Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Zaqy Mohamad for the 21st SAF Senior Military Expert Appointment Ceremony

Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Zaqy Mohamad for the 21st SAF Senior Military Expert Appointment Ceremony

Senior Commanders,
Graduands of the 21st SAF Senior Military Expert Course,
Ladies and gentlemen,


Today's appointment ceremony marks the successful conclusion of the 21st Senior Military Expert Course. For the 105 who are graduating today, it is also the start of your journey as newly appointed Senior Military Experts and leaders in the SAF. Congratulations to the graduands on your achievement.

The world we live in has, of course, been drastically affected by COVID-19. Some of you in this graduating cohort will have seen much of your working careers shaped by this new normal. ME4A Yeung Chun Yin, for example, served in the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 operations, before signing on with the SAF. At a moment when the world was facing great uncertainty, you placed your confidence in the SAF and committed yourselves to playing your part in our shared mission. You persevered through a course marked equally by disruptions and change, as much as by challenging and rigorous training. Like those before you, you embody the determination and resilience of the SAF, and its ability to rise to occasion in a changing world.

As the COVID-19 crisis broke in Singapore a year and a half ago, the SAF was quickly mobilised to support the national fight against COVID-19, and took up critical roles in multi-ministry efforts. We led inter-agency task forces and deployed personnel to manage the situation in the migrant worker dormitories. We also mobilised our people to pack millions of masks in support of the national mask distribution efforts, amongst many other contributions.

As part of this effort, Military Experts have stepped forward to contribute their unique expertise in novel ways. Very early on in the COVID fight, a senior ME was the one who designed a prototype mobile application that used Bluetooth technology for contact tracing. This app was further enhanced with SAF-specific features such as broadcasts from ops centres, and eventually was made interoperable with GovTech's TraceTogether app. This was how the SwiftMED app came to be, within just two months of inception.

An example from this very cohort is ME4A Roy Tan from Army Logistics, who served at the Community Care Facility at the Changi Exhibition Centre during his Vacation Attachment last year. This was where COVID-positive patients who did not require acute medical care were admitted for monitoring. As part of the Logistics Secretariat Team, he helped set up the site and managed some of the innovative technologies that allowed for a safer work environment for personnel at the frontlines.

Beyond your expertise, Senior Military Experts must also be leaders who can guide their men and women through difficult times with empathy and a spirit of service. ME4A Mak Weng Wai, a graduating Military Intelligence Expert, demonstrated these qualities when he was posted to the Health Surveillance Task Force, set up by MINDEF to assist MOH with contact tracing and health monitoring calls. Faced with long hours and a daunting number of cases, he nevertheless offered a listening ear to each caller on the other end of the line, and supported them in their time of isolation and fear.

While COVID-19 remains at the forefront of our minds, we must not forget that the SAF must defend against both new and traditional threats to Singapore's peace and security. These include cyber threats and terrorism, among others.

In December 2020, the discovery of the SolarWinds cyberattack shook the global cybersecurity community. In this complex "supply chain" attack, hackers targeted a leading provider of IT management software, causing its downstream customers' networks to be compromised. Many major firms and government agencies were affected, forcing agencies to relook trusted relationships between software users and vendors. While Singapore was unaffected, the incident underscored the imminence and complexity of cyber threats. Amidst this heightened threat levels, our C4 Experts in the graduating batch were put through trial by fire. They endured 13 weeks of intensive 13-hour training days and were thrust into challenging live operations in the SAF Security Operations Centre, which defends our networks around the clock. You not only had to learn fast, but had to apply your skills and expertise towards a real-world threat.

Hackers are not the only threat actors in cyberspace. Terrorists have taken to online platforms to spread extremist ideologies, giving rise to self-radicalised actors. This January, a 16-year old was detained for plotting to attack two mosques, having been influenced by the far-right ideologies of the Christchurch shooter. More recently in March, a 20-year old full-time national serviceman was detained for planning a knife attack outside a synagogue, riled up by extremists views. Be it from lone wolves or organised groups, the terror threat continues to loom close to home. Our Military Intelligence Experts are a core part of Singapore's counter-terrorism response. They keep watch round the clock to provide accurate and timely intelligence, so that the SAF and homefront agencies can deal effectively with terrorist threats.

Countless men and women have made sacrifices so that we may enjoy peace and security. We owe it to them, and to all Singaporeans, to continue this work. Singapore is making continued investments in defence to ensure that we are capable of dealing with whatever threats may arise, now and in the decades to come. We are building a new generation of transformative and future-proof technologies, including Artificial Intelligence, robotics and unmanned vehicles. You will be the ones to bring these capabilities to fruition, work with them, and ensure their operational readiness.

As the SAF invests in hard capabilities, we ask you to invest in yourselves too. Among the graduates today are several through-train Military Experts, who even after proving themselves through decades of service, have challenged themselves to grow and contribute in new directions. ME3 Kelvin Fong, an Air Imagery Intelligence Expert, constantly pushes himself to break out of comfortable routines in search of ways to improve work processes, and proactively contributes to decisions and mission outcomes in his unit. ME3 Raguram joined the Navy with only 'O'-Level qualifications. Over 28 years of service, he earned two more Diplomas and completed a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Electronics. For ME3 Ashok Kumar, Base Sergeant Major of the First Army Maintenance Base, there is always more to learn in an evolving global landscape. He has accumulated three Diplomas in the last 8 years while balancing work and family, and is gunning for his fourth, a Specialist Diploma in Learning and Instruction.

These individuals embody the spirit of curiosity and lifelong learning that will be crucial for the SAF to maintain its edge into the future. Dynamic and forward-looking, they prove that our people are indeed our best resource. Thank you for being an inspiration to all of us.

As Senior Military Experts, you and your teams will bring the SAF forward with your specialised skills and deep expertise. But you are also leaders of the SAF. We are depending on you to remain resilient and adaptable in a new normal, as we adjust our lives in face of an endemic COVID-19. In spite of the challenges and uncertainties you may encounter, you have the responsibility to lead your men and women with courage, vision and empathy.

Look to your predecessors and learn from their leadership. When critical ops units were isolated in camp for 10 weeks last April, the commanding officer of one such unit, ME6 Tam swiftly reviewed ops processes and formed Ops Support Teams to ensure the wellbeing of her unit. She led by example, inspiring her people with her dedication and genuine concern. They remember how she personally delivered food and even bought cakes for the mothers in isolation, who were spending Mother's Day away from their families. Take care of your people, so that they can take care of the mission.

On behalf of our graduates, I would also like to thank their families and loved ones. You have been their motivation and pillar of support through tough times. While they were called away in service of the nation, sometimes for weeks and months, you shouldered the responsibilities of the family. Thank you for the sacrifices that you have made, so that our graduands can serve wholeheartedly and with peace of mind.

Once again, my warmest congratulations to the newly appointed Senior Military Experts. I look forward to your contributions and wish you a fulfilling career ahead.

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