Military history of Singapore

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Colonial period[edit]

The first infantry unit was formed at Raffles Institution by volunteers on 15 May 1901. Notable members include the first commissioned officer, Yusof Ishak, who later became Singapore's first prime minister.

World War II[edit]


Singapore has enjoyed a period of relative peace. Military exercises like Operation Cleansweep, with Raffles Corps commanding officer Chandra Venugopal, on May 1977 give the public a periodic display.


Konfrontasi was a policy of confrontation by Indonesia from 1963 to 1966, as it opposed to the formation of Malaysia and the existence of the Federation of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore. It posed the only external threat to Singapore since the Japanese Occupation. The conflict was an intermittent war marked by armed incursions, bomb attacks, and acts of subversion and destabilisation and also included numerous raids by Indonesian volunteers on targets within then-Malaysia, which included Singapore. The Philippines were aligned with Indonesia due to its claim for Sabah. It broke off diplomatic relations with Malaysia, and did not participate in the hostilities.

One of the raids the MacDonald House bombing on 10 March 1965 by two Indonesian saboteurs. Two people were killed and thirty three were injured.[1] The saboteurs were caught, and they turned out to be from the Korps Marinir.[citation needed] They were subsequently tried and executed, despite great pressure from Indonesia. In later years, the executions remained a source of unhappiness in Singapore-Indonesian relations. Lee Kuan Yew later sprinkled flowers on the graves of the Marines, helping heal the rift between the two countries.[2]

During Konfrontasi, the First and Second Battalions, Singapore Infantry Regiment (1 SIR and 2 SIR) were placed under Malaysian command and deployed in various parts of Malaya to fight the saboteurs. Local defence was the responsibility of the Singapore Volunteer Corps and the Vigilante Corps.[3]

Hostilities ended with the overthrow of President Sukarno in October 1965.[3]


After Singapore's independence on 9 August 1965, strained ties with the two immediate neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia made defense a high priority. Then-PM Lee Kuan Yew appointed Goh Keng Swee to head the new Ministry of Interior and Defence. In 1966, drawing from the Israeli model, National Service was determined the best way to provide for a deterrent to potential aggressors. A Brigadier T. J.D. Campbell was appointed as the first Director of the General Staff.[4]

The first cohorts of officers and non-commissioned officers (now Specialists), taught by Israeli instructors, graduated from Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI) in 1967. With this new cadre of leaders, army was expanded from the existing two infantry battalions to two brigades between 1967 and 1970. Efforts were made to ensure unit integrity by keeping the officers, NCOs, and men of reservist battalions together.

The Air Defence Command (now Republic of Singapore Air Force) was formed with the help of Royal Air Force in 1968. The first class of pilots receiving basic military training and general flying instructions in the new Flying Training School at Tengah Air Base, and fighter training in the UK.

The Maritime Command (now Republic of Singapore Navy) was based at Sentosa temporarily until permanent facilities at the now-defunct Brani Naval Base were ready. Two gunboats were built by the British and Germans in 1969; subsequent models were built locally, entering service in 1970. The ex-USS Thrasher and USS Whippoorwill (commissioned RSS Jupiter and RSS Mercury) minesweepers and County-class tank landing ships were purchased from the United States subsequently.

Start of the defense industry[edit]

In 1967, the Sheng-Li Holding Company (Simplified Chinese: 胜利; pinyin: sheng li; translated: victory) was established under the Ministry of Defence to promote the local defence industry. By the 1970s, Singapore was producing small arms (the M-16) through Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS) and small arms, mortar, and artillery ammunition through Chartered Ammunition Industries for local use and export. Sheng-Li Holdings was later restructured into Singapore Technologies (now ST Engineering) in 1989, the parent of ST Kinetics.[5] ST Kinetics produces the indigenous SAR-21 and Bionix AFV today. Others, either locally designed or locally owned designs, such as the Ultimax 100, SAR-80, SR-88, FH-88, and FH-2000 were also produced.

Peacetime emergency[edit]

Humanitarian aid[edit]

Peacekeeping in Iraq[edit]

In 2017, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Perry Lim, Deputy Secretary (Policy) Keith Tan, and senior SAF officers paid a visit to SAF medical teams stationed in Iraq.[6][7]

In 2018, Defence minister Ng Eng Hen announced that more personnel from SAF and SPF will be sent for counter-terrorism training in Iraq.[8]

Peacekeeping in East Timor[edit]

Operation Blue Heron ended in 2003 and all SAF personnel returned.[9]


  1. ^ Jackie Sam; Philip Khoo; Cheong Yip Seng; Abul Fazil; Roderick Pestana; Gabriel Lee (11 March 1965). "Terror Bomb kills 2 Girls at Bank". The Straits Times. Archived from the original (reprint) on 1 February 2014.
  2. ^ May Wong. "Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew turns 80 today" (reprint). NewsRadio 93.8.
  3. ^ a b N. Vijayan. "1963 - Konfrontasi". History Snippets. Ministry of Defence (Singapore).
  4. ^ Newspapers - Ex-army chief, BG Campbell, dies in Australia Archived 7 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Federation of American Scientists, FH2000, accessed 11 Nov 2006.
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  9. ^