29 January 2019

Should heads roll for Singapore army's training deaths?

Barely months after making reassuring noises in parliament about how safety is a top priority of training in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), defense minister Ng Eng Heng had far less to say following the death of Aloysius Pang. Pang, a former television actor turned entrepreneur, suffered fatal injuries when he was crushed by a Howitzer barrel during reservist training in New Zealand.

A military funeral at Mandai in 2017
for another reservist killed in another training incident in New Zealand
If you've been keeping count like concerned netizen Arrifin Sha, this is the 8th casualty in the past 1.5 years for the SAF. Yes, this is a significant figure. Yes, we have previously pointed out the toxic and vile culture in the Singapore army. But does this one additional statistic justify calls to remove an incompetent and uncaring minister or the chief of army from their posts? Or should Singaporeans rally together to protect the sacred institution that protects Singapore from shrill activists and political opportunists?

How do we put this sad incident into perspective?

Let us examine young Arrifin Sha's well-meaning tirade. He implores his readers to "put things in perspective". In the parallel intellectual universe of Arrifin Sha, that means rattling off the eight previous fatal incidents in the SAF before demanding the defense minister and his generals take responsibility.

On Earth Prime however, "putting things in perspective" actually entails an international comparison of military fatality rates and accident rates, in order to establish or disprove the staggering incompetence or malevolence within the SAF.

As it turns out, the UK and US, as the most active and significant partners of the post-WW2 global military coalition, do publish statistics of all operational casualties. The UK statistics are published annually by the government itself, while the US statistics are published under Congressional oversight as well as occasionally by various branches of the TriForces.

What does the big data say then? The accidental and training mortality rate (i.e. excluding combat, suicide, terror attacks, off-duty incidents) in 2018 was around 10 deaths per 100,000 for the US Navy, and 20 deaths per 100,000 for the UK. As an exercise for you, dear readers, here are the full numbers for the US Army. You can calculate its training and accidental rate, given it had around 1.3 million personnel.

Singapore, with its reserves of 35,000 conscripts and active strength of 72,000, and 8 deaths over the past 18 months, actually has comparable rates whichever population number you choose. With statistics like these, SAF bean counters won't be sounding the alarm, minister Ng Eng Hen won't be setting up a national hotline for whistleblowers to snitch on their commanding officers, and the chief of army can rest assured he can head a public transport company upon his retirement, if he doesn't get invited to climb the greasy pole in a clandestine tea party.

So why is there an uproar?

There's one statistic which the general public in Singapore, in the words of Noam Chomsky, doesn't know and doesn't know it doesn't know. It's the single most important statistic that ins't mentioned in any discussion about any alleged dysfunctional safety culture in the SAF, and won't be trotted out even by the minister and his generals to manage a bad PR crisis.

There have been nearly zero training or reservist casualties in the Republic of Singapore Navy or Air Force.

While the Singapore Army has comparable, run of the mill fatal accident and training rates to the best defense forces in the world, its record collapses when it is held up to the same light as its Navy and Air Force counterparts.

Singaporeans know that the SAF has a dysfunctional and toxic culture. They may not know that the army's fatality rates are 'acceptable' to any bean counter at the SAF, Jane's, or even to us at Illusio. But they have a suspicion that an outdated, authoritarian, and thuggish organisational culture do lead rank and file soldiers to accept compromises to their safety, just to avoid arbitrary punishment for whatever goes wrong. After decades of telling themselves there is no choice but to collaborate with such a system, it is no wonder that many Singaporeans have taken full use of a celebrity's death to voice out their displeasure, however unwarranted.

What should be done instead?

PHQ444 (a)

PHQ444 (b)

This is what most HardwareZone forumers would advise: COMPLAIN TO YOUR MP if you get bullied or browbeaten by your commanders during reservist training!

PHQ444 (g)
We at Illusio offer this piece of advice: if you're not up to the task, just say so. As a reservist, it's highly likely you have incurred some form of injury that warrants an excuse from a specialist. This is the best Singaporeans can do until its military men change their outdated mindset.

PHQ444 (e)

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