Parliament: Build up corps of cyber-skilled NSmen: Desmond Choo

Singapore "needs all hands on deck" in the battle against cyber threats, and to strengthen its defences, it is important for the country to build up a strong corps of operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) with such skills, said Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Choo noted there were already many NSmen in the IT industry with deep cyber-security expertise, and said the full-time national servicemen (NSFs) of the cyber vocation can form the foundation of this team to protect Singapore against cyber attacks.

He was one of five MPs who spoke about digital defence during yesterday's debate on the Ministry of Defence's (Mindef) spending plans.

A total of 17 MPs spoke on topics such as the role that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can play in the ongoing maritime dispute with Malaysia, how the SAF can maintain its edge with an expected manpower crunch, and measures to improve training safety after recent NS-related training deaths.

Mr Choo said preventing sophisticated cyber attacks by malicious parties is now a critical mission for both governments and companies around the world. He added: "Yet, nearly every country in the world lacks cyber-security talent. Singapore needs all hands on deck."

Since February last year, Mindef has announced plans to recruit NSFs and regulars with cyber expertise.

Under the Cyber NSF Scheme, NSFs can sign a three-or four-year contract that allows them to take relevant classes while deployed in advanced cyber defence roles such as penetration testing and malware analysis.

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) asked whether servicemen who have been trained in this industry can be accredited in ways that will help potential employers in turn recognise their value.

Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) asked if Mindef would consider building a memorial to honour servicemen who have lost their lives in the course of duty.

With the number of NSFs expected to fall by about 30 per cent by 2030, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked for an update on how the SAF is preparing itself for a "manpower-lean future", and ensure that it has a credible and effective force.

The effects of Singapore's declining total fertility rate will begin to be "acutely felt" as 2030 draws near, he said, especially on a manpower-intensive service such as the army.

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) asked about the role of the SAF in the ongoing maritime dispute with Malaysia.

Both countries have been locked in the dispute after Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits last October, encroaching on territorial waters that Singapore regards as its own. In response, Singapore extended its own port limits in December.

A joint working group was announced in January to discuss legal and operational matters to de-escalate the ground situation. It was to report to the two foreign ministers within two months.

On the issue of training safety, Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East) said the role of open reporting, particularly in a hierarchical organisation such as the SAF, could be clarified.

The newly appointed Inspector-General, Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee, took office on Wednesday. He had said last week that promoting an open-reporting culture was one of his immediate priorities in his new role as SAF's safety chief.

Mindef is scheduled to outline its plans today.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline Build up corps of cyber-skilled NSmen: Desmond Choo. Subscribe