Singapore's decision to replace its ageing fleet of F-16s with a new fighter jet type, an exercise projected to start in 2030, is an example of the early planning that must go into the long-term effort to preserve the deterrent capabilities of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Along with this investment in the air force, there are other timeframes for equipment upgrades and purchases in the army and navy. Technology will be leveraged more to build a next-generation SAF that is smarter, leaner and more lethal. The second quality is important because the SAF will have to deal with a one-third reduction in manpower resources amid Singapore's declining birth rates.
External threats will have to be met in spite of the demographic challenge within, a double whammy that should concentrate the minds of all citizens. The SAF occupies a particular place in the national psyche. Like armed forces anywhere, it is the final guarantor of sovereignty and territorial integrity. But as a citizens' military, it carries out its protective mandate by involving the entire population, centred on adult male Singaporeans in national service. And unlike countries where the armed forces act as an adjunct of the citizenry, to be called up only during times of acute crisis, the SAF is embodied in and part of the larger population every single day.