Militaries can draw on cutting-edge technology in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, data science and cognitive computing by partnering the commercial businesses that drive them, said Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Ng Chee Khern.
"We will need to build new relationships to keep a good pulse of these technologies," he said at the International Naval Engineering Conference yesterday, citing as an example how the Singapore Government has been working on driverless car trials with start-up Nutonomy since last year.
Speaking at the event, held as part of the three-day maritime defence trade fair Imdex Asia, which ends today, Mr Ng also urged the defence industry to collaborate with small and medium-sized enterprises, given their "nimble size and entrepreneurial mindset".
He noted that collaborations with SMEs that may not have enough financial standing for such big projects could be done through a structure such as the Defence Science and Technology Agency's SME Engagement Framework.
If militaries can build on these technologies to develop new capabilities, this could profoundly change the nature of warfare, he said.
He cited the Republic of Singapore Navy's Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) programme, which utilised modelling and simulation to test out new concepts in bridge operations. Earlier this month, the first LMV, RSS Independence, was commissioned into service. It is one of eight LMVs that will replace the fleet of 11 Fearless-class patrol vessels by 2020.
Mr Ng also noted that defence research organisation DSO National Laboratories launched a complex last month to drive "experimental laboratories" working with artificial intelligence and robotics. The complex in Science Park Drive houses more than 1,000 staff in 200 laboratories and offices.
Groups of scientists and engineers with different expertise at the laboratories collaborate and form ideas to shape the next-generation Singapore Armed Forces, said Mr Ng.
Industry player ST Electronics welcomed Mr Ng's suggestion to partner with other companies that have already developed these technologies.
Said ST Electronics vice-president of marketing Ng Tee Guan: "We don't want to reinvent the wheel. If within the industry, a company has already developed these technologies, we can easily collaborate with it, whether it is a government agency or SME."