Modern militaries "as dependent" on scientists as they are on soldiers: Ng Eng Hen

Dr Ng reminded them that Singapore's size and population mean that the SAF's need for a "technological edge" - a point raised by the late former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee decades ago - would continue.

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Here is the full statement from MINDEF:

If I sound a bit happy, it is because I am. Why am I happy? Well, every time we have a scholarship award presentation, it allows us to peer into the future. Five years, ten years. Just imagine an occasion if we have such a scholarship award presentation and we have only very few recipients. So this year, we are quite happy, because Mr Chan Yeng Kit said we have 39 scholarship recipients and some are postgraduates. We are having a bunch of SAFOS (Singapore Armed Forces [SAF] Overseas Scholarship), SMS (SAF Merit Scholarship), as well as other SAF related scholarship recipients. So this year is a good harvest and it tells us that five, ten years later, the future - at least for the SAF, DSTA and DSO - will be just as bright as we have today.

So I am very pleased to be with you today. The DSTA and DSO scholarships that we are awarding today - whether it is for pre-tertiary, undergraduate or postgraduate studies - we consider them as important as the scholarships we give to attract bright committed young men and women into the SAF. There is a simple reason for this and the reason is that modern militaries are dependent on defence scientists and engineers, as they are on professional soldiers. And later in my speech, I will try to explain or illustrate why.

In today's context, no military can afford to stand still and depend on yesterday's technology. Every time you buy a new platform, it is yesterday's technology. You can be sure that somebody somewhere out there is developing the next things. Because just like computer software, obsolescence of military platforms is a continuing challenge. Our run-out date starts the moment we acquire new platforms. So if we want to maintain that technological edge for the SAF, which we have today, we will constantly need men and women like yourselves, who are receiving the scholarships tonight, to explore, adapt and acquire it for military use.

If you look at the SAF today, technology has permeated into every facet of our operations. And I am not only talking about military capability. If you look at the way we do our human resource - some of you work in private industry - our human resource's ability to manage our men is not possible without modern technology. Supply logistics is the same. And when it comes to military capability, our ability to target at the right time, strike in the adequate fashion and quick enough, all depends on modern technology. It is no exaggeration that even the SAF doctrine and organisation of its forces has had to change with technology. Each time we acquire a new platform, we exercise, we test out different fighting concepts; we find that we learn more with each new platform, and how we can do things differently. And it causes the SAF to change its doctrine and its force structure. What I said is true for large militaries, but especially also because Singapore is a small country with limited resources and manpower. Because of that, we have to leverage on advanced technology to overcome our constraints and meet security challenges. And this is the way we have been doing it for the past four decades. We have established a robust defence ecosystem, integrated operations and technology, steadily invested in sophisticated weaponry and systems and today, I think the 3rd Generation SAF is well-recognised as an established and advanced professional force. What we see today, interestingly, is a vision that Dr Goh Keng Swee had about 40 years ago. As you know, Dr Goh was then the progenitor of DSO, which was called the Electronics Test Centre. That was in 1972, 41 years ago. Let me share with you some words which he said then. Dr Goh said: "The constraints of our manpower, the size of our territory and the limited reaction time to face any military threat means that we must develop indigenously that technological edge. And because technology is changing fast, we have to keep pushing forward." What Dr Goh said over 40 years ago, holds true today, and I suspect will hold true 40 years later.

Technology is a force multiplier for the SAF, not only based on the individual platforms but more importantly, our ability to integrate various platforms together, into what you engineers call "system-of-systems". You buy different platforms but you put them together, and the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Thus, because we have done that, the SAF is now better able to see more clearly and further - to rapidly and accurately detect threats using a wide range of sensors. After we have detected these threats, our ability to respond to them is much faster because we have quicker communications; our ability to decide is faster because we have more datalinks and intelligence networks. And we can strike with surgical precision, whether it is through air, land or sea platforms. So as we say, from teeth to tail, from sensing to striking, it is the DSTA and DSO engineers who have been at the forefront of the SAF's 3rd Generation transformation. Their research and development work contributes directly and I would say, critically, to the SAF's ability to safeguard Singapore's sovereignty and security. This sounds a bit theoretical so let me try to illustrate for you practical examples.

Today, our Army's scout teams conduct reconnaissance missions using the Skyblade III. This is a mini-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). It was developed by engineers from DSTA, DSO, the Army and Singapore Technologies. The Skyblade is able to operate at a range of 8km and that allows our troops to see further and survey the territory - their area of operations - away from the enemy. All these pictures that this UAV collects from the sky are then fed into what we call the Wide Area Communications system. This was also built locally by our DSTA engineers. This Wide Area Communications system is a more developed model than currently available, high bandwidth and it provides the Army, compared to the old system, a 17-fold increase in speed to get the information. And it allows information from various sources and it stitches them up into a single network. Huge volumes of data are mined because you are collecting a lot of information and you are able to put it together to make into a picture that makes sense to the commanders on the ground.

Once a target has been determined, we have new strike capabilities to be able to respond. So we have, for example, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). And HIMAS is one of our latest additions. Our DSTA engineers played a pivotal role in integrating this HIMARS into the Army's Battlefield Management System. And this allows commanders to respond with precision to strike enemy targets, even though the enemy targets are quickly on the move.

DSO's engineers have also increased the capabilities of our SAF's fighting force through innovative ways of, sometimes, reducing the danger that our SAF men and women face. So one example is the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. All of you will realise that during times of tension, sometimes you have mines that are put underwater to try to destroy the enemy's fleet of ships. You need to detect these mines, if not they will create disruption to our own ships. And obviously, this is dangerous work but the SAF now uses the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and we also use robots for the detection, investigation and mitigation of chemical, biological, radiological and explosive threats.

Our DSTA engineers are also involved in designing new technologies which help us increase our effectiveness in training. Singapore is very short of land and we have many competing demands for land. So recently, we have opened up a Multi-Mission Range Complex in Pasir Laba. Some of you who are around my vintage or older will remember the firing ranges we went to - the 100m range, the 300m range. The Multi-Mission Range Complex in Pasir Laba is a seven-in-one live-firing range. And it simulates tough but realistic conditions and is able to simulate day or night and all-weather conditions for the SAF's marksmanship training. In fact, the DSTA engineers have designed the targeting system for people to shoot at and it can range from 50m to 1km. Because based on the bullet that you fire, I think it is an electronic bullet, you can calculate the trajectory whether you missed it or not by millimetres. So you can simulate conditions where you are firing, whether it is 50m or 1km. This kind of complex allows us many opportunities to train our men.

Our defence threats are also increasing. Cyber-attacks - attacks on our cyber systems - are increasing in frequency, potency and sophistication. And again, our DSTA engineers and scientists have designed what we call a sandbox to enable us to detect malware and stop these threats from crippling our cyber networks. And this is reinforced in the SAF Cyber Defence Operations Hub.

I have given you these examples to explain and to illustrate how the SAF needs to be integrated with the defence community, the scientific community, that allows us to build an advanced and highly capable armed force. Ultimately, it is about the men and women behind these innovations that make the SAF's transformation possible in the first place. To continue to safeguard our country and way of life, Singapore needs dedicated and creative researchers, scientists and engineers. And to grow the people who form the backbone of innovation and transformation, we must continue to put emphasis in developing you to the fullest.

DSTA and DSO are starting young to attract interest and I think this is on the right track and we should do more of it. We have programmes such as the Young Defence Scientists Programme and the DSTA Junior College Scholarships. This is to get students interested to join our organisations when they graduate later. And I know that many recipients today started as Young Defence Scientist Programme participants or DSTA Junior College scholars.

Today, we have a 5,000-strong defence technology community in DSTA and DSO. As DSTA and DSO scholars, you will play a pivotal role in sustaining Singapore's technological edge and breaking new ground in research and development and ensuring that our loved ones are well protected.

You represent the future generation of defence researchers, scientists and engineers. We have put in enormous resources to try to build you to your fullest potential, but I would like to remind you also that we have placed a responsibility on you. We count on you to provide Singapore better defences that can protect our country and way of life.

So let me congratulate the 94 scholarship recipients. If you look at the list of universities that you have been admitted to, they are among the best universities, whether locally or abroad. And you and your parents can be rightly proud of these achievements. Continue to grow your talent and spur yourselves to greater heights. To parents, family members, principals and teachers, I share your joy on this special occasion. I know that this is a very proud moment, a special moment for you. I wish all recipients every success in your studies and I look forward to your contributions to the defence and security of Singapore when you return. Congratulations and thank you.