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Bionix driver continued reversing in CFC Liu Kai despite repeated commands to stop, reveals Defence Minister

The Committee of Inquiry (COI) which looked into the death of full-time national serviceman Liu Kai found that the Bionix driver involved in the event continued reversing despite repeated commands to stop, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Monday (11 February).

He added that the police are now investigating into the communications between the Bionix crew, and whether this was affected by the equipment.

“The COI noted that the rear guide had repeatedly given the order for the driver to stop reversing through the intercom via his helmet. The COI noted that the intercom system was working earlier in the exercise. They have asked for an independent technical assessment report on whether the intercom system was working properly all the time,” said Dr Ng.

“In parallel, police investigations too are also focused on the communications between the Bionix crew, and whether this was affected by the equipment. This is an important point that needs to be resolved but we will have to await the outcome of police investigations.”

22-year-old CFC Liu died on 3 November last year after a Bionix vehicle that was moving away from simulated enemy fire reversed into the Land Rover that the full-time national serviceman was driving.

The COI was able to piece together a “detailed chronology” after gathering the Land Rover’s front camera and in-vehicle recordings of the incident and statements from multiple witnesses, said Dr Ng.

Dr Ng added that it will be the Attorney-General’s Chambers decision if there are grounds to prosecute any individual in the criminal courts regarding CFC Liu’s death. Even if there are no criminal actions taken, Dr Ng said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will take disciplinary measures for lapses identified in the military court and provide updates on them.

At the moment, the servicemen involved in the incident have been redeployed to non-operational roles, and a series of safety measures have been included, he added.

The safety measures that the Defence Minister meant are installing additional emergency horn buttons and rear-view cameras in the Bionix armoured vehicles.

The COI’s investigations revealed that the Land Rover CFC Liu was driving was “short” of the safety distance of 30m stated in the training safety regulations (TSR) during its final position. While the Land Rover was initially not in the Bionix’s path when it reversed, but the vehicle had “drifted” in reversing and the driver made a slight steer to correct the drift. This brought it into the path of the Land Rover.

Sharing the details of the incident, Dr Ng told that on the unfortunate day, CFC Liu was assigned to drive a trainer, a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular captain, who was the vehicle commander of the Land Rover.

CFC Liu and the trainer were following an assigned Bionix, whose crew consisted of four personnel – all full-time national serviceman – a vehicle commander, a Bionix specialist who was the rear guide, a driver and a gunner.

The exercise started at 7am and at around 9.58am, the Bionix crew spotted several exercise vehicles passing by at the junction ahead of it and stopped following the orders of the vehicle commander. As such, the Land Rover driven by CFC Liu also stopped.

As instructed by his trainer, CFC Liu moved his Land Rover forward to overtake the Bionix, but once hearing the shots which were fired as part of the exercise, CFC Liu stopped the Land Rover in its final position without overtaking the Bionix.

Four seconds after Land Rover had stopped, the Bionix started to perform an extrication drilled ordered by its vehicle commander, carried out to get away from an enemy encounter as “fast as possible”.

The Bionix had to reverse as part of the drill so that its guns could continue to fire forward at the enemy. As the driver of the armoured vehicle is unable to see behind, the rear guide directs the driver in reversing the vehicle.

“Almost immediately” after the Bionix started reversing, the rear guide issued stop commands repeatedly into his helmet set, said Dr Ng.  But, the Bionix continued to reverse.

“The COI found that the rear guide issued stop commands into the intercom of his helmet set when the Bionix started reversing and did so repeatedly,” Dr Ng added. “The intercom of the helmet is the rear guide’s only means of communication with the other crew members in the Bionix. However, the Bionix continued to reverse.”

“From the beeping sounds, it also indicated that CFC Liu did engage the reverse gear,” he said. “Both the trainer and CFC Liu also shouted and gestured with their hands for the Bionix to stop and the trainer also attempted to reach for the handset of the radio set to communicate with the Bionix crew.”

Close to eight seconds after Bionix started reversing, it reversed into the Land Rover and mounted the driver's side before coming to a stop.

In response to the COI's findings, Dr Ng said the SAF has or will put in place a number of measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, including some not identified by the COI.

From next month, the Bionix training fleet will be fitted with a rear-view camera system in phases.The system provides a live video feed of the vehicle's rear to enhance the operator's situational awareness while in the vehicle during training and operations.

It is capable of operating in a low-light environment, with the video displayed on the 6.5-inch-wide display panel mounted in the operator's compartment.

Besides that, there will no longer be any Land Rover or other “soft skin” vehicles, said Dr Ng. Instead, they will be required to be in the combat vehicles with the trainees during training.

On social media, some netizens don't completely buy the minister's explanation.

Facebook user Gerald Loh also said that when he was in National Service, the "comms always have issues die to the age of the equipment". But, they were still asked by the trainers to continue with the exercise despite repeated troubleshooting.

As for the ministry's implementation of the safety measures, a few netizens gave their own suggestions on how to improve the situation and avoid similar incidents to occur again.