This article possibly contains original research. (October 2018)
The SAF Commando Formation (CDO FN) is the special operations formation of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) responsible for conducting special operations. It is only made up of one battalion, the 1st Commando Battalion (1 CDO).
|Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation|
|Active||1 December 1969 – present|
|Part of||Singapore Armed Forces|
|Motto(s)||For Honour and Glory|
|Colour of Beret||Crimson red|
War in Afghanistan
|Chief Commando Officer||Colonel Pang Chee Kong|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Clarence Tan|
The CDO FN's creation began in 1967 when two officers, Major (MAJ) Clarence Tan and MAJ James Chia, were tasked with recruiting eligible candidates from any unit in the SAF to form an elite unit. The SAF Regular Battalion was formed on 1 December 1969 and was directly under the command of Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). This was made to show that the unit is staffed by regular soldier and not be national servicemen.
Captain (CPT) Tham Chee Onn was selected to be the acting-Commanding Officer (CO) for the unit, which comprised 20 men, and was assisted by nine other officers. MAJ Clarence Tan subsequently joined the unit as its CO and was responsible for establishing its training program. A second recruitment drive was launched in early 1970 with the aim of increasing the number of officers in the unit.
The unit was renamed "Singapore Armed Forces Commando Unit" in early 1971 and its red berets were introduced on 3 May 1971. On 16 July, the unit was renamed "1st Commando Battalion" (1 CDO BN) and moved from Pasir Laba Camp to Changi Camp. It had one company fully composed of regular soldiers.
In 1972, the MINDEF decided to allow full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to join the unit. The first NSF batch of commandos formed a second company on 15 January 1973 with CPT Gwee Peng Hong as its Officer Commanding (OC) and Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Khiong Kian Khoon as its Company Sergeant Major (CSM). From July 1973 to January 1975, the third, fourth and fifth companies were formed and were respectively led by CPT Boon Hon Lin, CPT Lim Siang Tong and Lieutenant (LTA) Dominic Teo. A sixth company was formed with 2005, with CPT Arnold Low as its OC and 2WO Kasinathan as its CSM.
In April 1975, the 1 CDO BN was restructured and placed under the command of the 3rd Singapore Division (3 DIV). In 1977, along with two Singapore Guards battalions, the 1 CDO BN came under the command of the 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade (7 SIB), and received its state and regimental colors on 22 January 1977 from Goh Keng Swee, the Minister of Defence.
On 1 July 1980, the 1 CDO BN was transferred out of the 7 SIB and was placed under the direct command of Headquarters Infantry. The Headquarters School of Commando Training (SOCT) was established on 1 October 1980 and it took over command of the 1 CDO BN. The 1 CDO BN received a new formation sign from Brigadier-General Tan Chin Tiong, the acting-Chief of the General Staff, and incorporated the winged stiletto as its new emblem along with a new motto, For Honour and Glory.
The first company of the 1 CDO BN, which used to be made up of only regulars, started inducting NSFs from 17 December 1984 under its OC, CPT Yeo Lai Huat, and its CSM, 2WO Nathan. The first company also began training for long range reconnaissance patrolling and divisional disruptive operations for the first time. In 1986, another tradition of the 1 CDO BN was created when the stiletto was presented to graduates from the second company during their Red Beret Presentation Ceremony in December 1986. This practice has continued since then, with the stiletto being presented to commandos who have completed two years of service in the unit.
The Headquarters Commandos was established in 1989 and it received its state and formation colors from Singapore President Wee Kim Wee on 20 October 1991. A new camp for the commandos, Hendon Camp, was constructed near Sungei Selerang (east of Loyang) and was inaugurated on 27 January 1994 by Lieutenant-General Ng Jui Ping, the Chief of Defence Force. Hendon Camp has been the base of the CDO FN since then.
It was reported that some SOF commandos have been deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Blue Ridge alongside regular Commmandos.
The commandos are entrusted with two main important roles; strike missions and reconnaissance missions. Strike missions may involve direct combat with enemy forces and the destruction of specific enemy targets. Reconnaissance missions are conducted by smaller groups of commandos, who may need to camp for long periods of time to survey targets in enemy territory.
Heritage and traditionsEdit
Items associated with the CDO FN's heritage include:
- The formation motto, For Honour and Glory, which entreats each commando to achieve every mission he undertakes for the honour and glory of the formation and the nation.
- The formation insignia. The commandos wore flashes identifying them with the formation before the winged stiletto was introduced in 1981 as the formation's new emblem. The wings and stiletto denote the commandos' elite airborne status.
- The red beret, worn by all commandos, is presented to all graduates at their passing out parade. The beret is worn during military parades and formal ceremonies.
- The stiletto, also known as the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife, whose blade measures 20 cm and bears the formation's insignia.
- The Parachutist Badge, also known as the "Silver Wings", is awarded to persons who have completed the basic airborne course conducted by the Commandos School's Parachute Training Wing. It comprises a pair of outspread wings on both wigs of a deployed parachute, with the inscription "SINGAPURA" below the canopy. The commandos' version has a crimson velvet backing to differentiate it from others'.
The 1 CDO BN also organised an annual Commando Skills-At-Arms Meet, which started in 1992, and involves the commandos competing in various skills such as marksmanship, demolition, and completion of the standard obstacle course in full battle order. When the event is held, a part of Hendon Camp is cordoned off and open to the public to view the competition.
The commandos are a regular feature in the SAF 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 rappelling skills. The commandos have also served as the guard of honor for important visitors to the Istana, but they are increasingly replaced by the Military Police due to the irrelevance of the task to their official duties.
The enlistment/recruitment process for commandos is stringent. Potential enlistees called up through selective further reporting order to be selected by a vocational assessment (VA) and panel interview scheduled before they even formally begin serving National Service. These candidates' medical fitness reports and physical fitness results, among other factors and criteria, are taken into account prior to their enlistment in the SAF. Shortlisted candidates are then subject to further tests and security clearance to ensure that they fit some criteria, such as having higher than average intelligence, physique and good eyesight, before they are selected to enlist into the unit. In recent years however, with the increasing occurrence of myopia and prevalence of other health issues in Singaporean conscripts, the formation has begun taking in individuals with minor myopia, prioritising leadership background and medical fitness. After completing a panel interview, the chosen candidate is then enlisted into one of the unit's companies and proceeds for basic military training.
The reservists, known locally as "Operationally-Ready National Servicemen" (NSmen), form the major manpower strength. Commando NSmen are routinely called up for in-camp training (ICT) after completing their full-time service. As and when necessary, they attend refresher training courses at the School of Commandos, including a two-day basic combat training course conducted a few months prior to the commencement of an ICT session. NSmen are also required to meet higher fitness standards in the annual individual physical proficiency test (IPPT) to maintain their combat levels of physical fitness.
Due to discrete in operational roles, the training of commando recruits is carried out within the camps of the Commando formation. Basic training is conducted at company-level in Hendon Camp while advanced training is done at the School of Commandos, where certain compulsory courses are conducted. A newly enlisted trainee typically undergoes almost a full year of training courses before he becomes a qualified commando to don the red beret in recognition. Commando officers and specialists, undergo even longer training courses before receiving their qualifications and rank.
Basic Military TrainingEdit
All newly enlisted commando recruits undergo Basic Military Training (BMT) at the Commando Training Institute (CTI) in Pasir Ris Camp. While the training syllabus is largely similar to that of the regular BMT conducted throughout the SAF, commando recruits receive relatively tougher training, with much emphasis placed on physical fitness.
During the entirety of BMT, trainees are categorized and tested for various specialized vocational training courses, for example, potential Leaders' Course and Medic trainees will be required to clear their Basic Airborne Course (BAC) selections during their BMT, while the remaining trainees have an extended time-frame to pass their BAC selections. Upon completion of BMT, candidates deemed unsuitable to be commandos due to certain reasons are posted out to other units while the remaining ones proceed for Vocational Training. The intensity of physical training increases because commando trainees need to maintain higher levels of physical fitness as compared to soldiers in other vocations.
Commandos are tasked to carry out specific tasks in their respective sections so they are usually cross-trained to specialize in those tasks. These roles include: signaler; medic; weapons specialist and sniper; small boat operator and demolition expert; leaders. Outstanding trainees with potential leadership performance in BMT may be sent for the 8-weeks Commando Small-unit Leaders' Course (CSLC) at the Leadership Training Wing of Special Forces Leadership School to be specialists and Commando Leaders. Meanwhile, trainees will go to the Vocational Training Wing of Special Operations Tactics Centre at Commando Training Institute. Signallers will undergo combat signal course at Stagmont Camp, Medics and Demolition Experts will undergo combat medic course and combat demolition course respectively at Nee Soon Camp, while Weapons Specialists will remain in Pasir Ris Camp for their Weapons Training. Weapons Trainees may also be selected for further specialization in Reconnaissance and Sharpshooter skills. Following their Vocational Training, all trainees are required to pass the Basic Airborne Course conducted at the Parachute Training Wing by performing five jumps (two of which are conducted after dusk), after which they earn the Parachutist Badge.
Commando Company TrainingEdit
Following the completion of their Basic Airborne Course, all commando trainees, less the Officer cadets now in Officer Cadet School (OCS), will undergo Commando Company Training at Hendon Camp. Here, they are familiarized with detachment and company-level operations, and train extensively for their two hurdles before their Red Beret Presentation; the Brunei Overseas Training and 72 kilometer march. Upon returning to Singapore from Brunei, they mark the completion of their 9-month-long training stint with a 72 kilometer route march, which is composed of a 35 kilometer route march, a simple raid mission, and then the final 35 kilometer route march back to Hendon Camp. On the same evening as their completion of the 72 kilometer route march, a Red Beret Presentation will be held, during which they receive their red berets. From this point on, these Commandos will continue to train extensively in battalion-level operations, rappelling, fast-roping, small-boat operations, and other advanced tactics. Most will take part in the Army Training Evaluation Centre's (ATEC) grading the following year, of which results will determine the Best Combat Unit (BCU).
Advanced and leadership training courses for commandos are conducted at the Commando Training Institute. These courses include: Commando Small-unit Leaders' Course; Commando Small Boat Operators' Course; Commando Officer Conversion Course; SAF Ranger Course; Parachute Jump Instructor Course; Military Free Fall Course; Special Forces Qualification Course.
Special Operations ForceEdit
The Special Operations Force (SOF) is a unit within the CDO FN composed of only regular servicemen, who are specially trained to operate in special missions and long-range deployments. As for qualified members, they are selected to travel to the United States to attend courses conducted by the Army Special Forces or Navy SEALs.
Accidents and controversiesEdit
The commandos have won the SAF's annual Best Combat Unit competition many times since 1969. However, in 2003, the 1 CDO was barred from the competition after it was found guilty of doctoring score-keeping records and fitness test results.
Serious accidents during training are rare and were hardly, or probably never, publicised in the media until 2003, when the SAF's standards of safety in training came under increased scrutiny following the deaths of some servicemen during training.
On 21 August 2003, Second Sergeant (2SG) Hu Enhuai of the Singapore Guards died during a combat survival training course conducted by the commandos. Four commandos were charged in court a year later for carrying out the "dunking" procedure deemed inappropriate for training purposes. On 3 September, 2SG Rajagopal Thirukumaran, a regular serviceman also from the Singapore Guards, died after a run during a selection for the SAF Ranger Course conducted by the Commando Training Wing.
On 15 June 2005, 2SG Ong Jia Hui, a regular serviceman who was training as a member of the Maritime Counter-Terrorism Group (under the Special Operations Force), drowned during training at Changi Naval Base. On 13 July, First Sergeant (1SG) Shiva s/o Mohan, a regular commando, fell from 20 metres above the ground while rappelling from a helicopter and was pronounced dead in hospital about two hours later.
On 20 June 2006, Lieutenant (LTA) Lionel Lin, a regular commando officer, died after encountering difficulties while undergoing training at the swimming pool in Hendon Camp.
On 13 March 2010, 1SG Woo Teng Hai, a regular commando, was accidentally shot by a villager during overseas training in Thailand. He was flown back to Singapore on the same day and was discharged from hospital by the end of that month.
Laju incident (1974)Edit
On 31 January 1974, four terrorists attacked the Shell oil refinery complex on Pulau Bukom and hijacked the ferryboat Laju and took five hostages. After negotiations with the Singapore authorities, the terrorists freed the hostages and left Singapore on 8 February on a flight bound for Kuwait. They were escorted by a 13-men team, of which four members were commandos.
Operation Thunderstorm (1975)Edit
On 8 May 1975, the commandos and the Navy stormed several vessels holding Vietnamese refugees intruding into Singapore's territorial waters. They kept watch on the refugees and the crews until they were resupplied and escorted out of Singapore about two days later.
Operation Thunderbolt (1991)Edit
On 26 March 1991, Singapore Airlines' Flight 117 was hijacked in mid-flight by four Pakistani militants, who took all 129 people on board hostage. At Singapore Changi Airport, commandos from the SOF stormed the plane, killed the four hijackers and freed the hostages within five minutes. The CDO FN was awarded with the Medal of Valour.
The CDO FN was the first unit in the SAF to form an alliance with a foreign unit, the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, in 1982. An alliance parade was first held on 14 March 1982, until the return of the unit to New Zealand on 2 August 1989. Ties between the two units have been maintained by the annual exchange of officers since 1993.
The following is a list of some of the weapons known to be used by the commandos:
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