Foreign workers removing bus stop for airforce exercise

(Tan Yulin): I was disappointed to see construction workers removing a bus stop to turn Lim Chu Kang Road into a runway for the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s Exercise Torrent (“Turning road into runway“; Nov 12).

Getting construction workers to do the work defeats the purpose of the military exercise. Besides testing the operational abilities of the air force to launch aircraft in a short period of time, it is also important to test the capabilities of our soldiers to convert a road into a runway.

It would have made the exercise more authentic if combat engineers had been activated to remove the bus stops, guard rails and lamp posts, without the help of construction workers.

Doing so would also have served as a test of the different forces working together in times of threat. Besides building teamwork and understanding among the different forces, such exercises should be a test of the operational readiness of our multi-disciplinary armed forces. I hope this can be taken into consideration for future airforce exercises.

Foreign workers have always been a key ‘shadow army’ behind the SAF machine, and if the writer herself had a boy going through NS, she would have been complicit in their invisible work as well. If not for maids, who would help lug our NSmen’s duffel bags home after a hard day’s training, or wash the mud off their No. 4s and boots?

Dismantling bus stops aside, the packing of parachutes has also been outsourced to non-soldiers, with some alleging that PRCs are behind it. With our dismal birthrate and shortage of manpower, it would be unrealistic to stretch our army’s capabilities right down to the most basic of logistics. That includes washing tanks and feeding the army in times of war. Though contracted to ‘civilian’ companies, I’m pretty certain that foreign workers will be involved.

Even the SAF and Police rope in foreign workers. In order to test SCDF’s anti-riot capacity following the Little India incident, actual dorm workers were roped in as part of a simulation exercise, right down to awkward reenactments of throwing projectiles at armed SCDF personnel. A much easier job than pulling bus stops out of the ground if you ask me.

Then Minister of National Development Khaw Boon Wan said in a FB post that the mock riot was ‘well received…by foreign worker ambassadors‘, and that it was a ‘meaningful collaboration’. Likewise, you could say the use of construction workers to prepare a runway for the RSAF is a cost-saving optimization of resources so that our airforce can focus on their flying stuff and our combat engineers can focus on their bridge-building/demolishing stuff.

It’s time we accept that foreign workers have contributed to our military operations in some way or another, from the rations that soldiers eat to the airborne equipment that keeps them from going splat on the ground. Or maybe the RSAF had intended for actual soldiers to do the dirty work in preparation for the exercise after all, but our boys were activated to other soldierly duties: Managing crowds during a MRT breakdown.