Ministry of Defense (MINDEF)
The Armed Forces Act of 1972 defined the organization and mission of the armed forces. The Armed Forces Council was chaired by the minister for defence and included as members the commanders of the army, navy, and air force. The Council was the top military policymaking body subordinate to the prime minister. In 1989 the minister for defence was a civilian, as had been his predecessors although military officers were not legally prohibited from holding a ministerial appointment.
In the 1980s, the Ministry of Defence was organized into a general staff for the army and six divisions responsible for the air force, navy, security and intelligence, logistics, manpower, and finance. The air force and navy were largely autonomous and were commanded by a brigadier general and commodore, respectively. In wartime, the air force and navy would come under the operational control of the chief of the general staff, an army lieutenant general.
According to the Armed Forces Act of 1972, the minister for defence was to serve as the chairman of the Armed Forces Council and, in this capacity, was to assume responsibility for organizing and administering the armed forces and those government agencies having jurisdiction over military installations and defense industries. In 1989 Prime Minister Lee continued to make most policy decisions concerning defense strategy and to approve the military budget. However, Goh Chok Tong, who served concurrently as first deputy prime minister and minister for defence, no doubt had the authority to decide most policy questions relating to the armed forces. He was assisted by two deputy defence ministers, one responsible for policy and the other for the organization of combat and combat support organizations.
Singapore's armed forces comprised the army, navy, and air forces, their reserves, and the People's Defence Force, which was the country's national guard. In 1989 there were 55,000 personnel in the regular armed services, 182,000 in the reserves, and 30,000 in the national guard. All males were required to register for service at age sixteen and became eligible for conscription when they turned eighteen. Most conscripts served in one unit during their twenty-four to thirty months of active duty, and they continued with the same unit until they completed their duty in the reserves. The 1970 Enlistment Act required enlisted men to remain in the reserves until they turned forty and officers until the age of fifty.
The military system was designed to provide an effective fighting force that could be partially or fully mobilized in emergencies and yet would maintain a low profile during peacetime. Because the reserves were viewed as the backbone of the armed forces, particular emphasis was placed on mobilization training. In a 1985 mobilization exercise that involved four army reserve brigades, 97 percent of 7,000 reservists reported to their assigned bases within a six-hour period. Selected units were equipped and deployed only twelve hours after the initial order to mobilize. By 1989 more than two decades of effective planning had promoted a well-trained and well-equipped military establishment that was adequately prepared for its defense mission.
The armed forces occasionally were asked to provide assistance to disaster relief efforts in Singapore and abroad. In 1986 several hundred reservists belonging to sixteen army and air force units assisted efforts to rescue 100 persons trapped when a six-story hotel collapsed in one of Singapore's commercial districts. In 1987 the Ministry of Defence had army reserve logistics units assemble food, clothing, and medical supplies from storage depots for Philippine typhoon victims. An air force transport unit delivered the supplies to the Philippines less than sixteen hours after the relief effort was organized.
The Constitution was amended in 1972 to prohibit the armed forces from being subordinated to any foreign power without the approval of the voters in a national referendum. The amendment, Article Six of the Constitution, states that defense treaties and collective security agreements negotiated by the government are to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the electorate. This amendment did not preclude Singapore's participation in the 1971 Five-Powers Defence Agreement, which was primarily intended to provide support by Australia, Britain, and New Zealand for Malaysia and Singapore should either nation be attacked. In 1989 the members of the Five-Powers Defence Agreement maintained an air defense network for the protection of Singapore and Malaysia and organized military exercises to improve the interoperability of their armed forces.
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