Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Defence

Spending kept up with eye on future: Ng Eng Hen

SAF military hardware that featured at last year's National Day Parade. New war machines that will be added to the SAF arsenal include a new armoured vehicle for combat support troops, Dr Ng said.
SAF military hardware that featured at last year's National Day Parade. New war machines that will be added to the SAF arsenal include a new armoured vehicle for combat support troops, Dr Ng said.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

It's most effective way to stretch defence dollar as social costs rise

Confronted with a rapidly ageing population and an increasing need to spend on social measures, Singapore must maintain its steady defence spending, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

This is because it is "the most effective way to stretch the defence dollar", Dr Ng told the House yesterday.

"It allows you to plan long-term (and) allows you to avoid disruptive changes from fluctuating expenditures," the minister added as he announced new war machines that will be added to the Singapore Armed Forces' arsenal.

 
 
 
  • $14 billion

    Total bill; up 6.4 per cent.

    $100

    Value of vouchers given to NSmen when they get married married or have a child. 70 Number of businesses who show their appreciation for NSmen by giving discounts and benefits.

    250,000

    Number of visitors expected at the Singapore Armed Forces public education events in the next two months.

They include a new armoured vehicle for combat support troops, eight new littoral mission vessels and two new submarines, and the move to finalise new helicopters for the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

Dr Ng also announced that SAF will double the number of troops in the Cyber Defence Operations Hub by 2020 to thwart cyberthreats more effectively.

And as part of efforts to make up for its shrinking manpower and sharpen its technological edge, a new scholarship will be launched to draw top engineering minds into the military and grow its pool of military engineers.

He was responding to Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who questioned if Singapore's defence spending policy has changed.

Thanking all MPs for their "steadfast support for the defence budgets over the years", Dr Ng said the next decade will not be easy for Singapore. In fact, the next few decades will pose the "greatest challenge" to Singapore since its independence in 1965, he said.

He explained that nearly one million people in Singapore will be above 60 in 2030. "So the workforce is declining and your social spending needs to go up," he said.

This is set against the backdrop of the highest-ever defence spending by Asian militaries, exceeding their European counterparts' in absolute dollars since 2012, said Dr Ng.

"Rising nationalism and improving economies have fuelled many Asian countries to spend larger and larger sums to modernise their militaries.

"In itself it's not wrong. But with more capable militaries, miscalculations or missteps can precipitate serious tensions and even physical conflicts," he said.

Faced with this scenario, Dr Ng said to realise the need to build a strong defence only because of worsening threats will be "too little, too late".

Even as the Government continues to invest wisely and spend prudently on defence, it buys only what the SAF needs. It also carries out a robust and stringent evaluation process to ensure "we don't go around shopping for expensive or highly sophisticated stuff", he added.

The Defence Minister also noted that some people have wondered if the era of troubled peace is "hyped up" and whether Singapore needs to continually arm itself and boost the firepower of its arsenal.

The United States, he said, can perhaps take that line and "live with the consequences if something goes wrong". This is because it remains the world's most wealthy democracy with the largest and most capable military, he said.

"But I think for Singapore, a little red dot in the middle of a region of extremist threats, rising nationalism and strategic rivalry, we should guard against the worst and prepare ahead."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'Spending kept up with eye on future: Eng Hen '. Print Edition | Subscribe