Keynote Address by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, at The DSTA-DSO Scholarship Award Ceremony 2014
CE DSTA and CEO DSO,
A very good evening to all of you. It is a happy occasion. In temperate countries, we have seasons – autumn, winter, summer, spring. In Singapore, we have seasons too – scholarship season. Today, we have this DSTA-DSO Scholarship Award Ceremony. First, my congratulations to our 93 DSTA and DSO scholarship recipients. I am very happy to see you here with your family members and to share your joy. I can imagine your excitement. It’s a new journey as you go on to get your university degrees. The world is your oyster. Like the many predecessors before you, I certainly hope that you will have a long and satisfying career with the MINDEF family.
I should put this DSTA and DSO scholarship into perspective. MINDEF awards almost a hundred defence technology and research scholarships, and we’ve been doing this for many years. As a result, if you look across the government agencies, MINDEF has the largest number of scientists and engineers among all government organisations. We began this scholarship scheme 33 years ago, and the main idea was to nurture, invest and build through scholarship recipients like you to provide the wherewithal, to help the SAF gain an edge over adversaries and the technological means to surmount our limitations and challenges.
Technology as a Force Multiplier
If you look at the landscape today, this investment in technological prowess has paid off. Because if you look at the SAF today compared to what it was in the past, it has been transformed through technology. If you look at the SAF today, the effects of technological change are pervasive. It affects both our combat and support elements. And without the use of this advanced technology, the SAF would not have been able to meet our goals, whether in logistics and procurement or in combat elements – precision strikes from the air, sea or land. Individual soldiers today depend on portable handheld devices to get essential information for their missions. They use advanced combat man systems and ruggedised portable devices. Individual soldiers depend on that technology, as do higher commands at the General Staff and Division levels.
This march of the SAF riding on technology is relentless – it needs to be, because others too can harness the power of technology. In the foreseeable future, we will see the SAF deploying more robotics and unmanned technologies to maximise and multiply our efforts.
In the last nearly 50 years, the SAF has progressed because our defence scientists and engineers have marched alongside our combat troops. What you do as a defence technologist in the laboratories and offices is no less important than what the SAF does in mission HQs and on the ground. In fact, it is this rich interaction between both communities that helps us achieve outcomes. We call this the “ops-tech” integration. It is a jargon but one of the less cumbersome ones that accurately describes what happens – the “ops-tech” integration.
All these are possible only because our Pioneer Generation had the foresight to lay a strong foundation to build up in Singapore an indigenous, scientific and engineering core. Some of you know the history began with what we called the Electronic Test Centre in 1972. Basically, it was the beginning of our R&D efforts. It was a small pioneering team of bright, young engineers, and from there it grew to what we have today, which is a vibrant 5,000-strong defence technology community.
Defence engineers and scientists have indeed been at the forefront of the SAF’s knowledge-based, innovation-driven 3rd Generation transformation. I will give you some examples. The Army’s Wide Area Communications system was designed by our engineers and it connects all the forces on the battlefield – whether it’s command HQ, or lower Divisions, Brigades, Battalions – and allows everyone to have a common picture of things that are moving on the battlefield. This allows us to move forces and to strike when we need to. Defence engineers were also deeply involved in realising the full capabilities of our F-15 multi-role fighters. They work alongside the Air Force professionals and our US counterparts. They were also involved in our frigates, and our Sikorsky naval helicopters, and they helped our frigates extend their anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities.
Earlier this year during the Committee of Supply Debate in Parliament, I tried to sketch out what the SAF would be in 2030. The simplest way I could have done that was to show a picture. It basically showed the SAF that is highly connected – in other words, the individual soldier could call upon an F-15, an F-16, or even strikes from our navy ships. And we are able to strike with pinpoint accuracy. This is only possible because of the system design, development, integration and operational testing over many years. When you return from your studies, many of you will be closely involved in some of these key projects, to turn advanced future concepts into operational realities for the SAF in 2030.
Recognising the Achievements and Contributions of our Defence Engineers and Scientists
What we do for the SAF using technology can also spin-off to benefit the wider community in Singapore. And here I think it’s a less well-known contribution that Singaporeans would know of from our defence community. Let me share some of these examples with you. Some of you will know that our defence engineers helped battle SARS in 2002. We had a problem, because people were scared to go to work, especially in crowded places. If you remember, the operations in business district nearly ceased, because people would say, how do I know that when I go to work, I won’t be exposed to somebody? So you needed a tool to screen masses – whether it was at the airport, the seaport, or the business district. You can’t use individual thermometers; you needed a tool that could screen large crowds. Engineers and scientists were the ones that helped develop the thermal scanners – the ones that they put up at the airport. And that restored confidence to the community and allowed the economy to pick up again. Our defence engineers were also intimately involved in creating space underground, such as the Jurong Rock Cavern. It was South East Asia’s first underground oil storage facility. They were able to do this because of the experience we gained from building the world’s most advanced Underground Ammunition Facility. Our defence engineers are now helping the Urban Redevelopment Authority develop the master-plan for underground space in Singapore. They are called the Underground Committee.
DSTA engineers have also been helping the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to design and develop the next generation of command centres across all air, land and sea checkpoints. DSO engineers have also used modelling and threat analysis to identify key dependencies and vulnerabilities for our national critical infrastructure – for across many different sectors such as energy, info-communications, transportation, healthcare and food supply. When crises strike, I need to have a model to know where my choke points are. If you remember when the Fukushima disaster occurred, again our defence scientists and engineers stepped forward to do modelling to see whether we would be contaminated by the fallout.
DSTA and DSO staff have often called upon to assist in national projects because of their high standards of professionalism, focus and dedication. As scholarship recipients, when you come back, you will embark on this exciting adventure with us – not only for defence, because I support the efforts of our scientists and engineers in DSTA and DSO in helping Singapore solve our national problems or challenges. Defence will still be our primary mission. We should be focused on that. But I also believe that alongside our primary mission of defence, MINDEF’s scientists and engineers should and can do more to help solve national problem to improve how Singapore works using our know-how. Let me give you an example. Much of what our defence scientists and engineers do has to deal with mobility and human performance – how to move things, how to move quicker. You’ve seen in some of the movies where people can strap on a body armour and become a moving crane and move things – this is all about human performance. But think about it – all these problems that our defence scientists and engineers are working on – how to move better, how to multiply your strength, how to see better and how to hear better – can also be extended to an ageing population. Because when you grow old, you have these disabilities, or relative disabilities. Suddenly, an arthritic hand – if you have arthritis – that doorknob doesn’t become quite easy to open anymore. Even the taps become harder to turn on. I feel that our defence scientist and engineers can lean forward and it will motivate them to find innovative solutions to help our population. But MINDEF is going to put, as they say, our money where our mouth is. So today, I am announcing the set-up of a S$5 million Total Defence Innovation Fund each for DSTA and DSO, so that’s S$10 million. We hope that this $10 million Fund will spur you, will support our defence scientists and engineers – even if you are focusing in your defence work – to think: How can I use what I’ve done to help our fellow Singaporeans? And I think the two will complement – it will motivate our scientists and engineers to push the frontiers of science and technology and seek new breakthroughs for Singapore. Many of you are familiar with the Segway – the thing that you see people moving on two wheels. Even though the origins of that – it was designed specifically for somebody without legs. If you don’t have legs, how do you control it? It was designed especially to go higher, so that the people could reach for things on top, and then come down and use their body weight to control movement. My belief is that scientists and engineers, while they are logical in their thinking, are still motivated by their passion to help and solve problems. And some of the technological breakthroughs that you will be involved in must consume you – it must occupy your dreams, it must occupy your waking moments to say: I can use technology to help people who have problems in seeing see better; who have problems in hearing hear more acutely, to overcome their limitations, because I can also apply these technologies to better my soldiers’ capabilities.
For many of you, today marks an important milestone as you start your career as a defence scientist and engineer. By taking up the scholarship, you have chosen to pursue your passion and interest in technology and more importantly, to use your talent to serve Singapore. You will not be alone, because you will be a part of the defence technology community, which has played and will continue to play a critical role in building up Singapore’s defence capabilities that keep Singapore and Singaporeans strong, safe and secure.
I hope that you carry this commitment with you as you set out to achieve your dreams and aspirations. I wish you every success in your studies, and look forward to your many contributions and innovations that each of you will bring to our defence community, the SAF and Singapore.