SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will learn from Baltic states Estonia and Latvia as it sets up the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS) to protect the Republic from growing digital threats.
Speaking from Latvian capital Riga on Tuesday (May 17), where he is visiting from Sunday (May 15) to Tuesday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the trip to both countries has been useful from the perspective of setting up the DIS, the fourth service branch of the SAF after the army, navy and air force.
Announced during the Budget debate in March this year, the DIS is to be set up by the end of this year, and will be responsible for intelligence, cyber and psychological defence, as well as advancing the SAF as a networked force.
Dr Ng also said that it is now accepted that combat is waged by militaries or aggressors on the information and cyber fronts, just as much as in the air, on land and in the sea.
"We have examples of this, including the situation in Ukraine," said Dr Ng, adding that Estonia and Latvia are front-line states when it comes to cyber attacks and hostile information campaigns.
He said that Estonia was attacked in the cyberworld in 2007 and added: "That's why they have been, in earnest, building up capabilities."
Dr Ng, whose six-day trip started in Estonia last Thursday, also noted that Estonia is the location of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, while the Nato Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence is based in Latvia.
"So we (the SAF and Ministry of Defence) have been engaging them... and are happy to report that they've been very forthcoming."
"We've signed memorandums with them to learn from them and I think this will help... the fourth service in terms of how we raise soldiers in that fourth service to have those capabilities."
Added Dr Ng: "From my talks with their leaders and visiting their facilities, they've shared that they are willing to continue this mutually beneficial collaboration, and I hope that over the years to come, we will continue to work together with them."
In Riga, Dr Ng also met Ms Baiba Blodniece, Parliamentary Secretary of the Latvian Defence Ministry, to discuss ways to enhance societal resilience and emergency preparedness.
He was briefed by experts from the Nato Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence and visited the Latvian War Museum.
Separately, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in a statement on Tuesday that Dr Ng met Latvian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Artis Pabriks on the sidelines of the 15th Lennart Meri Conference on Sunday.
The conference, named after the late Estonian president, is an annual security and foreign policy conference held since 2007 in Estonia, bringing together distinguished policymakers and analysts from around the world.
There, both ministers reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening cooperation under the memorandum signed last December during Dr Pabriks' introductory visit to Singapore.
"Both countries will be working on areas of mutual interest, such as defence policy and technology, strategic communications, national service, total defence and citizen engagement," said Mindef in the statement.
Dr Ng and Dr Pabriks also exchanged views on geopolitical and security developments during their meeting.
"Total defence is practised in Singapore whereas Latvia has a similar concept of comprehensive national defence," noted Mindef.
Before departing for Riga, Dr Ng signed a memorandum in Estonian capital Tallinn that will pave the way for strengthened defence cooperation in areas such as defence policy, personnel training, national service, cyber security, total defence and citizen engagement.
He also called on officials there, attended briefings from Estonian experts and spoke at the Lennart Meri Conference.