SAF adapting to tackle new threats

Singapore has started to reorganise its fighting forces to ensure that, even as a small state, it can defend itself against emerging threats.

The revamp comes against the backdrop of extremist groups such as Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and Al-Qaeda spreading radical ideologies based on false religious precepts, and carrying out hybrid warfare - a military concept that involves conventional weapons and unconventional tools, such as spreading disinformation, to achieve victory without resorting to open warfare.

Also looming are cyber threats with the "potential to wreak as much havoc", said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen last Friday in his annual media interview ahead of SAF Day today.

He added that the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) modernisation drive, which is dubbed the "third-generation" (3G) transformation, is going well, as troops are given more precise combat information and are able to close the loop between "what you see and how you effect responses".

But the armed forces must "keep transforming" to address the fundamental change in how information is collected and used in today's battleground.

The SAF is enlisting more "cyber soldiers" to beef up its online defence, and doubling motorised ground units to ensure that half of the army moves on tracks or wheels. More money will also be invested in new technology such as unmanned fighting platforms and robotics, while existing war machines will be souped up.

Next year, Singapore will spend more than US$2.4 billion (S$3.2 billion) to modernise its ageing fleet of F-16s. The upgrades, which will be completed by 2022, are likely to extend the lifespan of the F-16s and make them operational for the next 20 years.

Citizen soldiers will be trained to do more, said Dr Ng, who became Defence Minister in 2011. "I'm confident that they can because they are better-skilled, better-equipped and just as committed."

He said the strategy is to ensure that Singapore never competes only in terms of troop numbers.

Instead, Singapore makes up for manpower shortages with "superior skills, knowledge, intelligence, information and technology".

It was a different picture when the SAF started in 1965, with no tanks, two wooden ships and no warplanes.

Dr Ng paid tribute to Singapore's pioneer soldiers. He said: "They learnt that you can only own what you can defend. If you can't defend it, you don't own it. But you cannot build a modern military just through dreams and passion.

"You've got to have capable leadership; you've got to have resources and, most importantly, an unwavering commitment by the leadership and the people to want to build a strong defence."

This article was first published on July 1, 2015.
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