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Singapore Army to resume more overseas training as Covid-19 curbs ease

The Singapore Army will resume more overseas training exercises this year, and they will be conducted on a larger scale as Singapore moves to living with Covid-19, said the Chief of Army, Brigadier-General David Neo, on Wednesday (May 25).

He stressed that the ramp-up in operational tempo will be done in a calibrated manner, with training safety being a "top of mind" concern.

Speaking to reporters at the F1 Pit Building ahead of the Army Open House this weekend, BG Neo said: "We recognise that it's been two years of lower tempo training and... a lot of these large-scale exercises that we are resuming could be things that actually nobody has done (since the pandemic).

"We go the extra mile to send a larger group of commanders to do the ground recces, including things such as making sure the training grounds are all safe... So no effort spared on every last detail, and that is the approach we take in every single exercise that we resume."

Covid-19 restrictions had disrupted training in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and having seen training, including in-camp training and mobilisations, return to 84 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, he said, it is looking forward to a full return by the year end.

He said the SAF will progressively do more in terms of numbers and scale.

One example is Exercise Wallaby, due to be held later this year in Shoalwater Bay, Australia. It will involve more than 2,700 servicemen and women from across the army's armour, guards and infantry formations.

The army will also be resuming bilateral exercises, having restarted them with its closest neighbours - Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

As operations ramp up, BG Neo, who took over as chief of army in March, will be taking the lead in ensuring that safety remains paramount. He plans to go to Brunei, where the army conducts training such as jungle confidence courses, later this year.

BG Neo took part in a free-fall jump from about 3,000m with two members of the media before Wednesday's interview, his first since assuming his new role.

On meeting emerging threats, he said the army is charting out its path to operationalise its next-generation capabilities, in line with the SAF's efforts to build the next-generation SAF by 2040.

Ground units will start to see the introduction of unmanned capabilities to enhance their lethality and survivability.

"Basically, we are going to send in small robots, small machines to do the dull, dangerous and dirty tasks," BG Neo said.

He also hopes to transform training - one way being through the use of simulators. "Simulation allows us to train what we cannot replicate in real life. And to connect different training units across countries in a live-virtual construct to help us overcome training area limitations," he added.

He said the army will also be moving towards a science-based and data-enabled training approach, noting that the Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance, which started in 2017, has leveraged its expertise on physiotherapy, nutrition and technology to change the way soldiers train and recover.

He cited the example of the prehabilitation exercise that was the result of a two-year trial by the centre.

The exercise, which replaced the previous "five basic exercise system", is designed to increase flexibility and core strength to reduce the risk of soldiers developing musculo-skeletal injuries.

The programme has managed to reduce attrition in ground units by more than 60 per cent, BG Neo said, adding: "Previously where we would have three soldiers getting injured because of various reasons, today we have managed to reduce that to just one."

When BG Neo, the first commando chief of army, was asked if he would be bringing the exacting standards commandos are known for to the rest of the army, he laughed and said: "Absolutely. But I would say that it is not unique to commandos... I would expect all our army commanders to give their best."

SAFDEFENCE AND MILITARYSINGAPORE ARMY