] the president 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, usually a three-star general (or Lieutenant-General) and he is assisted by the chiefs of the respective services, who are two-star generals/admirals (or Major-General/ Rear-Admiral). The current CDF is Lieutenant General Desmond Kuek Bak Chye.

   Joint Staff ---|
         |        |     |     |
      Director   COA   CAF   CNV

Supporting the combat role of the SAF, are other governmental organisations of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), such as 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 Singapore Technologies (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 which includes Special Operations Force, the Naval Diving Unit and other SAF combat forces integrated under one command to combat common terrorist threats.[19]

Technology in the SAF

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22] 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 3-man team. Today [1] MINDEF is one of the largest employers of engineers and scientists in Singapore and the SAF continues to devote considerable resources to defence 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 08, the SAF officially opened its Murai Urban Training Facility 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 uniformas well as the Advanced Combat Man System were also unveiled for the first time.

The country also has an established military manufacturing industry is responsible for the design and development of the following military hardware:

In popular culture

Television programs

  • Army Series (新兵小传), 11 March 1983
  • Airforce (空军), 10 April 1988
  • Navy (壮志豪情), 1990
  • The Reunion (顶天立地), 26 December 2001
  • Honour and Passion (宝家卫国), 24 July 2007



See also


  1. ^ Singapore's Military Budget & Expenditure 2007
  2. ^ Singapore Annual Stats
  3. ^ "History of Singapore Artillery". Ministry of Defence, Singapore. 2006-11-13. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  4. ^ Amnon Brazilai (July 2004). "A Deep, Dark, Secret Love Affair" (reprint). Haaretz. 
  5. ^ S. Ramesh (2007-07-01). "SAF remains final guarantor of Singapore's independence". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  6. ^ Tim Huxley (2000). Defending the Lion City: The Armed Forces of Singapore. St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9810491573. 
  7. ^ "Speech by Minister for Manpower & Second Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, at The International Defence Procurement Conference 2008". Ministry of Defence, Singapore. 2008-02-18. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  8. ^ a b A Question of Loyalty: Ethnic Minorities, Military Service and Resistance by Alon Peled, March 3, 1993. Seminar Synopses of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard.
  9. ^ Straits Times, 2 April 1987.
  10. ^ a b c Sean Walsh (2007). "The Roar of the Lion City: Ethnicity, Gender, and Culture in the Singapore Armed Forces". Armed Forces & Society 33 (2): 265. doi:10.1177/0095327X06291854. 
  11. ^ "US soldier takes potshots at SAF". Today. 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  12. ^ Singapore: Recruitment and Training of Personnel. Country Studies Series by Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress.
  13. ^ Women in the Armed Forces Exhibition - The Spirit of Patriotism
  14. ^ Minchin, James. No Man is an Island, p. 227. Allen & Unwin Australia, 1986.
  15. ^ "Peacekeepers : In the Service of Peace". Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  16. ^ "Singapore to send 192 military personnel to Iraq". Agence France Presse. 2003-10-27. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  17. ^ Ashraf Safdar (2007-05-16). "SAF to provide medical aid, set up dental clinic in Afghanistan". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  18. ^ The SAF Act (Cap. 295)
  19. ^
  20. ^ Da Cunha, Derek (2002). Singapore in the New Millennium: Challenges Facing the City-State. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 145. ISBN 9812301313. 
  21. ^ "MINDEF - The 3rd Generation SAF". MINDEF. Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  22. ^ (2009) Singapore Defence and Security Report Q1 2009 . Business Monitor International. (Report).

External links

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