Parliament: SAF studying Saudi drone attack, but no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with such threats, says Ng Eng Hen

Workers are seen at the damaged Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, on Sept 20, 2019.
Workers are seen at the damaged Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, on Sept 20, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces is studying the recent attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities as part of efforts to protect the Republic from similar drone strikes, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Monday (Oct 7).

The drones used in the Sept 14 attacks were highly sophisticated and able to avoid radar detection, and hit their targets with great precision. But Dr Ng said that simpler "toy drones" used by hobbyists are just as capable of causing disruption, as was the case in London's Gatwick Airport and Changi Airport recently.

"Against this wide spectrum of threats, there can be no single counter-response," he said. "So it would neither be proportionate nor sustainable to employ sophisticated assets worth hundreds of millions to take down hobbyist drones that can be bought for less than $1,000."

For such threats, other tools would be required, such as regulations, deterrent fines and penalties, education, and working with relevant stakeholders including drone-hobbyist communities, he said.

Dr Ng was responding to three MPs who had asked how Singapore could prevent such an attack, as well as the economic impact on petrol. The Saudi pre-dawn attacks had knocked out more than half of the top global exporter's output - 5 per cent of the global oil supply - or about 5.7 million barrels per day.

He also spelt out the various authorities' scope of work: the Transport Ministry is working on some laws to enhance penalties for drone users who flout the rules, while the Ministry of Home Affairs and the police take the lead in defending against drones in specific areas and during major events.

The SAF will assist them when called upon and when needed, he added.

But beyond these specific responsibilities, the SAF "remains responsible for drone attacks against Singapore by would-be aggressors, especially towards key installations".

 
 
 
 

Over the last decade, it has enhanced its air defences against drone attacks, including through using better sensors in its early-warning systems.

"The assets we have in place now would have been able to detect the alleged drones used in the attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia," he said.

After being identified, these drones would also have been taken down by ground-based air defence systems, which have been upgraded.

"The SAF is confident that these systems can protect Singapore against aerial threats from both manned and unmanned aircraft. Our air defence system is live, 24/7," he said.

To combat drones in the middle part of the threat spectrum - those that can carry smaller weapons like grenades - the SAF puts up additional sensors and counter-offensive capabilities when required, such as during the National Day Parade or the Trump-Kim summit last year.

"The SAF will continue to monitor threat developments and learn from all incidents that occur globally to provide appropriate responses to the spectrum of potential drone attacks that are commensurate with the level of threat, sustainable and cost-effective," said Dr Ng.