Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at PRIDE Symposium 2018 Awards Presentation Ceremony and Exhibition

Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at PRIDE Symposium 2018 Awards Presentation Ceremony and Exhibition

SMS Maliki
Permanent Secretary (Defence)
Chief of Defence Force
Chief Executive GovTech
Senior Commanders
Ladies and gentlemen,

First, let me offer my heartiest congratulations to all the award recipients. Thank you for your efforts, your diligence to come up with better ideas. Let me also say that I enjoyed very much the Pitch Challenge. It confirms for me that if you give a person a microphone and an audience you can change his behaviour and his way of speaking.

Digitisation and Datafication

When we look back at how our defence capabilities have changed, it was both providence and foresight that provided the circumstance which allowed Singapore’s defence capabilities to grow exponentially over the past decades. If today’s wars, how they turn out, the outcome, is based on whether you have more people or equipment, then all of us here know that Singapore would be on the back foot, especially when we face a third reduction of NSFs from 2030. But instead, fortunes changed as the World at large took on a different trajectory propelled by connectivity and computers and this included a revolution in military affairs. This was providence. The foresight was with our founding leaders, especially Dr Goh Keng Swee, who positioned Singapore as early as in the 70s and 80s by investing more in science, technology and innovation know-hows and the people so that when this wave of connectivity crested, Singapore’s defence eco-system was able to rise fast and to greater heights.

All of us here, for the last three decades, have witnessed this momentum and in this new millennium we are witnessing a global Industrial Revolution. It has been quite astonishing. It is changing almost every facet of our lives, and it is based on two Ds that I think the video exemplified so well – digitisation and datafication. The ability to code all aspects of the World as we know it, into bits and bytes transformed information in all its spheres – from how you capture it, how you share it, how you store it and how you exploit it. Pari passu with increasing digitisation came increasing precision. Let me give just one example that you would be familiar with, but there can be many more. Some of you here are old enough to remember the conventional 155mm munitions. Three decades ago we talked about a circular error of probability (CEP) of 200 metres. What is CEP? For those of you who are not familiar with this, it means that if an artillery from a 155mm gun lands, and you say 200 metres. If you gave the coordinates for Nanyang Polytechnic Auditorium, if we’re lucky, all of us would still be alive even after they fire, because 200 metres is somewhere in the carpark. But today, with digitisation, a GPS-guided 155mm munition can achieve a CEP of less than 20 metres. So indeed if a 155mm gun fires with a CEP of 20 metres, then we can probably say that this would be the last symposium that all of us will attend. But that is not all. These munitions can become even more precise with technological advancement in guidance systems, to achieve a CEP of less than two metres.

The impact of precision is not only on artillery, indeed you have been experiencing how the entire force structure of modern militaries are predicated on a digital battlefield. That is our primary assumption that we will fight on the digital battlefield. Now if for any reason, the World reverts to analogue – complete power failure, no Wi-Fi, no data transmission, we would be back to analogue and would be at a disadvantage instantaneously. Digitisation also resulted in a reduced need for manpower. So across the years and across all services, whether it is Army, Navy or Air Force, every new platform that we have introduced has required less people than its predecessor that we have replaced. The Army’s Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle uses 20% less manpower. The RSN’s Littoral Mission Vessels, despite being larger and more complex than the Patrol Vessels they replaced, operate with 23 people compared to 30 people in a Patrol Vessel. RSAF’s Smart Air Base uses drones for runway damage, what you saw in the video, and it replaces the laborious efforts of many men combing the runway looking for debris.

How did this come about? One main reason is because defence is a very sensitive domain, and it forced our founding leaders to address a key question, a key dilemma.  If you want to get state-of-the-art equipment, should you make good friends with countries that can sell you these advance technology or do you invest in your own capabilities? Thankfully, they decided on both and today’s modern SAF is the result of that abiding strategy. So, DSTA, DSO, our MEs in the SAF, and ST companies are the result of years of building our science and technology local expertise. At the same time we cultivated strong partnerships with countries with advanced technologies that can sell us advanced platforms.

But I talked quite a lot about how we got here, there are new challenges afoot. The head start which Singapore enjoys today may be eroded. Simply because potential aggressors can purchase those same precise munitions or precise applications either from more suppliers or on the dark web. For example, terrorists can acquire components for chemical, biological and radiological weapons, as well as explosives and grenades from as low as just a few hundred dollars through the dark web. Terrorist leaders now use encrypted apps to orchestrate plots against Singapore targets, from foreign locations as far as Syria. As before, security challenges never stand still but are on a constant cat and mouse play and we have to ensure that we always remain the “cat”.

The second area is datafication. For the SAF to stay ahead, we must learn to use and exploit data more intelligently for our own purposes. That’s the name of the game, not only for the military, but indeed all industries. While I was preparing for this speech, I asked how much data does the SAF have? I thought it was maybe exabytes, zettabytes or yottabytes. But apparently, we have not reached there; we just have petabytes of information – ten to the power of 15. But all (that) this means is that we have bigger server storage farms, so we have to put aside more space to store the information, unless we turn these bits of information into actionable data. And I think that is the story of the video that we just saw. In analogue terms, whichever military builds stronger capability in digital data exploitation will have the equivalent of greater firepower and manoeuvrability. This impact is all pervasive, from the very front end of the teeth to the tip of the tail of militaries. This year’s PRIDE symposium marks a significant shift to capitalise fully our capabilities in this new landscape, thus the theme – “Leading Transformation and Innovation”.

Transformation and Innovation

To give command emphasis at the very top, PS(D) and CDF will co-chair the Transformation and Innovation Steering Committee. We have already started on the journey to amplify our efforts through the exploitation of data. You have seen some examples, let me cite.

RSN’s project, “Audit without Auditors”. A team from RSN, DSTA and MINDEF’s Internal Audit Department, developed the Finance Logistics Assessment Gauge or FLAG quite appropriately. They did it in six months. What does FLAG do? Basically, FLAG uses algorithms that look for outliers, for transaction lapses and errors automatically. Currently, that is done manually and menially. The team is working with the Public Service Division to introduce FLAG to other ministries.

The Army is also exploiting data to increase utilisation of its tracked vehicles and better time preventive maintenance. You saw that in the video. Basically, spot changes in parameters that you monitor, sudden dips to say that it is time for maintenance. MINDEF and the SAF will increasingly use facial recognition to screen both vehicles and personnel entering and leaving camps and bases.

We have to continue to keep up this momentum to harness the wealth of data to improve efficiency and effectiveness at all levels. And a key enabler of this is crowd sourcing of good ideas. We need a Pitch Challenge to be a daily occurrence – from our NSFs, our NSmen, Regulars, even members of the public. And PITCH – Platform for Innovation, Transformation and Change – is a mobile app launched earlier this week which provide the means for ground up ideas. And it allows ideas and idealists to connect and that way, builds the momentum for visible change. MINDEF and the SAF will also initiate make-a-thons to bring together individuals from various disciplines to solve problems together. Since March 2018, 12 make-a-thons have been concluded.

These ideas do not all have to be big, because ideas big and small, can make a huge difference to the daily functioning of the SAF. One such example is a new initiative that I am announcing today – IPPT awards; the pay-out of it through PayNow. If you do well in your IPPT currently, you will have to wait two weeks to receive your incentive awards by GIRO. From next year onwards, NSmen who do well in your IPPT can get your pay-out immediately. So as you run your 2.4km run and cross the finishing line, you can hear the “chink”. I exaggerate somewhat, but you get it on the same day, basically, as your IPPT. And I think NSmen will appreciate this small idea, (which) will have big impact.

Recognising Our People’s Achievements

Today, we recognise 67 award winners across MINDEF and the SAF for their significant contributions which help us drive transformation and innovation. And like our predecessors, winners today position us to ride the new wave of technology. You have seen some of the examples, let me highlight.

Army’s Maintenance & Engineering Support (MES), Ayer Rajah Camp Lab, or ARC Lab, that is the lab that helps them develop prototypes for their ideas. The night vision goggle mount that is now used for the MATADOR was developed using the ARC Lab in as short as four months. It uses 3D printing technology. How much did 3D-printed MATADOR mount cost? Let me tell you how much it would cost now if you buy it from a commercial vendor – $300,000. How much did the night vision goggle mount cost – $40. I think that is the cost of the awards that the winners of the Pitch Challenge will also get, the 3D awards. It is a good innovation to save cost. $300,000 to $40, an accurate but very useful. Similarly, MES’s “Gearbox @ 1AMB”, is a “sandbox” to test new ideas for better maintenance.

Air Force Engineers from Air Combat Command developed a new process, a new procedure as you saw, to calibrate the F-15SG’s internal compass. It is 50% more efficient and reduces cost by 85%! Apart from the US Air Force, even Boeing the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) has endorsed the new procedure and that is why the US Air Force will adopt it for their F-15Es. Another example that we saw in National Day Parade this year, was the “Diver Recovery Board” by RSN’s Special Warfare Group. And it is five times faster, than traditional methods.

All in all, we saved more than $158 million in 2017, and exceeded our target by 12%. So, well done all of you.

But it is beyond the dollars and cents, it is a sense of empowerment by the organisation, that will shape the organisation, that will engage people in the organisation that sends them a very strong message. Today, if you have an idea, act on it and change the organisation. And we are enabling you to do it, whether it is through PITCH, the mobile app, whether it is through coming together with make-a-thons, or whether it is for PRIDE. You can make a difference on a daily basis. We remove the bureaucracy for ideas to flourish.


So, our generation of MINDEF and the SAF must continue the good work that our founding leaders started. We must ride this new wave of technological breakthroughs and push the SAF far ahead to secure Singapore’s future for another generation.

Congratulations and thank you.

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