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Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation
Active 1 December 1969 - Present
Country Singapore
Branch Army
Type Saboteurs, Raiders
Role Airborne operations, Unconventional warfare, Counter-insurgency, Counter-terrorism
Size One battalion
Part of Singapore Army
Garrison/HQ Hendon Camp
Motto(s) For Honour and Glory
Engagements Operation Thunderbolt
Commanders
Current
commander
COL Lim Swee Chye Simon
Notable
commanders
LTC Tan Kim Peng Clarence
LTC James Chia

The Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation (CDO FN) is an elite branch of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). An offensive unit, it specialises in pre-emptive operations involving small groups of specially trained soldiers in enemy territory. Designed to be executed quickly in anticipation of a reaction by the enemy, these commando operations are normally short-term and intensive due to their lack of service support in hostile environments.

The commandos are usually entrusted with two main roles. Strike missions may involve firefights with the enemy and the destruction of specific enemy targets. Reconnaissance missions are conducted by smaller groups of commandos who may need to camp for longer periods surveying the target in enemy territory.

In recognition of the consistently high training and operational standards in which the formation has achieved over the years, its one and only active battalion, 1st Commando Battalion (1CDO), has won the Singapore Armed Forces Best Unit Competition's "Best Combat Unit Award" for a record 25 times since the competition was introduced in 1969.

History[edit | edit source]

The effort to create an elite unit comprising regular servicemen began in earnest in 1967, when two officers, MAJ Tan Kim Peng Clarence and MAJ James Chia, were given the task to begin recruiting eligible candidates from any unit in the SAF, thus forming the SAF Regular Battalion on 1 December 1969 under the direct command of the Ministry of Defence. CPT Tham Chee Onn was selected as acting Commanding Officer for the new unit of 20 men, with nine other officers assisting him. MAJ Tan subsequently joined the unit as its Commanding Officer, who was responsible for establishing its training programme. A second recruitment drive was launched in early 1970 particularly aimed at beefing up the strength of officers.

In early 1971, the unit was renamed as the Singapore Armed Forces Commando Unit. The red berets for the unit were introduced on 3 May 1971 with the SAF's initiative in replacing the jungle hats with berets across all units. Red was chosen as it was synonymous with many other special forces around the world. It is also the official beret colour for paratroopers.

On 16 July 1971, the unit moved from its first home at the old School of Infantry Specialists's Advance Specialist Training Wing building at Pasir Laba Camp to Changi Camp. At the same time, the unit was renamed as the 1st Commando Battalion (1 CDO BN), with one company fully composed of regular soldiers.

With National Service (NS) introduced in Singapore in 1967 and constituting a large part of the SAF's manpower, the talent pool from which the unit could draw from was greatly restricted. Thus, the decision to allow full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to join the unit was made in 1972, and on 15 January 1973, the pioneer batch formed the new Second Company under the command of CPT Gwee Peng Hong and with 2WO Kiong Kian Khoon as the Company Sergeant Major. The success of the first company helped to accelerate the program and the establishment of the Third, Fourth and Fifth companies from July 1973 to January 1975 under the command of CPT Boon Hon Lin, CPT Lim Siang Tong and LTA Dominic Teo respectively. Sixth company or "Wolf Company" was formed in 2005 with CPT Arnold Low as Officer Commanding and 2WO Kasinathan as Company Sergeant Major. With its six companies, consisting of one regular company and four NSF Rifle companies, and a headquarters company involving men from both regular and NSF servicemen, the 1 CDO BN was restructured and placed under the command of the 3rd Division in April 1975. It came under the command of the newly formed 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade (7SIB) together with two Guards battalions in 1977 under an initiative to turn 7SIB into an elite formation, and received its state and regimental colours on 22 January 1977 by the then Minister for Defence, Goh Keng Swee, on behalf of the then President Benjamin Henry Sheares.

On 1 July 1980, the 1 CDO BN was transferred out again when the decision was made to turn 7SIB into a Guards formation, and it came under the direct command of Headquarters Infantry. The Headquarters School of Commando Training (SOCT) was established on 1 October 1980, and took over the command of 1 CDO BN. The newly reorganised unit was presented with a new formation sign by then Acting Chief of the General Staff, BG Tan Chin Tiong, incorporating the Winged Stiletto as the new emblem of the Commandos and with the new unit motto, "For Honour and Glory".

The all-regular composition of the 1 CDO BN's First Company meant it was entrusted with critical counter-terrorism responsibilities, as well as helping to train their NSF counterparts. It began to induct NSFs from 17 December 1984 under the command of CPT Yeo Lai Huat with 2WO Nathan as the Company Sergeant Major, however, thus turning 1 CDO BN into a full NSF Battalion. First Company also began training in a new operation requirement for long range recon patrolling as well as divisional disruptive operations for the first time, giving the army the capability to see on the group and verify enemy manoeuvres at long distances from friendly lines. In 1986, another tradition of the Commandos was created when the stiletto was presented to graduants of Second Company during their Red Beret Presentation ceremony in December 1986, a practice which has been continued ever since. Now, Stiletto is presented to Commandos when they finish their two year stint in the elite unit

The need to form a governing policy-making body since the mid-1980s led to the establishment of Headquarters Commandos in November 1989, and received its state and formation colours from the then President Wee Kim Wee on 20 October 1991. The Changi Camp facilities began to restrict the unit's growth, and BG (NS) Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister, instructed for the "best camp in the SAF" to be built nearby at a site near Sungei Selarang east of Loyang. The new camp, Hendon Camp, was officially inaugurated on 27 January 1994 by the then Chief of Defence Force, LTG Ng Jui Ping, and remains its home till this day.

Heritage and traditions[edit | edit source]

Symbolism[edit | edit source]

Like many of its counterparts, the elite status of the Singapore Commando Formation utilises various artifacts or elements to build a unit identity and to foster greater camaraderie amongst its members. These include:

  • The Formation Motto: For Honour & Glory. This motto entreats each Commando to achieve each and every mission he undertakes for the honour and glory of the Formation and Nation.
  • The Formation Insignia. Prior to 1981, Commandos wore flashes identifying them with the Formation to which they belonged. As part of the inauguration of HQ SOCT, the Winged Stiletto was introduced as the emblem of the Commandos. The wings and stiletto denotes their elite airborne status.
  • The Red Beret, worn by all Commandos, is given great prominence, with a formal Red Beret Presentation ceremony held at the Passing Out Parade for all training graduants. Sometimes worn even when in battle gear in place of the jungle hat, they are also worn during military parades and formal ceremonies.
  • The Stiletto Knife. Razor sharp from edge to edge, the Commando knife is a weapon well suited for silencing the enemy quickly and effectively. Otherwise known as the stiletto knife, or the Fairbairn and Sykes Commando Dagger, it is unique to the Commandos and is just what they need in close quarter, one to one combat. The blade measures 20 cm and features the Commando Formation Insignia.
  • The Silver Wings. The Parachutist Badge awarded upon successful completion of the Basic Airborne Course conducted by the Parachute Training Wing, School of Commandos, is also known affectionately as the Silver Wings. First awarded to the pioneering graduating batch of 27 NSFs from Second Company, 1st Commando Battalion (1 CDO BN), it comprises a pair of outspread wings on both wigs of a deployed parachute, with the words "SINGAPURA" below the canopy. With the design sanctioned by 1 CDO BN's Commanding Officer, Tan Kim Peng Clarence, it is differentiated by a crimson velvet backing for only for Commandos, while those of the Commando Parachute Jump Instructors have a golden velvet backing. The "red backing" signifies that only Commandos are operationally capable to jump into battles.

Traditions[edit | edit source]

1 CDO BN organises an annual Commando Skills-At-Arms Meet, whereby companies vie for honours on an inter-section basis. A practice begun in 1992, it tests Commandos in executing a range of skills which may range from marksmanship, to demolition, and the completion of the Standard Obstacle Course in Full Battle Order. During Skills-At-Arms, a part of the camp will be cordoned off and made available to the public, so that the families and friends of the commandos are able to witness the event.

The Singapore Commandos was the first SAF unit to have an alliance with a foreign unit, the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, in 1982. An annual Alliance Parade was first held on 14 March 1982, until the return of the unit to New Zealand on 2 August 1989. Ties are maintained, however, by the annual exchange of officers since 1993.

The Commandos are a regular feature in the SAF's major parades and events, such as the annual Singapore Armed Forces Military Tattoo and the Singapore Armed Forces Day Parade. They also appear in various national events, including the National Day Parade where they form one of the four guard of honour contingents after winning the Best Combat Unit awards in the preceding year. They have appeared in various mass display segments, often by displaying their rappeling skills. The Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team has appeared in the parade since 1989.

Commandos have also formed up the Guard of Honour for important visitors to the Istana, although this task has been increasingly taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces Military Police Command due to the irrelevance to its official duties.

Manpower[edit | edit source]

Recruitment[edit | edit source]

From an all-regular unit, the 1 CDO BN became an all-NSF battalion on 17 December 1984, with equal expectations from the NSFs as with their regular counterparts. The recruitment process is thus equally stringent, with NSFs hand-picked through a vocational assessment, even before they formally begin their NS liability, this taking precedence over most other units of the SAF as well as that of other organisations. Medical examination reports and physical fitness results taken prior to enlistment were taken into account, amongst other criteria, and shortlisted candidates were subjected to more tests prior to selection. These criteria included above average intelligence and excellent eyesight, although the latter has been loosened somewhat as the number of myopic Singaporeans increase. After successfully completing an interview, the candidate will be enlisted into a company and go through his Basic Military Training phase.

NSmen[edit | edit source]

The reservists, or known locally as "Operationally Ready National Servicemen" (NSmen), form the largest manpower source for the Commando Formation, as is the case for the rest of the SAF. NSmen are similarly called up for In-Camp Training (ICT), and receive refresher courses where necessary at the School of Commandos, including the two-day Basic Combat Training course that is conducted several months prior to the commencement of the ICT itself. NSmen are expected to meet the same standards in the annual individual physical proficiency test (IPPT) as their NSF and regular counterparts.

Training[edit | edit source]

Due to the operationally different requirements of the Singapore Commandos, training of Commandos to-be are conducted separately and away from that of other recruits, with basic training held at company-level at Hendon Camp. More advanced training is conducted at the School of Commandos, which every Commando trainee will pass through at least once since compulsory courses, such as the Basic Airborne Course, are conducted there. It takes about one year to train a newly enlisted soldier into a full-fledged commando, with specialists and commanders requiring an even longer time to train.

Basic training[edit | edit source]

All newly enlisted commandos to-be undergo Basic Military Training (BMT) in Pasir Ris Camp, the Commando Training Institute (CTI). While the training syllabus is largely similar to that of regular BMT conducted SAF-wide, these recruits are pushed further, with constant reminders of their roles as elite soldiers. Putting much emphasis on physical fitness. As a result, the unit, for example, has an unbroken record of 100% passes in the annual marksmanship tests.

Upon successful completion of the BMT, candidates who display unsuitable attributes may be posted out to other units, which may include attitude, aptitude, and medical reasons. Remaining individuals undergo Basic Commando Training (BCT) and upon completion are categorized and sent to specialized Vocational Training (VT) courses namely the Leader, Demolition & Boatmen, Signal, Medic, Sniper and Weapons Course. Physical training becomes increasingly demanding, as commando trainees have a higher physical fitness level to attain as compared to their peers.

Vocational training[edit | edit source]

Commandos are assigned specific tasks when functioning as a section, and are thus trained to specialise in each of them. These roles may include signallers, medical specialists, weapons specialists, small boat operators, snipers, and demolition experts. Outstanding trainees from the BMT and BCT may be trained as Section Leaders at the Commando Training Wing. All trainees must also go through the Basic Airborne Course at the Parachute Training Wing, where they earn their silver wings after five jumps, of which two must be conducted after dusk.

Skills taught during vocational training are then fused with skills taught in the BCT, with the aim of building trust and team bonding between members. These are put to the test when the company goes on its overseas exercise in Brunei, where multiple exercises are conducted in jungles over several weeks of intensive training.

Upon their return to Singapore, the trainees mark the completion of their one-year-long training stint with a 72 km route march, and become full-fledged commandos. The Red Beret Presentation ceremony is held as part of their Passing Out Parade, and the newly trained commandos will then begin operational duties, where further training may also be conducted on more advanced and specialised skills.

Advanced training[edit | edit source]

Most advanced and leadership training course for commandos are conducted at the School of Commandos, which was formed as the Commando Training Centre (CTC) in 1982 before being given its present name in January 1994. It comprises two wings, namely the Commando Training Wing (CTW) and the Parachute Training Wing (PTW).

Courses conducted by the CTW include the Commando Section Leaders' Course (CSLC), the Commando Small Boat Operators' Course, the Commando Officer Conversion Course (COCC), and the Singapore Armed Forces Ranger Course. The PTW is responsible for the Basic Airborne Course, the Parachute Jump Instructor Course, the Military Free Fall Course, etc.

Special Operations Force[edit | edit source]

Members of the all-regular Special Operations Force (SOF) are specially trained to operate in long-range deployments and special missions. All team members are able to be inserted by air, land or sea, with specialised skills in demolitions, explosives and special tactics. Selected members are sent to the United States for the US Army Special Forces course, as well as the US Navy SEAL course.

Accidents and safety issues[edit | edit source]

As is the case for other SAF units, training safety is accorded high priority, particularly due to the sensitivity in handling the well-being of national servicemen who constitute a large part of the Commando Formation. Serious training incidents are relatively rare, but they were also rarely publicised or discussed in the media until recently. In 2003, training safety standard began to come under increased scrutiny when 2SG Hu Enhuai of the Singapore Guards died during a Combat Survival Training course conducted by the Commandos on 21 August.[1] Four commandos were charged in court a year later for carrying out the "dunking" procedure deemed inappriopriate for training purposes.[2]

Other recent incidents include the death of a regular serviceman, 2SG Rajagopal Thirukumaran of the Singapore Guards, after a run during the selection for the Ranger course conducted by the CTW on 3 September 2003,[3] and a heli-rappelling incident on 14 July 2005 in which a regular commando, 1SG Shiva s/o Mohan, and a foreign serviceman were killed.[4]

On 15 June 2005, another regular serviceman, 2SG Ong Jia Hui, 24, drowned during training, even though four instructors were within visible range from him at the Changi Naval Base. [6] He was training as a member of the Maritime Counter-Terrorism Group in the SOF at the time of this death.[5] On 20 June 2006, a 24-year-old commando died while undergoing training at a swimming pool in Hendon Camp.[6]

During a night training exercise in Thailand, two commandos were accidentally shot by hunting farmers. The soldiers, a regular and a full-time conscipt serviceman were lightly injured and recovered shortly after.[citation needed]

Controversies[edit | edit source]

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|date= }} 1 CDO BN was the subject of controversy in 2003 when it was barred by the Ministry of Defence from the annual Singapore Armed Forces Best Unit Competition, due to the discovery of irregularities in late 2002 within the logistics records of one of the sub-units of the battalion. There were also discrepancies in the individual fitness test scores reported by two of the unit's specialists, who handle the stores. Army inspectors unmasked the cover-up during a logistics readiness inspection at the battalion. The inspection, which assess the level of competence of storekeepers in SAF units, is part of the selection process in the Best Unit Competition.

A ministry spokesman stated: "The SAF takes a serious view of such matters. As a result, the unit was disallowed from participating in the Best Unit Competition for the year. This is to uphold the integrity and high standards of the competition." Disciplinary action was reportedly taken against the individuals concerned.

Operations[edit | edit source]

Laju Ferry Incident (1974)[edit | edit source]

In times of peace in Singapore, the Singapore Commandos are rarely called into action, only occasionally activated to assist in major operations related to the maintenance of law and order. The outbreak of the Laju incident on 31 January 1974 involved four commandos in a 12-men party accompanying the four terrorists to Kuwait.

Operation Thunderstorm (1975)[edit | edit source]

On 8 May 1975, the Commandos, together with the Republic of Singapore Navy, stormed several vessels with Vietnamese refugees intruding into Singapore's territorial waters, and kept watch on the refugees and crew until they were resupplied and escorted out of Singapore two and a half days later.

Cable Car Incident (1983)[edit | edit source]

When an accident struck the Singapore Cable Car system on 29 January 1983, rescue plans included the activation of commandos to crawl along the suspension wires to rescue stranded passengers in a cable car, although it did not materialise after a successful rescue by air using the Republic of Singapore Air Force's helicopters was conducted instead.

Operation Thunderbolt (1991)[edit | edit source]

The commando's specialist unit, the Special Operations Force, is most well known for the rescue of all 129 passengers and crew when Singapore Airlines Flight 117 was hijacked on 26 March 1991.[7] The successful operation led to the awarding of the Medal of Valour to the commandos involved in the operation, along with a unit citation to Headquarters Commandos.[7]

Recreation and sports[edit | edit source]

The physical operational requirements expected of each commando has a spin-off effect in their non-operational pursuits. The formation organises the Commando Biathlon annually, although it started off as the Commando Triathlon in 1984 until the exclusion of the cycling component in 1988 onwards to encourage all commandos to participate in it. The Commando Formation dominated the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association's annual sports championships, having won five out of six times from 1988 to 1993.

The commandos have also participated in various competitions either as a unit, or on an individual basis. Two teams are typically registered to compete in the Singapore Marathon, and in 1989, a platoon took part in the run in Full Battle Order, taking nearly 6 hours to complete. In 1991, SSG Francis Toh and SSG Robin Chan became the first Commandos to complete the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, United States, doing so in 11 hours and 50 minutes.

Weapons[edit | edit source]

The following is a non-exhaustive list of weapons known to be used by the commandos:

Assault rifles[edit | edit source]

Submachine guns[edit | edit source]

Sniper rifles[edit | edit source]

Pistols[edit | edit source]

Grenades[edit | edit source]

Alliances[edit | edit source]

Depiction in popular culture[edit | edit source]

Television programs[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Others[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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