Singapore past five decades. Looking forward, we

Singapore has commemorated 50 years of
national service in the past year. As we celebrate this momentous milestone, it
is certainly worth looking back at the history of our defence force. We rejoice
that Singapore’s defence strategy and the service of the Singapore Armed Forces
(SAF) have kept our nation safe and secure for the past five decades. Looking
forward, we also realize that as the world continues to globalize in the 21st
century, the global security landscape has been rapidly transforming, and
threats to our national security are becoming increasingly diversified. It is
thus becoming increasingly critical for the MINDEF and SAF to rapidly adapt to
these evolving threats in order for our nation to defend herself against them.


The security landscape surrounding
Singapore is rapidly transforming, and is becoming increasingly uncertain.
Perhaps one of the most notorious culprits of this is the proliferation of
weapons technology. As more and more countries gain access to modern
technology, terrorist threats are also on the rise, as terrorist groups are
able to obtain resources and weapons to fuel their attacks. Additionally, the
modernization of technology around the world has also fuelled the construction
of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, chemical and biological
weapons. The increased availability of these weapons further heightens the risk
of them being used in areas where political tension is high.

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Further aggravating this risk is the rapid
evolution of the global political landscape. While the United States (US) has
ensured peace and stability in Southeast Asia for the past few decades, China
rises as an economic superpower, causing the balance of power to shift towards
China. Furthermore, Singapore’s small size makes her vulnerable to political
threats around the world and would be subject to major trade policy moves made
by superpowers like China and the US. Take for instance, the South China Sea
dispute. In this case, China is claiming the South China Sea as part of Chinese
waters, which is contrary to international law. On the other hand, the US
claims that the South China Sea should remain international waters, and has
been conducting surveillance operations there to ensure peace and stability in
the region. Although Singapore has no territorial stake in the South China Sea,
a conflict there between China and the US would divert trade routes passing
through the South China Sea, which affects US$5 trillion in global trade, a
sizeable proportion of which passes to and from Singapore. As this will have a
profound influence on Singapore’s economic stability, it is imperative that
Singapore maintains bilateral and multilateral relations with other countries,
especially with China and the US, so as to steer clear of conflict as far as


Finally, the emerging challenge that
Singapore faces as a maturing society is her resource constraints. With a small
land area, coupled with our economic development, the demand for the limited land
resources that can be used for SAF training will increase. The construction of
commercial buildings such as offices around the island will cause the land area
available for SAF training to diminish. Furthermore, with Singapore’s declining
birth rates, the SAF will face a manpower crunch in the years to come, as the
number of males eligible for national service will decrease by a third by 2030.
It has thus become increasingly challenging for the SAF to channel and
effectively deploy its resources to sustain Singapore’s defence capabilities.


We can see from these emerging challenges
to our national security in the 21st century that Singapore’s old
defence strategy will be insufficient to keep Singapore safe and secure in our
modern world. It is necessary for MINDEF and SAF to evolve and adapt to these
challenges, by maintaining bilateral and multilateral ties with partnering
countries and finding innovative ways to enhance the effectiveness of our
defence strategy despite our resource constraints.


The advancement of Singapore’s defence
technology one of the main strategies MINDEF and SAF tap on to enhance her
defence capabilities. With the manpower and resource crunch in the SAF, as well
as the proliferation of weapons technology use by foreign militaries, terrorist
groups and in weapons of mass destruction, it certainly pays to adapt and
innovate the utilization of our defence resources in order to be able to
counter these threats to our national peace and stability. Particularly
effective is the development of defence technology to optimize the use of
manpower and material resources to improve our defence abilities. This is
demonstrated in MINDEF’s collaboration with the Defence Science Technology
Agency (DSTA) and the Defence Science Organization (DSO) National Laboratories
in creating products such as the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and a tactical
network system. The use of these technologies will enhance communication
between military units during an operation, and enables operators of these
systems to interact with the systems themselves, with the objective of mission
accomplishment. These in turn will circumvent the SAF’s manpower limitations by
optimizing its resource deployment to achieve better mission success.


However, enhanced defence technology alone
is insufficient in keeping our nation safe and secure without the steadfast
commitment of our soldiers. It forms the backbone of Singapore’s defence
strategy. Here, commitment is not just about how willing and able our soldiers
are in stepping up to our nation’s defence in times of need. It is also about
operational readiness and their ability to repel and counter any attack in
Singapore as effectively as possible. To ensure its forces are operationally
ready, the SAF ensures that some of its forces are on standby in order to be
able to immediately respond to any threat. Additionally, the SAF makes use of
rapid mobilization of manpower and resources, as well as wartime simulation
training, where the SAF trains its soldiers in operational scenarios just as
how they would operate in wartime. These aspects of operational readiness are
regularly put to the test in regular mobilization exercises, where several
battalions of soldiers are called up for operational duties at very short
notice. This would better prepare the SAF to be able to instantly respond to
and refute any imminent security threats to our nation, especially terrorist
attacks. More recently, the Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance (CESP)
was established in 2017 to maximize the operational capabilities of every
soldier at the individual level. With the application of sports science and
psychology, soldiers are given customized and vocation-specific training to
maximize their full potential and enhance their performance in the field, in
order for them to develop the operational capabilities required to defuse any
security threat in Singapore.


Despite the effective utilization and
deployment of our manpower and resources in our defence strategy, the fact
still remains that we are a small sovereign state and thus remain vulnerable to
transnational security threats from around the world. Fortunately however,
Singapore enjoys close bilateral and multilateral ties with friendly countries
around the world. At the bilateral level, the SAF engages in bilateral
exercises with partnering countries, such as Exercise Wallaby in Australia, and
the naval Exercise Maritime Cooperation in China. Not only do these platforms
provide a large land and sea area for SAF units to enhance their operational capabilities
through inter-unit exercises, they also provide valuable opportunities to build
defence ties and cooperation, so that Singapore would be able to collaborate
with her partners when transnational security threats arise. At the
multilateral level, Singapore and her partners likewise engage in multilateral
exercises, such as the ASEAN Multilateral Naval Exercise in 2017, as well as in
multilateral security meetings and arrangements, such as in the Five Power
Defence Arrangements (FPDA) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). These platforms
likewise provide collaboration opportunities, as well as opportunities to build
mutual confidence and commitment to regional peace and stability.


In conclusion, the MINDEF and SAF have a
major part to play in dealing with the threats to Singapore’s national security
in the 21st century. While we have confidence in their abilities to
keep our nation safe and secure, I believe, as a committed citizen of
Singapore, that everyone has a part to play in defending Singapore. The key
strength of our defence force lies in the courage, tenacity and sacrifice of
our soldiers, but equally important is the encouragement and support we, as one
united people, provide to our pillars of defence.

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