Tanks for the memories: ST Engineering turns 50

Founding chairman of ST Engineering Ho Ching being introduced to the Ariele Soldier System by Mr Patrick Choy, the firm's executive vice-president, strategic projects, at its anniversary event yesterday.
Founding chairman of ST Engineering Ho Ching being introduced to the Ariele Soldier System by Mr Patrick Choy, the firm's executive vice-president, strategic programs, at its anniversary event yesterday.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The story of the AMX-13 tanks rolled out for the 1969 National Day Parade says much about Singa- pore's early years - and those of one of its leading companies.

As engineering and defence conglomerate Singapore Technologies Engineering marked its 50th birthday yesterday, Temasek Holdings chief executive Ho Ching paid tribute to the single-minded dedication of its pioneering staff.

Ms Ho - the founding chairman of ST Engineering from 1997 to 2003 - recalled the early days of the company when Singapore had been "quite poor" and had bought the tank hulls of the AMX-13 tanks.

She cited the efforts of former employee Stewart Yen, then general manager of the marketing arm of the ammunition business, which was eventually rolled into ST Engineering.

Mr Yen negotiated and bought the metal hulls in India that were later refurbished to make the AMX-13 tanks. He even travelled back on the ship to escort the hulls to Singapore, Ms Ho said.

The company has since become a highly-successful Singapore-listed conglomerate with annual revenue above $6 billion.

At the event held at its headquarters in Ang Mo Kio, Ms Ho also recounted ST Engineering's efforts to branch out beyond defence, notably creating the Air+ Smart mask during a spell of severe haze.

It is the world's first mask with a microventilator, which vents out trapped heat, moisture and carbon dioxide, and also one of the few masks made for school children.

Ms Ho urged the audience to "remember our core purpose - to make a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens and our soldiers".

ST Engineering began life as ammunition manufacturer Chartered Industries of Singapore in 1967.

Businesses related to aerospace and shipbuilding were later created and put under the ST umbrella. The group of companies went commercial in 1990, setting up its first commercial airframe manufacturing, repair and overhaul facilities in Singapore and the United States.

In 1997, ST Aerospace, ST Electronics, ST Automative and ST Marine merged into ST Engineering.

Revenue and net profit have more than quadrupled since then, said Mr Vincent Chong, ST Engineering chief executive.

The company will continue to focus on its core defence business, but will use the strengths of its businesses in aerospace, electronics, land systems and marine, he said.

"We see great opportunities in smart city initiatives in...public and cyber security, machine-to-machine communications, satellite communications as well as autonomous and robotics."

It exports defence solutions, such as vessels for the Royal Oman Navy and Warthogs - armoured personnel carriers - to the British Ministry of Defence. It also has smart city solutions like automated fare collection systems.

Temasek is its biggest shareholder, with a 50.14 per cent stake as at Feb 29 last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Tanks for the memories: ST Engineering turns 50'. Print Edition | Subscribe