SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is making a suite of changes to land, air and sea operations to better tackle the scourge of terrorism, which has risen in worrying intensity and proximity to Singapore.
Outlining the steps, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said some 18,000 soldiers, including full-time national servicemen (NSFs) and NSmen, will be trained yearly at the Island Defence Training Institute, which opens in end-July.
The training will cover areas such as scenario-based simulation and live-firing for homeland security operations; search-and-arrest procedures to be undertaken by SAF personnel; knowledge of legal powers and rights of private defence; and retractable truncheon drills.
If the need arises, selected NS units may also be deployed for homeland security operations during in-camp training (ICT), such as joint deterrence patrols with the Singapore Police Force island-wide and coastal surveillance operations.
NS units will also undergo refresher training during ICT so their skills are kept current and they can be readily deployed.
Speaking to local and foreign media earlier this week ahead of SAF Day tomorrow (Jul 1), Dr Ng said Singapore is refining its counter-terrorism response by equipping each soldier with counter-terrorism skills, just as how the terrorist threat has gone "from wholesale to retail".
He cited the Al-Qaeda group as an example of wholesale terrorism with a centralised hierarchy and foot soldiers that lacked crucial skills like bomb-making while the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is an embodiment of retail terrorism, with its individual fighters possessing skills to make improvised explosive and carry out hijacking or kidnapping.
"Now just as terrorism has gone from wholesale to retail, we need to have those capabilities for our own self-defence at the retail level," said Dr Ng, noting this year's SAF Day is significant as it also marks 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore and 50th year of national service.
He said the rise of ISIS-linked terrorists fighting in the Philippine city of Marawi is a worrying sign of the threat getting closer to home.
Another cause for concern is the increase of such incidents globally. Terror incidents jumped three fold from about 5,000 in 2011 to nearly 17,000 in 2014. In contrast, the figure in 2000 was around 1,800.
"The assumption is that attacks that occur in Singapore may increase in scale, frequency and impact. It's a sobering change of assumptions, but I think we better change to meet a heightened need rather than be caught with inadequate resources," said Dr Ng, who also touched on the need to be vigilant against terrorism in his SAF Day message delivered on Friday (June 30).
On the maritime front, the Republic of Singapore Navy will be deploying more unmanned assets and tapping on more effective data analytics to enhance security, too.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has put in place an enhanced Island Air Defence system that promises to "see more, be more responsive and more capable in dealing with a wider spectrum of threats".
The RSAF has introduced advanced sensors that provides 24 hour low-level radar coverage and developed a Combat Management System that fuses information from multiple sources to present an integrated view of the air situation.
It is also adopting more advanced weaponry to deal with a wider spectrum of threats, like replacing the I-Hawk surface-to-air missile systems with the Aster-30 Missile System that is able to intercept air threats up to 70km away, almost double the former's 40km range.
The SAF is also increasing linkages with the Home Team by validating their various plans and developing a common command and control information system "so that agencies can talk", said Dr Ng, who also touched on other topics, such as Singapore's readiness to render help in taming the Marawi conflict.
He added that Singapore and Singaporeans have to deal with terrorism decisively and "prepare for it" as it is an endemic problem that might not go away within a decade.
"It might not go away even within our lifetime. And when they attack us, we must respond to it, make sure that we remain cohesive, make sure that we deal with the aftermath."
Corporal First Class Muhammad Syafiq Danial Samsaidi, 21, from the 4th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment, took part in a deterrence patrol with the police last year.
He said he noticed some members of the public looked concerned and distressed at the sight of soldiers near a school in the west.
"The public shouldn't worry, we are here to protect them at all costs," he told reporters.