Rethinking the way fighting force is trained
WHILE it has been stated before that Singapore has no natural resources to speak of, many have said that the people of Singapore themselves could be counted as one.
However, with a population of only 5.4 million, it is safe to say that manpower is a somewhat scarce resource for the island-republic, making it all the more precious.
The Government acknowledged this shortfall in a White Paper last year called A Sustainable Population For Dynamic Singapore. Rather than trying to increase total population, the Government is now more focused on improving overall productivity through other means, such as flexible working arrangements, automation and other technological options.
Since the recent Budget announcement, grants and measures from the Government have been discussed and put into place for this purpose.
For the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), with only 71,600 active frontline personnel, there is a clear need for effective use of manpower.
The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) recently announced that it will be hiring 1,100 new trainers to help reduce training times and shorten the total enlistment period by a few weeks. This is a great start, but it might be possible to do more to improve training quality while reducing the time demands on servicemen.
Mindef is already well known for aggressively adopting new technology to bolster its capabilities, as seen in the development of the critically acclaimed SAR21 assault rifle, as well as the organisation's defence research partnership with Nanyang Technological University.
Beyond improving military technology, Mindef could also look at leveraging relevant technologies that are already widely used in the business world. Video collaboration solutions are one such technology that can be used to augment the training process.
The needs of the military in the 21st century are dramatically different, compared to those of previous generations.
Today, training technology is a critical tool required to keep pace with the demands of high-tech military warfare techniques, which are constantly evolving.
The United States' army, air force and navy as well as Nato and the European Regional Medical Command are all examples of organisations which use video collaboration solutions to effectively enhance their training programmes and keep up with the changing face of military operations.
The advantages of video collaboration-enabled learning are many. Classes can be presented in real time, recorded, streamed and made available at room locations, on desktop computers, and on mobile devices.
Such solutions often include displays, microphones, software, smartphones, tablets, whiteboards, green screens, automatic cameras and even closed-captioning or language-translation capabilities.
Everyone is equally involved in the collaborative learning process. Thus, the results of utilisation are productive, exciting and produce a state of "increased readiness" for military personnel.
Imagine a scenario where a trainer stationed in Mindef headquarters could simultaneously broadcast a lesson to trainees at Chong Pang Camp, Paya Lebar Air Base and Maju Camp.
The ability to manage a shortage of trainers, reduce physical teaching locations, save travel time, standardise training, and record presentations for later playback are just some of the advantages video conferencing-enabled teaching has over its traditional counterpart.
The cost savings are also substantial. The US Air Force's Air Technology Network estimates that it saves US$10 million (S$12.7 million) on training expenditure a year through the use of video collaboration solutions.
And it's not only theoretical learning that would benefit from such technology. Even soldiers out on a training mission could easily use a laptop to request further instructions from more seasoned officers back in base when they run into problems.
Medics attending to an emergency would also benefit from having a direct line to medical personnel who can observe and walk them through first-aid efforts.
The successful integration of e-learning by Mindef would undoubtedly pave the way for similar adoption in other areas, such as education, medicine, manufacturing and finance.
The ability to reap greater productivity while engineering a more inclusive and greener society is not the stuff of science fiction any longer.
The technology is already here, and the time to begin utilising it fully is now. What remains to be seen is who will take the first step in Singapore and lead the way.
The writer is video collaboration solutions provider Polycom's public-sector government market director, board member of the US Federal Government Distance Learning Association, and a former US Navy Video Teletraining Officer