SINGAPORE - A strong science and technology core will be even more critical to Singapore and its armed forces as the country navigates an increasingly complex world with fast-evolving threats, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
Speaking at the Defence Science and Technology Agency's (DSTA's) 20th anniversary commemorative ceremony on Wednesday (Oct 28), he said that technology like automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will not only change the way people live and work, but also how the Singapore Armed Forces fights and operates.
"The next 20 years will likely be even more exciting than the last. We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the pace of change has quickened since Covid-19," he told senior defence officials at the event, as well as more than 3,000 DSTA staff and guests who tuned in virtually.
Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance, also launched a commemorative book titled Ordinary People Extraordinary Passion.
It chronicles DSTA's transformation, innovations and contributions in the last two decades.
These include building the highly networked Island Air Defence System, the army's Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle, and the navy's littoral mission vessels that are customised to Singapore's needs.
Established in 2000, DSTA is a statutory board under the Ministry of Defence that makes use of science and technology and provides technological and engineering support for Singapore's defence and security.
In his speech, Mr Heng said DSTA has grown by leaps and bounds since its establishment. "You have built a range of deep expertise - from our air, naval and land systems, to C3 (command, control and communications) and cyber security."
Locally designed platforms like the Hunter and the littoral mission vessels are testament to its ability to translate technology and plans into reality, he said. "These capabilities have kept our fighting capabilities ahead of the curve."
He recounted how science and technology have been instrumental in building Singapore's defence capabilities.
When the British withdrew from Singapore, the country had only two infantry regiments, two seaworthy wooden ships and two borrowed Cessna aircraft, he said.
"Through the ingenuity and dedication of our defence community, the Singapore Armed Forces has grown from these humble beginnings into an advanced and capable fighting force."
Mr Heng lauded DSTA's contributions, including those to national Covid-19 efforts.
It has helped to develop temperature self-check systems and mobile swabbing stations, as well as tap its networks to procure emergency healthcare supplies amid global supply chain uncertainties, he said.
"Time and again, the men and women of DSTA have gone beyond the call of duty in times of crisis," he said, noting that it also developed thermal scanners during the Sars crisis in 2003.
He said what made the agency extraordinary was not just its range of deep expertise, but also its extensive network of partnerships.
It has strengthened international partnerships over the years, such as through hosting the Singapore Defence Technology Summit, as well as collaborations with global companies like Rolls Royce, Airbus, Boeing, Samsung and IBM.
"These collaborations keep DSTA at the forefront of technology. The presence of so many of you here online on this very occasion is a testament of the strength of that relationship," said Mr Heng.
DSTA chief executive Tan Peng Yam said that to achieve its mission, the agency has adopted the strategy of investing in and harnessing its people to their fullest potential.
"We place great emphasis on our shared purpose as well as creating meaningful work and a vibrant environment for everyone to collaborate, innovate and grow.
"We couldn't have achieved all these without the support and collaboration with our partners and friends from across the globe too."