Ng Eng Hen gives A grade to SAF for its security preparations for Trump-Kim summit

A member of the Republic of Singapore Navy keeps watch as navy ships patrol the waters around Sentosa during a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12, 2018.
A member of the Republic of Singapore Navy keeps watch as navy ships patrol the waters around Sentosa during a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE -Short of a real war or terror attack, the recent Trump-Kim summit in Singapore was as close or real a threat that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has had to face, and it aced the test, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

"I suppose in exam terms, this is a preliminary test which I think we scored an A. We will not get many or any more such opportunities in peacetime," Dr Ng told local and foreign media on Friday (June 29) ahead of SAF Day on Sunday.

He said the SAF had registered some firsts in its security deployment for the summit, such as putting some new capabilities to test and casting a four-layer protective dome around Singapore, particularly Sentosa where United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met on June 12.

The mission was very clear: to ensure absolute safety so that Mr Trump and Mr Kim, Chairman of North Korea's State Affairs Commission, could hold their historic summit with no interruptions or security challenges.

No threats were detected by the SAF nor intelligence personnel from the US and North Korea in the lead-up or during the summit, said Dr Ng, adding that he gave the SAF an A grade, not A plus, because there were some gaps identified.

"But it was a success and most importantly, the strong show of deterrence kept would-be attackers away because it was a very clear sign that the SAF means business. If you decide to undertake any mischief, we will respond with nothing held back," he added.

Dr Ng said it was challenging for the SAF given that the summit was confirmed only around two weeks before June 12. That the summit's timing and location were made public in advance also made it less than ideal from a security perspective, he added.

"That context lends itself to mischief-makers, especially terrorists, if they wanted to make an impact or draw world attention. You've basically provided quite high motivations to achieve that and everyone can understand that," he said.

 
 

Giving details of the four-layer protective dome, Dr Ng said the outermost layer was made up of more than 20 aircraft - ranging from fighter jets F-15s and F-16s, the G550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft to Apache helicopters - patrolling the skies.

More than 10 ground-based air defence systems like I-Hawk and Spyder were also deployed to ward off potential aerial attacks.

Given the possibilities of seafront attacks on Sentosa, he said more than 10 naval vessels plied the busy sea lines south of the island, to secure waters in the second outer layer.

The next layer focused on providing security and quick medical responses on land in the event of attacks, with the mobilisation of more than 100 ambulance vehicles, along with medical decontamination vehicles.

At the inner core, personnel from the Special Operations Task Force and the chemical, biological, radiological and explosives sections were deployed on the ground for swift responses.

In all, some 2,000 SAF personnel from the army, airforce and navy were deployed for the summit, which also saw the rare use of live munitions.

The summit allowed the SAF to try out recently acquired combat equipment for the first time, such as the Littoral Mission Vessels and the Spyder ground-based air defence systems.

Dr Ng said he recounted the experience not just to commend the SAF but also to underscore how invaluable the summit was in validating Singapore's defence systems, which were built up over more than 50 years.

The minister declined to give details on the gaps identified in the security preparations, though he said steps are being taken to close them.

"The success of the mission comes from knowing that you have fulfilled your mission obviously. I mean if you fail your mission then you've done badly," he said. "But sometimes even a greater success is learning gaps in your system, and that's very valuable."