A strong defence safeguards Singapore's peace, security, and sovereignty, and lays the foundation for our pursuit of economic and social progress.
The geopolitical environment and security landscape which we face is becoming more complex, and further exacerbated by disruptions and differences brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Contestation between the US and China is rising across all spheres, while territorial, maritime, and other disputes among countries have intensified. Sensing opportunities, terrorists and cyber-attackers continue to pose significant threats. Across borders, the rules-based order which has contributed to global stability and multilateral institutions that have forged cooperation to transnational problems are unravelling. Within each nation, COVID-19 is inflicting enormous health, economic, and social damage.
Maintaining Readiness Amidst COVID-19
As we navigate through these turbulent times, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) must stand ever prepared to defend our nation. Despite COVID-19, the SAF has not compromised on operational readiness, be it in island defence, maritime security, air defence, counter-terrorism, or cyber defence. To generate new units to meet security needs, we have resumed more training activities, including Basic Military Training for new enlistees and essential In-Camp Training for National Service (NS) units. The SAF is also progressively restarting overseas exercises to sharpen our capability edge. In August 2020, RSS Supreme joined 22 ships from nine other navies at the biennial Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2020 held at sea off Hawaii.
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. We will also comprehensively relook how we operate, train, and work, and make fundamental changes that are necessary for the new normal.
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF also remain ready to contribute to national COVID-19 efforts when called upon. We have led national health surveillance and contact tracing operations to contain COVID-19's spread, built and managed community care and recovery facilities, and taken care of COVID-19 patients and migrant workers in dormitories. Our defence scientists and engineers have stepped up to contribute technology and testing solutions in support of frontline operations.
Building the Next-Gen SAF
Even as we face a more volatile external environment and a widening array of threats, the SAF's enlistee pool will shrink. 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. It will transform its fighting concepts, restructure its units, and strengthen operations-technology integration to maintain a decisive edge over potential adversaries. 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.
The SAF's transformation is possible because of our long-term planning and steady investments over the years. New land, maritime, and aerial platforms, as well as Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) systems will be progressively deployed in the coming years. 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.
We will also be strengthening our local defence ecosystem, to enable us to develop bespoke technological capabilities for the SAF, while building resilience amidst uncertainties in our global supply chains. As we do all these, we will continue to be prudent in defence spending, taking into account the economic downturn and competing needs due to COVID-19.
NS remains the crucial backbone of Singapore's defence. We will enhance the NS system to drive the Next-Gen SAF and support the needs of a new generation of national servicemen. The National Service Review Committee established in 2020 will develop mechanisms for better matching of skills and experience to vocations and deployment, and continual professional development of our servicemen. We will also revamp our servicemen's end-to-end NS journey for a more meaningful and efficient experience.
Strengthening Defence Diplomacy
As a small city state, it is vital that we uphold a global system and regional security architecture that are based on openness, inclusivity, co-operation, and respect for international law. MINDEF and the SAF will contribute towards constructive dialogue and partnerships at multilateral platforms, including the Shangri-La Dialogue, the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM), the ADMM-Plus, and the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). We will support the ADMM-Plus Experts' Working Groups' new three-year cycle of cooperative initiatives in areas such as counter-terrorism and maritime security. We will reaffirm our commitment to strengthening defence consultation and cooperation with member-nations of the FPDA, which marks its 50th anniversary in 2021.
On the bilateral front, we will continue to develop defence ties with our neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia, and other partners such as Australia, China, India, and the US. With the US, we will build upon the 2019 Protocol of Amendment to the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate the US' presence in our region and work together on areas of mutual interest. With other regional partners, we will grow our military ties as established through defence cooperation agreements to scale up bilateral military exercises, and conduct regular dialogues and exchanges.
Building a Strong Defence Together
To strengthen Singaporeans' collective commitment to Total Defence, MINDEF and the SAF will step up engagements with key segments of society, including families, employers, businesses, and educational institutions, as well as the wider public. 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. The 55th anniversary of NS in 2022 and upcoming development of the prominent NS Square at Marina Bay will provide valuable opportunities to commemorate NS and reaffirm the central role that it plays in our nation and our lives.
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.
DR NG ENG HEN
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE