SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will review its training and operations to prepare for a “new normal” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Thursday (Aug 27).
“To protect the health of our servicemen, the SAF will continue to undertake comprehensive safety measures, supported by robust COVID-19 surveillance and testing regimes,” said Dr Ng, in his ministry’s addendum to Monday’s President’s Address.
“We will also comprehensively relook how we operate, train, and work, and make fundamental changes that are necessary for the new normal.”
Training activities have resumed, including Basic Military Training for new enlistees and essential In-Camp Training for National Service (NS) units, with the necessary safe distancing measures.
The SAF is also progressively restarting overseas exercises, although the Individual Physical Proficiency Test for operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) remains suspended until Sep 30.
Despite the disruptions brought about by the pandemic, Dr Ng said the SAF has not compromised on operational readiness, including in island defence, maritime security, air defence, counter-terrorism or cyber defence.
“VOLATILE EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENT”
President Halimah Yacob told Parliament in her address this week that COVID-19 has sharpened global fault lines and made the external environment “less benign and predictable”.
“Even as we face a more volatile external environment and a widening array of threats, the SAF’s enlistee pool will shrink,” Dr Ng said in his addendum.
“In response, the Next-Gen SAF will seek to protect the peace and security of Singapore by fighting with enhanced situational awareness, greater connectivity, and sharper strike precision, all enabled by a leaner but better trained force.”
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Dr Ng said the SAF will progressively deploy new land, maritime and aerial platforms, as it will Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) systems in the coming years.
While COVID-19 has delayed the delivery of Singapore’s first Invincible-class submarine from 2021 to 2022, the plan to get an initial four F-35 stealth fighter jets in 2026 remains on track, Dr Ng said in June.
“Upgraded local training facilities including SAFTI City and overseas ones such as the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Australia will allow us to train more effectively,” he said on Thursday.
Beyond that, Dr Ng said the SAF will transform its fighting concepts, restructure its units and strengthen operations-technology integration to maintain a decisive edge over potential adversaries.
Dr Ng announced in March that the SAF will restructure its intelligence, cyber defence and some naval units to better deal with emerging threats.
On Thursday, he said: “The Next-Gen SAF will be one that harnesses the power of digitalisation, autonomous and unmanned systems, and big data and artificial intelligence. In the cyber domain, an integrated cyber force will defend our digital borders.”
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Dr Ng said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will also strengthen Singapore’s defence ecosystem, to enable the development of “bespoke” technological capabilities for the SAF, while building resilience amid uncertainties in global supply chains.
All these will be carried out, he said, while exercising prudence in defence spending, in the face of an economic downturn induced by COVID-19, as well as competing needs in other areas.
READY TO HELP NATIONAL COVID-19 EFFORTS
Dr Ng said MINDEF and SAF remain ready to contribute to national COVID-19 efforts when called upon, pointing to how they have led national health surveillance and contact tracing operations, and built and managed community care and recovery facilities for migrant workers.
“Our defence scientists and engineers have stepped up to contribute technology and testing solutions in support of frontline operations,” he said.
MINDEF and SAF will also increase engagement with key segments of society, including families, employers, businesses, educational institutions and the wider public, to strengthen Singaporeans’ collective commitment to Total Defence, Dr Ng said.
“We will also instil pride in and support for the institution of NS, and continue to recognise NSmen and their supportive families and employers for their sacrifices,” he added, citing the development of NS Square at Marina Bay as one way of commemorating NS.
“Together, Singaporeans will build a strong defence that keeps our families safe and our nation peaceful, and enables us to advance our lives and develop a better society.”