SAF's fourth Service to defend Digital domain

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02 Mar 2022 | OPS & TRAINING

SAF's fourth Service to defend Digital domain

The Digital and Intelligence Service will be set up by the last quarter of 2022, to defend against attacks in the cyber domain and help the Singapore Armed Forces fight better as a networked force.

// Story by Benita Teo

// Photos by PIONEER photographers & MINDEF

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be setting up the Digital and Intelligence Service, or DIS, to strengthen Singapore's defence against threats in the digital domain. Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen announced this in his Committee of Supply (COS) speech on the defence budget on 2 Mar.

As the cybersphere continues to grow, threats from the digital domain are also increasing in sophistication and numbers, said Dr Ng. There has also been evidence of countries and non-state entities such as terrorist groups launching attacks across both the physical and digital spheres.

Dr Ng explained: "The addition of this fourth Service, the DIS, will allow the SAF to better train and fight as a networked, integrated and expanded force to deal with (not only) the spectrum of threats that we know exist today, but also the digital domain that we know will increase in the future."

The DIS is expected to be set up by the last quarter of 2022.

With digital threats expected to increase in numbers and sophistication, the DIS will require dedicated soldiers specialising not only in core IT areas and communications, but also other areas that range from data science to psychology. [File photo]

New skills, same strong values

The DIS is the next step in the development of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) Community.

The SAF has been progressively building up its C4I networks and systems since the inauguration of the C4I community in 2012. This was followed by the establishment of the Defence Cyber Organisation in 2017, which coordinates cybersecurity across the defence sector.

"Figuratively, if the digital force is now a battalion force, we actually need a few brigades, perhaps even a Division-size force", said Dr Ng.

He also noted that DIS soldiers will require specialisations not only in core IT areas and communications but also in diverse areas including data science, psychology, linguistics, anthropology and geography, to enable them to understand the motivation and means behind attacks by state and non-state groups.

While the skillsets required of DIS personnel will be different from those fighting in the physical domains, they must have the same traits and values as their Army, Navy and Air Force counterparts, such as resilience and "a commitment to the shared mission to enhance Singapore's security and peace".

The expansion of digital capabilities as well as new and upgraded assets will enable the Next Gen SAF to strike faster and harder, and better protect Singapore against threats from the digital, land, sea and air domains.

Stronger Next Gen SAF

The addition of the DIS is one of the steps that will help complete MINDEF's vision of the SAF in 2040. Elaborating on how the Next Gen SAF is taking shape, Dr Ng said: "By 2040, the Army, equipped with Next Gen Infantry Battalions and new armoured tracked carriers and howitzers, will be more manoeuvrable, able to strike faster and harder.

"The Navy, with Multi-Role Combat Vessels, Invincible-class submarines and unmanned vessels, will be able to see and strike further at sea and in the depths to better protect our waters… The Next Gen Air Force, with F-15SGs, F-35s and Next Gen UAVs, will be more lethal, versatile (and) effective to better protect our skies."

Smaller and sharper compared to the RSAF's larger UAVs such as the Heron 1, the Orbiter 4 CR-UAV can be deployed more quickly and in confined areas to scan the battlefield.

Unmanned systems

Among the SAF's recently acquired assets is the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) Orbiter 4 Close-Range Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (CR-UAV) system. This advanced multi-mission aerial platform will complement the existing fleet of larger UAVs to enhance the RSAF's surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Weighing 50kg with a wingspan of 5.4m, the Orbiter 4 CR-UAV's small size – coupled with a sharp sensor and high portability – allows it to be operated in a wide range of environments, including urbanised and confined spaces, to support operations such as counter-terrorism. It can operate up to 150km for up to 24 hours, and fly at almost 130kmh.

The Maritime Security USV can be controlled remotely from shore by a two-man crew.

Dr Ng updated that the first tranche of Maritime Security Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) will be deployed to patrol local waters. Fitted with a Collision Detection and Collision Avoidance system, this USV can autonomously navigate safely through the congested Singapore Strait.

The Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) Mine Countermeasure Vessels will also be replaced with a fully unmanned system from 2027 onwards.

Commissioned in 2019, the Hunter AFV was the Army's first fully digitalised platform, and offers greater firepower, mobility and crew protection compared to its Ultra M113 predecessor.

Building up the Next Gen SAF

Dr Ng also announced that the Singapore Army will operationalise the first Hunter Armoured Battle Group in March this year.

The latest addition to the SAF's armour arsenal, the Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) is the first of its kind to be fully digitalised. It boasts touchscreen controls, an automatic target detection and tracking system, as well as an advanced suite of C4 systems for faster battlefield coordination.

The RSAF will replace its aging F-16 fleet with the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters. They will be co-located at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Arkansas, US, together with the RSAF's F-16 fighter training detachment. [Photo credit: Lockheed Martin]

Besides new additions to its arsenal – such as the F-35B Joint Strike Fighters which are expected to be delivered to the SAF from 2026 – the SAF is upgrading assets such as the RSN's Formidable-class frigates, which have been in service for 15 years.

Its Combat Management System will be enhanced to leverage the latest advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence. Coupled with improved sensors, the upgraded frigates will be able to detect and react faster to potential threats.

Upgraded combat management and communication systems will increase the Formidable-class frigates' warfighting capabilities. Pictured is RSS Supreme (foreground) during Exercise Pelican 2020.

The ships' current weapon systems will be upgraded to be more lethal and accurate, while communication systems will be refreshed to increase their networking capacity with the rest of the SAF.

And with the incorporation of the Fleet Management System, information collected on the ships' platform and combat systems health status will be collated and used for pre-emptive engineering maintenance to enhance the frigates' operational readiness.

Prepared to fight our own battles

Dr Ng emphasised the importance of continuing to build up the Next Gen SAF, drawing on the examples of Ukraine, Kuwait and Qatar, as a reminder of "what happens to small vulnerable states" and where "independence and freedom are under peril".

"We live by the dictum that the stronger the SAF, the easier it is to make friends and have fewer enemies. No one will defend Singapore as robustly if Singaporeans do not or cannot."

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