Singapore reorganising its fighting forces in face of new threats: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Republic has started to reorganise its fighting forces to ensure that even as a small state it can defend itself against emerging threats.

The revamp comes against the backdrop of extremist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda spreading radical ideology based on religious false precepts and carrying out hybrid warfare. This is a military concept that involves conventional weapons and unconventional tools, such as spreading disinformation, to achieve victory without resorting to open war.

Also looming are cyber threats with the "potential to wreak as much havoc", Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in his annual media interview ahead of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day on Wednesday.

He said the SAF's modernisation drive, dubbed the Third-Generation (3G) transformation, is "going well", with troops being given more precise combat information and able to close the loop between "what you see and how you effect responses".

But the armed forces must "keep transforming" to address the fundamental change in how information is collected and used in the today's battle space.

To that end, the SAF will:

* Enlist more "cyber soldiers" to beef up its online defence;

* Double the motorised ground units to ensure half of the army moves on tracks or wheels;

*Invest more money in new technology like unmanned fighting platforms and robotics while souping-up existing war machines.

Next year, Singapore will plough in more than US$2.4 billion to modernise Singapore's ageing fleet of F-16s. These upgrades, which will be completed by 2022 at the latest, are likely to extend the lifespan of the F-16s and make them operational for the next 20 years.

Citizen soldiers will also be trained to do more, said Dr Ng, who became defence minister in 2011. "I'm confident that they can because they are better skilled, better equipped and just as committed."

The strategy is to ensure that Singapore never competes only in terms of troop numbers as "that would be weakest basis to compete, because that's what we lack", said Dr Ng, pointing out that the island state makes up for manpower shortages with "superior skills, knowledge, intelligence, information and technology".

In the wide-ranging interview, Dr Ng also said there has "never been a ceiling" on how high women can climb in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

His comments came ahead of the promotion of air force officer Gan Siow Huang, the first SAF woman combat officer to rise to the rank of brigadier-general. Responding to whether Brigadier- General Gan had broken the "brass ceiling", Dr Ng said: "We promote based on merit. There's never been a ceiling. Not based on gender, not based on race."

Noting that BG Gan rose to her position on her own merit, Dr Ng said: "She just happens to be female."

BG Gan, 40, was among seven colonels who received their first star as brigadier-general or rear- admiral last Friday. They will wear their new ranks on SAF Day today.

But Dr Ng said an able officer will rise to the top "because we (the SAF) need you". "Anyone who can pull his (or her) weight, we'll expect you to pull your weight and (we will) push you to a position where you have to pull your weight and more." Dr Ng added that anyone who feels he is being "held back and discriminated (against) because of any other reasons, you talk to me and I'll make sure that will never happen. It will not happen under my watch".