Apart from the recent death of Corporal First Class (National Service) Aloysius Pang, there were no other servicemen reported injured while operating the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH), said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on Wednesday (30 January).
“In the last 15 years of SSPH operations (since its commission in 2003), there has not been any reported injury of servicemen due to the gun lowering for maintenance or operating in or firing of the SSPH,” said Mindef in a media statement.
In the same period, more than 1,000 servicemen, National Service (NS)men, and regulars have been trained to operate the SSPH, with around 12,500 rounds fired, it added.
The SSPH is a 155mm and 39-calibre tracked howitzer developed by ST Engineering Land Systems. It is operated by a crew of four, comprising the gun commander, charge loader, ammo loader, and driver.
“Safe areas within the turret are demarcated for each serviceman,” said Mindef.
The gun commander, charge loader or ammo loader can activate an emergency stop button located within reach of their respective operating positions in emergency situations that require the gun barrel or other mechanical moving parts in the SSSH’s turret to immediately cease movement.
In the event that the gun requires maintenance work during training and operations, a team of army technicians, such as 28-year-old Pang who was an armament technician, will be activated on site to take charge of the SSPH.
“Given the diagnosis and maintenance works required, the army technicians may require the assistance of the gun commander. Army technicians are also trained and required to abide by the same drills and safety protocols as the SSPH crew,” said Mindef.
Pang and other army technicians undergo maintenance vocational training (MVT) during their in-camp training (ICT) to refresh their technical and maintenance competencies acquired during their NSF training, added Mindef.
It said, “The trainees will be drilled on the theoretical and practical components included in the MVT until they have been assessed to be competent to ensure that the technicians are proficient in performing the required maintenance tasks.”
Upon the completion of their MVT, the NS technicians will then proceed to train with their respective NS units. The unit will assess and cater for Just-in-Time (JIT) training for the technicians should they be required to participate in overseas exercises, Mindef added.
Pang, another technician, and a gun detachment commander were called in to perform diagnosis on a suspected fault in the SSSH’s gun on 19 January, said Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou in a press conference last Thursday. As part of the process, the gun barrel was to be lowered to standby position.
The late actor suffered “crush” injuries to his chest and abdominal areas after being caught between the end of the lowering gun barrel and the interior of the SSSH.
At the time of the incident, Pang, who was from the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, was one of more than 500 soldiers participating in Exercise Thunder Warrior in New Zealand.
Despite undergoing three operations, his condition worsened. He was placed on artificial life support at the intensive care unit in Waikato Hospital, New Zealand, before succumbing to his injuries last Wednesday night.
Following his death, the fourth SAF-training related fatality reported in 16 months, top SAF commanders called for an army-wide safety timeout as well as a reduction in training tempo across the army, navy and the air force.
Hundreds of well-wishers, including veteran actors and former co-stars, attended his wake over the weekend. Pang was accorded a military funeral before being cremated at Mandai Crematorium last Sunday.
His ashes were scattered at sea near Pulau Ubin the next afternoon, according to long-time mentor and manager Dasmond Koh on Facebook.
Mindef also said in the statement that a five-member Committee of Inquiry was convened last Friday by the Armed Forces Council to investigate the circumstances leading to Pang’s death.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen is set to deliver a Ministerial Statement addressing the recent NS deaths in Parliament on 11 February.