Chief of Defence Force (Singapore)

Chief of Defence Force (Singapore)
Chief of Defence Force
Flag of the Singapore Armed Forces.svg
Flag of the Singapore Armed Forces
Lt-Gen. Neo Kian Hong

since 1 April 2010
Nominator Prime Minister of Singapore; Armed Forces Council
Appointer President of Singapore
Term length Not fixed
Inaugural holder Lt-Gen. Winston Choo
Formation 1974 as Chief of General Staff
May 1990 as Chief of Defence Force

The Chief of Defence Force (CDF; Chinese: 三军总长)[1] of Singapore is the head of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), who holds the rank of three-star general or admiral.[2] The position was created in 1974 as the Chief of General Staff with the appointment of Winston Choo, and re-titled to its current name in May 1990. Prior to the appointment of Choo as Chief of General Staff, the Ministry of Defence (and before that the Ministry of Interior and Defence) was in charge of the Singapore Armed Forces. Before the position was created, the head of Singapore's army—which at that time made up the military—held the position of director, general staff.

The President of Singapore has the power to appoint each new CDF (as well as new heads of each of the three services in the SAF) on the advice of the Prime Minister of Singapore, who in turn must consult with the Armed Forces Council,[3] on which the CDF sits. The CDF also maintains a role as an aide-de-camp to the President.

The position has been held by Lieutenant-General (LG) Neo Kian Hong, the seventh CDF, since 1 April 2010. Neo is the first CDF to be a qualified Ranger.[4]



The CDF is the operational head of the SAF,[5] and holds a seat on the Armed Forces Council which oversees all matters pertaining to the SAF.[6] In addition, if any of the three service chiefs – the Chief of Army, Navy or Air Force – is unable to carry out his duties, the CDF is tasked to perform those duties in addition to his own. If the CDF is unable to perform his own duties, the Minister of Defence is allowed to select one of the three service chiefs to perform the CDF's duties.[3]

The office of CDF also carries with it a position as one of three full-time aides-de-camp to the President. According to the Singapore Presidential Office website, the position entails handling the President's security and his social needs, in addition to other general duties.[7]

A number of powers relating to summary trials for military offences is vested in the CDF. Title 2, Section 62 of the Singapore Armed Forces Act states that any offence in which the accused holds the rank of Colonel or Military Expert 7 is to be referred to the CDF,[8] who can then dismiss the charge, hold a summary trial, or pass the case on to the director of legal services of the SAF,[9] who can in turn instruct the CDF to try the accused.[10]

As head of the SAF, the CDF often makes visits to countries with shared military interests, such as Bahrain,[11] Japan,[12] and Vietnam,[13] and also occasionally hosts foreign military chiefs on official visits.[14]

Leadership of the SAF before 1990

The role of the head of the SAF was titled director, general staff around 1969, and was held by Brigadier T.J. Campbell,[15] who had previously been head of the Singapore Defence Force and the Singapore Volunteer Corps before Singapore's independence.[16] Campbell had been acting director since some time in 1968.[17] Colonel Kirpa Ram Vij was appointed his successor.[18] According to sources, the position of director, general staff was considered "similar" to the position of the present-day CDF,[18] and was equivalent to the head of army.[19] A Straits Times report on Campbell's death refers to him as having been "army chief".[17]

In 1974, then-Colonel Winston Choo was given the appointment of chief of general staff, having previously been a departmental head at the Ministry of Defence. In May 1990 the position was re-titled to its current name, with Choo, now a Lieutenant-General, still in office. He had been promoted to each of the general ranks in 1974, 1978 and 1988.[20] Choo stepped down in 1992, after 18 years at the head of the SAF.[21]

Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister of Singapore in the 1970s, has described Goh Keng Swee as being the de facto armed forces chief of staff when the latter was Minister for Defence.[22] Dr Goh is considered to be the founder of the modern SAF, having been responsible for developing the SAF as defence minister from 1965–1967.[23][24]

Although Campbell and Vij have both held a position of similar authority, Choo is referred to as the first CDF in a number of MINDEF publications.[25][26]

In the past, there also existed a Deputy Chief of General Staff[27] who was tasked to "[work] with troops on the ground",[28] but there is no deputy position for the present-day Chief of Defence Force in the structure of the Singapore Armed Forces.[5]

Name Office In office Role immediately before office Ref
Goh Keng Swee Minister of Defence 1965–1967[note 1] Minister of Finance [22]
T. J. D. Campbell Director, General Staff 1968–1969 (acting)
Non-military [15][17]
Kirpa Ram Vij Director, General Staff 1970–1974 Director, Singapore Command and Staff College [18][19]
Winston Choo Chief of General Staff 1974–May 1990 Departmental head at Mindef [20]

Chiefs of Defence Force since 1990

Lieutenant-General Ng Yat Chung, Singapore's fifth CDF

Since the appointment of CDF was established in 1990 there have been seven holders of the position, beginning with Winston Choo who was already in office as Chief of General Staff.

No. Name In office Pre-CDF role Post-CDF career Service/Formation Notes/Ref
1 Winston Choo May 1990–1992 Chief of General Staff Diplomat Army/Signals [20]
2 Ng Jui Ping 1992–1 July 1995 Chief of Army Private sector Army/Artillery [29][30][31]
3 Bey Soo Khiang 1 July 1995–1 April 2000 Chief of Air Force Private sector Air Force [32]
4 Lim Chuan Poh 1 April 2000–1 April 2003 Chief of Army Civil sector Army/Infantry [32]
5 Ng Yat Chung 1 April 2003–23 March 2007 Chief of Army Civil sector Army/Artillery [33]
6 Desmond Kuek Bak Chye 23 March 2007–1 April 2010 Chief of Army Civil sector Army/Armour [34]
7 Neo Kian Hong 1 April 2010–present Chief of Army Incumbent Army/Guards [note 2][35][36]

All six previous office-holders have left military service.

In their retirement citations from the Ministry of Defence, both Bey and Lim were cited for having "positioned the SAF to meet the challenges in the 21st century" and for improving the SAF's capacity to use latest technology in advancing the forces' proficiency;[32][33] Ng Yat Chung's retirement citation noted that he "successfully commanded the overall deployment of the SAF in peace support operations in East Timor" and disaster relief after both the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and the May 2006 Java earthquake;[34] and Kuek was cited for "(leading) the SAF's transformation into a modernised, integrated and networked fighting force"[36] and "significantly (enhancing) the SAF's ability to deal effectively with the evolving security challenges".[35]


  1. ^ As Minister of Defence, Goh has been described by Lee Kuan Yew as being the de facto leader of the SAF.
  2. ^ Neo was due to take over from Kuek on 31 March, but the actual change of command only took place a day later.


  1. ^ "MINDEF / SAF Terminology". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 1 June 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  2. ^ "SAF Military Ranks - Officers". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 24 April 2010. Retrieved 4 March 2011. "The Chief of Defence Force holds the rank Lieutenant-General (LG) and Service Chiefs hold the rank of Major-General (MG)." 
  3. ^ a b Singapore Armed Forces Act (Cap. 295, 2000 Rev. Ed.) Section 10A. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  4. ^ Lim, Terence (30 November 2007). "Rangers lead the way". Cyberpioneer. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "MINDEF - About Us - Organisation Structure". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 4 March 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Singapore Armed Forces Act (Cap. 295, 2000 Rev. Ed.) Section 8. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  7. ^ "Aides-de-Camp". Istana (President's Office). Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  8. ^ Singapore Armed Forces Act (Cap. 295, 2000 Rev. Ed.) Section 62. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  9. ^ Singapore Armed Forces Act (Cap. 295, 2000 Rev. Ed.) Section 65B. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  10. ^ Singapore Armed Forces Act (Cap. 295, 2000 Rev. Ed.) Section 67. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  11. ^ "CP MEETS SINGAPORE CHIEF OF DEFENCE FORCE". Bahrain News Agency. 20 October 2008. Retrieved 26 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "Courtesy Visit by Singapore Armed Forces Chief of Defence Force". Japan Defense Focus. Japan Self-Defense Force. November 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2011. 
  13. ^ "Defence co-operation, ties with Singapore appreciated". Vietnam News ( 19 April 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011. 
  14. ^ "China's PLA Chief of General Staff visits Singapore". Xinhua. 24 October 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2011. 
  15. ^ a b "Stories - Profile of Ms Evelyn Tay". Army Museum Singapore. 25 August 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  16. ^ "Defence commander sees cadet display". Straits Times: p. 4. 13 September 1966. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c "Ex-army chief, BG Campbell, dies in Australia". Straits Times: p. 17. 22 October 1989. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c Liew, Derek (7 February 2008). "History - 1966 - The Beginning of SAFTI (Volume 12 Issue 2)". Singapore Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  19. ^ a b Jonas, Patrick (January 7, 2011). "In command of his life". AsiaOne. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  20. ^ a b c "Appointment of Singapore's High Commissioner to South Africa" (Press release). Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 25 July 2001. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  21. ^ "Appointment of Lt-Gen (Retd) Winston Choo as High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea" (Press release). Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 15 March 2000. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  22. ^ a b Lee, Kuan Yew. "Eulogy by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at the State Funeral Service For The Late Dr Goh Keng Swee at the Singapore Conference Hall, Sunday 23 May 2010". Prime Minister's Office (Singapore). Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  23. ^ S Ramesh (1 February 2011). "Goh Keng Swee Command & Staff College unveiled". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  24. ^ Chow, Jermyn (2 February 2001). "SAF institute named after Goh Keng Swee". Straits Times. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  25. ^ Luo, Joel (7 March 2011). "The Singapore Army - News Archive - A Night To Remember – Signals 45th Anniversary Military Dining-In". Singapore Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 10 March 2011. "LG (RET) Winston Choo, who was SAF's first Chief of Defence Force (1974 - 1992)" 
  26. ^ Quek, Sherlyn (18 September 2008). "SAF Joint Staff celebrates 25 years and beyond". Cyberpioneer. Retrieved 16 March 2011. "Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean was present, together with special guest, Lieutenant-General (LG) (Ret) Winston Choo, Singapore's first Chief of Defence Force (CDF)." 
  27. ^ "Brigadier General for Home Affairs". Straits Times. 28 August 1982. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  28. ^ "SAF promotes 273 of its best senior officers". Straits Times. 1 July 1986. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  29. ^ "Board of Directors". PSA International. 2006. p. 11. Retrieved 22 April 2011. "Lt-Gen (Ret) Ng holds a number of directorships in the private sector" 
  30. ^ "History - 1967 - School of Artillery". Singapore Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  31. ^ Quek, Sherlyn (21 May 2010). "Glowing tributes to the SAF's founding father". Cyberpioneer. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  32. ^ a b c "Chief of Defence Force Change of Command Parade" (Press release). Singapore Ministry of Defence. 31 March 2000. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  33. ^ a b "Change of Chief of Defence Force and Service Chiefs" (Press release). Singapore Ministry of Defence. 6 February 2003. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  34. ^ a b "Change of Chief of Defence Force and Chief of Army" (Press release). Singapore Ministry of Defence. 6 February 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  35. ^ a b "New Chief of Defence Force for the SAF" (Press release). Singapore Ministry of Defence. 1 April 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  36. ^ a b "Change in Chief of Defence Force and Chief of Army" (Press release). Singapore Ministry of Defence. 15 January 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 

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