In the face of a decline in manpower, the role of technology in defence is more important than ever, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday.
He was speaking at the launch of DSO Complex, the new headquarters of defence research organisation DSO National Laboratories.
With a total floor area of 69,000 sq m across two eight-storey buildings, the complex in Science Park Drive houses more than 1,000 staff working across 200 laboratories and offices, said DSO. It leases the premises from Ascendas Land. In December, Ascendas Real Estate Investment Trust announced that it would acquire the two buildings which currently make up the DSO complex - together with the neighbouring seven-storey DNV GL Tech Centre - from Ascendas Land for $420 million.
Dr Ng quoted former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee, who noted in 1970 that manpower constraints meant that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was dependent on technology.
"If technology was important then when we had fertility rates above replacement level, how much more so now and in our future, when our manpower supply falls?" said Dr Ng.
Dr Goh had established the predecessor of DSO in 1972 when he was defence minister.
DSO Complex will play a key role in driving "experimental laboratories" to provide the SAF with "indigenous and special capabilities" to meet a wide spectrum of security challenges, said Dr Ng.
These include facilities dedicated to two key areas: artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
The Playground - a dedicated space where DSO staff across various disciplines can explore and test ideas - features an artificial intelligence hub, which works on projects such as the use of video analytics to identify and track suspicious targets based on attributes such as height and clothing, and even one's gait.
It is also working on a platform that can profile suspected terrorists across multiple social media platforms.
DSO is currently engaging various government agencies on the implementation of the technology, said information division laboratory head Teow Loo Nin.
Meanwhile, a 500 sq m robotics laboratory allows engineers to develop and test robotic systems, prior to field trials. These include a variety of unmanned vehicle systems that can operate across land, sea and air.
Unmanned ground vehicles, developed by DSO, are able to navi- gate their way through forested areas without the benefit of GPS, said robotics autonomy programme manager Hikaru Fuji- shima. "We had to develop complex, in-house algorithms to process the sensor data that allows the vehicles to operate in off-road environments," he said.
These ground vehicles can be paired with unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance and intelligence-gathering purposes.
In order to meet the changing needs of both the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and the SAF, DSO needs to harness expertise across various science and engineering disciplines, said DSO chief executive Cheong Chee Hoo.
The new complex is designed to facilitate collaboration not only be- tween DSO scientists and engineers, but also with its partners in Mindef, SAF and other agencies, he added.
Correction Note: This story has been edited to clarify that DSO is leasing the property from Ascendas and to add the cost of the property.