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Conscription in Singapore, called National Service (NS), requires all male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents who have reached the age of 18 to register for national service compulsorily. Depending on physical and medical fitness, they serve two year period as Full Time National Servicemen (NSFs), either in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF), or the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). Thus, all able-bodied young boys are encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle to benefit a 2-month off as a 'bonus' incentive.

When a conscript completes his full-time service, he is considered to be "operationally ready", and is thereafter known as an Operationally-Ready National Serviceman (NSman). NSmen are the equivalent of other countries' reservists. NSmen make up >80% of Singapore's military defence. They form the backbone of the SAF as NSmen represent the collective will of the nation to stand up for itself and to ensure the security of the nation.

The majority of the conscripts serve in the Army, as part of the SAF. The reasons for this include the relative manpower needs of the Army compared to the Navy and Air Force, the SPF, and SCDF. Moreover, as compared to the Army, the Air Force (RSAF) and Navy (RSN) are smaller armed services composed primarily of regular servicemen. As the RSAF and RSN's manpower tend to be more specialized, the constant periodic turnover of NSFs is considered to be very disruptive.

Singapore is among the list of countries with a national service exceeding 18 months and thereafter a statutory age cap of reservist obligation up to age 40 for WOSEs (Other Ranks) and age 50 for commissioned officers.[1]


The NS (Amendment) act was passed on 14 March 1967, as the Singapore government felt that it was necessary to build a substantial military force to defend itself. The country had only about 1,000 soldiers at independence. In the late 1960s, the British government had decided to withdraw its troops and bases East of Suez, including troops stationed in Singapore. That prompted the government to implement a conscription program for the country's defence needs. It adopted a conscription model drawing on elements of the Israeli national conscription schemes. Singapore had sought assistance through official diplomacy from other countries, but their refusal to provide help prompted Israeli diplomats to extend a helping hand to the new sovereign nation in the establishment of the Singapore armed forces.[2]

The stated rationale behind conscription is twofold. Firstly, because Singapore has a population of about five and a half million (as of 2014), an army solely of regulars would not be practical to defend the country. Secondly, national service is supposed to support racial harmony among the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. The Malays were virtually excluded from conscription from the beginning of the draft in 1967 until 1977[3] and, after the policy was eased, were assigned mainly to serve in the police and civil defence (fire brigade), not in military roles.[3] In 1987, Lee Hsien Loong (then Second Minister for Defence) stated that "If there is a conflict, if the SAF is called to defend the homeland, we do not want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may be in conflict with his religion"[4] and in The Roar of the Lion City (2007), military analyst Sean Walsh claimed that "official discrimination against the Malay population remains an open secret".[5] The Ministry of Defence contests the charge, noting that there are "Malay pilots, commandos and air defence personnel" and stating that "the proportion of eligible and qualified Malays selected for specialist and officer training is similar to the proportion for eligible non-Malays."[6]


According to the Enlistment Act, conscription is mandatory for all "persons subject to [the] act", defined as those who are not less than 16.5 years of age and not more than 40 years of age, with some exemptions and with no specific bias to gender (not limited to males).[7]

In practice however, male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents who registered NRIC at age 15 are required to register for National Service upon reaching the age of 16 years and six months, during which they would also be required to undergo a mandatory medical examination (PULHHEEMS) to determine their medical status, known as Physical Employment Status (PES), which is to determine to which vocational groups the person can be posted to.

Male children who take up permanent residency status under the sponsorship of their permanent resident parent are required by law to serve National Service, just like Singaporean male citizens because they too enjoy the socio-economic national benefits of schooling and living in peacetime Singapore. They are also known as second-generation PRs. In general, most male citizens are allowed to defer NS to complete their full-time tertiary studies up to the 1st pre-university qualification bar (GCE 'A' Levels or Polytechnic Diploma (or their equivalent)) before enlistment for Basic Military Training (BMT) for specific criteria, whereas those who exceeded the age limit will have to defer their offer.

  • JC students will automatically be granted deferment, if you are less than 19 years old (Sec 4) and 20 years old (Sec 5) (those born after 1 January 1995 and 1 January 1996)
  • Polytechnic students from secondary school will automatically be granted deferment - if you are less than 19 years old (Sec 4) and 20 years old (Sec 5) (those born after 1 January 1995 and 1 January 1996)
  • Polytechnic students from ITE will automatically be granted deferment if you are less than 21 years old, and 22 years old (those who are going on a longer way) (those born after 1 January 1993 and 1 January 1994)
  • ITE students will automatically be granted deferment.
  • Cross-ITE streams (NITEC to Higher NITEC) will be granted deferment if you are less than 21 years old (those born after 1 January 1994)
  • Private schools will be granted deferment if you are less than 19 years old (Sec 4) and 20 years old (Sec 5) (those born after 1 January 1995 and 1 January 1996)

Those granted approval in national sports teams to compete in national/ overseas events will be drafted as soon as they returned from one of the national level events. Pre-enlistees who ran afoul with the law and sentenced to Changi Prison are never released back into Singapore Armed Forces.

Complete NS exemptions are extremely rare nowadays, and are usually due to permanent disability or severe medical conditions to be graded PES F by the SAF Medical Board and other exceptional case-by-case basis. Lately, national policies are progressively tightened to close up any loopholes that are exploited by draft evaders. There is a voluntary early enlist scheme by CMPB for pre-enlistees who opt for early enlistment, with the consent of their parents, to begin their full-time national service at the earliest age of 16 years and six months.

In the past, the duration of the conscription for a typical Singaporean male spanned over a period of either 2 or 2 years and six months depending on his educational qualifications. In 2004, the duration was reduced to 2 years, driven by the technological transformation into the 3rd Generation SAF and the surge in NS intake for the next 10 years.[8] As a bonus incentive, the NS duration can be cut by a further two months when the combat-fit PES A/B1 enlistees are able to obtain a silver or gold for their physical fitness test (NAPFA) prior to enlistment. However, non-combat-fit enlistees (PES B2 and below) will still serve the full 24 months of NS.[9]

Rank Full-Time NS Duration1 Qualifications Remarks
1971 till Nov 2004 Lance Corporal or lower 2 years O Level, N Level and ITC or lower
1971 till May 2004 Corporal and higher 2 years 6 months Full A Level and Diploma qualifications or higher Will be administratively promoted to at least the rank of Corporal.
Jun 2004 till Nov 2004 Corporal and higher 2 years 2 months A Level and Diploma qualifications or higher NSFs serving then had 2 months reduction instead to compensate them for the policy change
From Dec 2004 All ranks 2 years All qualifications Performance-based system
1. NAPFA Only for combat-fit PES A/B1 pre-enlistees, Silver or Gold before enlistment get a bonus 2 months reduction, serving 1 years 10 months of NS

Refusal to serve and conscientious objection

Those who are liable to serve national service as a national duty to the country but refuse are charged under the Enlistment Act.[10] If convicted, they face up to both three years' imprisonment and a fine of S$10,000. Draft defaulters' penalties were increased significantly in January 2006 after Melvyn Tan, who was born in 1956 in Singapore, received a composition fine for defaulting on his National Service obligations in the 1970s after attained British citizenship. If a male citizen is a defaulter, who has finished one course of study, and going to be called up for enlistment, he will have a two year jail sentence after graduation. No subsequent courses of study is allowed after the completion of first course of study. MINDEF has a grace period of utilising the rest of the course term in order to finish the course before graduation.

A handful of NS pre-enlistees are court-martialled for their failure to enlist or refusal to be conscripted. Most of them were Jehovah's Witnesses, who are usually sentenced to three years' imprisonment by default at the SAF detention barrack facility, and are separated from other conscription offenders. As of July 30, 2014, 16 Jehovah's Witnesses are reportedly serving time in the SAF Detention Barracks for conscientious objection to military service.[11] The government does not consider conscientious objection to be a legal reason for refusal to serve NS. Since 1972, the publications of Jehovah's Witnesses have been outlawed in Singapore.[12] This is commonly misinterpreted to mean that Jehovah's Witnesses themselves are outlawed in Singapore. In the Singapore Parliament on 5 August 2014, the Defence Minister stated that according to records, no such persons have been granted reinstatement of permanent residence or citizenship. He added that the policy has been progressively tightened recently such that no NS-liable permanent resident who renounced his permanent resident status in the last decade has been granted approval for work or study. For former permanent residents who fail to serve NS, any immediate or future applications including the renewal of their parents' and inclusive of immediate family members' Re-Entry Permits will be adversely affected, including curtailment of the Re-Entry Permit.[13]

Type of services

NS Ranks Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) NSF / NSmen Rank (Basic) allowance in SGD
1970s 1980s 1990s - Jun 2002(a) Jul 2002 - Jun 2006(b) Jul 2006 - Dec 2008 Jan 2009 - Sep 2009 Oct 2009 - Mar 2012 Apr 2012–Present
Recruit (REC) $40 $120 $240 $350 $400 $420 $480
Private (PTE) $45 $125
Private First Class (PFC) $130
Lance Corporal (LCP) $50 $135 $250 $370 $420 $440 $500
Corporal (CPL) $60 $150 $270 $420 $470 $490 $550
Corporal First Class (CFC) NA $160[14] NA $510 $530 $590
Specialist Cadet (SCT) NA $490 $510 $570
Third Sergeant (3SG) NA $160 $280 $560 $570 $580 $590 $800
Second Sergeant (2SG) NA $340 $600 $650 $660 $680 $900
Officer Cadet (OCT) $90 $300 $525 $630 $680 $700 ($900) $760 ($960)
Second Lieutenant (2LT) $120 $400 $650 $870 $920 $940 ($1,140) $1,000 ($1,200)
Lieutenant (LTA) NA $450 $780 $1,050 $1,100 $1,120 ($1,320) $1,180 ($1,380)
Captain (CPT) $600 $1,240 $1,750 $1,880 ($2,020) ($2,080)
a. Additional vocationalist or combat allowances ranging from $40–$140
b. Additional vocationalist or combat allowances ranging from $100–$300 from July 2002 onwards
c. Additional allowance for Key Appointment Holders (KAHs) are reduced by approx 50% due to basic service pay increased from July 2002 onwards
d. Additional allowance for Specialist and NS Men from Oct 2009 onwards
e. Figures in () applies to NSF Medical Officer/Dental Officer

Personal Income Tax Relief (NSman (self/wife/parent) relief): All eligible operationally ready (ORD) National Servicemen (NSmen) are entitled to NSmen tax relief to recognise their contributions to National Service in the previous work year (i.e. from 1 Apr to 31 Mar).[15] 'Operationally ready National Serviceman' means any person who has completed national service under the Enlistment Act (Cap. 93) or been deemed to have completed such service by the proper authority. These exclude regulars from MINDEF, SPF or SCDF and NSmen who have committed any disciplinary or criminal offences in the preceding work year. NSman wife and NSman Parent Reliefs are also given to the wife and parents of NSmen respectively to recognise the support they give to their husband and son.

Military service

There are several types of Basic Military Training (BMT) conducted by the SAF at its BMT Centre on Pulau Tekong, an offshore island off the north-east coast of Singapore, or at selected battalion units which directly draft mono-intake recruits. Combat-fit NSFs with higher education undergo a 9-week Enhanced BMT program. NSFs with other educational certificates and mono-intake recruits undergo a similar program (standard BMT program), less a Situational Test (Sit Test), for assessing recruits in the selection posting to command schools, the Specialist Cadet School (SCS) and Officer Cadet School (OCS). Also, a selected handful few are transferred to the police service to get accelerated advanced training as an Inspector. Recently, selected NSFs having at least NITEC certificates who perform exceptionally well are recommended to undergo the Sit Test model to deem assessment suitability for commander training. NSFs who are medically graded PES C and E (non-combat-fit), either have to go a 9-week Modified BMT or a 4-week induction program for recruits to be trained for combat service support vocations[16] NSFs who are medically fit, but did not pass the pre-enlistment National Physical Fitness Award (NAPFA), will have to undergo an additional 2-month Physical Training Phase (PTP),[17] making it a 17-week BMT program for additional physical conditioning. Conscripts who are considered medically obese go through a weight-loss 19-weeks BMT. The obesity of a conscript is determined by his body mass index (BMI) during the pre-enlistment medical checkup. A BMI of above 27 is considered indicative of obesity, as opposed to the World Health Organization's guideline of 30 and above.[citation needed]

After ORD, combat-fit NSmen have to take the IPPT annually as a citizen-soldier obligations to protect Singapore.[18]

Mono Intake

Refers to conscripts who are directly enlisted into battalion units and undergo their basic military training there, bypassing the Pulau Tekong BMT, e.g. Naval Diving Unit, Commandos.

Police service

Though a majority will serve in the SAF (predominantly in the Army) for their National Service, a number of enlistees will serve their NS years in the Singapore Police Force (SPF). Those who have been chosen to serve in the SPF undergo training at the Home Team Academy where they study the Penal Code and standard police protocol. After training at the Academy, they will be posted to various departments of the SPF, such as Special Operations Command (SOC), Logistics, Land divisions, Airport Police. Those posted to the Police Coast Guard (PCG) or Police KINS will undergo further training. Selection of Officer Cadets (OCTs) to undergo the NS Police Inspector Course (NSPI) is a stringent process for Police National Servicemen (Full-time). A very small number, usually one who is awarded the Best Trainee Award, from each cohort will be selected, with the majority of the OCTs being the Singapore Armed Forces' National Servicemen (Full-time) who have completed their Basic Military Training (BMT).

Civil defence service

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) is the emergency rescue force of Singapore and they provide firefighting, rescue and ambulance services, and has been one of the three National Service postings since 1972. Those enlisted into the SCDF typically undergo seven weeks of training at the Basic Rescue Training Centre (BRTC), where they are given basic rescue training (BRT), exposed to regimental discipline, and trained to maintain a level of fitness required of all NSFs in Singapore.

Much like the SAF's SISPEC course, selected NSFs are also posted to the Civil Defence Academy (CDA) to undergo the Firefighter Course (FFC) or the Emergency Response Specialist Course (ERSC) within the first two weeks of their BRT stage, passing out as Firefighters for FFC trainees, and as Fire & Rescue Specialists for ERS trainees who would also simultaneously be conferred with the Sergeant rank (Firefighters mostly pass out as Lance Corporals prior to station posting). Firefighters would typically be posted out to the various fire stations island-wide after passing out, while Fire & Rescue Specialists would be posted as Section Commanders at territorial division, fire stations or at the Special Rescue Battalion; based largely on rankings at the time of course completion, a small number may also be posted as Instructors back in the CDA to staff the Command and Staff Training Center (CSTC), Specialist Training Center (STC), or Firefighting Training Center (FFTC).

While a certain level of health and fitness pre-requisites are expected by both the FFC and ERSC administrators before one can be selected for these courses, admission into the ERS course typically requires a certain set of additional qualifications, namely either a minimum of a GCE Advanced Level certificate, a Diploma or a Higher Nitec Certificate. These added pre-requisites are viewed as necessary in the light of a Section Commander's operational and administrative role when posted out. One marked difference between the FFC and ERSC is the added rescue and emergency training received by ERS Specialist Cadet Trainees (SCTs), as well as the General Command & Control Term, which includes the Basic Home Team Course held at the Home Team Academy and an outward-bound Brunei trip which serves to equip and develop the necessary leadership skills required of a specialist junior officer. In terms of administration and duration, the FFC is under the charge of the FFTC and lasts three months, while the ERSC is under the purview of the CSTC and lasts six months.

In addition, there is also the Basic Officer Course under the charge of the CSTW, designed to train NSFs and regulars as Senior Officers of the SCDF, with NSFs graduating as Lieutenants (LTA). While the BOC is traditionally largely made up of NSFs from the SAF who had just completed their Basic Military Training (BMT) at Pulau Tekong, the top 5-10% of the ERSC will also be offered to cross over to the Basic Officer Course (BOC) to be trained and commissioned as Senior Officers after passing out, spending the last three months of the BOC together with Officer Cadet Trainees (OCTs).

NSFs who undergo the full 7-week basic rescue training at the BRTC are subsequently posted and trained to become medical orderlies (medics), dog handlers, provosts, information and communications and logistics specialists or instructors (such as Physical Training Instructors) among many other vocations upon passing out from the BRTC.[19]

Singapore Permanent Residents

Second Generation Permanent Residents, are mandated by law to register for enlistment to the compulsory full-time national service and later, reservist duties when they turn operationally-ready (ORD).

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen stated in Parliament that between 2006 to 2011, about 8,800 males who had become permanent residents under the sponsorship of their parents were enlisted for and served National Service (NS). On the other hand, 4,200 males who had become permanent residents under the sponsorship of their parents renounced their PR status prior to serving national service.[20] Their failure to serve NS will be taken into account should they decide to study, work or travel in Singapore in future. The government advises of such consequences at the point of renunciation.[21]

After completing mandatory full-time national service, they can qualify to apply for the accelerated Singapore citizenship scheme. However, citizenship is not guaranteed for all applicants, as there are certain criteria that must be met such as educational qualification, income qualification and NS work performance/ conduct appraisal in the NS Certificate of Service issued upon ORD. From 2006 to 2010, about 2% of 3,000 Second Generation Permanent Residents who completed full-time national service and applied for Singapore citizenship were rejected.[22] In the Singapore Parliament on 5 August 2014, the Defence Minister stated that according to records, no such persons have been granted reinstatement of PR or citizenship. He added that the policy has been progressively tightened recently such that no NS-liable PR who renounced his PR status in the last decade has been granted approval for work or study. For former PRs who fail to serve NS, any immediate or future applications for renewal of their parents' and immediate family members' Re-Entry Permits may be adversely affected, including curtailment of the Re-Entry Permit.[13]

If the person is not granted Singapore citizenship but still holds Singapore permanent residency, he is still obliged by law to serve the national service obligations, i.e. operationally-ready reservist duties/ in-camp trainings [23]

Singapore Permanent Residents who served national service but did not acquire Singapore citizenship will be treated equally to those permanent residents without service obligation; they would not have access to the privileges granted to Singapore citizens.

Military Offences

Any military offences are governed by the SAF Act and the Enlistment Act in the Singapore Statures, administered by the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Defence.[24]

In popular culture


  • From Boys To Men: A Literary Anthology Of National Service In Singapore edited by Koh Buck Song and Umej Bhatia (2002) - 50 works of poetry, prose & playscripts by 30 writers, from 1967 to 2002, the 35th anniversary of national service in Singapore. This anthology contains seminal works about the dilemma of duty, such as The Fragrance Of Lallang, a sonnet by Koh Buck Song.


  • Army Daze directed by Ong Keng Sen (1996)
  • Ah Boys to Men directed by Jack Neo (2012–2013)

Ah Boys to Men 2


  • Army Daze by Michael Chiang (1987, 2006)
  • Full Tank! (2008)
  • Radio Silence (2008)
  • Botak Boys (2008)
  • Charged (2010)


  • Every Singaporean Son (2010)
  • Every Singaporean Son - Epilogue (2011)
  • Making The Cut: Guards Conversion Course (2011)
  • Every Singaporean Son II - The Making of an Officer (2012)

See also

  • Awards for Singapore National Serviceman
  • 1954 National Service Riots - Chinese opposition to conscription service during British rule
  • From Boys To Men: A Literary Anthology Of National Service In Singapore - edited by Koh, Buck Song and Bhatia, Umej (2002) Landmark Books, Singapore. ISBN 981-3065-67-2
  • Shoulder To Shoulder: Our National Service Journal - Ministry of Defence, Singapore (2002) ISBN 981-04-6931-4


  1. "CIA = The World Factbook". Central Intelligence Agency. 
  2. Amnon Brazilai, "A Deep, Dark, Secret Love Affair" (reprint), Haaretz, July 2004.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Alon Peled, A Question of Loyalty: Ethnic Minorities, Military Service and Resistance, 3 March 1993. Seminar Synopses of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard.
  4. Straits Times, 2 April 1987.
  5. Sean Walsh (2007). "The Roar of the Lion City: Ethnicity, Gender, and Culture in the Singapore Armed Forces". pp. 265. Digital object identifier:10.1177/0095327X06291854. 
  6. "US soldier takes potshots at SAF". 12 March 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-17. [dead link]
  7. "Enlistment Act". Retrieved 2010-09-14. 
  8. MINDEF - News - Ministerial Statement on Full-time National Service Duration
  10. Enlistment Act
  11. "Imprisoned for Their Faith"
  12. "Refusing to Bear Arms: A worldwide survey of conscription and conscientious objection to military service: Singapore". War Resisters' International. 3 October 1998. 
  13. 13.0 13.1
  14. Newspaper archive of The Straits Times, 12 October 1988.
  16. "Types of BMT Training". About BMT. Ministry of Defence (Singapore). 13 November 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  17. "iPrepNS: Frequently asked questions". Ministry of Defence. 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2011. 

External links

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