SINGAPORE – “The foreign diplomat’s nightmare begins with an increase in a nation’s defense spending” or so as the saying goes. Yet, there is some truth in that. Lewis Fry Richardson and Anatol Rapopot have mathematically demonstrated the implications of increased defense spending within a regional polity. Simply put, after one nation increases defense spending, its neighbors interprets this as an act of potential belligerence, and it too ups its defense spending.
Yet we cannot run away from the fact that there is some sort of an arms race going on within our ASEAN region as brought up in a previous article.
In November 2005, Singapore bought 2 Swedish A-17 Vastergotland submarines after Malaysia purchased 3 French submarines in June 2002. Not to be outdone, Indonesia has purchased 2 Russian Kilo-class submarines in 2007, with plans to buy 8 more!
If that is not enough, even the air force of the respective countries have been bustling with new purchases. Malaysia purchased 18 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets in 2003, which will be delivered in 2007. Singapore joined the Joint Strike Fighter program’s System Design and Development phase, obviously with a view to purchase the future F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Meanwhile, it purchased 12 F-15SG Strike Eagles in September 2005. In the near future, the Singapore Air Force expects to operate a combination of F-35, F-15SG and F-16C/D fighters.
Thus, one thing for sure is that an over-sized defense expenditure may not be seen in a positive light by our neighbors. On the other hand, reducing our defense expenditure will go a long way towards enhancing our current diplomatic relations with our neighbors. The pertinent question is how can we cut the corners for our defense spending that will lead to the reduction of our over-sized budget?
One way to address this issue is to reduce expenditure on daily logistics. Thus, how can we go about doing it? Operational units on constant standby usually have personnel who will take turns rotating their standby duties. Usually, the numerical strength of the personnel on standby will be at company level, whereby a certain company will be on standby for a certain duration. At the end of the duration, another company will take over and be on standby. Of course, company-level standby may not necessarily be the standard practice across the board. Some units may practise platoon-level standby, which is much smaller than the company, but it is essentially a certain number of platoons taking turns to be on standby for a duration.
The expenditure on logistics can be reduced for the companies or platoons that are not on standby. A simple way to achieve this is to implement stay-out for those who are not on standby and operational duty. Stay-out refers to the practice of booking out and leaving the camp typically after office hours, and reporting to the camp the very next day in the morning. On the other hand, stay-in means that the personnel will be in camp from day to night, sleeping in the bunks. Personnel who are on operational standby will usually stay-in.
Currently, most SAF operational units are stay-in, but not all stay-in personnel are on operational standby. Thus, the suggestion will be to let operational unit personnel who are not on operational standby stay-out. What is the reasoning behind this? The standard practice for stay-in units is that breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided. A typical meal in SAF costs $5.50. The provision of all three meals means an expenditure of $16.50 per soldier. For a stay-out unit, only lunch is provided; there is no need to provide dinner and breakfast the following day, and the expenditure will be only $5.50 per soldier.
Thus, if stay-out is implemented in one such operational unit, $11 can be saved for every soldier who is not on operational standby. Thus, for instance, a unit has 6 companies, each containing a sum total of 100 soldiers. Two companies will always be on standby, whilst the other 4 will not be on standby. If the 400 soldiers in the 4 non-standby companies are given stay-out, a sum of $4400 per day is saved in terms of meal provisions. In one year, the unit will save up to $1.584 million dollars. Furthermore, expenditures on other forms of logistics provided to stay-in personnel such as bedding items, laundry and utilities (water and electricity) can be cut.
However, not all soldiers are in favor of a stay-out. They typically live in a location that is not really accessible from their units and they would have problems reporting to the camp by a certain stipulated timing. Hence, they rather stay-in. This thorny problem can be circumvented via revisions to the unit posting system, whereby soldiers who live in a location that can easily access the camp via public transport will be posted to the unit.
Thus far, a lot has been discussed about the cost-cutting benefits of implementing stay-out, but what other benefits are there? During my term in National Service, I actually observed the impact of stay-out on the mood and disposition of the servicemen. The general observation is that staying-out actually led to an improvement in morale and mood of personnel. This could perhaps be attributed to the fact that they have more opportunities to pursue their interests and spend more time in areas e.g. relationships, hobbies, etc, that mean a lot to them. One of the chief complaints that can often be heard from undergraduates with national service (NS) obligations is that they tend to forget whatever they previously learn during their intervening NS years because they didn’t have time to refresh their memories for one reason or another and this puts them at a disadvantage when compared to their female peers and foreign counterparts. Others feel that the in-camp environment isn’t conducive for self-study due to the countless amount of distractions. Indeed, I also made the observation that stay-out personnel tend to fare better in the area of educational pursuits, i.e. study effectively.
Thus, the implementation of stay-out across the board for non-standby servicemen within our military has wide-ranging benefits that goes beyond cutting costs. It can perhaps lead to a high-morale fighting force that is cheaper to maintain at the same time.