Why It Matters

SAF's key role in terror fight

The opening of a new institute on Monday highlights the Singapore Armed Forces' recognition of its growing role in countering the evolving terror and security threats facing Singapore.

The Island Defence Training Institute (IDTI) aims to equip soldiers with skills to respond to threats alongside their Home Team counterparts. It will train up to 33,000 active and operationally ready national servicemen a year at its peak. Soldiers will be taught skills like search and arrest techniques, and dealing with an unarmed suspect in non-lethal ways.

While such training seems to fall outside the armed forces' traditional mandate to protect Singapore from external threats, it shows how the SAF is augmenting its capabilities in a period of heightened terror alert.

Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung said at the institute's inauguration that "terrorism is spreading, it is indiscriminate, it is at our doorstep and is here to stay".

The Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released in June showed how "the terrorism threat to Singapore is at its highest in recent years", including two Islamic State in Iraq and Syria plots to attack Singapore last year, said the minister.

He also highlighted the changing nature of the threat, with a greater likelihood of attacks on a smaller scale, rather than larger, more sophisticated ones that are harder to execute and easier to foil.

While the SAF has been involved in internal security for some time, the IDTI consolidates the SAF's training for non-conventional threats at home, said S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies defence analyst Ho Shu Huang. He added that the training at the institute will be unfamiliar to some soldiers, due to the difference in the operating environment. Soldiers need to learn whether to use force, or how much to use, if necessary - in a context different from that faced in conventional warfare.

With terrorism incidents continuing to grow and a greater likelihood of soldiers deployed in places such as shopping malls, the role of an institute like the IDTI takes on added importance.

Correction note: This story has been edited to reflect the point that in conventional operations for many militaries, calibration of force is also important. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'SAF's key role in terror fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe