Tap expertise of commercial sectors to develop new defence capabilities: Mindef permanent secretary Ng Chee Khern

Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Ng Chee Khern speaking at the opening of  International Naval Engineering Conference on Wednesday (May 17).
Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Ng Chee Khern speaking at the opening of International Naval Engineering Conference on Wednesday (May 17).PHOTO: EXPERIA EVENTS

SINGAPORE - Defence agencies should tap on cutting edge technologies and expertise in commercial companies that are akin to Google, Amazon and Tesla in driving forays into artificial intelligence, robotics, data science and cognitive computing.

To achieve this, militaries and defence industries could partner with tech companies by acting as test beds, said Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Ng Chee Khern, citing how the Singapore Government has been working on driverless car trials with start-up Nutonomy since last year.

"We will need to build new relationships to keep a good pulse of these technologies," he said at the International Naval Engineering Conference on Wednesday (May 17).

Speaking at the event that is held as part of the three-day 11th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (Imdex) Asia that began on Tuesday, Mr Ng also urged the defence industry to collaborate with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), given their "nimble size and entrepreneurial mindset".

He noted that to aid those SMEs that may not have enough financial standing for such big projects, frameworks could be developed, such as the Defence Science and Technology Agency's SME Engagement Framework.

"Here we could quickly latch on to their ready expertise to co-develop solutions, particularly in non-sensitive areas," said Mr Ng.

If militaries can build on these technologies to develop new capabilities, this could profoundly change the nature of warfare, he said.

He cited the example of the Singapore navy's Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) programme, which utilised modelling and simulation to test out new concepts in bridge operations.

Earlier this month, the first-of-class LMV, RSS Independence, was commissioned to be fully operational. It is one of eight LMVs that will replace the fleet of 11 Fearless-class patrol vessels by 2020.

Mr Ng also pointed out how the DSO National Laboratories - a defence research organisation - has recently launched a complex to drive "experimental laboratories", which include dedicated facilities to experiment artificial intelligence and robotics.

The DSO Complex was opened in April this year and is located in Science Park Drive, which houses more than 1,000 staff working across 200 laboratories and offices.

The experimental laboratories are made up of small groups of scientists and engineers from different domain expertise - to collaborate and form ideas to shape the next generation SAF, added Mr Ng, citing how the robotics lab facilitates prototyping, integration, simulation and testing of robotics systems prior to field trials.

"Equipped with the right tools and infrastructure, having such a small group set-ups are ideal as they build on the nimbleness required to facilitate quick exchange of ideas and co-development of solutions," he added.