How MINDEF Singapore is using technology to enhance quality and ability of soldiers
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is leveraging wearable technology and data analytics to deliver targeted and effective training for its soldiers.
This was among the initiatives mentioned by Second Minister for Defence Mr Ong Ye Kung during the Defence Committee of Supply (COS) Debate in the Singapore Parliament on 2 March, where technology is being used to prepare more effective and capable servicemen
Second Minister Ong highlighted the challenge of falling cohort sizes and a shrinking enlistment pool and said, “The future capability and effectiveness of the SAF will not be based on the number and quantity of people we have, instead it will be based on their quality and their ability.”
Targeted training using wearables and data analytics
Today wearable technologies can be used to capture physiological information such as heart rate, body temperature, calories consumed and physical activity levels (such as distance travelled, speed and altitude). Through data analytics, the soldiers’ physiological data can be analysed to gain new insights into training effectiveness, human performance and injury prevention. Applications can be loaded onto the wearables to translate real-time findings into prompts and alerts, allowing soldiers to manage their training independently.
The new Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance (CESP) is adopting this kind of a scientific, data-driven approach to optimise the performance of every soldier. It uses wearables and data to better understand each individual soldier's physiological condition, and then prescribe more effective and progressive training, while minimising the risk of acute injury. The training can also be customised to what the soldier is supposed to do, the vocation and the task.
The CESP will be launching a multi-phase project to introduce wearable devices and data-driven approaches into training. The first phase which will kick during 2018, involves an observational study to examine the correlation between training, performance and injury risk in a small group of approximately 150 soldiers. Based on the insights gained, the CESP will assess the utility of extending wearable devices to other training schools and units.
MINDEF (Ministry of Defence) is also starting a pilot on the use of wearable technology at SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) Fitness Conditioning Centres and SAFRA gyms.
This will allow NSmen (National Servicemen) to choose the type of exercise they prefer or need – cycling, running, weights, interval training – instead of adhering strictly to the SAF-conducted IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) Preparatory Training, or IPT regime. When NSmen clock their IPT sessions using the fitness wearables at the FCCs and SAFRA gyms, the data that is stored on the device will be used to register for the IPT session using online fitness applications. As long as they achieve the required calories and intensity, it will be considered a valid IPT session.
In the next trial phase, digital identification technologies will be used to tag the device to the individual NSman so that they can be registered automatically for their IPT sessions via online fitness applications at all FCCs and more gym locations, increasing the flexibility of fitness training for our NSmen.
Reviewing vocation requirements
Technology is also allowing MINDEF to review vocation requirements, because a firm line can no longer be drawn between combat-fit and non-combat-fit.
For example, the personnel operating autonomous systems in the control room are in combat, even though they are not physically exerting.
“So many more servicemen can now perform what could have only been done by servicemen who used to have to meet the most stringent physical requirements. For example, physical requirements and demands for vocations such as combat engineers and security troopers are now much less as we leverage technology,” said Second Minister Ong.
This has opened up opportunities for MINDEF to deploy national servicemen more meaningfully according to their fitness and abilities. Since last year, the SAF has deployed more than 600 servicemen to vocations that they were previously ineligible for. This number is expected to rise.
MINDEF is also leveraging NSFs' (National Servicemen Full-time) talent in niche areas, such as cybersecurity through the Cyber NSF Scheme announced two weeks ago. The scheme aims to develop committed and skilled Cyber NSFs to defend Singapore’s military networks. The scheme has been launched as a pilot trial for those enlisting in the later part of this year.
The Minister said that there has been an overwhelmingly positive response since the Scheme was announced, with numerous pre-enlistees writing in to express interest. The applicants will be put through a rigorous selection test on their skills and their aptitudes.
Saving manpower and improving the National Service experience
MINDEF is also deploying technologies that can reduce the demand on manpower, while maintaining or enhancing operational effectiveness.
An example is Smart naval bases, which use a next generation screening system, incorporating technologies such as biometric authentication, facial recognition, and automated threat analysis system. These improvements will reduce the number of security personnel required in the naval bases by 70%.
Besides enabling manpower savings, MINDEF is also using technology to make NS a better experience, and raise morale.
Last year, an e-fitting system was introduced at Central Manpower Base (CMPB). Previously, pre-enlistees had to go through the tedious process of measuring all their body dimensions manually. This is now done by infra-red body and foot scanners, to quickly and accurately fit pre-enlistees to their uniforms and sports shoes. The e-fitting system has also successfully reduced kit exchanges at BMTC from 20% to 6%.
MINDEF is embarking on trial to further enhance the experience at CMPB. It is looking to optimise visitor flow and shorten waiting times by using facial recognition and real-time queue management technology.
Another innovation is an AI-enabled chatbot called "NS Buddy". At any time of the day, the servicemen can ask question to the NS Buddy.
“For example, he can ask “What is BTP?” The Buddy will then explain that it stands for Basic Train-fire Package, and it will present the facts, and then also give him advice to say "aim properly. Don't be a bobo shooter. Safety First!””, Mr Ong explained.
In the next phase of the trial, the NS Buddy will be further enhannced, expanding its content base and adding more SAF lexicons.