SINGAPORE: To combat the “clear and present threat” of terrorism, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will bolster its counter-terrorism measures in the areas of incident response, training and equipping of soldiers, and continuing to invest in defence expenditure.
“As of now, there is no specific intelligence of any imminent plot against Singapore, but the general assessment by our intelligence agencies indicate that almost all cities are likely targets, including Singapore,” said Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen on Thursday (Apr 7), the second day of Committee of Supply debates in Parliament.
ISIS is the greatest threat to Singapore, and the city-state is an “attractive target” for the militant extremist group, Dr Ng said, reminding the House that it was only last year that the group identified Singapore as an enemy, and called on its followers to wage jihad here.
“Every shopping mall, every crowded place is an opportunity for violent extremists, for whom innocent civilians can be targeted. MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has stepped up security checks but the terrorists only need to succeed once,” he said.
“Under these circumstances, can Singapore guarantee its residents that no extremist attack will occur? We must step up our defences, and more importantly confront this threat and prepare to deal with the aftermath together."
He also noted that Singapore, as an open economy connected to the world, is “particularly susceptible” to hybrid threats of long-term civil, economic, social, psychological and military nature.
SOTF troopers during a demonstration of a hostage rescue operation. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
The SAF will continue to collaborate closely with the Home Team on counter-terrorism efforts, and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) is currently reviewing and working to enhance joint incident response plans, revealed Dr Ng.
He said the SAF’s Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) - first responders in counter-terrorism efforts on land – must have the capability to respond “even faster” when activated, and have the means to neutralise armed attackers on top of hostage rescue.
“The SAF is working with our defence engineers and scientists to equip these forces with better tactical sensors like micro-UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) small enough to fit in your palm and well-suited for urban terrains,” said Dr Ng. “We will continue to develop new technologies and tools that will give the SAF forces an edge in the fight against terror.”
SOTF troopers preparing to storm a building during a demonstration. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
TRAINING, EQUIPPING SOLDIERS
More SAF units will also be trained to face a wide range of security tasks such as conducting deterrence patrols in populous areas, said Dr Ng.
“We do not assume that attacks will only be carried out by lone-wolves or smaller groups as those which occurred in Jakarta,” he explained. “We must be able to deal with orchestrated attacks, like those which occurred in Paris and Brussels too, where airports, MRT stations, shopping malls and town centres are targeted simultaneously.”
Deployed response units will be better equipped to perform their tasks with added mobility, protection and precision in the form of firepower like the Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicle (PRV) which was commissioned last year.
To prepare soldiers to competently undertake counter-terrorism missions, the SAF will also build a new realistic high-density urban training facility in Lim Chu Kang, with features such as high-rise buildings, transport nodes and complex road networks, announced Dr Ng.
SOTF troopers operating with the Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicle during a demonstration. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
MINDEF will also continue to “invest wisely and spend prudently” on defence, said Dr Ng.
“Singapore too could have gone down the path of European countries to reap our own ‘peace dividend’ when the threat of communism waned and ASEAN progressed. Instead, we avoided spikes or dips in our defence spending to maintain a strong SAF,” he noted.
“Even as our population ages and social spending increases, we must maintain steady defence spending. That is the most effective way to stretch each defence dollar, as it allows us to plan for the long-term. It allows us to avoid disruptive changes from fluctuating expenditures year-to-year.”
Added Dr Ng: “For MINDEF, we buy only what the SAF needs and after a robust and stringent evaluation process. We adopt the most cost-effective solution. Our preference is to upgrade existing platforms, and only buy new equipment when absolutely required.”
Singapore’s defence expenditure has roughly kept pace wìth inflation, growing by about four per cent annually in nominal terms over the past decade, and is expected to maintain the same trajectory in the longer term, he said.
Dr Ng then provided the House with an update on the SAF’s assets.
This year, the army will launch a new suite of Protected Combat Support Vehicles to replace current non-armoured wheeled platforms for combat service support functions.
The navy is acquiring eight Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs) to replace its long-serving Patrol Vessels, with the first LMV launched in July last year and expected to be operational by early 2017. Two new Type 218SG submarines are on track to replace the ageing Challenger-class submarines and should be commissioned in 2020.
The airforce’s aging Super Pumas and older CH-47 Chinook helicopters will also be replaced, with MINDEF finalising evaluations and expected to announce its new helicopters soon. Its F-16s will also be upgraded with more advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars and air-to ground weapons.
Overall, the SAF will seek to deploy more unmanned platforms, beyond UAVs, so that manpower resources can be freed up for other missions, said Dr Ng.
The SAF will also invest more in cyber defence, he added, by doubling the headcount of the Cyber Defence Operations Hub (CDOH) by 2020. “We expect to use more artificial intelligence and big data analytics to better detect and respond to cyber threats,” said Dr Ng.
“The SAF will work closely with the national Cyber Security Agency (CSA) on this front.”
“DEFENDING SINGAPORE WITH THEIR LIVES”
Dr Ng concluded that the security challenges faced by Singapore “bring home the truth that each generation of Singaporeans will have to renew their commitment to protect what they value here or lose it”.
“Just as damaging as physical harm, extremists can sow mistrust between Singaporeans and weaken our social cohesion,” he added. “The crucial question is: After an extremist attack, will it splinter our society? Will it paralyse Singaporeans and sow discord through fear?”
Reiterating the SAF’s core value of soldiers pledging to defend Singapore with their lives, Dr Ng said: “SAF commanders and soldiers must put Singapore and Singaporeans first, above their own well-being, whether in training or operations.”
“In this troubled peace, SAF will train hard, prepare well and continually adapt to protect Singapore. With Singaporeans strongly behind and with us, the SAF will respond decisively to all those who seek to do us harm and protect this precious island we call home.”