New SAF command to coordinate running of military networks and cyber defence

Full-time national serviceman Private (PTE) Velusamy Sathiakumar Ragul Balaji, 18, who will become a cyber defender.
Full-time national serviceman Private (PTE) Velusamy Sathiakumar Ragul Balaji, 18, who will become a cyber defender.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Full-time national serviceman Private (PTE) Velusamy Sathiakumar Ragul Balaji, 18, who will become a cyber defender.
Full-time national serviceman Private (PTE) Velusamy Sathiakumar Ragul Balaji, 18, who will become a cyber defender.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - He was trained as a military policeman, but full-time national serviceman Velusamy Sathiakumar Ragul Balaji's talent with computers has landed him a new role.

Private Ragul, 18, who is six months into his national service, will soon be transferred to a new vocation as a cyber defender, responsible for guarding military networks against cyber attacks.

He was talent-spotted by the Ministry of Defence after his team emerged as one of the winners at a cyber-security camp for junior college and tertiary students, organised by the Defence Science and Technology Agency earlier in June.

Pte Ragul, who picked up programming as a hobby and took his own leave to attend the cyber camp, is thrilled with his new role. He had heard of the cyber-defence role before enlisting. "It's definitely something I've been looking forward to, even before NS."

His change in vocation underscores the push by Mindef to identify and groom national servicemen to become cyber defenders, as the threat of cyber attacks on Singapore's military networks grows.

Besides plans to build a corp of about 2,600 cyber defenders - comprising both regulars and national servicemen - in the next decade, a new Singapore Armed Forces command will also be formed to coordinate the running of the military's networks and response to cyber attacks.

The SAF C4 Command will be inaugurated in November, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters in an interview on Tuesday (June 27).

It comprises two units: a Cyber Defence Group (CDG) that guards against, detects and responds to cyber attacks; and a C4 (Command, Control, Communications and Computers) Operations Group (C4OG), which operates and monitors all of SAF's networks, including its war-fighting systems.

When fully staffed, the C4 Command will have 2,000 regular soldiers and national servicemen: 700 in the C4OG and 1,300 in the CDG.

Through the command, operational synergies can be harnessed and common functions such as training, human resource, and logistics can be centralised, thus optimising resources, Mindef said.

In the interview for SAF Day, which falls on Saturday (July 1), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Singapore has become a target for cyber attacks.

"Singapore has now found itself on someone's list. The attacks are orchestrated. The attacks are targeted. They want to steal specific information. There are minds behind this orchestration," Dr Ng said.

On Feb 1, a cyber breach on the Mindef's I-net system was discovered, with hackers stealing the personal information of 854 personnel.

Dr Ng said that "consequential changes" are being made in light of the threats, and this started with the forming of the ministry's Defence Cyber Organisation (DCO), which he announced in March.

The DCO, which will be staffed with half of the 2,600 cyber defenders, is a top-level command that develops cyber-defence policies and strategies for the SAF, defence industry partners and other Mindef-related organisations.

The SAF's own "parallel network" will be in the SAF C4 Command, which will be led by a commander of a brigadier-general level, he said.

"The next two decades or longer will not see threats diminish but indeed increase whether it's from conventional threats, maritime threats, terrorist threats, cyber threats and the SAF is adapting swiftly to this new threat environment...," Dr Ng said.