Robust Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is able to defend against deception; secure communications with proprietary encryptors; and unmanned systems that can self-plan and navigate without prior maps.
These are some of the technologies that DSO National Laboratories (DSO) provides for the Ministry of Defence and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Since it was formed in 1972, DSO has made good achievements and is now indispensable to the SAF, said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen.
"(DSO) represents in so many areas the cutting edge without which we would be at a serious disadvantage because of our constraints of manpower and space.
"It is because of leveraging technology, science, manpower, and intellect that we've been able to overcome many, many vulnerabilities," he said to media after his visit to the DSO50 Technology Showcase on 19 Jul.
The showcase, located at DSO's complex on Science Park Drive, marks the organisation's golden jubilee this year.
DSO was formed in 1972 by the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, then-Minister for Defence. It consisted of three newly graduated engineers who were tasked to research on Electronic Warfare, which was then in the early stages of computerisation.
Now, the organisation has over 2,000 employees, with capabilities in areas ranging from robotics and cybersecurity, to chemical and biological defence.
"It was the credit of our founding fathers and successive leadership that recognised very early on – in fact, soon after the SAF was formed – that we had to have the edge in technology," said Dr Ng.
He added that DSO will be crucial to the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), the SAF's fourth Service that was established early this year to bolster its digital defence capability.
"Just as DSO enables the Army, Navy, and Air Force, DIS more so because DIS is more centred on cyber, intelligence, and information… So, I would expect that they will be able to help DIS achieve its growth very quickly."
Building proprietary tech for the SAF
One of the projects shown at the DSO50 Technology Showcase was a system that helps to defend against malicious deception. Such deception can happen when an enemy adds a specific pattern to an object, which becomes "noise" that can distract the image-recognition AI.
"There are many dangers to this. For example, a military tank can be hidden or recognised as another target, or even something harmless," said AI Scientist, Mr Terence Neo, 26.
To get around these vulnerabilities, the DSO team built their own AI models that are robust against such malicious actions. This was done through techniques such as image denoising, or the removal of adversarial noises, he explained.
With the technology, DSO's robust AI is also able to pick up signs of media manipulation that other AI systems might fall prey to.
Another key tech project of DSO is its work in cryptography. Its aim is to securely encrypt communications – by scrambling them into gibberish only the intended recipient can decode – in order to secure sensitive information.
Although commercially available, DSO developed and built its own crypto chips to eliminate the risk of malicious codes from the outside.
DSO's crypto chip uses five times less power compared to commercial chips – allowing greater portability to soldiers in the field. It is currently operationalised by the SAF.
Ahead of the game
DSO has also made progress in the field of unmanned technology. Its Harrier Unmanned Ground Vehicle, which it began work on last year, is able to navigate unknown terrain autonomously, while generating real-time 3D maps of the area.
Meanwhile, DSO has built on the capabilities of its Veloce 15 – Singapore's first locally developed fixed-wing, vertical take-off and landing hybrid Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – to develop the Veloce 60 (V60) in 2020.
Compared to its predecessor that could fly up to 3 hours, the V60 has an endurance of up to 14 hours and is able to carry larger payloads.
DSO's capability of being early into the game is apparent in its work, said Dr Ng.
"I would expect DSO to continue to play that role, constantly helping the SAF achieve beyond what it's able to."