Home-grown firm wins defence prize usually taken by local industry's big players

Mr Goh Ing Nam, 45, Programme Director, Sensors Division of DSO National Laboratories, explaining the compact Autonomous Underwater Vechicle.
Mr Goh Ing Nam, 45, Programme Director, Sensors Division of DSO National Laboratories, explaining the compact Autonomous Underwater Vechicle.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

A home-grown firm has broken into the ranks of established defence manufacturers and scientists here to bag one of Singapore's top defence technology prizes.

Microfine Materials Technologies was honoured on Friday, at the Defence Technology Prize ceremony, for partnering national defence research body - DSO National Laboratories - to design and build an unmanned underwater vessel that can detect mines in shallow water.

The annual Ministry of Defence (Mindef) event, to honour the finest in defence research and engineering ,was held at The Chevrons club in Jurong.

To be operationalised in two years' time, the M400 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle's key feature is itsspecial sensor that will allow sailors to spot targets faster.

Operated remotely by four people, the 600-kg vessel will be able to match, if not surpass, the capabilities of the existing Mine Countermeasure Vessel, which is manned by 20 people, said Mr Goh Ing Nam, DSO's Sensors Division programme director.

He added that the breakthrough will allow the navy to detect sea mines without putting sailors at risk.

Dr Lim Leong-Chew, who set up Microfine Materials Technologies in 1996, said that he was happy to be able to make a breakthrough in local defence science research, an area dominated by bigger players such as the DSO, the Defence Science Technology Agency and Singapore Technologies.

"Its not just about making money but (finding) what technology you want to bring Singapore to the world," said Dr Lim, who was formerly with the National University of Singapore.

While Mindef and the Singapore Armed Forces have been working with SMEs for decades, chief defence scientist Quek Tong Boon hopes that more firms will come forward to partner DSO or come up with more cutting-edge ideas.

"We have been tapping on the innovativeness, agility and efficiency of smaller companies to complement what we can get from larger research labs and companies in our R&D efforts," said Mr Quek.

SMEs will be able to provide solutions for the armed forces, he said, adding that today's technologies, such as sensors and robotics, have dual purposes in the military and civilian world.

At the ceremony yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also gave out the top prizes to four people and another team for breakthroughs in their fields of research.

Winning work included customizing the capabilities of the SAF's artillery guns and devising software to thwart attempts to jam communications networks.

Paying tribute to the defence researchers and engineers, Dr Ng said that Singapore will continue to invest significantly to maintain, if not grow, the talent pool.

Noting that there had been a 30 per cent jump in the number of people who took up the SAF's science and engineering scholarships in the past four years, Dr Ng said: "That is a significant jump and it shows that we are on the right path."