Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation
|Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation|
SAF Commando Formation badge
|Active||1 December 1969 – present|
|Part of||Singapore Army Combat Arms|
|Motto(s)||For Honour and Glory|
|Colour of Beret||Crimson red|
|Chief Commando Officer||Colonel Kenny Tay|
The Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation (CDO FN, Chinese: 新加坡武装部队特攻部队) is a commando formation of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). It is made up of only one battalion, the 1st Commando Battalion (1 CDO). An offensive unit, it specializes in preemptive operations involving small groups of specially-trained soldiers in enemy territory. Designed to be executed quickly in anticipation of a reaction by the enemy, these operations are normally short-term and intensive due to a lack of service support in hostile environments.
The commandos are entrusted with two important roles: strike missions and reconnaissance missions. Strike missions may involve direct combat with enemy forces and the destruction of specific enemy targets. Reconnaissance missions are conducted by smaller groups of commandos, who may need to camp for long periods of time to survey targets in enemy territory.
- 1 History
- 2 Heritage and traditions
- 3 Manpower
- 4 Training
- 5 Accidents and controversies
- 6 Operations
- 7 Alliances
- 8 Weapons
- 9 In popular culture
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The CDO FN's creation began in 1967 when two officers, Major (MAJ) Clarence Tan and MAJ James Chia, were tasked with recruiting eligible candidates from any unit in the SAF to form an elite unit. The SAF Regular Battalion was formed on 1 December 1969 and was directly under the command of Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). Captain (CPT) Tham Chee Onn was selected to be the acting-Commanding Officer (CO) for the unit, which comprised 20 men, and was assisted by nine other officers. MAJ Clarence Tan subsequently joined the unit as its CO and was responsible for establishing its training program. A second recruitment drive was launched in early 1970 with the aim of increasing the number of officers in the unit. The unit was renamed "Singapore Armed Forces Commando Unit" in early 1971 and its red berets were introduced on 3 May 1971. On 16 July, the unit was renamed "1st Commando Battalion" (1 CDO BN) and moved from Pasir Laba Camp to Changi Camp. It had one company fully composed of regular soldiers.
In 1972, the MINDEF decided to allow full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to join the unit. The first NSF batch of commandos formed a second company on 15 January 1973 with CPT Gwee Peng Hong as its Officer Commanding (OC) and Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Khiong Kian Khoon as its Company Sergeant Major (CSM). From July 1973 to January 1975, the third, fourth and fifth companies were formed and were respectively led by CPT Boon Hon Lin, CPT Lim Siang Tong and Lieutenant (LTA) Dominic Teo. A sixth company was formed with 2005, with CPT Arnold Low as its OC and 2WO Kasinathan as its CSM.
In April 1975, the 1 CDO BN was restructured and placed under the command of the 3rd Singapore Division (3 DIV). In 1977, along with two Singapore Guards battalions, the 1 CDO BN came under the command of the 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade (7 SIB), and received its state and regimental colors on 22 January 1977 from Goh Keng Swee, the Minister of Defence.
On 1 July 1980, the 1 CDO BN was transferred out of the 7 SIB and was placed under the direct command of Headquarters Infantry. The Headquarters School of Commando Training (SOCT) was established on 1 October 1980 and it took over command of the 1 CDO BN. The 1 CDO BN received a new formation sign from Brigadier-General Tan Chin Tiong, the acting-Chief of the General Staff, and incorporated the winged stiletto as its new emblem along with a new motto, For Honour and Glory.
The first company of the 1 CDO BN, which used to be made up of only regulars, started inducting NSFs from 17 December 1984 under its OC, CPT Yeo Lai Huat, and its CSM, 2WO Nathan. The first company also began training for long range reconnaissance patrolling and divisional disruptive operations for the first time. In 1986, another tradition of the 1 CDO BN was created when the stiletto was presented to graduates from the second company during their Red Beret Presentation Ceremony in December 1986. This practice has continued since then, with the stiletto being presented to commandos who have completed two years of service in the unit.
The Headquarters Commandos was established in 1989 and it received its state and formation colors from Singapore President Wee Kim Wee on 20 October 1991. A new camp for the commandos, Hendon Camp, was constructed near Sungei Selerang (east of Loyang) and was inaugurated on 27 January 1994 by Lieutenant-General Ng Jui Ping, the Chief of Defence Force. Hendon Camp has been the base of the CDO FN since then.
Heritage and traditions
Items associated with the CDO FN's heritage include:
- The formation motto, For Honour and Glory, which entreats each commando to achieve every mission he undertakes for the honour and glory of the formation and the nation.
- The formation insignia. The commandos wore flashes identifying them with the formation before the winged stiletto was introduced in 1981 as the formation's new emblem. The wings and stiletto denote the commandos' elite airborne status.
- The red beret, worn by all commandos, is presented to all graduates at their passing out parade. The beret is worn during military parades and formal ceremonies.
- The stiletto, also known as the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife, whose blade measures 20 cm and bears the formation's insignia.
- The Parachutist Badge, also known as the "Silver Wings", is awarded to persons who have completed the basic airborne course conducted by the Commandos School's Parachute Training Wing. It comprises a pair of outspread wings on both wigs of a deployed parachute, with the inscription "SINGAPURA" below the canopy. The commandos' version has a crimson velvet backing to differentiate it from others'.
The 1 CDO BN also organised an annual Commando Skills-At-Arms Meet, which started in 1992, and involves the commandos competing in various skills such as marksmanship, demolition, and completion of the standard obstacle course in full battle order. When the event is held, a part of Hendon Camp is cordoned off and open to the public to view the competition.
The commandos are a regular feature in the SAF major parades and events, such as the annual Singapore Armed Forces Military Tattoo and the Singapore Armed Forces Day Parade. They also appear in various national events, including the National Day Parade, where they form one of the four guard of honour contingents after winning the Best Combat Unit awards in the preceding year. They have appeared in various mass display segments, often by displaying their rappelling skills. The commandos have also served as the guard of honor for important visitors to the Istana, but they are increasingly replaced by the Military Police due to the irrelevance of the task to their official duties.
The recruitment process for commandos is stringent, with potential candidates handpicked through a vocational assessment before they even formally begin serving National Service. These candidates' medical examination reports and physical fitness results, among other things, are taken into account prior to their enlistment in the SAF. Shortlisted candidates are then subjected to more tests to ensure that they fit certain criteria, such as having above average intelligence and excellent eyesight, before they are selected to join the unit. After completing an interview, the chosen candidate is then enlisted into one of the unit's companies and proceeds for basic military training.
The reservists, known locally as "Operationally-Ready National Servicemen" (NSF), form the largest source of manpower for the CDO FN. NSF are regularly called up for in-camp training (ICT) after completing their full-time service, and may, when necessary, receive refresher courses at the School of Commandos, including a two-day basic combat training course conducted several months prior to the commencement of an ICT session. NSF are also required to meet certain standards in the annual individual physical proficiency test (IPPT) to maintain their levels of fitness.
Due to differences in operational requirements, the training of commando recruits is carried out separately and away from that of recruits in other vocations. Basic training is conducted at company-level in Hendon Camp while advanced training is done at the School of Commandos, where certain compulsory courses are conducted. A newly enlisted soldier typically undergoes about a year of training before he becomes a qualified commando. Commando officers and specialists go through a longer training period before receiving their qualifications.
All newly enlisted commando recruits undergo Basic Military Training (BMT) at the Commando Training Institute (CTI) in Pasir Ris Camp. While the training syllabus is largely similar to that of the regular BMT conducted throughout the SAF, commando recruits receive relatively tougher training, with much emphasis placed on physical fitness.
Upon completion of BMT, candidates deemed unsuitable to be commandos due to certain reasons are posted out to other units while the remaining ones proceed for Basic Commando Training (BCT). After completing BCT, trainees are categorized and sent for specialized vocational training courses. The intensity of physical training increases because commando trainees need to maintain higher levels of physical fitness as compared to soldiers in other vocations.
Commandos are assigned to carry out specific tasks in their respective sections so they are trained to specialize in those tasks. These roles include: signaler; medic; weapons specialist; small boat operator; sniper; demolition expert. Trainees who display outstanding performance in BMT and BCT may be sent for further training at the Commando Training Wing to be section leaders. All trainees are required to pass the Basic Airborne Course conducted at the Parachute Training Wing by performing five jumps (two of which are conducted after dusk), after which they earn the Parachutist Badge.
Commando trainees also go for several weeks of overseas training in the jungle areas of Brunei. Upon returning to Singapore, they mark the completion of their year-long training stint with a 72 kilometers route march, followed by a Passing Out Parade, during which they receive their red berets.
Advanced and leadership training courses for commandos are conducted at the School of Commandos. These courses include: Commando Section Leaders' Course; Commando Small Boat Operators' Course; Commando Officer Conversion Course; SAF Ranger Course; Parachute Jump Instructor Course; Military Free Fall Course.
Special Operations Force
The Special Operations Force (SOF) is a unit within the CDO FN composed of only regular servicemen, who are specially trained to operate in special missions and long-range deployments. As for qualified members, they are selected to travel to the United States to attend courses conducted by the Army Special Forces or Navy SEALs.
Accidents and controversies
The commandos have won the SAF's annual Best Combat Unit competition many times since 1969. However, in 2003, the 1 CDO was barred from the competition after it was found guilty of doctoring store-keeping records and fitness test results.
Serious accidents during training are rare and were hardly, or probably never, publicised in the media until 2003, when the SAF's standards of safety in training came under increased scrutiny following the deaths of some servicemen during training.
On 21 August 2003, Second Sergeant (2SG) Hu Enhuai of the Singapore Guards died during a combat survival training course conducted by the commandos. Four commandos were charged in court a year later for carrying out the "dunking" procedure deemed inappropriate for training purposes. On 3 September, 2SG Rajagopal Thirukumaran, a regular serviceman also from the Singapore Guards, died after a run during a selection for the SAF Ranger Course conducted by the Commando Training Wing.
On 15 June 2005, 2SG Ong Jia Hui, a regular serviceman who was training as a member of the Maritime Counter-Terrorism Group (under the Special Operations Force), drowned during training at Changi Naval Base. On 13 July, First Sergeant (1SG) Shiva s/o Mohan, a regular commando, fell from 20 metres above the ground while rappelling from a helicopter and was pronounced dead in hospital about two hours later.
On 20 June 2006, Lieutenant (LTA) Lionel Lin, a regular commando officer, died after encountering difficulties while undergoing training at the swimming pool in Hendon Camp.
On 13 March 2010, 1SG Woo Teng Hai, a regular commando, was accidentally shot by a villager during overseas training in Thailand. He was flown back to Singapore on the same day and was discharged from hospital by the end of that month. 
Laju incident (1974)
On 31 January 1974, four terrorists attacked the Shell oil refinery complex on Pulau Bukom and hijacked the ferryboat Laju and took five hostages. After negotiations with the Singapore authorities, the terrorists freed the hostages and left Singapore on 8 February on a flight bound for Kuwait. They were escorted by a 13-men team, of which four members were commandos.
Operation Thunderstorm (1975)
On 8 May 1975, the commandos and the Navy stormed several vessels holding Vietnamese refugees intruding into Singapore's territorial waters. They kept watch on the refugees and the crews until they were resupplied and escorted out of Singapore about two days later.
Operation Thunderbolt (1991)
On 26 March 1991, Singapore Airlines' Flight 117 was hijacked in mid-flight by four Pakistani militants, who took all 129 people on board hostage. At Singapore Changi Airport, commandos from the SOF stormed the plane, killed the four hijackers and freed the hostages within five minutes. The CDO FN was awarded with the Medal of Valour.
The CDO FN was the first unit in the SAF to form an alliance with a foreign unit, the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, in 1982. An alliance parade was first held on 14 March 1982, until the return of the unit to New Zealand on 2 August 1989. Ties between the two units have been maintained by the annual exchange of officers since 1993.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of weapons known to be used by the commandos:
- Belgium: FN Five-seven, 5.7mm 
- Belgium: FN Browning Hi-Power, 9mm
- Switzerland: SIG Sauer P226
- South Africa: Vektor pistols
- South Korea: Daewoo Precision Industries K5
- Germany: Heckler & Koch MP5, 9mm
- Belgium: FN P90, 5.7mm
- Czechoslovakia: Škorpion vz. 61
- Singapore: SAR 21, 5.56mm
- USA: M4A1, 5.56mm
- USA: M16, 5.56mm
- Germany: HK416, 5.56mm
- Belgium: FN SCAR-L, 5.56x45mm NATO
- Various models (notably the Remington 870)
- Austria: Steyr Mannlicher sniper rifles, 7.62mm
- France: PGM 338 (mini-Hecate), 8.6mm
- Germany: Heckler & Koch PSG1
In popular culture
The commandos have been depicted in or referred to in Singaporean television programmes, such as MediaCorp Channel 8's The Reunion (2001) and Honour and Passion (2007). A documentary series covering the formation's training regimen, "Commandos" is available on Netflix.
- "The Men of the Red Berets". Ministry of Defence Singapore. 1 March 2017.
- "Commandos: Master of stealth". Ministry of Defence Singapore.
- "8th straight win for Red Berets". sglinks. Originally published on The Straits Times website. 30 June 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- Cheong, Yvonne (8 June 2004). "4 SAF commandos charged over death of NSman". Channel News Asia. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- "Death of a Regular Serviceman". MINDEF. 3 September 2003. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- "Update on Death of a Regular Serviceman". MINDEF. 16 June 2005. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- "Remarks by Minister Teo Chee Hean on the Death of 2SG Ong Jia Hui". MINDEF. 2 January 2006. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- "Shiva s/o Mohan" (PDF). Child Bereavement Support (Singapore). Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- Chow, Jermyn; Kok, Lester (25 May 2010). "SAF commando shot by Thai villager". AsiaOne News. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- "Death of Serviceman". Singapore Update. Originally published by MINDEF. 21 June 2006. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- "Singapurske Specijalne Postrojbe" (in Croatian). Hrvatski Vojnik Magazine. Archived from the original on 15 October 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
- "When Terror Strikes" (PDF). The Straits Times. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 November 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
- Boey, David (9 September 2002). "New SAF Systems to be Unveiled". Defence Science & Technology Agency. Archived from the original on 28 July 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
- For Honour and Glory: A Celebration of Commando History (1969–1994).