Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI)
by Tan, Eugene
The Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI) was the training institute for officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).1 Officially opened on 18 June 1966, it was located at Pasir Laba Road, which is bounded by Upper Jurong Road and Lim Chu Kang Road.2 SAFTI remained operational until 1995, when the new SAFTI Military Institute (SAFTI MI) opened at Upper Jurong.3
SAFTI was established on 14 February 1966, six months after Singapore separated from Malaysia and became independent. Before that, Singapore had been reliant on British and Malaysian forces for defence, so there was a need to create new military facilities and groom new officers and NCOs in the face of sudden independence.4
While the site at Pasir Laba was being built, SAFTI was temporarily housed at Jurong Town Primary School. Although other potential sites such as Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong were also considered, Pasir Laba was eventually selected, as its topography was the most suitable for military training purposes.5
On 18 June 1966, SAFTI was officially opened by then Minister for Interior and Defence Goh Keng Swee (Dr). During the ceremony, Goh presented SAFTI with its formation sign made up of the torch and scimitar.6 The torch represented education, while the scimitar signified military training.7
SAFTI received its Colours on 16 June 1968 from then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in acknowledgement of SAFTI’s importance in the development of Singapore’s armed forces. The Colours, bearing the formation sign of SAFTI, was received by 2nd Lieutenant R. P. Pattinson.8 SAFTI also had an unofficial motto: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”.9
On 16 July 1967, after 12 months of training, the first batch of 117 officer cadets graduated from SAFTI. The commission parade, graced by Goh, took place one month before the first batch of men were called up for National Service.10 SAFTI also saw its first batch of female officer cadets graduate on 10 July 1969. In addition, it was the first time in the history of SAFTI that combat officers, NCOs and female officers had their passing-out parade together.11
Since its establishment in 1966, SAFTI had functioned as a tri-service military institute, serving the army, navy and air force of the SAF.12Schools such as the School of Signals and School of Artillery soon opened at SAFTI.13 In 1968, the School of Advanced Training for Officers (SATO) was started to train commissioned officers.14 Some of these schools have gone on to become part of the key component forces in the SAF today.15
Besides the various schools, facilities such as auditoriums, administrative offices, cookhouses, a swimming pool and dining hall could be found amid the wooden and brick buildings within SAFTI. Eventually, the entire complex occupied about 35 hectares of land.16
However, by the 1980s, with the rapid growth of the SAF, the facilities at SAFTI were no longer able to cope with the high demands. Therefore, in 1982, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew proposed the construction of a new military institute. Thereafter, the Ministry of Defence purchased a parcel of land at Jurong from the Hokkien Huay Kuan (Hokkien clan association) for the new institute.17
On 14 November 1987, then Minister for Trade and Industry and Second Minister for Defence, BG (NS) Lee Hsien Loong, announced the construction of the new institute, to be named SAFTI Military Institute (SAFTI MI). In contrast to the layout of SAFTI, the new institute would have a layout and design which reflected its military significance.18 “Safti” was incorporated into the new institute’s name, in recognition of SAFTI’s significance in military training, discipline and excellence.19
On 22 July 1995, one month before the official opening of SAFTI MI, SAFTI held its last commissioning parade for officer cadets from the army, navy and air force at the Pasir Laba site.20
SAFTI Military Institute
The ground-breaking ceremony for SAFTI MI was conducted on 9 June 1990. It was officiated by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.21 Four years later, the topping-out ceremony for SAFTI MI took place. During the event, guest-of-honour, then Deputy Prime Minister BG (NS) Lee Hsien Loong, unveiled the new SAFTI MI formation sign. The new formation sign saw the addition of the SAFTI motto, “To lead, to excel, to overcome”, to the existing torch and scimitar.22
When SAFTI MI was officially opened on 25 August 1995 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, he had called it a “national institution embodying our will to defend our nation, our determination to fight to preserve our freedom and way of life”. During the ceremony, the Colours for the new SAFTI MI was presented by Goh.23
SAFTI MI is currently located at Upper Jurong Road, near the Pasir Laba site. Occupying 88 hectares of land, it has an area of about 120,000 sq km and incorporates advanced technology in its facilities, such as the use of automation. SAFTI MI plays two important roles – it is the “spiritual” home to officers, and also the cradle of military leadership.24
SAFTI MI is dedicated to three levels of officer training: the Officer Cadet School, the SAF Advanced Schools, and the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College. It is a tri-service military institute catering to the training needs of the army, navy and air force. Other facilities at SAFTI MI include the SAF Centre for Learning and Military Education, the Military History Branch, and the SAFTI Library.25 In 1996, the Singapore Discovery Centre, an interactive military theme park, opened in SAFTI MI.26
Initially, SAFTI MI was the first “fenceless” SAF camp – allowing the public to move about freely except in certain restricted areas such as offices and living quarters.27 This open concept was meant to reflect the strong ties between the military and the community.28 However, following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, armed sentries and security checks have been enforced in SAFTI MI, and the public no longer has easy access to the institute.29
Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute City
In March 2017, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen announced in parliament that a military training facility the size of Bishan will be built southwest of Lim Chu Kang. The 88-hectare Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute City will comprise more than 200 buildings and extensive road networks, with facilities that will train soldiers in areas such as homeland security and counter-terrorism. The facility will cost S$900 million and is expected to take more than a decade to complete.30
1. “Singapore’s Elite Army Shows Cool Discipline under Real Fire,” Straits Times, 12 July 1967, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
2. R. Menon, To Command – The SAFTI Military Institute (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1995), 28. (Call no. RSING 355.2232095957 MEN)
3. “Background and Milestones,” Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute, accessed 24 May 2016.
4. Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 25.
5. Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 27, 75.
6. Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 28; Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute, “Background and Milestones.”
7. Ramachandran Menon, ed., One of a Kind – Remembering SAFTI’s First Batch, 2nd ed (Singapore: Pointer, Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces, 2015), 58. (Available via PublicationSG)
8. “Safti Gets Its Colours from the Premier,” Straits Times, 19 June 1968, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 67.
10. “Goh at Commissioning Parade,” Straits Times, 18 July 1967, 6; Wong Kim Hoh, “SAFTI First,” Straits Times, 17 July 2005, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Yap Cheng Tong, “First Time Passing-Out Together for Combat, Women Officer Cadets, NCOs,” Straits Times, 11 July 1969, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 15.
13. Goh Keng Swee, “The Opening of the School of Artillery at SAFTI,” speech, 1 August 1967, transcript, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19670801a)
14. “Our Vision, Mission and History,” SAF Advanced Schools, accessed 25 May 2016.
15. Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 39.
16. Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 45.
17. Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute, “Background and Milestones”; Menon, One of a Kind, v.
18. Michael Lim, “A Sandhurst-Style Campus for Officers,” Straits Times, 15 November 1987, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Lee Seng Kong, “Safti’ Used as Name, Not Acronym,” Straits Times, 13 September 1995, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Tan Yong Meng, “Last Commissioning Parade for Camp,” Straits Times, 23 July 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Premier Training Institute for SAF Officers,” Straits Times, 10 June 1990, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Lee Hsien Loong, “SAFTI MI Topping-Out Ceremony,” speech, 25 March 1994, transcript, Ministry of Information and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. lhl19940325s)
23. “Training for All SAF Officers Come under One Roof in Jurong,” Business Times, 26 August 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Dominic Nathan, “New Safti Military Institute to Serve Twin Roles,” Straits Times, 10 June 1990, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute, “Background and Milestones”; Menon, SAFTI Military Institute, 63.
26. Thomas Lee, “Get a Feel of the Army at Military Theme Park,” Straits Times, 16 April 1996, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Memories of Sweat-Soaked Drills Amid High-Tech Skills,” Straits Times, 1 June 1996, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Training for All SAF Officers Come under One Roof in Jurong.”
29. Mathew Neo, “10 Things You Didn’t Know about SAFTI MI,” Pioneer (17 November 2015)
30. Kenneth Cheng, “New Bishan-Sized Facility Will Ramp Up Realism for SAF Training,” Today, 4 March 2017, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.