Saturday, October 26, 2013

No decision to change Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) system

Two official clarifications to a single newspaper story in three days. You don't have to be a media analyst to sense something is not quite right.

The 23 October story by The Straits Times (ST), Singapore's only English language broadsheet, titled "SAF soldiers' IPPT likely to change" has got Singaporeans abuzz on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Individual Physical Fitness Proficiency Test (IPPT) that citizen soldiers have to take annually.

To cut to the chase, the SAF has made no decision on changing the IPPT system. Please click here for the Singapore Army's Facebook post on the matter.

If and when a decision point on the IPPT system is reached, citizen soldiers can expect to be informed in a timely and systematic way which gives everyone a heads-up in good time. This isn't a motherhood statement:

Case study: September 2010 announcement of Standard Obstacle Course redesign 
The Singapore Army did precisely that in September 2010 when it unveiled changes to the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC) - a test of combat fitness which full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) and Regulars would probably regard as more physically demanding than the IPPT.

Back in September 2010, articles in Singapore's mainstream print, broadcast and online media, magazine features in SAF publications like Army News and Pioneer magazine (the SAF's monthly magazine) and a list of 30 Frequently Asked Questions posted on the Army Fitness Centre website (click here) helped to generate and sustain a healthy awareness among Singaporeans of the SOC's new obstacles. The Singapore Army went a step further by giving explanations on new obstacles that informed citizen soldiers why such obstacles were introduced.

The Singapore Army's improved SOC didn't pop up overnight. According to the Army Fitness Centre, the project involved two years of trials. These are likely to have involved citizen soldiers whom the Army engaged to test and refine proposed obstacles - in short, to gather feedback from soldiers before proposals were finalised.

The effort to explain the SOC redesign typifies the type, depth and extent of engagement the Singapore Army readily fosters with its soldiers.[Note: There's an even earlier example which demonstrates how the Singapore Army works with citizens soldiers before effecting organisational change. This was the project which experimented if the Army could reduce its Section from nine to seven men. But we'll leave this story for another day.]

Looking back at the information management plan with the benefit of three years hindsight, the lack of online rants controversy over the redesigned SOC and the fact that existing NSmen (who were not affected by the change) learned about the development with measured calm, best underscores the payoff from the Singapore Army's engagement strategy and defence information management plan.

Reactions to the IPPT story
As part of the SAF's constant review of training systems, it is likely that any review of the IPPT would have involved citizen soldiers - just like the SOC redesign project.

Throw in fitness test items like a longer run (3.2 km up from the current 2.4 km), add the likelihood of removing dreaded test stations like the Standing Broad Jump (SBJ), which in turn points to the prospect of more NSmen earning monetary awards for their IPPT, do all this amid a climate of increasing discussions with Singaporeans on NS matters (thanks to the Our Singapore Conversation effort) and one can naturally expect the trials to become a talking point among NSmen.

Furthermore, while everything NSmen do within the fence line of an SAF camp is covered under the Official Secrets Act and the more draconian Essential Regulations Act, the innocuous-sounding subject matter of IPPT trials *yawn* may have lulled a handful of trial participants into thinking this topic is kosher for outside conversation.[Note: Our NSmen can be trusted to keep their mouths shut when it comes to operational matters like weapons, tactics and doctrine. A good example being a Singapore Army capability which entered service and was decommissioned with not a word leaked out. HIMARS replaced this capability. This was from a background brief and this is all I can say about this.]

Loose lips may have contributed to the speculative ST article which is peppered with circumspect phrases from the headline down. Phrases such as "likely to", "may be ditched", "may have to undergo", "are expected to", "could kick in" make clear nothing is definitive.

Alas, the prominent positioning of the story on page 3 of the main paper, the somewhat authoritative manner in which IPPT test stations are described, including the killer line that "changes could kick in as early as next April" triggered a buzz among Singaporeans. In the past few days, many NSmen mentally projected their 2.4 km running pace to the 3.2 km distance to see if they would make it. Just today alone, I overheard two separate conversations in the gym about the 3.2 km run.

Our reactions are not surprising, given the impression among some Singaporeans that the mainstream media is *ahem* "government controlled". So some readers took the story at face value.

At the other end of the stick, there are readers who lambasted the story as an example of poor reporting standards by the MSM, having read, understood and accepted MINDEF/SAF's clarification that no decision has been made to change the IPPT system.

As a media relations case study, the IPPT story is fascinating. It indicates the extent to which mainstream media journalists are sometimes prepared to push the boundary. In this instance, the newspaper ended up with a misfired story after officialdom issued one clarification after another.

The Singapore Army reacted swiftly. The same day the ST story appeared, it posted a clarification on its Facebook page. This in turn led to some Facebook members saying more about the IPPT trials than was published in the ST article.

This morning, ST readers flipped open their newspaper to find a letter in the Forum Page titled "NS panel not reviewing IPPT specifics" signed off by the Ministry of Defence Director, Public Affairs. In return, the ST Editor added a note of his own.

So what are the rest of us to make of this exchange between ST and MINDEF/SAF? Should NSmen crank up the pace to 3.2 km? Celebrate the ousting of the SBJ?

The answer lies in the Singapore Army's Facebook reply of 23 October, which states firmly that no decision on the IPPT has been made. The answer also resides in replies to the same Facebook post, which suggests that trials of new IPPT test items did indeed take place. This in itself does not mean the IPPT format will change, as the SAF has not reached a decision on the matter.

ST's story would sit on firmer ground had it informed readers that while trials took place, no decision has been reached.

Instead, the story's description of likely changes has given rise to undue concerns among some NSmen who think it's a done deal, making them wonder why they have to learn about this from a newspaper article and not their NS unit.

While the concerns are unfortunate because they have made some NSmen unnecessarily upset, it is good that MINDEF/SAF staff officers experience how to address such matters by wielding non-traditional methods like Facebook to the tried-and-tested, such as firing off a letter to the Editor.

We can take the example of the SOC redesign as assurance that the SAF implements changes carefully, particularly those that impact our citizen soldiers fitness-wise, and that Army planners are fully aware that NSmen used to a certain IPPT test format cannot be expected to change gears just like that.

Trust the system.

NS panel not reviewing IPPT specifics
26 October 2013 Saturday

WEDNESDAY's article ("SAF soldiers' IPPT likely to change") was speculative and misleading.

The Committee to Strengthen National Service will not be reviewing specifics of the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), which is a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) matter as it deals with the combat fitness of our soldiers.

The SAF does review its training programmes periodically, including those for combat fitness, but has not decided on any changes to the IPPT format.

Kenneth Liow (Colonel)
Director, Public Affairs
Ministry of Defence

Editor's Note:
Our report on the likely IPPT changes did not say these were linked to the work of the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS). The report appeared, however, on the same page as another story that quoted Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's comments on CSNS deliberations. 


Anonymous said...

I would love to read your account of the evolution of the 7 man section.

My only recollection is a quote from someone I cannot remember. This person said that the Army experimented with a 9, 8 and 6 man section, considering the section's ability to shoulder the combat load and implicitly its ability to perform its tasks.

Since the section member's roles have essentially remained static for some time, perhaps you could discuss how the distribution of SAW, LAW and M203 troopers came about.


David Boey said...

Hi above,
There's a quote by BG (NS) Leong Yue Kheong on the wall of the Army Museum that sounds similar to your para 2. Did you see it there?

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Now that you mentioned it, was it in the effects show theatre, near the 7-9 rifles mounted on the wall?

You have an excellent memory or perhaps a picture of every significant exhibit in ARMS.

Anonymous said...

Trust the system.
Too bad there is is distrust in the people .
And systems are run by people.

Anonymous said...

BG (Ret) Leong was a CO of 4 SIR which was involved in the Army 2000 project. His Bn participated in a series of experiments to determine the smallest size a section could be without compromising firepower. They decided to try 7,8 and 9, with each company in the Bn configured accordingly. They originally went as low as 6 but it was quickly realised that was too small. .

7 got the job done, and the rest, as they say, is history :)

Anonymous said...

David, you discussed previously the 2030 master plan and the future of RSAF bases.

What do you think are the odds we will see the forest reserve and the old runway area at Sembawang developed into a fast jet air base?

Sembawang has the space and the runway length to be on par with Tengah and CAB East. If runway as long as PLAB's is required, CAB East has the potential to handle it. RSAF can continue to have three such air bases.

I am quite sure. The economic value of unlocking PLAB is not just the site itself but also the possibility of turning the height-limited Ubi and Aljunied area into high density, high rise HDB. Politically- not to worry. The area's demographics will be radically changed but if we do our work, WP will have captured much more territory by then.

The height-restriction is not an issue at Sembawang because to the south is the central water catchment area.

David Boey said...

Hi Anon 1:25 AM,
The announcement that Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) would be closed by 2030 essentially tells us that strategic planners expect a no-war scenario for the next 17 years - which is positive news if you are an investor with stakes in MY, SG or the immediate region.

From how I see it, maximising the value of land in and around PLAB is one economic benefit. In addition, the release of military airspace west of Changi isn't trivial either as it would allow Changi to maximise peak hour traffic loads.

If I were a real estate developer, I would scout the area around PLAB for sites that have redevelopment potential, bearing in mind the future road network into the current PLAB and possible relocation of light industries in the Defu area. An investor prepared to sit it out for 10+ years could reap tremendous rewards - if you pick the right areas. Buying old semi-Ds and bungalows in the east (example: Haig Road) for redevelopment into condos is pocket change compared to unlocking the value of land around PLAB.

One caveat: Relocation of Tanjong Pagar container terminal to Tuas could add a sizeable amount of seafront, good-class land to the market, so the smart investor would have this on the investment horizon too or you could end up with a lemon in the PLAB area.

The northern area is fast developing into a regional hub. Expansion of Iskandar in Johor would also make it an attractive area for people who work in JB, as we can expect more Singaporeans to commute north for now, just as Malaysians commute to SG presently for work.

My understanding is that land is better zoned for housing, economic uses with SBAB staying as it is.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

To add on, I do not believe the RSAF and government would be happy let SBAB occupy its footprint as a helicopter base, especially after closing PLAB. They would at least add contingency facilities for fast jets. This is what the newly lengthened new runway is for. I anticipate SBAB may expand into the forest to its west, or this area might host industries or relocated SAF camps in the same manner as Chong Pang camp and Khatib camp to its east.

Anonymous said...

We might see creeping development of SBAB with the base undergoing changes without any official announcement. Test flights may take place, infrastructure developed and finally squadrons may move. We did not hear official announcement also when squadrons moved from TAB to PLAB.

In similar fashion, Tengah was first expanded by creating its satellite compound for UAV Command. Next the adjacent farm plots between LCK and Old LCK Roads were acquired and finally, Old LCK Road was closed and acquired.

On past record, changes behind the walls of an air base are seldom announced.

Anonymous said...

David, do you think my suggestions today have merit?

It might be useful (and might already been done) to add underground access to Cashew MRT.

At the end of the Downtown Line, it might be useful to add either underground or ramp access to the Gali Batu MRT Depot, as it is a few hundred metres from Mandai UAF.

David Boey said...

Hi above,
Access is a double edged sword. It can swing against you as it gives infiltrators another route to their objective.

btw, I hear SMRT's underground train depot at Kim Chuan is quite a facility.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the perspective.

Anonymous said...

Continuing, positioning nodes of our underground rail network at strategic points gives it great military potential in a non-peacetime situation. With the right facilities, for example, one could move air defence assets to and from Gombak, which is a base and one of Singapore's tallest hills. One could move troops and ammunition from the barracks and UAF faster than by roads even under ideal conditions. Their destination could be embarkation at a runway or a port. Troops can reside at their home camps instead of being encamped at an alert location in the airport. Ammunition can remain underground where it is safest.

I would anticipate there may be flatbed cars kept in MRT's equivalent of a driclad facility.

This is a natural extension of Singapore's use of civil resource land and vessel transport assets.

Also consider that all recent and future MRT lines are underground. They are in some ways harder to interdict. It is harder to observe junctions at which a train can leave one line and join another.