Singapore will continue its approach of keeping defence spending steady, avoiding sharp spikes or drops which would undermine defence capabilities over the medium term.
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Here is the exerpt from Minister Ng's speech in Parliament on March 6:
A robust approach in building our defence capability to achieve strategic deterrence is why MINDEF maintains a steady defence spending - which has delivered, over time, a strong SAF respected by even advanced Western militaries. Our planning horizons are intentionally long term and we spend prudently and steadily. This steady defence spending allows us many "opportunity buys".
For example the refurbished Leopard Tanks from Germany. It was a good buy because this was what they termed as post-Cold War dividends. Berlin Wall came down, people said tanks were no longer required so there was a huge surplus of tanks that went on the market and we picked them up at a relatively good price, refurbished it. After this came Iraq and Afghanistan where the Canadians had sold their Leopard tanks and realised that Leopard tanks were indeed very much needed even in desert warfare, had to re-buy them at an escalated price. So we were smiling and saying, "Good buy."
This steady defence spending allows us a long lead time to train our men adequately and to develop platforms that meet our specific requirements when we cannot buy from the open market. For example, some of you may have heard about our Pegasus light-weight howitzer - it was locally developed. It can be lifted by helicopters and self-propelled; it is the first and still the only one of its kind in the world.
MINDEF will continue this approach of steady defence spending that has reaped significant benefits for our defence capabilities. In other words, we will avoid sharp spikes unless security risks require increased spending. We will also avoid sharp dips that will undermine our defence capabilities over the medium term. So if you look at our defence spending over the last 10 years, and I think members have asked for it, "What is our thinking, what is our trend?"
If you look at our defence spending over the last 10 years, it reflects this steady investment in capability building, where our defence budget has roughly kept pace with inflation. Let me give you the figures, in 2004 it was S$8.6 billion and last year it was S$12.2 billion. In other words, it has kept pace more or less with inflation and I expect going forward that our defence spending to continue on this trajectory that more or less keeps pace with inflation, over the long term. It is sustainable and it is a prudent way of investing in our defence capabilities.
In buying equipment, we prefer to upgrade existing platforms instead of buying new ones. For example, we upgraded the Navy's missile corvettes which were first commissioned in the early 1990s. These ladies are not particularly young but they are still very sea-worthy and we have upgraded them. The Army's Leopard tanks were also bought second-hand and upgraded to meet our needs.
Through this prudent, steady and long-term view of defence spending, the SAF today that has been built up is a deterrent force and it sends a strong signal to all that Singaporeans value our independence and will fight to protect it. This signal, this unequivocal signal of deterrence is priceless. The SAF has also responded well to security challenges, even unexpected ones, as we have done in Afghanistan and the Gulf of Aden.
Another "test" that validated whether our SAF is ready was our response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. Because, if you remember, this happened on Boxing Day and there was no prior warning, but we were able to quickly dispatch C-130 aircraft with supplies and helicopters to assist in relief efforts, as well as a Landing Ship Tank (LST). The RSS Endurance carried over 400 people, more than 50 vehicles, and a large amount of relief supplies. This was of course to Aceh and this was before we realised also that other parts were hit. Remember the epicentre; it also affected Krabi and across Thailand. So within days, we had to send our second LST. It was deployed, and then a third.
At this time, our fourth and remaining LST was deployed in the Northern Arabian Gulf. For your information, we only have four LSTs, all deployed, 100% operational efficiency. Button pushed, all out, deployed, all ready, men and machines working well. It is because we have invested steadily, trained our men, made sure our systems are optimised that we are able to do this. And when called to do more, the SAF will step up. Ms Ellen Lee asked about National Maritime Security System (NMSS) and the SAF has stepped up to coordinate and control this maritime security system.
We have done well thus far, but MINDEF and the SAF must again be strongly positioned for the future. Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Mr Nicholas Fang and Mr Pritam Singh asked about this.
The question is, "What are we building for the future?" I thought instead of telling you, I will try to show you, I think it is much easier.
Let me illustrate with a schematic of what the SAF might look like in 2030. You will find this in your goodie bag. This particular picture, and basically it says "Current", "Plan" and "Future". The SAF in 2030 will be one with all parts highly connected. Which means that whether it's the fighter pilot in the air, the sailor out on the oceans or the soldier on land, each will be able to see the big picture, and beyond that, speak to each other to jointly target threats and orchestrate responses. Let me repeat that - whether you are a fighter pilot, a sailor out on the oceans or a soldier on land, you will be able to see the big picture, speak to each other, jointly target threats and orchestrate responses. Sounds simple but very, very difficult to do. This concept of a networked force is now a reality, and the SAF is a front-runner in global terms in realising the full potential of a networked military.
In 2030, our F-16s will have been upgraded with what we call the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, which are more precise, which can see further and will have more precise air-to-ground munitions. The F-16s upgraded with the F- 15s, will be able to defend our airspace ably. In addition, we would have acquired our next generation fighter aircraft, which Mr Pritam Singh asked about. We are not quite ready to decide yet, we will take our time because our F-16s and F-15s will serve us for the near term and medium term. We will also have in place multi-layered air defence capabilities with the deployment of the SPYDER and ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems. In other words, layers of air defence. Our current KC-135 aerial tankers will have been replaced by the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which we have decided to acquire. The MRTT, or Airbus A330, can hold 20% more fuel than our current KC-135s and will extend the range of our fighters through Air-to-Air Refuelling. The Airbus A330 can also double up as a cargo and troop-lift aircraft to deploy troops and equipment to overseas sites further away as we have done in HADR operations. You will be familiar with the A330 because you fly in some of these commercial planes.
For our Navy, the two Type-218SG submarines will be in operation, together with our two Archer-class submarines. Our frigates, operating with their Sikorsky S-70B Naval Helicopters, and our new Littoral Mission Vessels, will form the mainstay of our surface fleet. The Naval Helicopters have proved to be effective and versatile for a wide range of missions. When we deployed them in the Gulf of Aden, it validated their usefulness in counter-piracy missions and the SAF has therefore decided to acquire two more Naval Helicopters. The SAF has also found the multi-role Landing Ship Tank to be an effective workhorse in our relief efforts, so whether it was to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Northern Arabian Gulf, whether it was to relief efforts elsewhere, they were found to be effective. But if there was one limitation, it was in their carrying capacity. We are therefore studying carefully the need for larger LSTs that can carry more helicopters as well as more cargo.
The Army in 2030 will certainly be more mobile . In the next 10 years, the number of units that will operate on wheel or track platforms will almost double. So whatever we have right now, in 10 years they will double in numbers and this will create more mobile units. This includes more Terrex Infantry Fighting Vehicles, to deal with threats in urban environments. The Terrexes will be linked to UAVs to see further, better and act more decisively. The Bionixes will also be upgraded and this will be operationalised by 2030.
By 2030, the SAF also expects that future systems that are currently prototyped or thought about will be part of our day to day use. Possibilities include multiple micro-UAVs for individual soldiers. Some of you may have seen on YouTube these gyrocopters that are swarming. Very likely that individual soldiers will be able to use them or even robotic mules that can carry very heavy loads and follow soldiers autonomously. I know that this will be every soldier's dream where a robot mule carries your rifle but do not get ahead of yourself. This is for serious stuff. We will continue to test these capabilities in realistic terrain and scenarios. For example, as we did in Exercise Forging Sabre 2013, where we deployed our widest range of platforms and precision munitions to date. F-15s, F-16s fighters, Apaches and Chinook helicopters, and our HIMARS.
20. I'm painting you a snapshot of the SAF in 2030 so that you can see what our defence spending is moving towards in visual terms. These capabilities of the SAF, if achieved by 2030, should provide Singaporeans the confidence that Singapore can be protected. I say confidence, not certainty. The future is as always unpredictable. I would also remind members of this House and Singaporeans who have asked whether we are too far ahead or if we are too well protected that, as a small country of only 700 square km and about 4 million residents, our vulnerabilities will always exist. We cannot erase these vulnerabilities. We can mitigate them and prepare the best we can for our defences, with the resources available. But we must be resilient enough to withstand the unforeseen. But most importantly, whether we can deter would-be aggressors for another 50 years and achieve peace depends not on advance systems or weaponry, no matter how sophisticated, but our people and their resolve to defend our island home.