Strengthening our lines of defence

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01 Mar 2017 | TECHNOLOGY
Melayu 华文

Strengthening our lines of defence

STORY // Benita Teo
PHOTO // PIONEER Photographers

English 华文

Standing up against terrorism

Terrorism remains a threat around the world, as Dr Ng highlighted in his speech at the close of the 15th Shangri-La Dialogue on 5 Jun 2016.

ISIS attacks like the Bastille Day attack by an ISIS-fanatic in Nice, France in July 2016 continue to incite fear. Closer to home, eight were killed on 14 Jan 2016 when terrorist group Katibah Nusantara bombed a shopping mall in Jakarta, Indonesia. The group responsible is an ISIS-linked fighting unit.

This January, six people from Quebec, Canada were killed and eight injured after a shooting at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre. In February, soldiers patrolling a shopping mall beneath the Louvre Museum in Paris, France were attacked.

Singapore has also been targeted by terrorists. Just four days before our 51st National Day celebrations, a plot by terrorists to launch a rocket from Batam to Marina Bay was uncovered. Some of the suspects were found to have links to the Katibah Nusantara terrorist group.

"Even if you disrupt ISIS in Iraq and Syria, you have to deal with the foreign fighters, more than a thousand who are from this region, who come back into the region," Dr Ng said in a press conference to address security measures ahead of last year's National Day Parade.

Three months earlier on 3 May, eight Bangladeshi men working in Singapore were arrested for planning attacks on their home country. The men were revealed to have had the intent of joining ISIS' fight in Iraq and Syria.

Regional CT player

To combat the transnational nature of terrorism and ramp up its counter-terrorism (CT) capabilities, the SAF has stepped up its cooperation with neighbouring and international militaries.

In May 2016, the SAF, together with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, jointly hosted the largest-ever ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus exercise. Aimed at strengthening the capabilities of participating militaries in combating terrorism and maritime threats, the exercise saw the participation of 3,500 personnel from across 18 countries, together with 18 naval vessels and 25 aircraft.

As part of the exercise scenario, the SAF's Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) soldiers and Special Forces (SF) teams from Brunei, the Republic of Korea and Thailand stormed a merchant ship hijacked by terrorists. Concurrently, the SOTF and SF teams of 14 countries took out terrorists in their Singapore hideout.

"It's a very strong signal that, in this part of the world, we take maritime security and the threat of terrorism seriously, and there is a multinational effort to maintain peace and stability in this region," said Dr Ng when he observed the land-storming finale drill of the exercise in Singapore on 9 May 2016.

Reinforcing the home front

Imagine if armed terrorists invaded Singapore by sea and made their way inland, mowing down civilians in their way. Taking hold of shopping malls in our heartlands, they fire at shoppers and threaten to kill hostages. How will our security forces and agencies stand up against these terrorists?

Any terrorist attack on home soil has the potential for widespread destruction and disruption. A coordinated effort by all security agencies is crucial in combating the terrorists and protecting civilians.

To test and validate the Home Team (HT) and the SAF's operational response to large-scale terror attacks, the SAF joined the HT in an islandwide CT exercise from 17 to 18 Oct 2016. The exercise was organised by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and was the largest CT exercise in Singapore to date.

The SAF's Island Defence Task Force (IDTF) was activated on the morning of 17 Oct.

In response to news of numerous bomb blasts occurring in the region, troops from 4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (4 SIR), 5 SIR and 41st Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment carried out joint security patrols with SPF officers. More than 360 locations, such as public transport nodes, commercial areas, residential heartlands and checkpoints, were patrolled.

The climax of the exercise came after midnight on 18 Oct. At Bishan's Junction 8 shopping mall, gunmen opened fire at heartlanders. The SPF's Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) worked fast to contain the attackers, but did not have the numbers to neutralise the threat. The SAF's soldiers and SOTF were swiftly dispatched. At the same time in Tampines, another group of terrorists attacked shoppers at Century Square shopping mall. The ERT and Anti-Swarming Team intercepted some of them, but a few escaped to the adjacent Tampines Mall and held cinema-goers hostage. The SOTF took down the gunmen and rescued the civilians.

More than 3,200 personnel from the SAF, SPF, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), as well as other national agencies, took part in the exercise.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean witnessed the exercise at Tampines. "Over the last several months, both the Home Team and the SAF have worked together to develop new SOPs (standard operating procedures), joint procedures. Today's exercise was an opportunity for them to exercise and validate them."

High-readiness force

Since the 9/11 attacks, the SAF has stood up task forces such as the IDTF, Maritime Security Task Force and Air Defence Task Force to protect Singapore on land, sea and air.

With the threat of terrorism moving closer to the heart of Singapore's urban environment, the SAF also set up the Army Deployment Force (ADF).

This battalion-sized force comprises highly trained soldiers with niche capabilities to respond to terror threats in urban settings. It was inaugurated on 12 Jul 2016.

"We recognised that we needed to do more and that is why the SAF, in response to this terrorist threat, will set up the ADF, which will sharpen our ability to counter terrorism and other such challenges," said Dr Ng when he announced the ADF's formation at his SAF Day interview on 28 Jun last year.

The ADF works alongside the SOTF, IDTF and HT agencies to undertake a range of operations both in peacetime and during crises. For instance, in the event of a terrorist attack, ADF soldiers can be deployed with the SOTF to surround and contain assailants.

This was witnessed at the Junction 8 phase of the islandwide CT exercise, where the ADF cordoned off the area equipped with assault weapons and Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicles, while the SOTF stormed the building to take down the gunmen.

In addition to CT operations, the ADF can be activated for civil emergencies, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, as well as peace support operations overseas.


"The introduction of this scholarship as one purely for engineers is a strong signal that the SAF is looking at engineers as a core group of people in its workforce."
- ME4A Justin Goh Shu Hao, one of the first three recipients of the new SAF Engineering Scholarship, on why he tried out for it


Boosting our cyber defence & tech edge

Cyberspace will become the battlefield of the future and the SAF has been beefing up its cyber defence.

In 2013, the SAF established the Cyber Defence Operations Hub (CDOH) to monitor cyber threats and defend its military networks against attacks online.

This was followed by the formation of the Cyber Security Agency on 1 Apr 2015. The national agency oversees cybersecurity strategy, operation, education, outreach, and ecosystem development, and is managed by the Ministry of Communications and Information. It is headed by Chief Executive David Koh, who is also the Ministry of Defence's (MINDEF's) Deputy Secretary (Technology).

Dr Ng later announced in his SAF Day interview in 2016 that the CDOH's headcount would be doubled by 2020.

He also said that MINDEF would set up a Cyber Security Operations Centre 2.0. This Centre will contain advanced content scanning engines, data analytics and security assessment tools to investigate cyber attacks and perform recoveries following attacks.

In addition, the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) will be setting up a National Security Centre. The centre will use data analytics and Command and Control systems to integrate MINDEF and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) responses and facilitate coordination between the SAF and HT in combating terrorism.

Brightest in defence tech & science

On top of reinforcing its cybersecurity hardware, the SAF has been growing its people in defence science and engineering.

To attract the best and the brightest, the SAF Engineering Scholarship was introduced in April last year. It was awarded for the first time at the MINDEF/SAF Scholarship Awards Ceremony on 27 Jul 2016.

"This scholarship for Engineering signals the importance that the SAF gives to attract top scientists and engineers as we do for commanders in the military because you need both types of leaders, and these Engineering scholars are groomed to lead the Military Expert (ME) Corps. Together, they enable the SAF to be a superior force," Dr Ng said at the ceremony.

There will also be a new MINDEF Defence Science Scholarship, which seeks to draw top students to a career in leading DSO National Laboratories and DSTA. From procuring cutting-edge fighter aircraft to developing indigenous capabilities such as the Littoral Mission Vessels, the Defence Technology Community has worked with the SAF for over 50 years to sharpen its technological fighting edge.

Said Dr Ng: "(The MINDEF Defence Science Scholarship) will be for a selected few, but there will be a great responsibility, (the same) we put on the SAF scholars who rise to become leaders."

Working together for Total Defence

You have the power to mould the future. What will you do with it?

The SGfuture engagement series was launched in November 2015 to encourage Singaporeans to take ownership in shaping their Singapore of the future. The engagement series brought together more than 8,300 people to talk about their hopes for the nation's next 50 years.

"The SGfuture discussions drove home the importance of individual and community responsibility and preparedness," said Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman.

On one of the SGfuture themes, A Secure and Resilient Nation, MINDEF engaged youths and adults on topics such as Total Defence (TD) and support for NS. From the discussions, the idea for a TD card game to enhance the current TD programme in schools emerged.

The strategy game, "Guardians of the City", was based on the five pillars of TD. It aims to help students understand the complexities of terror threats and how their actions can strengthen or divide society. Uniformed Group students will each receive a personal set by May.

This year marks the 33rd year of TD. To inspire Singaporeans to put TD into action, MINDEF is working with partners from the public, private and people sectors to facilitate opportunities and activities. The goal is to help Singaporeans better connect TD concepts with actions, so that they can apply the actions to their daily lives.

Supporting national servicemen

Following the acceptance of the recommendations by the Committee to Strengthen NS, the SAF continues to introduce measures to strengthen NS and recognise national servicemen for their contributions to the nation.

A meaningful NS

To encourage pre-enlistees to take greater ownership of their NS roles and improve the operational readiness of the uniformed service, an initiative was rolled out, allowing pre-enlistees to indicate their interest in various NS vocations, as part of their pre-enlistment process. They can make their selections from 33 vocations in the SAF, SPF and SCDF concurrently with their Manpower Aptitude Assessment System.

While deployment will still be based on considerations such as manpower and operational requirements as well as physical fitness and suitability to perform the requisite tasks, the interests of the pre-enlistees will now play a role as well.

The initiative began last November for pre-enlistees undergoing their medical check-up at the Central Manpower Base. The batch enlisting this November will be the first to have their vocation interests considered upon deployment into the SAF, SPF or SCDF.

Recognition of NS skills

To help Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs) move into the workforce smoothly, the SAF has been looking into certifying the skills they pick up in NS. Since 2009, MINDEF has been working with the Workforce Development Agency to accredit soldiering competencies reflecting the leadership, technical and specialist skills acquired during NS. These skills are then matched to respective industrial domains under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) framework.

Some of the WSQ-accredited military courses include the Military Police Specialist Course and Emergency Technician Course. This industrial standard-based national skills credentialing system will peg the skills picked up by NSFs to professional standards and help to boost their future employability.

Thanking our NSmen

This year, Singapore will celebrate 50 years of NS. In appreciation of the more than one million past and present NSmen, there will be a year-long celebration. The NS50 theme, From My Generation to Yours, is a reflection of NS as a shared legacy across generations and a shared commitment to be passed down from one generation to the next.

The NS50 series of events was launched by Dr Ng on 7 Feb at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC). As part of the celebrations, a new NS Gallery [see Pg 24 to 27] was set up at BMTC to showcase the NS experience and its evolution through half a century.

Many other events will also be held for the public to learn more about NS and show their support to NSmen in the SAF, SPF and SCDF.

At the launch, Dr Ng said: "In this NS50 year, let us all commit ourselves anew to protecting our independence, our families and way of life in our beloved Singapore.

"If we can maintain the same commitment to build a strong defence for another generation, then Singapore's future remains bright."

Watch out for these NS50 highlights:

NS50 Showcase
An experiential exhibition, to be held together with the Army Open House, on the evolution of NS. From 27 to 28 May at the F1 Pit Building

NS50 Week
A series of community engagement events to encourage the public to support NS. From 1 to 10 Aug

NS50 Recognition Package
$100 worth of vouchers for NSFs and past and present NSmen. NSmen will also receive a free one-year SAFRA or HomeTeamNS membership.

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