Why It Matters

SAF gets set for next-gen battles

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is moving decisively to deal with the increasingly prevalent threat of cyber attacks.

Last Friday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced the setting up of the Defence Cyber Organisation to develop cyber defence strategies and policies. Each of its four component units will be helmed by at least a colonel, with the possibility of generals and admirals taking the reins.

This is a strong signal that the Ministry of Defence considers an intrusion into its digital networks as harmful as an attack using more conventional weapons like explosives or firearms.

As Dr Ng noted in Parliament during the debate on Mindef's spending plans for the year, some countries now consider hybrid warfare - which includes attacks on cyber networks and spreading of misinformation - to be a legitimate goal.

His announcement came days after it was revealed that Mindef discovered last month that the personal details of 850 national servicemen and its staff had been stolen.

A new cyber vocation will also be formed, and full-time national servicemen will be trained and deployed as cyber defenders from August this year. The skills they pick up will surely stand them in good stead when they enter the workforce after NS as cyber security looks set to be a growth industry.

But even as the SAF guards against new threats, it sees the need to hone its edge in its traditional fighting capabilities. Mindef will spend $900 million to build a sprawling training ground where soldiers can get a taste of combat in high-rise buildings, warehouses and even an MRT station with multiple exits. This 88ha area, dubbed Safti City, will allow soldiers to train in a dense concrete jungle that closely resembles Singapore's landscape.

Such long-term planning is exactly what is needed for the next generation of the SAF to remain an effective fighting force on all fronts, whether in a dense urban terrain or in the digital realm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'SAF gets set for next-gen battles'. Print Edition | Subscribe