Military Wiki
Chief of Defence Force (Singapore)
Nominated by Prime Minister of Singapore; Armed Forces Council
Appointed by President of Singapore
Incumbent Lt-Gen. Melvyn Ong

The chief of Defence Force is the head of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), who holds the rank of a lieutenant-general or vice-admiral.[1]

The position was created in 1974 as the Chief of the General Staff with the appointment of Winston Choo, and changed to its current name in May 1990. Prior to the appointment of Choo as Chief of the General Staff, the Ministry of Defence (and before it, the Ministry of Interior and Defence) was in charge of the SAF. Before the position was created, the head of Singapore's army—which at that time made up the military—held the position of Director, General Staff.

The president has the power to appoint each new CDF (as well as new heads of each of the three services in the SAF) on the advice of the prime minister, who in turn must consult with the Armed Forces Council,[2] on which the CDF sits. The CDF also maintains a role as an aide-de-camp to the president.


The CDF is the operational head of the SAF,[3] and holds a seat on the Armed Forces Council which oversees all matters pertaining to the SAF.[4] In addition, if any of the three service chiefs—the Chief of Army, Chief of Navy or Chief of Air Force—is unable to carry out his duties, the CDF is tasked to perform those duties in addition to his own. If the CDF is unable to perform his own duties, the Minister of Defence is allowed to select one of the three service chiefs to perform the CDF's duties.[2]

The office of CDF also carries with it a position as one of three full-time aides-de-camp to the President. According to the Singapore Presidential Office website, the position entails handling the President's security and his/her social needs, in addition to other general duties.[5]

A number of powers relating to summary trials for military offences is vested in the CDF. Paragraph 2, Section 62 of the Singapore Armed Forces Act states that any offence in which the accused holds the rank of Colonel or Military Expert 7 is to be referred to the CDF,[6] who can then dismiss the charge, hold a summary trial, or pass the case on to the director of legal services of the SAF,[7] who can in turn instruct the CDF to try the accused.[8]

As head of the SAF, the CDF often makes visits to countries with shared military interests, such as Bahrain,[9] Japan,[10] and Vietnam,[11] and also occasionally hosts foreign military chiefs on official visits.[12]

List of officeholders (1965–1990)

The role of the head of the SAF was first titled as "Director, General Staff" around 1969, and was held by Brigadier-General T. J. D. Campbell,[13] who was previously the head of the Singapore Defence Force (1965-1966) and the Singapore Volunteer Corps (late 1950s-1965) before Singapore gained independence in 1965.[14] Campbell had been the acting director since around 1968.[15] Colonel Kirpa Ram Vij was appointed his successor.[16] According to sources, the position of "Director, General Staff" was considered similar to the position of the present-day CDF,[16] and was equivalent to the head of army.[17] A news report from The Straits Times on Campbell's death refers to him as having been "army chief".[15]

In 1974, Colonel Winston Choo was given the appointment of Chief of the General Staff, having previously been a departmental head at the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). In May 1990, the position was changed to its current name, with Choo, who had been promoted to Lieutenant-General, still in office. He had been promoted to each of the general ranks in 1974, 1978 and 1988.[18] Choo stepped down in 1992, after 18 years as the head of the SAF.[19]

Lee Kuan Yew, who was Singapore's Prime Minister in the 1970s, described Goh Keng Swee as the de facto armed forces chief of staff when the latter was Minister of Defence.[20] Goh had been responsible for evolving the SAF while serving as Minister of Defence from 1965–1967.[21][22]

Although Campbell and Vij have both held a position of similar authority, Choo is referred to as the first CDF in a number of MINDEF publications.[23][24]

In the past, there also existed a Deputy Chief of the General Staff[25] who was tasked to "[work] with troops on the ground",[26] but there is no deputy position for the present-day CDF in the structure of the SAF.[3]

Name Office In office Role immediately before office Ref
Goh Keng Swee Minister of Defence 1965–1967[note 1] Minister of Finance [20]
T. J. D. Campbell Director, General Staff 1968–1969 (acting)
Ministry of Education [13][15]
Kirpa Ram Vij Director, General Staff 1970–1974 Director, Singapore Command and Staff College [16][17]
Winston Choo Chief of the General Staff 1974–May 1990 Departmental Head at MINDEF [18]

List of chiefs of Defence Force (1990–present)

Since the appointment of CDF was established in 1990, there have been seven holders to the position, beginning with Winston Choo who was already in office as Chief of the General Staff.

Chief of Defence Force Took office Left office Time in office Defence branch Previous office Later office Ref
Winston Choo
Choo, WinstonLieutenant-General Winston Choo
(born 1941)
May 199030 June 19922 yearsArmy
Chief of the General StaffPublic sector (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)[18]
Ng Jui Ping
Ping, Ng JuiLieutenant-General Ng Jui Ping
30 June 19921 July 19953 years, 1 dayArmy
Chief of ArmyPrivate sector (as an entrepreneur)[27][28][29]
Bey Soo Khiang
Khiang, Bey SooLieutenant-General Bey Soo Khiang
(born 1955)
1 July 19951 April 20004 years, 275 daysAir ForceChief of Air ForcePrivate sector (Singapore Airlines)[30]
Lim Chuan Poh
Poh, Lim ChuanLieutenant-General Lim Chuan Poh
(born 1961)
1 April 20001 April 20033 years, 0 daysArmy
Chief of ArmyPublic sector (Ministry of Education, A*STAR)[30]
Ng Yat Chung
Chung, Ng YatLieutenant-General Ng Yat Chung
(born 1961)
1 April 200323 March 20073 years, 328 daysArmy
Chief of ArmyPrivate sector (Temasek Holdings, Neptune Orient Lines, Singapore Press Holdings)[31]
Desmond Kuek
Kuek, DesmondLieutenant-General Desmond Kuek
(born 1963)
23 March 20071 April 20103 years, 37 daysArmy
Chief of ArmyPublic sector (Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, SMRT Corporation)[32]
Neo Kian Hong
Hong, Neo KianLieutenant-General Neo Kian Hong
(born 1964)
1 April 201027 March 20132 years, 360 daysArmy
Chief of ArmyPublic sector (Ministry of Education, Ministry of Defence, SMRT Corporation)[33][34][35]
Ng Chee Meng
Meng, Ng CheeLieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng
(born 1968)
27 March 201318 August 20152 years, 175 daysAir ForceChief of Air ForceJoined politics (Minister for Education, 2nd Minister for Transport, Minister in Prime Minister's Office, Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress)[36][37]
Perry Lim
Lim, PerryLieutenant-General Perry Lim
(born 1972)
18 August 201523 March 20182 years, 186 daysArmy
Chief of ArmyPrivate Sector (Managing Director Royal Golden Eagle)[37]
Melvyn Ong
Ong, MelvynLieutenant-General Melvyn Ong
(born 1975)
23 March 2018Incumbent4 years, 146 daysArmy
Chief of Army.[38][39]


  1. As Minister of Defence, Goh has been described by Lee Kuan Yew as the de facto leader of the SAF.


  1. "SAF Military Ranks - Officers". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 24 April 2010. "The Chief of Defence Force holds the rank Lieutenant-General (LG) and Service Chiefs hold the rank of Major-General (MG)." 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Template:Singapore legislation Section 10A. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "MINDEF - About Us - Organisation Structure". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 4 March 2011. 
  4. Template:Singapore legislation Section 8. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  5. "Aides-de-Camp". Istana (President's Office). 
  6. Template:Singapore legislation Section 62. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  7. Template:Singapore legislation Section 65B. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  8. Template:Singapore legislation Section 67. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  9. "CP MEETS SINGAPORE CHIEF OF DEFENCE FORCE". Bahrain News Agency. 20 October 2008. 
  10. "Courtesy Visit by Singapore Armed Forces Chief of Defence Force". Japan Defense Focus. Japan Self-Defense Force. November 2009. 
  11. "Defence co-operation, ties with Singapore appreciated". Vietnam News. 19 April 2011. 
  12. "China's PLA Chief of General Staff visits Singapore". Xinhua. 24 October 2009. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Stories - Profile of Ms Evelyn Tay". Army Museum Singapore. 25 August 2006. 
  14. "Defence commander sees cadet display". Straits Times. 13 September 1966. p. 4. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "Ex-army chief, BG Campbell, dies in Australia". Straits Times. 22 October 1989. p. 17. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Liew, Derek (7 February 2008). "History - 1966 - The Beginning of SAFTI (Volume 12 Issue 2)". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Jonas, Patrick (January 7, 2011). "In command of his life". AsiaOne. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 "Appointment of Singapore's High Commissioner to South Africa". Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 25 July 2001. 
  19. "Appointment of Lt-Gen (Retd) Winston Choo as High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea". Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 15 March 2000. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lee, Kuan Yew. "Eulogy by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at the State Funeral Service For The Late Dr Goh Keng Swee at the Singapore Conference Hall, Sunday 23 May 2010". Prime Minister's Office (Singapore). 
  21. S Ramesh (1 February 2011). "Goh Keng Swee Command & Staff College unveiled". Channel NewsAsia. 
  22. Chow, Jermyn (2 February 2001). "SAF institute named after Goh Keng Swee". Straits Times. 
  23. Luo, Joel (7 March 2011). "The Singapore Army - News Archive - A Night To Remember – Signals 45th Anniversary Military Dining-In". Singapore Ministry of Defence. "LG (RET) Winston Choo, who was SAF's first Chief of Defence Force (1974 - 1992)" 
  24. Quek, Sherlyn (18 September 2008). "SAF Joint Staff celebrates 25 years and beyond". Cyberpioneer. "Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean was present, together with special guest, Lieutenant-General (LG) (Ret) Winston Choo, Singapore's first Chief of Defence Force (CDF)." 
  25. "Brigadier General for Home Affairs". Straits Times. 28 August 1982. 
  26. "SAF promotes 273 of its best senior officers". Straits Times. 1 July 1986. 
  27. "Board of Directors". PSA International. 2006. p. 11. "Lt-Gen (Ret) Ng holds a number of directorships in the private sector" 
  28. "History - 1967 - School of Artillery". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 
  29. Quek, Sherlyn (21 May 2010). "Glowing tributes to the SAF's founding father". Cyberpioneer. 
  30. 30.0 30.1 "Chief of Defence Force Change of Command Parade". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 31 March 2000. 
  31. "Change of Chief of Defence Force and Service Chiefs". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 6 February 2003. 
  32. "Change of Chief of Defence Force and Chief of Army". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 6 February 2007. 
  33. "New Chief of Defence Force for the SAF". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 1 April 2010. 
  34. "Change in Chief of Defence Force and Chief of Army". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 15 January 2010. 
  35. "New CEO for SMRT". Channel NewsAsia. 18 April 2018. 
  36. "New Chief of Defence Force for the SAF". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 27 March 2013. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 Neo, Chai Chin; Ng, Kelly (31 July 2015). "CDF's retirement prompts speculation over entry to politics". Today. 
  38. "Change in Chief of Defence Force and Chief of Army". 
  39. "New SAF Chief of Defence Force". 

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