National service in Singapore
Conscription in Singapore, called National Service (NS), requires all male Singaporean citizens and non-first-generation permanent residents who have reached the age of 18 to enroll for national service. They serve a 22- or 24-month period as Full Time National Servicemen (NSFs), either in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF), or the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
When a conscript completes his full-time service, he is considered to be "operationally ready", and is thereafter known as an Operationally-Ready National Serviceman (NSman). NSmen are the equivalent of other countries' reservists.
The overwhelming majority of the conscripts serve in the Army, as part of the SAF. The reasons for this include the relative manpower needs of the Army compared with the other armed services, the SPF, and SCDF. In addition, as compared to the Army, the Air Force (RSAF) and Navy (RSN) are smaller services composed primarily of regular servicemen. As the RSAF and RSN's manpower needs tend to be more specialized, a constant turnover of staff is considered to be very disruptive.
Singapore is among the list of countries with a national service exceeding 18 months and a reservist obligation lasting up to age 40 for enlisted men and 50 for officers. Until June 2004 it had a mandatory national service periods of 30 months.
The NS (Amendment) act was passed on 14 March 1967, as the Singapore government felt that it was necessary to build a substantial military force. The country had only about 1,000 soldiers at independence. In the late 1960s, the British government had decided to withdraw its troops and bases East of Suez, including troops stationed in Singapore. That prompted the government to implement a conscription program for the country's defence. It adopted a conscription model drawing on elements of the Israeli national conscription schemes. This was done with the help of Israeli military advisers, who were closely involved in the establishment of the Singapore armed forces.
The stated rationale behind conscription is twofold. Firstly, because Singapore has a population of about five and a half million (as of 2012), an army solely of regulars would be too small to defend the country. Secondly, national service is supposed to support racial harmony among the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. Malays were virtually excluded from conscription from the beginning of the draft in 1967 until 1977 and, after the policy was eased, were assigned mainly to serve in the police and civil defence (fire brigade), not in active combat roles. 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" 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". 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."
According to the Enlistment Act, conscription is mandatory for all "persons subject to [the] act", defined as those who are not less than 16 years and 6 months of age and not more than 40 years of age, with some exemptions and with no specific bias to gender (not limited to males).
In practice however, male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents who registered NRIC at 15 years are required to register for National Service upon reaching the age of 16 years and six months, during which they would also be required to undergo a mandatory medical examination (PULHHEEMS) to determine their medical status, known as Physical Employment Status (PES), which is used as a guideline as to which vocation the person is placed in.
Male children who take up permanent residency status through their permanent resident parent's sponsorship will be required to serve National Service like other Singaporean males.
However, most male citizens enlist in Basic Military Training (BMT) at the age of 19 for junior college graduates or 20 for polytechnic graduates, and those who are involved in several events (like sports), will be enlisted after they finish one of the several event. Those who are jailed in Changi Prison are never released into Singapore Armed Forces.
Exemptions are rare and are usually due to disability or serious medical conditions under the PES F for the SAF Medical Board. Several instances do include -
- Dual citizenship
- One of the enlistee causing hardship
They are then called up for enlistment at the age of 18, but most Singaporean males would usually choose to complete their tertiary education in the respective polytechnics, high schools, junior colleges, pre-university courses or other institutions before starting the mandatory duration which they are required to serve. Those who voluntarily opt for early enlistment with the consent of their parents are allowed to begin full-time national service at the age of 16 years and six months.
In the past, the duration of the conscription for a typical Singaporean male spanned over a period of either 2 or 2 years and six months depending on his educational qualifications. In 2004, the duration was reduced to 2 years, driven by the transformation into the 3rd Generation SAF and enabled by the surge in NS intake for the next 10 years. As a further incentive, the NS duration may be cut by a further two months, if potential enlistees are able to obtain a silver or gold for their physical fitness test (NAPFA) prior to enlistment.
|Enlisted Date||Rank||Full-Time NS Duration1||Qualifications||Remarks|
|1971 till Nov 2004||Lance Corporal or lower||2 years||O Level, N Level and ITC or lower|
|1971 till May 2004||Corporal and higher||2 years 6 months||A Level and Diploma qualifications or higher||Will be promoted to at least the rank of Corporal|
|Jun 2004 till Nov 2004||Corporal and higher||2 years 2 months||A Level and Diploma qualifications or higher||NSFs currently serving then had 2 months reduction instead|
|From Dec 2004||All ranks||2 years||All qualifications|
|1. NAPFA Silver or Gold before enlistment get further 2 months reduction|
Refusal to serve and conscientious objection
Those who are liable to serve national service but refuse are charged under the Enlistment Act. If convicted, they face three years' imprisonment and a fine of S$10,000. Controversy arose when the penalties were increased in January 2006 after Melvyn Tan, who was born in Singapore, received a fine for defaulting on his National Service obligations. Tan left for London to study music during his enlistment age and later acquired British nationality. In parliament, Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean provided some illustration of the punishments defaulters would face:
- Where the default period exceeds two years but the defaulter is young enough to serve his full-time and operationally ready NS duties in full, MINDEF will press for a short jail sentence.
- Where the defaulter has reached an age when he cannot serve his full-time NS in a combat vocation or fulfil his operationally ready NS obligations in full, a longer jail sentence to reflect the period of NS he has evaded may be appropriate.
- Where the defaulter has reached an age when he cannot be called up for NS at all, a jail sentence up to the maximum of three years may be appropriate.
Each year, a small number of people are convicted for their failure to enlist or refusal to be conscripted. Most of them were Jehovah's Witnesses, who are usually court-martialled and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, but they are usually held in a low-security detention facility and separated from other conscription offenders. The government does not consider conscientious objection to be a legal reason for refusal to serve NS. Since 1972, the publications of Jehovah's Witnesses have been outlawed in Singapore. This is commonly misinterpreted to mean that Jehovah's Witnesses themselves are outlawed in Singapore.
Type of services
|Rank||Singapore Armed Forces NSF / NSmen Rank (Basic) allowance in SGD|
|1970s||1980s||1990s - Jun 2002(a)||Jul 2002 - Jun 2006(b)||Jul 2006 - Dec 2008||Jan 2009 - Sep 2009||Oct 2009 - Mar 2012||From Apr 2012|
|Lance Corporal (LCP)||$50||$135||$250||$370||$420||$440||$500|
|Corporal First Class (CFC)||NA||$510||$530||$590|
|Specialist Cadet (SCT)||NA||$490||$510||$570|
|Third Sergeant (3SG)||NA||$160||$280||$560||$610||$630||$740||$800|
|Second Sergeant (2SG)||NA||$340||$700||$750||$770||$840||$900|
|Officer Cadet (OCT)||$90||$300||$525||$630||$680||$700 ($900)||$760 ($960)|
|Second Lieutenant (2LT)||$120||$400||$650||$870||$920||$940 ($1,140)||$1,000 ($1,200)|
|Lieutenant (LTA)||NA||$450||$780||$1,050||$1,100||$1,120 ($1,320)||$1,180 ($1,380)|
|a. Additional vocationalist or combat allowances ranging from $40–$140
b. Additional vocationalist or combat allowances ranging from $100–$300 from July 2002 onwards
c. Additional allowance for key appointment holder are reduced by approx 50% due to basic service pay increased from July 2002 onwards
d. Additional allowance for Specialist and NS Men from Oct 2009 onwards Source
Figures in () applies to NSF Medical Officer/Dental Officer
There are several types of Basic Military Training (BMT) conducted by the SAF at its BMT Centre on Pulau Tekong, an island off the north-east coast of Singapore, or at the various military units which directly accept mono-intake recruits. Medically fit NSFs undergo a 9-week Enhanced BMT program. Those from lower educational backgrounds and mono-intake recruits undergo a similar program (standard BMT program), but without a Situational Test (Sit Test), used to assess trainees for posting to command schools like the Specialist Cadet School (SCS) and Officer Cadet School (OCS), occasionally a select few will later be posted to the police service for training as an Inspector. Only a few from lower education backgrounds are selected to undergo the Sit Test model.
NSFs who are less medically fit, depending on their medical condition, either have to go a 9-week Modified BMT or just 4-week induction program for recruits with certain medical conditions. NSFs who are medically fit, but have failed the pre-enlistment National Physical Fitness Award (NAPFA), will have to undergo an additional 2-month Physical Training Phase (PTP), making it a 17-week BMT program for them. Conscripts who are considered medically obese go through a special BMT program, lasting 19 weeks. The obesity of a conscript is determined by his body mass index (BMI) during the pre-enlistment medical checkup. A BMI of above 27 is considered indicative of obesity, as opposed to the World Health Organization's guideline of 30 and above.
Medically fit NSmen also have to take the IPPT every year as part of their training program.
Refers to conscripts who are directly enlisted into battalion units and undergo their basic military training there, bypassing the Pulau Tekong BMT, e.g. Naval Diving Unit, Commandos.
Though a majority will serve in the army for their National Service, a number of enlistees will serve their NS years in the Singapore Police Force (SPF). Those who have been chosen to serve in the SPF undergo training at the Home Team Academy where they study the Penal Code and standard police protocol. After training at the Academy, they will be posted to various departments of the SPF, such as Special Operations Command (SOC), Logistics, Land divisions, Airport Police. Those posted to the Police Coast Guard (PCG) or Police KINS will undergo further training. Selection of Officer Cadets (OCTs) to undergo the NS Police Inspector Course (NSPI) is a stringent process for Police National Servicemen (Full-time). A very small number, usually one who is awarded the Best Trainee Award, from each cohort will be selected, with the majority of the OCTs being the Singapore Armed Forces' National Servicemen (Full-time) who have completed their Basic Military Training (BMT).
Civil defence service
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) is the emergency rescue force of Singapore and they provide firefighting, rescue and ambulance services, and has been one of the three National Service postings since 1972. Those enlisted into the SCDF typically undergo seven weeks of training at the Basic Rescue Training Centre (BRTC), where they are given basic rescue training (BRT), exposed to regimental discipline, and trained to maintain a level of fitness required of all NSFs in Singapore.
Much like the SAF's SISPEC course, selected NSFs are also posted to the Civil Defence Academy (CDA) to undergo the Firefighter Course (FFC) or the Emergency Response Specialist Course (ERSC) within the first two weeks of their BRT stage, passing out as Firefighters for FFC trainees, and as Fire & Rescue Specialists for ERS trainees who would also simultaneously be conferred with the Sergeant rank (Firefighters mostly pass out as Lance Corporals prior to station posting). Firefighters would typically be posted out to the various fire stations island-wide after passing out, while Fire & Rescue Specialists would be posted as Section Commanders at territorial division, fire stations or at the Special Rescue Battalion; based largely on rankings at the time of course completion, a small number may also be posted as Instructors back in the CDA to staff the Command and Staff Training Center (CSTC), Specialist Training Center (STC), or Firefighting Training Center (FFTC).
While a certain level of health and fitness pre-requisites are expected by both the FFC and ERSC administrators before one can be selected for these courses, admission into the ERS course typically requires a certain set of additional qualifications, namely either a minimum of a GCE Advanced Level certificate, a Diploma or a Higher Nitec Certificate. These added pre-requisites are viewed as necessary in the light of a Section Commander's operational and administrative role when posted out. One marked difference between the FFC and ERSC is the added rescue and emergency training received by ERS Specialist Cadet Trainees (SCTs), as well as the General Command & Control Term, which includes the Basic Home Team Course held at the Home Team Academy and an outward-bound Brunei trip which serves to equip and develop the necessary leadership skills required of a specialist junior officer. In terms of administration and duration, the FFC is under the charge of the FFTC and lasts three months, while the ERSC is under the purview of the CSTC and lasts six months.
In addition, there is also the Basic Officer Course under the charge of the CSTW, designed to train NSFs and regulars as Senior Officers of the SCDF, with NSFs graduating as Lieutenants (LTA). While the BOC is traditionally largely made up of NSFs from the SAF who had just completed their Basic Military Training (BMT) at Pulau Tekong, the top 5-10% of the ERSC will also be offered to cross over to the Basic Officer Course (BOC) to be trained and commissioned as Senior Officers after passing out, spending the last three months of the BOC together with Officer Cadet Trainees (OCTs).
NSFs who undergo the full 7-week basic rescue training at the BRTC are subsequently posted and trained to become medical orderlies (medics), dog handlers, provosts, information and communications and logistics specialists or instructors (such as Physical Training Instructors) among many other vocations upon passing out from the BRTC.
Second Generation Permanent Residents are required to go through compulsory full-time national service as well as reservist duties after they have completed their full-time national service and turns operationally-ready (ORD).
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen stated in Parliament that between 2006 to 2011, about 8,800 males who had become permanent residents under the sponsorship of their parents were enlisted for and served National Service (NS). On the other hand, 4,200 males who had become permanent residents under the sponsorship of their parents renounced their PR status prior to serving national service. Their failure to serve NS will be taken into account to have adverse impact when they subsequently apply to study/ work/ visit/ travel in Singapore. These ex-PRs were sternly warned about the dire consequences of their actions at the point of renunciation.
After completing full-time national service, they are eligible to apply for Singapore citizenship. However, citizenship is not guaranteed for all applicants, as there are certain criteria that must be met such as educational qualification, income qualification and NS work performance/ conduct appraisal in the NS Certificate of Service upon ORD. From 2006 to 2010, about 2% of 3,000 Second Generation Permanent Residents who completed full-time national service and applied for Singapore citizenship were rejected.
If the person does not hold Singapore citizenship but still holds Singapore permanent residency, he is still required to serve the service requirement, i.e. reservist duties after he turns operationally-ready.
Singapore Permanent Residents who served national service but did not acquire Singapore citizenship will be treated equally to those permanent residents without service obligation; they would not have access to the privileges granted to Singapore citizens.
In popular culture
- From Boys To Men: A Literary Anthology Of National Service In Singapore edited by Koh Buck Song and Umej Bhatia (2002) - 50 works of poetry, prose & playscripts by 30 writers, from 1967 to 2002, the 35th anniversary of national service in Singapore. This anthology contains seminal works about the dilemma of duty, such as The Fragrance Of Lallang, a sonnet by Koh Buck Song.
- Army Daze by Michael Chiang (1987, 2006)
- Full Tank! (2008)
- Radio Silence (2008)
- Botak Boys (2008)
- Charged (2010)
- Every Singaporean Son (2010)
- Every Singaporean Son - Epilogue (2011)
- Making The Cut: Guards Conversion Course (2011)
- Every Singaporean Son II - The Making of an Officer (2012)
- Awards for Singapore National Serviceman
- 1954 National Service Riots - Chinese opposition to conscription service during British rule
- From Boys To Men: A Literary Anthology Of National Service In Singapore - edited by Koh, Buck Song and Bhatia, Umej (2002) Landmark Books, Singapore. ISBN 981-3065-67-2
- Shoulder To Shoulder: Our National Service Journal - Ministry of Defence, Singapore (2002) ISBN 981-04-6931-4
- iPrepNS - information on Preparation for National Service in Singapore
- Singapore Statutes Chapter 93: Enlistment Act (1967), archived in the Attorney General Chamber (AGC) of Singapore.
- Shoulder to Shoulder - Our National Service Journal - A colourful and light-hearted handbook published by MINDEF in 2002, in commemoration of 35 Years of National Service.
- The NSmen Website
- The NSmen's portal
- Enlistment Act
- Basic Military Training Graduation
- CIA = The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency
- Amnon Brazilai, "A Deep, Dark, Secret Love Affair" (reprint), Haaretz, July 2004.
- Alon Peled, A Question of Loyalty: Ethnic Minorities, Military Service and Resistance, 3 March 1993. Seminar Synopses of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard.
- Straits Times, 2 April 1987.
- 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.
- "US soldier takes potshots at SAF". Today. 12 March 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-17.[dead link]
- "Enlistment Act". Retrieved 2010-09-14.
- MINDEF - News - Ministerial Statement on Full-time National Service Duration
- MINDEF - News - Ministerial Statement on Full-time National Service Duration
- Enlistment Act
- "Ministerial Statement on National Service Defaulters by Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean" (Press release). Ministry of Defence (Singapore). 16 January 2006.
- Farah Abdul Rahim (16 January 2006). "Government to impose stiffer penalties for NS defaulters". Channel NewsAsia.
- "Refusing to Bear Arms: A worldwide survey of conscription and conscientious objection to military service: Singapore". War Resisters' International. 3 October 1998.
- MINDEF - News - Revision of National Service Allowance (16 May 02)
- "Types of BMT Training". About BMT. Ministry of Defence (Singapore). 13 November 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-06.
- "iPrepNS: Frequently asked questions". Ministry of Defence. 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2011.