SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is likely to acquire a bigger warship that can carry more helicopters as it looks to expand its role and do more in the world's potential flashpoints, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Such roles include participation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for incidents like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, when the navy deployed three of its landing ship tanks (LSTs) to Indonesia.
"While the LSTs have served us, we're seriously considering a larger joint multi-mission ship that will have greater capacity and greater range," said Dr Ng, adding that his ministry was evaluating the requirements of such a ship.
He noted how this ship would have been "very useful" in responding to catastrophes like last year's Super Typhoon Haiyan, which knocked out almost all communications in the Tacloban area in the Philippines.
The 141m-long landing ship tanks, the largest warships at the SAF's disposal, have been deployed for anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Indonesia.
While its remit becomes larger, the SAF will have to "do more within the means accorded to us", and defence spending patterns will not change dramatically, Dr Ng said.
"We avoid sharp spikes and we avoid deep dips because that kind of defence spending is what we have experienced and what other militaries recognise as the most productive outcome."
The SAF is also expected to do more to tackle non-traditional threats. One example is in the arena of cyber defence, where it is ramping up training, deployment and hiring of officers for its Cyber Defence Operations Hub, established last June to monitor cyber threats around the clock and improve IT security.
The SAF is also setting up a centre in Singapore to coordinate regional efforts in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
This move, which follows a visit by military chiefs to the Changi and Command Control Centre, has earned support from other countries, said Dr Ng.
"They feel that it is an idea that meets the needs of the times, and I would say that we are working out the mechanics."
Amid the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, Dr Ng said, small countries like Singapore have to be "very careful".
"We have a very difficult job not getting sucked into any vortex or any orbit. We want to maintain our independence, we do not take sides and we want an architecture that allows room for small countries like Singapore to be able to maintain our own space, to be able to decide our own course."
Political will is needed to defuse tensions and solve the disputes peacefully, he added.
"It is really political will to see how you want the region shaped, what tensions you want resolved and what people see as a situation which benefits everyone."
This article was first published on JULY 1, 2014.
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