Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, at the Defence Scholarship Awards Ceremony
My colleague Senior Minister of State (for Defence) Maliki,
Mr Eddie Teo, Chairman of PSC
PSC Board Members,
CDF, Chiefs of Services,
Chief Executive of DSTA,
CEO of DSO,
First, let me bid all of you a warm welcome to tonight’s scholarship presentation ceremony. My heartiest congratulations to the 63 scholarship recipients this evening. I know (that) for each of you, it must be an unforgettable moment as you receive your awards at the Istana tonight. And I know that your parents, family members, teachers and principals must also be extremely proud of you, of your achievements on this day.
Tonight’s ceremony is different from previous years. For the first time ever, we are combining all Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) scholarships into one ceremony � it used to be done in three separate ceremonies. The change in ceremonial form is to better reflect the zeitgeist of a new generation and more importantly to strengthen the esprit de corps of SAF and MINDEF leaders of the next generation. There are many here who are leaders within MINDEF and the SAF, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), and DSO National Laboratories (DSO) � they too were scholars some 20 years ago, and they probably remember when they were receiving their scholarships at various venues. And we combined hitherto separate ceremonies into one to underscore the collective leadership that has been entrusted upon all of you for our national defence. All 63 of our scholarship recipients this year were carefully handpicked, with the right values and motivation to ensure that Singapore remains sovereign, and Singaporeans safe in your generation. Individually, there will be some among you, as with previous batches of scholars, who (will) eventually helm pinnacle positions, whether it is in MINDEF, SAF, DSTA, and DSO, leaders among peers � primus inter pares. Whether you do so will depend on your performance and abilities. It is not pre-ordained. But collectively, all of you together must ensure that the SAF continues to be a strong and capable defence force. It is in keeping with this year’s theme for NS50 � “(From) My Generation to Yours”. That sacred responsibility is now entrusted to you. Therefore at this ceremony, where all of you are gathered tonight at one place, look around you (at) your peers, (and) form a strong bond (with them) that will last the decades to come. The SAF cannot be led well by any single individual, no matter how well-endowed and capable. You will have to do it together. And (it is) best to start building early a strong esprit de corps and common purpose.
There is a second reason for a common ceremony. The Next Generation SAF, for it to be a potent and credible force, must harness all of its assets, its manpower as well as technology. By 2030, slightly more than a decade to come, there will be a third reduction in NS recruits. A 33% reduction �that is (a) disruptive change. Indeed, the local manpower growth from 2020 will be zero. The SAF will have to do the same, and perhaps, much more with less. And for many years now, the SAF has already started to address this disruptive change, through the radical change in its approach to the organisational structure and manpower requirements of SAF systems. So, when we built ships or procured other platforms, they must be able to be operated with a lean force. I give you some examples. Other navies operate frigates with crews of between 140 to 180 men. Our frigates which are just as potent operate with half to a third less, a 70 men crew. This is only possible because it was designed that way. Another example, some of you, some of your parents may have been artillery persons during the days when they operated the 155mm (towed guns). It was a 12-man crew, you had to stabilise the base of the 155mm gun, shoot, and because once you shoot you reveal your position, you have got to scoot because the return fire will come. But the modern equivalent, today’s equivalent, of that is the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, what we call the HIMARS. It has a range longer than the towed-155, 70 km away, and is a precision weapon. The artillery people will have a circular error probable (CEP), this is precise. How many people operate this system? Three. They do not get out of it, they just shoot and they scoot, very quickly.
To build and sustain this type of Next Generation SAF will require field commanders to work with engineers and scientists as one. To reflect this importance, we are for the first time, awarding the Public Service Commission (PSC) (Engineering) scholarship and combining the DSTA/DSO ceremony which used to be held separate, together with the MINDEF/SAF ceremony. Whether as soldier, engineer, scientist or administrator, it is the common purpose of a strong national defence that must bind you all. If you do not come together, the Next Generation SAF will not materialise.
Together you must own the problems and challenges that Singapore will face for your generation, to make sure that it continues to progress and prosper. Many of you know that each year, Singapore receives many delegations from foreign countries. When we travel, they say, “Oh, I like the way your system works, we would like to visit.” We say, “Of course.” We open ourselves so that we help others who helped us when we were developing, and also (to) build friendships. So each year, agencies receive many delegations. We usually show them the end product � for Housing and Development homes, our well-laid out towns; our airports and our Port of Singapore Authority wharfs; our Mass Rapid Transit, our schools, our universities; for the SAF, our hardware and software. These visitors invariably go away impressed with our systems. We can always improve � we know �but invariably these visitors conclude that Singapore works, both efficiently and effectively. But if you think about it, we are showing them the end product. It is as if you look at a computer, a very fast computer, and you say, “This is a very good computer, the graphics are great, let me just take the shell.” So the more astute among the visitors dig deeper and ask us, “Why does it work?” What they really want to know is what is your secret micro-processor, what is your secret “chip”, what is your equivalent “intel inside” for Singapore. Because they want to know whether they can buy it or copy it. Singapore works because we put in considerable effort in selecting leaders for the future. That is the secret. It is actually an open secret, one that is not easy to replicate. Not leaders that will lord over society or their peers and citizens, but servant leaders, who understand that their mission is to improve the lives of Singaporeans and protect Singapore.
Here, I wish to thank the PSC Chairman and members of the PSC, who are seated in front, (and) who year after year, expend considerable effort in sieving through the many outstanding applicants, to choose those with the character and values to lead and do good, with integrity and a team leader who can nurture others. They interview countless (applicants). And each time, if you think about it, (when) they are interviewing somebody and asking (questions), they are, in management speak, planning for a 20-year horizon. For those of you in management, they are trying to decide if this person, 20 years hence, can lead our nation. The current leaders of MINDEF, DSTA and DSO who also select our scholars, similarly deserve our thanks for their efforts. But over and above PSC, MINDEF and SAF officials, I must also commend your principals and your teachers, and I am very glad that you have seated them in front. I will tell you a secret, they are our secret recruiters on the ground. We ask them, “Can you select for us, choose people with the right qualities to protect our nation?” They understand the importance of this mission to secure our future, and each year, they give us valuable inputs every year. As a result of the schools’ efforts and partnership, the principals and teachers, this year, our defence scholars come from 26 schools, not a few. So thank you, principals and teachers. As a result of all these collective efforts � whether it is at the highest level of PSC, the Chairman and the Board, MINDEF, DSTA, DSO senior officials, principals and teachers � as a result of these intense efforts, this year, there are 63 MINDEF/SAF scholarship recipients who will spend the next 3 to 4 years in the best universities in the world. Not just fulfilling your own potential, which is important, but also (because) much is expected of you when it is your turn to helm our nation.
So let me ask a futuristic question, 20 years hence, when you who are now receiving your scholarships are at the peak of your careers and leaders within MINDEF, SAF and the rest of Government, let me ask a question: What security challenges will confront Singapore? What will you be faced with? Let me quote from Secretary Robert Gates, who was the Secretary of Defense for the US. And when he was Secretary of Defense he addressed West Point graduates in 2011. I will quote him. Secretary Gates said:
“And I must tell you, when it comes to predicting the nature and location of our military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more � we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.”
This is the Secretary of Defense for the US, with the largest intelligence agency, National Security Agency, plus many more think-tanks. And if they cannot even predict a year hence where they will be operating, how is Singapore going to predict to future? Secretary Gates was honest and spoke the truth, which is no one knows, for sure. If US cannot predict even a year (ahead), where you will be deployed, what the challenges are, then I say it is very difficult, no one knows for sure. And the same happened to us. I came to the Ministry of Defence in 2005, I have been here (for) 12 years. If you told us (in) 15 years there would be Afghanistan, Iraq, Nepal, Cyclone Nargis, or that we would offer SAF assistance to counter terrorists in the Philippines, you may have been locked up. Or (who would have thought) that we would have to raise a cyber army to defend our virtual borders in the internet.
So here is a question for all of us: How do you plan for a future that cannot be predicted? We say that we are very good, we have all these planning norms, scenario one, scenario two. But, as Secretary Gates says, “Our record was perfect, we got it all wrong each time.” I think the answer in preparing for a future which cannot be predicted is developing people of that generation � you, who receive the scholarships today. You will have to deal with problems as they come, not the ones that you can choose. And you will have to measure up, armed with that grit and determination to surmount all challenges, to muster and coalesce Singaporeans against aggressors who will do us harm. You must possess that courage, determination and resilience and step up when these moments of crisis descend upon us as a nation. You are the only barrier.
But you must also learn to do small and daily tasks well. These small and daily tasks test and build your character and values. Only when you can be trusted in the less glamorous responsibilities, will others trust you for larger responsibilities. And here your predecessors have set good examples to follow. Like LTC Cai Dexian. He was an SAF Scholar in 2003, received his scholarship in 2003. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, he was the executive officer to the International Security Assistance Force’s Director of Operations, and after the tour he was awarded a US Bronze star for his contributions there. Examples like Mr Tan Bing Wen. Mr Tan Bing Wen was a DSTA scholar, who helped put into place our current air defence system. All of us sleep soundly at night, but I will tell you there are threats that can come from the sky. It is because we have an air defence system that we can sleep soundly. Examples like the DSTA Project Manager for Naval Systems, Mr Desmond Phang, who led the development of the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Unmanned Surface Vessel. This is a robot that goes around our sea lanes, keeping it safe. And without that, you will have threats, ships will not dock here, it will disrupt our maritime trade, jobs will be lost.. Examples like Ms Julianna Low, a Defence Merit Scholar, who helped design a system for our National Servicemen to indicate their interest for NS vocations before they enlist. These are not gargantuan tasks. They are small routine tasks that each must do well to keep the SAF humming, as a vibrant and responsive organisation.
Let me close with this simple but clear charge for all MINDEF and SAF scholars today. Carry out your entrusted roles and responsibilities with the best of your abilities to ensure Singapore’s security and stability. Keep faith with Singaporeans that you serve and with your peers who have placed this sacred trust upon you.
I look forward to your return from your studies and your future contributions to MINDEF and the SAF. Congratulations and thank you.
Source: MINISTRY OF DEFENCE (MINDEF)