Mr Chairman, Minister for Defence Dr Ng spoke about the global geopolitical shifts, transnational threats, and the attendant impact on Singapore. Increasingly, the security challenges that test us will lie outside of traditional battlefields – some call this 'grey zone' contestation. Now, more than ever, our investments in both the SAF and Total Defence continue to be crucial as Singapore's bulwark against crisis, challenges, and potential aggression.
Total Defence in Action
In 1984, we launched Total Defence in the context of a conventional threat landscape. Both then and now, our Total Defence pillars reinforce our belief that a strong foundation for our defence goes beyond the military domain, and requires a whole-of-society response.
Over the years, we have faced numerous challenges, from pandemics, to economic recessions, to terrorism. The six pillars of defence – military, economic, social, civil, digital, and psychological – working in concert have allowed us to respond to the threats that jeopardise Singapore's future.
In the last two years, we have grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic as it upended our lives and stress-tested us as a nation. It has pressured our healthcare systems and strained our supply chains. Many amongst us have lost jobs and had to pivot to new sectors or roles. And just when it felt like we had turned a corner with the vaccines, there have been new variants like Delta and Omicron.
While this has not been a conventional war, it has been a crisis that has impacted all of us. We were dealing with an unknown threat – COVID-19 – which even today remains elusive and ever-evolving.
In order to meet this threat and protect one another from the virus, we have needed a whole-of-society response through Total Defence. We understand that MP Cheng Li Hui is interested in this topic. Let us take our vaccination programme for example. Today, 91 percent of our total population is fully vaccinated, and 68 percent have received their booster shots. I am heartened that many have stepped up in support of our national vaccine effort. One example is national serviceman Captain Dr Shane Abucewicz-Tan, a medical officer for the Home Vaccination Team, who supported COVID-19 operations. He conducted household visits as part of the Home Vaccination Programme, ensuring that Singaporeans who were immobile and immunocompromised could receive their vaccinations. Another example is the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations. It put together videos in dialects, such as Hakka, Cantonese, and Teochew, to encourage seniors to receive their vaccinations.
Indeed, we have looked out for and supported one another. In 2020, the migrant worker community was disproportionately impacted when COVID-19 began spreading in the dormitories. MINDEF, together with other MINDEF-related organisations and more than 20 partners, set up the Community Facility at Kranji in May that year − a temporary dormitory for migrant workers, which also served as a vaccination care centre and community care facility. It served over 70,000 migrant workers over 20 months. I am grateful to our partners who made this possible. Academic institutions such as the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore also helped make the site more sustainable. For instance, they tested lightweight solar panels and piloted energy storage solutions, which could be scaled to other temporary sites like these, and contribute to our sustainability efforts in the long term.
There are many contributions beyond these and too many heroes to name today. I thank you all for your efforts because you have shown that Total Defence is very much alive, and in every one of us.
Total Defence Review
The threats to our way of life – our sense of stability and security – come in many forms. A study by Check Point Research found that Singapore saw a 145 percent increase in cyberattacks from 2020 to 2021, and healthcare was the most targeted sector. Throughout the pandemic, fear-mongers have spread falsehoods about variants and the ill-effects of vaccines, which have directly threatened public health and, if not, weakened trust. As Singapore imports 90 percent of our food, we are highly dependent on continued access to quality food supplies. Threats to our supply chains, natural disasters and climate change have affected our supplies and food prices.
Minister Ng touched on the situation in Ukraine in his speech yesterday. As we watch events unfold, it is a lesson in real-time for Singaporeans on how a country's stability can be threatened on multiple fronts, including cyber-attacks, information campaigns, and border threats, and all these ahead of military aggression. It is tragic and sad how events in Ukraine have unfolded. What is now clear to me, and I hope for many Singaporeans too, is that we must always be ready and we can only depend on ourselves for our defence. Total Defence – being able to defend ourselves economically, socially, and even psychologically – has to be every Singaporean's responsibility.
As threats become more complex, multi-dimensional and multi-faceted, how can we ensure that we are ever ready to meet them? MP Denise Phua asked about this. How can Total Defence continue to galvanise every Singaporean for our survival, security, and success? It is with these questions in mind that we embarked on a review of Total Defence.
In the past 16 months, we heard from over 2,000 Singaporeans from all walks of life. We asked them how Total Defence might better rally Singaporeans in times of crisis. And this was even before the Ukraine situation happened. From these conversations, we learnt that Total Defence has room to be more resonant and relatable, even as the actions within the six pillars remain relevant. Some found it too abstract, prescriptive, and focused on present-day threats at the expense of emerging challenges, while some others did not want to be told what Total Defence was about. Instead, they wanted to be proactive, and wanted space to contribute ideas and efforts towards shaping a Singapore that they aspired to see.
I am grateful for the feedback, which will guide our ongoing review. We have started building on some of these suggestions. For one, we will work to make Total Defence less prescriptive and more inclusive, by encouraging more ground-up and community-led efforts. I say "more", because many Singaporeans have already stepped up to support the causes that they care about. For example, more people are choosing to buy local produce and dabble in community gardening, to strengthen food security.
MP Rachel Ong asked what MINDEF is doing to engage youths. This year, we have launched a two-year campaign beginning with the Total Defence Sandbox initiative. A sandbox is a safe environment where you can test ideas and programmes. That is what we hope this can be: a space that links ideas to resources, to turn ideas into prototypes, and prototypes into solutions. We look forward to supporting projects that target today's most salient challenges, such as cyber threats and food insecurity. Some ideas we have heard so far include workshops to increase awareness of cybersecurity, and campaigns to promote environmentally sustainable habits. The possibilities are vast, and we look forward to your contributions.
We will also continue conversations with Singaporeans to expand and reimagine the actions that we can take for Total Defence – both in the current security environment, and for the challenges that we will face in the future.
Engaging Singaporeans on Defence
As the security environment continues to evolve, Singaporeans must be aware of the threats to our sovereignty and stability, as well as our vulnerabilities. Only then can we understand the roles that we might play, and how some of these impact our actions.
Let me now touch on how MINDEF will work alongside partners to bring to life some of these challenges, and the actions Singaporeans can take, which MP Rachel Ong also asked about.
The Singapore Discovery Centre (SDC), for one, will be transformed to better tell Singapore's stories. MP Chong Kee Hiong asked about this. SDC has made strides in AR and VR (Augmented and Virtual Reality) and environmental sustainability, and in recent months refreshed its galleries. In the upper gallery, an AR, first-person shooter game takes visitors back to the Battle of Bukit Chandu on 14 February 1942. That day, even though Lieutenant Adnan Saidi and the Malay Regiment soldiers were outnumbered and eventually ran out of supplies, they fought valiantly against the Japanese Army, and refused to surrender. As players hunker down behind sandbags, they will experience how the regiment defended themselves against waves of opponents, and they will also understand the grit and determination that Lieutenant Adnan and his men had despite the odds. SDC's lower gallery, "Sandbox", opened last November. In that interactive space, a simulated digital environment allows visitors to experience Singapore's history and the threats that we face. Start-ups and students, including those in the AR/VR domain, can also use a new incubator space to collaborate on projects, experiment with technology, and bring ideas to life.
SDC has also been investing in innovative energy solutions and renewables, and implementing various energy efficiency measures to reduce energy demand and emissions. Today, more than 60 percent of its energy use comes from renewable energy, and SDC is working on becoming a net carbon-neutral facility. If you have not been to SDC recently, I encourage you to do so.
In the next few years, Singaporeans will have more to look forward to in our museums. We are developing capabilities and investing in technology to make the visitor experience in our three military museums, SDC, and the upcoming NS Gallery at Marina Bay, more fun and more interactive. Museums and galleries are wonderful channels to learn about defence, as history offers important lessons while we look ahead to chart our course in an uncertain, ever-surprising future. We hope that visitors will walk away with an understanding of the competing needs, goals, and trade-offs that we have made as a nation and those that we might make in the future.
Defence in the Community: Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD)
Every Singaporean must understand Singapore's security environment, unique vulnerabilities, and the roles that we can play. Only then can we recognise the opportunities to contribute, and step up where needed.
I am grateful to our ACCORD partners, who are instrumental in this effort, and have been reaching out to more youth and women in their current term. They have conducted NS engagement talks, a webinar series on NS and defence issues for university students, and grassroots dialogues with women. Through these efforts, we prepare those who need to serve NS, and help their families and friends take steps to support them.
There is a part for everyone to play, no matter how small, to make our defence total. MP Carrie Tan had shown interest and asked if MINDEF would consider expanding NS to include community care roles, and enlist both men and women. NS is based on the critical need of national security and defence. Currently, our NS population adequately meets our national security and defence needs. Both Minister Ng and SMS Heng have spoken about MINDEF and the SAF's continued efforts to enhance manpower resource efficiency. However, contributing to Singapore's defence should not be limited to just those serving NS. There are many different opportunities for Singaporeans to contribute actively through Total Defence, and I encourage everyone to do so. One example is by equipping oneself with practical emergency response skills for Civil Defence. I would like to encourage women, first-generation Permanent Residents, and new citizens without NS commitments who are keen to do more for Total Defence to volunteer with the SAF Volunteer Corps. MINDEF has also embarked on a refresh of our volunteer programme, and Singaporeans will soon be able to contribute in different capacities, including as educators, researchers, and guides, in our museums.
Strengthening Support for NS
This year, we commemorate 55 years of National Service, or NS, as both Minister and SMS Heng have mentioned. NS has been the bedrock of our defence. Generation after generation have served, first as NSFs, then as NSmen, to protect and defend Singapore's interests. That is why it is important to appreciate the dedication, service and sacrifice of our national servicemen, and to thank them for their efforts.
ACCORD, for one, will step up efforts to recognise, support, and appreciate NSmen across the community. MPs Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim and Yeo Wan Ling asked about this. Last year, ACCORD members raised several ideas on how Singaporeans can show their support for NS, and we will expand on some of them this year. We will enhance the We Support NS Campaign, where businesses, for one, can offer discounts and privileges to NSmen. We will also expand the spaces for Singaporeans to reflect on the significance of NS, whether through close engagement with our youth, or experiential camps for families and the public. More details on the initiatives will be shared later in the year.
The three SAF Services will also continue to engage the community, such as through their Open Houses and charity events.
Mr Chairman, I would like to close by reiterating that the world remains uncertain. We recognise that the security challenges we face are immense and constantly evolving.
MINDEF will continue to build Total Defence as our best response to the threats and challenges that might come our way. I am heartened that Singaporeans want to do their part for Total Defence through understanding and action, and we will partner you to work towards securing our collective future. By working together, we have every reason to be confident that we will keep Singapore strong today, and for generations to come.