SAF to set up counter-terror centre
Due to open by year-end, it will manage counter-terrorism ops; SAF also ramping up defence against cyber attacks, says Ng Eng Hen
While the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has done well in building a modern military to defend Singapore's interests, it cannot afford complacency or hubris.
Highlighting this last Friday ahead of SAF Day today, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the SAF is facing its challenges squarely, but he also warned that it must guard against being too rigid in its thinking or risk getting caught by surprises.
Focusing on the transnational threats of terrorism and cyber attacks, Dr Ng told reporters: "If you had asked somebody in the SAF, a seasoned soldier who has been in the military for 20 years, that today we will be deployed in Afghanistan and in Iraq, I think it (would have been) inconceivable. And yet we are.
"We have to deal with this uncertain terrain, be prepared for surprises, shape the SAF in a way that we think the future will demand of it, so our national defences can be resilient."
With the centre of gravity for terror attacks shifting from the Middle East to South-east Asia, Dr Ng said a Special Operations Command Centre will be set up by year-end to give the SAF's Special Operations Task Force better control in cases of multiple attacks in multiple areas.
"We are one of the hot spots. Let me make this very clear. Returning fighters will be one, but also foreign fighters, because the networks that are formed in Iraq and Syria will carry over to our theatre of operations."
To be sited in the commando headquarters at Hendon Camp in Loyang, the centre will plan, monitor and manage counter-terrorism and contingency operations. It will be equipped with enhanced systems to support operational planning, coordination and provide situational awareness, Mindef said.
When needed, the centre will work with other agencies.
"The SAF's next-generation counter-terrorism operations will leverage technology such as robotics, unmanned systems, artificial intelligence and data analytics. This will enable the... operations to be faster, leaner and more lethal," said Mindef.
Meanwhile, the SAF is ramping up capabilities in cyberspace and has kicked off a major recruitment drive to beef up its regular force with cyber specialists and build a cyber formation.
NEED FOR MORE REGULARS
Dr Ng said the SAF recognised the need to recruit and train more regulars to form the core of its cyber force.
"We're going to invest significant resources to develop, to train and raise a cyber formation, cyber officers and men as well as facilities," Dr Ng added.
This comes on the heels of the Cyber NSF Scheme, introduced in February last year to tap on the talents of full-time national servicemen for cyber defence. Two new cyber expert schemes were announced this year to recruit 300 regulars.
NSmen who are interested or have the relevant professional expertise could also be re-vocationalised, Dr Ng said.
When the Defence Cyber Organisation - a top-level command that develops cyber defence policies and strategies across the defence sector - was announced in March 2017, Dr Ng had said that the goal was to have about 2,600 cyber defenders on board within a decade.
When asked where the SAF draws the line as conflict zones become more grey, Dr Ng said training for SAF's cyber operations is focused on protecting key assets, key installations and monitoring orchestrated attempts to weaken Singapore that use cyber attacks as a preamble to a "kinetic phase".
Dr Ng added: "SAF will also have to gear up for non-state actors that want to do us harm. And then we have to think of techniques and procedures in order to deal with them."
He said SAF's greatest internal challenge is the decline in the number of national servicemen, which is expected to shrink by a third by 2030.
As there has to be a fundamental shift in the SAF's approach to human resources, it is now deploying more servicemen in all vocations, including those traditionally meant for regulars or those of a certain combat fitness, he added.
New platforms that increase combat power using fewer men will help to make up for the shortfall, while automation cuts administrative time.
Dr Ng said: "If we have that continued strong support for the SAF, I think we will be able to defend Singapore for another generation."