SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will form a new unit, called the Army Deployment Force (ADF), to sharpen Singapore's ability to combat terrorism, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Thursday (Jun 30).
The Army Deployment Force will be a battalion-sized unit comprising highly-trained regulars with niche capabilities, able to respond to terrorist threats in an urban setting. They are also expected to complement other SAF task forces such as the Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) and the Island Defence Task Force (IDTF), Dr Ng said in an interview.
"The basic task for the Army Deployment Force is a rapid response element because speed is important in counter terrorism. It's really not quite like conventional missions where you have time. This time you have to respond in minutes," the minister said.
The first batch will be inaugurated on Jul 12, he added.
Additionally, Dr Ng said the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) will set up the National Security Centre, and this will help coordinate counter-terrorism efforts between MINDEF and MHA.
RESPONSIBILITY IS TO BE READY
Dr Ng illustrated a scenario where multiple terrorist attacks take place, and the ADF's role is to surround an affected area to contain the armed attackers. They will be equipped with assault weapons like the SAR 21 and the 870 MCS, as well as the Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicles, for their mission, he said.
Meanwhile, the SOTF will close in to neutralise the attackers and rescue hostages, if any, he added.
Dr Ng said these task forces will support the Home Team agencies, which will be the first to respond in such events.
"As we have agreed with MHA, that there may be situations where the SAF may be called in. And it may not be sequentially, it may be at the same time, because you are able to assess the threat that you have multiple areas of attack. For example, with what happened in France," he said.
Besides dealing with terrorism, the ADF has other functions such as assisting the IDTF in civil contingencies like mass evacuations and to enhance domestic security. For such operations, soldiers will be equipped with pistols and tasers as well as the Protected Light Utility Vehicle, the Defence Minister said.
The ADF can also be activated for overseas missions in areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as peace support operations that involve aiding in reconstruction efforts, Dr Ng noted.
Selected National Servicemen (NS) units will be trained to operate alongside the ADF, so that they can be part of the response team, the Minister said.
Dr Ng said setting up the ADF is part of SAF's continuing efforts to ramp up the Republic's counter-terrorism capabilities in light of the growing threat. At this year's Committee of Supply debate, he had announced that more SAF units will be trained to take on a wider range of security tasks such as conducting deterrence patrols in populous areas.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION NEEDED
The Defence Minister also raised concerns about "lone wolf" terrorists and the Islamic State (IS). He said even if IS is neutralised, it does not mean that the threat level will go down; in fact, the threat level may worsen.
"Why? Because you have a thousand or more foreign fighters from this region that have gone there. If IS is weakened there, they will come back. So this is a problem that will confront us easily for the next two decades," he explained.
He added that porous borders between countries make it easy for terrorists to smuggle weapons and form small training enclaves.
This is why the fight against terrorism requires international cooperation, Dr Ng said.
For example, Singapore and Australia have announced they are deepening military ties through initiatives such as building a training facility in Australia that is 10 times the size of Singapore. The facility will allow Singapore troops a place to train over the next 25 years, focusing on honing their capabilities in operating in an urban setting as well as counter-terrorism operations.
"It will mean many more training opportunities for NS soldiers. But we want to have realistic training and we need to have a good training facility. So, on the cards are combined arms live firing range, which means you have the ability to fire in concert to test the scenarios where both artillery, air force, Apaches, armour and infantry can fire," the Defence Minister said.
This collaboration comes under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which Singapore signed with Australia in May this year.
Dr Ng also noted that Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia are looking to conduct joint patrols in the Sulu Sea, and Singapore will join if invited as this is also in the Republic's interest.
He added that Singapore has offered its Information Fusion Centre - an initiative started by the country's navy - as a resource for the joint patrols.