Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen:
We witnessed today the completion of the Island Air Defence System that was begun some 15 years ago and I would say it is quite a transformation, on a number of fronts. One in terms of the range of our response systems to threats from the air – we are now able to see much further and respond to targets much further away. And that is the first piece. The second piece is that we are able to do this with much less manpower, because many of the systems are automated across the whole supply chain, whether it is the detection of targets or loading of ammunition and activation. The third significant improvement is that we are able to now deal with more targets. Previously, you could only deal against aircraft, but now you are able to deal with different classes of threats. So, I would say it is a significant phase change that gives comfort that we can protect Singapore and Singaporeans from threats from the air. And given Singapore's small size and highly dense population, we will always be vulnerable. Even with these air defence systems, you can never be immune. But you can significantly reduce the level of threat so I take great comfort in that.
Question: Minister, the Island Air Defence System is always going to be an ever-changing process. Moving forward, what are we looking at in terms of assets or capabilities for the next-Generation?
Dr Ng: I would say that our current systems are state of the art. At least against munitions that are on the market that are subsonic or even supersonic (munitions). If you are talking about hypersonic missiles, then you know very few militaries have the capabilities to respond to it but that is something maybe 20 or 30 years down the line. I think these systems will serve us for the next few decades, and it is a culmination of efforts taken over the last 20 years - just steady improvements, tightening up each piece and looking for gaps to fill. So I think they will serve us, at least for the next two decades.
Question: Minister, with the addition of the Aster 30 into the Island Air Defence system, how advanced is our umbrella as compared to other air defence systems around the world?
Dr Ng: It is using advanced systems which are state of the art at this point of time, and also they are compatible with what our needs and our assessment of threats are. So I would say that it is not only a robust system with individual components, but it is a multi-layered system. There are a number of layers, so in one layer fails, the next layer backs up. So I feel confident that we have designed it well, both from the RSAF perspective as well as DSTA and DSO, we have worked together very well to be able to come up with this system.
Question: Can you tell us more about the threats that we are expecting to be facing over the next few decades? Hearing things about drone swarms or stealth technologies, do we need to protect against that?
Dr Ng: Those threats are evolving, whether they are longer range munitions, as we saw for example in the missiles (attack) against the oil depots in the Middle East, or non-traditional from terrorist attacks, things that you can buy on the web, or the dark web, as we plan against during Trump-Kim Summit. So you have to deal with the whole spectrum. And you will always have to be vigilant, you will always have to rely not only on hardware, but you also have to rely on intelligence and partners to share information with you.
So I think that that is the reason we are cultivating relationships with people that we can trust. Because against some of these threats, especially once that are not so sophisticated, they can do a lot of harm to Singapore and Singaporeans because we are so densely populated. And against those threats, if you are not talking about well organised groups – you are talking about small groups who may be disorganised but can do great harm. There, intelligence is a key piece, and you have to have friends and partners that you work with, as well as good training for the Singapore Armed Forces soldiers.
Question: Minister, the Island Air Defence System is a culmination of more than 10 years of hard work. So is today considered a significant milestone?
Dr Ng: It is. It is a significant improvement. And I think Singaporeans can take comfort that we have this system up. It required continuous efforts, integration over 15 years, and even as we have finished this phase, we will look towards the next phase of the Island Air Defence System, as you have rightly pointed out, to threats that are not only on horizon, but I am sure will be developed over the years.