SPEECH BY MR TEO CHEE HEAN, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER
FOR DEFENCE, AT COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE 2010, 05 MARCH 2010, 1:30
PM AT PARLIAMENT HOUSE
Mr Chairman Sir, I would like to thank the Honourable Members for their comments and
questions, and also for their continued commitment to Singapore’s defence and security.
Regional Security Environment
Sir, Mr Michael Palmer, Dr Teo Ho Pin and Mr Sin Boon Ann asked for our assessment
of the regional security environment.
The strategic realignments that began before the economic crisis have continued apace.
Asian economies have weathered the crisis relatively well, especially so for India and
China. While the US will continue to be pre-eminent over the next few decades, in
economic, military, and technological terms, the balance of global economic weight has
The strategic weight of Asian powers, particularly China and India, will grow. These two
countries will become more confident and will want to play a greater role in global and
regional affairs. As their economic ties with our region strengthen, they would also have
a greater stake in regional peace and stability. Indeed, both these countries are actively
engaging countries in the Asia-Pacific, both bilaterally and multilaterally. These are
positive developments. Within our region, countries such as Vietnam, along with
Indonesia, will play a larger role in the years to come, as they continue with their
restructuring and modernisation.
In the coming decades therefore, the Asia-Pacific will inevitably become the strategic
area of focus for the major powers. Southeast Asia, with its strategic sea-lanes,
resources and markets sits at the centre of the region, and is the arena where their
The key question, of course, is how the US-China relationship will develop in the
coming years. While there have been strains in the US-China relationship in recent
weeks, both countries clearly see it in their interest to have stable and cooperative
relations in the long term. In a joint statement released during President Obama’s visit
to China last November, both sides recognised that they have, and I quote, “an
increasingly broad base of cooperation and share increasingly important common
responsibilities”. On our part, we do hope that the US and China will maintain a positive
and cooperative relationship, as this is critical to maintaining regional stability, which
provides the foundation for economic development and prosperity.
Regional Security Architecture
Dr Teo asked about our response to the increased strategic competition among the
major powers. An open regional security architecture plays an important role in
sustaining long term regional peace and stability by encouraging countries to engage
constructively. As new patterns of strategic relations are formed, the regional security
architecture must continue to develop apace. This will facilitate the peaceful rise of
emerging powers, promote responsible norms of international behaviour, and manage
Ms Indranee Rajah and Mr Sin Boon Ann asked about MINDEF’s role in strengthening
the regional security architecture. Sir, in the past year, the ASEAN Defence Ministers
Meeting or ADMM for short, is one area where ASEAN countries have focused our
efforts. The ADMM has moved in the direction of practical cooperation. For instance, we
reached agreement on cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, an
important non-traditional security issue.
The ADMM has also made significant headway in evolving the ADMM-Plus, which
facilitates ASEAN’s defence engagement with our partners in the larger Asia-Pacific
region at the ministerial level. Vietnam which is the chair of ASEAN in 2010, will take the
ADMM-Plus process forward later this year.
The Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) that is held in Singapore annually, and attended by 27
countries in 2009, has also grown from strength to strength. The ninth SLD will be held
in June this year. The SLD remains the only defence forum in Asia that brings together
ministers, senior officials, industry leaders and academics for a frank exchange of views
on defence and security issues, which will help to create mutual understanding and
Bilateral Defence Relations
Sir, our multilateral engagements are supported by an extensive web of bilateral
defence relations, which Ms Rajah asked about.
Our defence ties with Malaysia and Indonesia are important and longstanding. The SAF
and Malaysian Armed Forces engage in regular interactions, including bilateral
exercises, high-level visits and professional exchanges. Both armed forces also
collaborate closely in the Malacca Strait Patrols and the Five Power Defence
Arrangements. At Malaysia’s invitation, two F-16 fighters and two Apache helicopters
from the RSAF participated in the flying display at the Langkawi International Maritime
and Aerospace exhibition last year. Senior Malaysian defence officials also attended the
Singapore Airshow this year. When Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi and I met on the
sidelines of the Singapore Airshow, we both agreed to expand our bilateral defence
exchanges and interactions. As an example, I met General Rodzali Daud, the RMAF
Chief who is here on a visit this morning. He and our Chief of Air Force are discussing
initiatives to increase exchanges and interactions between our two air forces. All these
interactions have further enhanced our friendly bilateral defence ties with Malaysia.
There are regular and wide-ranging interactions between the SAF and the Indonesian
National Defence Forces. These include longstanding exercises between our two
armies, air forces and navies, as well as bilateral meetings, the cross-attendance of
courses and other professional exchanges. The two armed forces also cooperate
closely in maritime patrols and maritime information sharing. As this House is aware,
after the South Sumatra earthquake last September, the SAF sent medical and
engineering teams to assist in the relief efforts. We are also working with the Indonesian
defence establishment to explore opportunities to expand cooperation for mutual benefit.
With Brunei and Thailand, and increasingly with Vietnam, we also enjoy especially close
defence relations. Besides our neighbours, we have similarly built up our defence ties
with key players in the Asia-Pacific.
The US remains one of our strongest and closest defence partners. We continue to
welcome a strong US presence in our region, which provides an important stabilising
influence. US forces visit Changi Naval Base and Paya Lebar Air Base regularly, and
we conduct high-end professional exercises with them. Since the conclusion of the
Strategic Framework Agreement in 2005, professional exchanges between the US and
Singapore armed forces have expanded. Last year, we inaugurated Peace Carvin V,
our F-15SG detachment in Mountain Home, Idaho. The detachment joins our existing F-
16, Chinook and Apache training detachments in the US. Our naval helicopters are
currently undergoing integration training in San Diego, together with one of our frigates.
As an indication of the many exchanges that we have, this morning, I received a call
from the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet (Admiral Pat Walsh) who is here on a visit.
We have also strengthened our defence relationship with China, holding the first
bilateral training exercise between Singapore and China last June. This was a joint
training exercise focused on the conduct of security operations for major events, which
the Chinese forces have a lot of experience in after the Beijing Olympics. The training
exercise provided a platform for developing mutual understanding between both armed
forces. With India, our relations continue to develop very productively with all the three
Services conducting exercises together with their counterparts in India.
Singapore has also deepened our defence relations with other key regional partners.
We signed bilateral defence cooperation agreements with Japan, the Republic of Korea,
New Zealand and Vietnam last year. These agreements reflect the commitment of the
parties to further cooperate in bilateral areas of mutual interest. With Australia, we
renewed the Shoalwater Bay Training Area Memorandum of Agreement, which allows
the SAF to train at Shoalwater Bay for another ten years.
Sir, Singapore is very grateful to our friends for their support for the SAF’s overseas
training, an issue which Mr Palmer asked about. Today, the SAF trains in about a dozen
countries around the world, which has enabled us to overcome our land and airspace
constraints and to address the SAF’s training needs.
Confronting Diverse and Complex Threats
Dr Teo and Mr Sin asked about the security challenges confronting us. Indeed these
challenges are varied, complex and fluid. Allow me to elaborate on two challenges –
maritime security and terrorism.
By endangering the freedom of navigation and the safety of international shipping,
threats to maritime security such as piracy and maritime terrorism can impact the global
economy and international security. As a maritime nation, such threats are of utmost
concern to Singapore. Many of you have read in the newspapers today that our Navy
had received information on possible terror threats against vessels in the Malacca Strait.
The Navy has stepped up the frequency of patrols in our waters. Commercial ships are
also encouraged to take proactive security measures in the meantime. The relevant
Singapore agencies have also been working closely with our regional partners to
address this potential risk. The Maritime Security Task Force has also been
coordinating a whole of government response with the relevant Singapore agencies,
such as the Police Coast Guard and Maritime and Port Authority, to step up measures
to address this potential threat.
As this issue illustrates, threats to maritime security continue to be real and
immediate. Countering this threat requires a coordinated effort by governments acting
alone and also in cooperation with one another.
In our immediate region, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have been
conducting coordinated patrols to enhance the security of the Malacca Strait.
In addition to such operational arrangements, it is important to improve information
sharing, for the early detection of maritime threats and to coordinate responses. To this
end, Singapore has established an Information Fusion Centre or IFC at the Changi
Command and Control Centre. The IFC has been purpose-built as a maritime security
hub to collate and analyse information shared among an international network of
partners, to facilitate timely and effective responses to maritime threats. Thus far, six
countries including countries as far away as France have stationed liaison officers here
at the IFC. We expect more countries to do so in the coming months.
Beyond our region, piracy in the Gulf of Aden, which is a key shipping lane, remains an
international concern. While the SAF’s focus continues to be the security of the Straits
of Malacca and Singapore, we are also playing our part in the Gulf of Aden. This is
because we recognise that it is not possible for any one country to protect its own
shipping in all the world’s key sea lanes. All countries therefore have to depend on
cooperative efforts to secure the sea lanes for everyone’s use. From April to July last
year, we deployed a Task Group comprising a Landing Ship Tank and two Super Puma
helicopters to contribute to the counter-piracy efforts. The Task Group worked within the
framework of the multinational Combined Task Force 151 or CTF 151 to enhance the
security of ships transiting through the Gulf of Aden.
We remain committed to these counter-piracy efforts. As I speak, a senior Singaporean
naval officer – supported by an SAF command team – is in command of CTF 151. We
accepted the invitation by the Combined Maritime Forces HQ to assume command of
CTF 151 for a period of three months, from mid-January to mid-April this year. This
invitation illustrates the high regard in which other armed forces hold the SAF. As a
signal of our continued commitment to this international effort, Singapore has decided to
deploy a second Task Group comprising a Landing Ship Tank with two Super Pumas
from June to October this year, as well as a Maritime Patrol Aircraft from December
2010 to February 2011.
International Security Operations
Sir, another key security challenge confronting us is terrorism, something which Ms
Ellen Lee and Dr Lily Neo raised. Mr Sin and Dr Lam also asked about our deployments
for international security operations.
Terrorism remains a persistent threat to all nations, and cannot be resolved by just any
one nation acting on its own. Afghanistan remains a key arena for the international effort
against terrorism. In December last year, the US announced a new Afghan strategy,
ordering the deployment of 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan. We support the US’
continued commitment in Afghanistan. This will help stabilise the country and prevent
extremists from again using Afghanistan to export terrorism to the rest of the world,
including our own region, with direct implications for our security. We are committed to
contributing, within our means and in a useful way, to the multinational efforts in
We currently have a Weapon Locating Radar detachment and a medical team deployed
in Oruzgan province. In April this year, following the completion of our medical team’s
deployment, we will deploy a surgical team to Oruzgan for the first time. I had the
opportunity to visit our soldiers in Afghanistan last November and saw first-hand the
contributions of our personnel. The feedback I received from the International Security
Assistance Force or ISAF commanders showed that our deployments are making a
valued contribution towards the stabilisation and reconstruction efforts. We also
continue to deploy construction engineering teams in Bamiyan province. We have also
informed our coalition partners that we are prepared to deploy a KC-135 aerial refuelling
tanker and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Task Group in Afghanistan.
Here at home, the SAF continues to work closely with homefront agencies to defend
against increasingly sophisticated terror threats against Singapore. I will elaborate
further when I speak about how the SAF is restructuring to meet more complex security
Sir, every international deployment that the SAF undertakes is carefully considered.
Such deployments do involve risks to our servicemen, which can be significant.
However, where there is real and important work to be done, there will be attendant
risks. Therefore, we must make sure that our servicemen are well equipped and trained,
and receive additional training specific to their mission and area of operation.
Building Blocks of the 3rd Generation SAF
Sir, even as we contribute to international and regional security, the primary mission of
the SAF remains to deter any threats, and to defend Singapore.
I reported to this House in March 2004 that the SAF had embarked on a transformation
journey to ensure that it meets current and future operational requirements.
Mr Michael Palmer, Dr Maliki, Dr Teo and Dr Lam asked about MINDEF’s
transformation and build-up plans. The key building blocks of the 3rd Generation SAF
are now in place. While there is still work to be done, we now have a firm foundation for
the continued development of the 3rd Generation SAF.
Three building blocks form the foundation of the 3rd Generation SAF. First, acquiring
new equipment and building new units to transform the SAF into an advanced,
networked force. Second, re-organising the SAF into new operational commands to
deal with an expanded spectrum of operations, at home and overseas. And third,
developing our people through new and enhanced career schemes as well as revising
training and curriculum, so that we have capable and committed people to meet the
requirements of the 3rd Generation SAF.
The SAF as an Advanced Networked Force
Let me elaborate on the transformation of the SAF into an advanced, networked
force. The most visible part of this transformation is the progressive introduction of
newer and more capable systems into the SAF which I think some members are familiar
with. Less visible but just as important, is the integration of land, maritime and air forces
into a network-centric force that can seamlessly tap on each Services’ capabilities.
Let me elaborate. The Navy’s new frigates are able to dominate a larger sea area, a
much larger sea area, than the 1970s era Missile Gun Boats, which they replaced. They
have Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopters which add to the frigates’ ability to undertake
anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions at longer ranges. Each frigate’s
sophisticated Command, Control and Communications suite allows it to network with a
wide variety of SAF assets including air-borne sensors and land-based sensors. This
increases force-level awareness and mission effectiveness.
The Army’s Terrex combat vehicles which are now coming into service are also
equipped with a Battlefield Management System. This allows each vehicle to network
with other parts of the SAF, and bring to bear firepower from land and air platforms,
such as our new High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and Apache
helicopters. The Air Force’s new Gulfstream Airborne Early Warning aircraft, with its
extended detection range, allows the SAF to detect and track aerial targets at greater
distances. This provides the whole SAF with more response time to deal with aerial
threats and enhances the robustness of our networked air defence system.
In November last year, I visited Exercise Forging Sabre in the United States, one of a
series of exercises to validate the SAF’s integrated strike capabilities. Networked
command centres relayed real-time information from “sensors”, such as our Commando
forces and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, to “shooters” such as F-16 fighter aircraft,
Apache helicopters and our artillery rocket systems. The result is an enhanced ability to
rapidly bring to bear precision firepower from various SAF strike platforms in an
integrated way upon targets in the battlefield.
Let me now talk about the second building block of the 3rd Generation SAF, to address
Mr Palmer’s question on the operational readiness of the 3rd Generation SAF and Ms
Indranee Rajah’s and Dr Fatimah Lateef’s question about restructuring to meet the new
security challenges. Sir, the increasingly complex security environment has imposed
heavier operational demands on the SAF. Besides its primary role of safeguarding
Singapore against conventional threats, the SAF is also contributing to international
security operations, humanitarian and disaster relief missions, and providing support for
homeland security operations.
Last year, I updated this House that the SAF was restructuring to better respond to
current and future security challenges. These organisational changes have since been
implemented and have made the SAF more flexible and responsive. This is the second
building block of the 3rd Generation SAF. Let me give you one example.
The SAF’s High-Readiness Core comprises units on a heightened readiness
posture. They are fully manned and equipped to meet operational contingencies that
may occur with little or no warning. These units are structured into integrated Task
Forces that can draw on forces from all three Services. This reflects the cross-service
and inter-agency approach we are taking to address the cross-domain nature of today’s
The Island Defence Task Force carries out peacetime security operations such as the
protection of key installations, Jurong Island and Changi Airport. As I have mentioned
earlier, the Maritime Security Task Force works to protect Singapore against maritime
threats, and the Special Operations Task Force provides the SAF with an expanded
capacity to carry out counter-terrorism and other contingency operations to deal with
more than one event at the same time. Where operationally relevant, the Task Forces
also work closely with Homefront and other government agencies like the Maritime and
Port Authority, Singapore Customs and other agencies to help to keep Singapore safe.
These organisational changes have given us a strengthened capability to respond to
more sophisticated security threats to Singapore.
Our People: The Vital Building Block
The third building block of the 3rd Generation SAF is developing our people. We
recognise that our people are the key resource that will enable us to realise our
transformation efforts. This means we have to attract and retain the best people, which
Dr Maliki Osman asked about.
With this in mind the SAF conducted a fundamental review of the SAF career schemes
to better match the increasingly complex demands of the 3rd Generation SAF with the
needs and aspirations of our servicemen. The SAF’s new career schemes will allow the
SAF to attract, retain and groom people with the right values, motivation and abilities to
deal with current and future security challenges. Dr Ng will elaborate on these initiatives
later when he speaks.
Defence Spending & Investment in R&D
Steady and Prudent Approach to Defence Spending
Dr Maliki and Dr Lam asked about defence spending. Building effective defence
capabilities takes many years. The transformation of the SAF has been possible,
because of our steady and prudent long term approach to defence spending over the
years. The government policy on defence spending and defence budget remains the
The SAF will continue to build its capability in a systematic, prudent and disciplined
fashion – selectively adding important new capabilities, through the most cost-effective
solutions; extending the lifespan of our current equipment by maintaining them well and
upgrading where possible; and investing in networks and technologies to serve as force
Dr Lam asked about defence R&D. We invest about 4% of our defence budget on
R&D. This is a necessary and important investment as the technologies we need may
not be available on the open market or those which are available may not fulfil our
requirements. We have reaped healthy returns from this investment.
Our R&D efforts have led to the successful indigenous development of advanced
systems such as the Pegasus Lightweight Howitzer, the Bronco All-Terrain Tracked
Carrier and the command and control systems of our frigates. These have received
widespread publicity and attracted the notice of professionals both locally and
internationally over the last year.
Our R&D efforts in the airborne area have also paid off. DSO started R&D into
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles about a decade ago. It worked towards developing a man-
portable mini tactical UAV called the Skyblade whose primary mission is to support
Army battalion operations. These UAVs provide the battalion with real-time video
images of its area of operations, including those areas on the “other side of the hill”,
which you cannot see by direct observation.
Development of such mini-UAVs was technically very challenging as all the subsystems
had to be small and light-weight yet robust and reliable. DSO engineers had to work on
a design, within a very tight weight budget, that would include optical devices with
sufficient resolution, pointing accuracy and stabilisation so that it can deliver clear video
imagery. A miniaturised communications data-link had to be incorporated to transmit the
video back in real-time to the users. The mini-UAV also needed a good engine and a
high-capacity battery pack for meaningful mission time and range, and a non-trivial
problem - it had to be robust enough to survive repeated take-offs and landings in the
field and in very rough conditions.
After extensive trials and evolution, the design was refined and transferred to ST
Engineering to produce the Skyblade III. ST Engineering then developed the production
model successfully, and these UAVs are now being fielded in the Army.
Following this success, R&D on UAVs is continuing with the development of a 60 kg
class of tactical UAV called Skyblade IV, for use at the brigade level.
Research is also ongoing with industry partners to develop unmanned underwater
vehicles for underwater surveillance and mine counter-measures. We are also looking
at ground robots. These programmes illustrate the pay-offs from the investments from
DSO’s R&D capabilities which are a key part of the SAF’s 3rd Generation transformation.
The Importance of Defence
Sir, the ability to defend Singapore forms the basis of our existence as an independent
nation. It is for this reason that we have invested steadily in defence, and are continuing
to build a 3rd Generation SAF capable of safeguarding our sovereignty and vital
interests for many years to come. The effectiveness of the SAF depends ultimately on
our men and women – both in-service personnel and National Servicemen. At the same
time, our defence also rests on the resolve and determination of all Singaporeans to
defend what is ours, and our support for the men and women in uniform.
Dr Ng will now elaborate on our Human Resource, National Service, and training
initiatives to bring out the best in our people. And Prof Koo will later elaborate on our
wider public engagement initiatives to enhance Singaporeans’ commitment to defence.