KENG LUN: The Aloysius Pang training mishap has raised a bigger issue which I’m sure all of us national servicemen are wondering about, which is whether reservist NSmen should be made to do tasks which require specialised skills such as machine repairs. While I have no doubt reservist will always do their best when necessary, there is a limit to the depth of their abilities when it comes to war machines.
We are called “Operationally-Ready”, but the fact is for those who don’t use these skills in our daily lives, those skills become rusty and forgotten. We are talking about specialised machines which are complex to operate, not simple tools like bicycles or semi-automatic rifles. Would you trust the repair of a multi-million-dollar F-35 jet plane to a NSman whose day job is selling insurance, or whatever else occupation that doesn’t involve fixing planes?
A once-a-year brief refresher course is not going to make anyone an expert. As it is stands, some reservist even need time to figure out how to use a SAR-21. Skills to operate or repair complex machines should naturally involve experts who can be relied on to intuitively devise solutions when things go wrong, and fix things taking with thorough understanding of how the machines work.
When machines fail and people fail, mishaps that bring injury or death often follow. MINDEF must rethink its strategies for troop deployment, and let reservists perform more general tasks which can be easily relearned every year during ICT.
In war, friendly-fire is estimated to account for up to 20 percent of battlefield casualties. Let’s not add “friendly-error” to the mix.