SINGAPORE: All "non-operations-essential" in-camp training (ICT) will be deferred with immediate effect until Apr 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) announced on Tuesday (Mar 31).
The ministry will also waive the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) requirement for affected operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen).
"To further safeguard SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) personnel’s health and maintain our units’ integrity, the SAF will further enhance its safe distancing measures," the ministry said in a news release.
"These include reducing the scale of SAF training to smaller groups and deferring all non-operations-essential ICT."
MINDEF said non-operations-essential ICTs involve activities like skills training, including live firing and crew drills. A two-week ICT involving personnel from the 2nd General Supply & Transport Battalion, scheduled to start on Apr 6, has been called off.
One example of an operations-essential ICT is when NSmen protect key installations like Changi Airport and Jurong Island.
"Critical functions such as island defence, protection of key installations, maritime security and air defence operations, continue to be performed by SAF personnel round the clock," MINDEF said.
"To ensure uninterrupted operations in the event of a COVID-19 infection, SAF units in these roles have been separated into cohorts. ICT for NSmen supporting these critical functions will continue."
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Facebook post on Tuesday that for these roles, "SAF servicemen know that the mission takes top priority, including training and ICT for these troops to hone capabilities".
"In some of these activities, it is not always possible to keep a safe distance," he wrote.
"Instead the SAF practices 'cohorting' – splitting up these troops into different teams, so that if one team member does get infected, only that team is affected.
"This applies to the BMT (Basic Military Training) batches too, which need to proceed to generate the units for these essential duties."
The latest announcement comes after Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said on Feb 11 that there were no plans to cancel ICT, stating that defending the country remains a priority.
Still, the SAF has introduced several precautionary measures amid the outbreak, such as temperature monitoring regimes as well as safe distancing measures, and cancellation of large-scale events.
MINDEF has also suspended the conduct of IPPT, IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT) and Remedial Training (RT) at fitness conditioning centres, SAFRA gyms and IPT-in-the-Park locations.
"The IPPT requirements for affected NSmen will be waived," it said.
Nevertheless, Dr Ng encouraged servicemen to keep fit individually as it has been shown to improve the immune system.
MINDEF said activities critical for "build-up of operational units" will continue with enhanced measures in place. It had announced on Monday that BMT direct enlistment exercises will be conducted in smaller batches with no guests allowed.
The enhanced measures might be extended if the COVID-19 situation does not improve, MINDEF stated, saying that there is currently no need for more stringent measures like isolating essential operational units within SAF premises.
"The SAF will continue to monitor the evolving situation and may implement further measures to ensure continued operational readiness should the COVID-19 situation deteriorate," MINDEF added.
"The Ministry of Defence and the SAF remain committed in safeguarding the defence of Singapore while keeping our servicemen safe in the ongoing COVID-19 situation."