Defence Technology: Building A National Capability
Through Global And Local Partnerships
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be here today to officiate at the launch of Temasek Laboratories. Today's ceremony marks a significant milestone in MINDEF's efforts to strengthen Singapore's defence technology capability.
Where We Are Today
Our efforts in defence technology have come a long way. They mirror our efforts to build up the SAF, virtually from scratch, into a credible deterrent force.
Shortly after independence, the Government concluded that we could not afford the ruinous expense of a standing defence force. Instead, we opted for a national service system. In those days, the leadership saw that it had two responsibilities towards its national servicemen. The first responsibility was to ensure that they were properly trained. The second was to ensure that they were properly equipped.
These responsibilities continue to underpin defence policy and planning to this day. It will be wilful negligence if the Government does not discharge either of these responsibilities. Firstly, only a properly trained and equipped SAF can protect Singapore's sovereignty and territorial integrity against external threats. Secondly, if ever our citizen soldiers have to go to war, they must go in full confidence that they have been equipped with the best weapons and systems that the nation can afford to ensure success in battle and to maximise their protection and survival.
The mission of Temasek Laboratories is to conduct research into selected areas of science and technology critical to Singapore's defence and security. The formation of Temasek Laboratories will tap onto NUS' strength and resources to enhance the defence R&D of Singapore. Temasek Laboratories also serves to consolidate all defence technology R&D efforts from MINDEF, DSTA and NUS.
A strong capability in defence technology is critical to discharging these twin responsibilities. Moreover, as a small country, technology helps the SAF to overcome our constraints in manpower and resources. Technology acts as a force multiplier by enhancing the capabilities and fire power of the SAF.
MINDEF is committed to give the SAF a strategic technological edge. Reflecting this commitment has been a steady and significant investment of resources, almost from day one, to develop an indigenous defence technology capability to support the SAF. Towards this end, we have adopted three key thrusts.
The first thrust was to develop our local defence industry to provide for the basic needs of the SAF. One of our earliest initiatives was to set up Chartered Industries of Singapore to manufacture M-16 rifles and ammunition under license. From this modest start, our local defence industry has developed a diversified range of capabilities. Today, Singapore Technologies companies undertake activities ranging from manufacture to the full life cycle support of weapons and equipment for the SAF, and from upgrading to the full development of advanced weapon systems.
The second thrust was to build up a pool of engineering and scientific talent that could form the nucleus of our engineering and R&D efforts. In fact, in Singapore today, outside the universities, MINDEF and the DSTA probably provide the largest number of postgraduate scholarships in science and engineering at the Masters and PhD levels.
The third thrust was to develop our capability in R&D. In 1977, we brought together various research and engineering elements within MINDEF to form the Defence Science Organisation to undertake R&D into strategically critical areas such as electronic warfare, information security and guided systems. The growing importance of DSO's work led to its corporatisation in 1997 as DSO National Laboratories. Corporatisation has given DSO important flexibilities to develop collaborative links with local and overseas research establishments.
Today, these three thrusts remain the basis for developing capabilities across the entire value chain of defence technology, covering acquisition, maintenance, design, manufacturing and production, upgrading and R&D. And to strengthen these efforts particularly in technology acquisition and management, the Defence Technology Group was restructured in April this year, with the establishment of a new statutory board, the Defence Science and Technology Agency.
Through these efforts, we have developed the capability to fully modernise and upgrade our equipment, such as our M-113s, A-4 Skyhawks, the F-5Es and even the sophisticated E-2C Hawkeyes. By extending the life spans of our equipment, rather than replacing them, we have been able to enjoy substantial savings while improving their operational capability.
At the same time, through these projects, our engineers and scientists have developed core competencies in key areas of defence technology. Over the years, they have matured and grown in confidence. We have been able to go beyond simple upgrades and have developed the capability to design and build our own equipment such as the FH2000 155mm gun howitzer, the Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the Endurance Class LSTs, and the SAR 21 assault rifle.
I should stress that all these weapon systems were developed to meet the SAF's needs, and not to boost the bottom-line of our defence industry. If these systems find buyers overseas, then it is a bonus. When indigenous products like the Bionix become serious contenders for contracts in advanced armed forces, it is not just a reflection of how far defence industry has progressed. More importantly, it is a reflection of the increasingly complex demands that the SAF places on defence technology, demands that are no less sophisticated than the demands of other modern armed forces.
We will therefore continue to focus defence technology on enhancing the SAF's capabilities. However, there are two constraints. The first is our limited budget. This means that there is a limit to what we can afford and what we can do by ourselves. We will have to prioritise and focus our efforts. The second is our limited manpower, whether for R&D, project management or maintenance. This means that self-sufficiency in defence technology is not possible.
Instead, our approach towards defence technology is guided by the following principles:
First, we will buy whatever and whenever we can, off-the-shelf, to exploit the efficiencies of the market. We do not need to, and cannot always, buy state-of-art weapons. But we will be a smart buyer" and whenever necessary, we will improve and upgrade the equipment to enhance their performance to meet specific operational requirements.
Second, we will do our own R&D when there is a need to meet our own special requirements, and such systems or technology are not available to us. There will always be an "irreducible" minimum of investment in technology that Singapore needs to commit to stay ahead. That "irreducible" minimum sometimes requires MINDEF to invest in the development of systems that we know could become redundant, unnecessary or even obsolete in a few years time when others release them to the open market. But this is a price that we have to pay to develop and sustain our defence technology capability, and to stay ahead on the technology curve.
Third, we will build up our local defence industry infrastructure in areas that are most strategic to MINDEF and the SAF.
Fourth, we will work with R&D partners globally and locally, to help augment our capabilities.
Already, some 4% of our defence budget today is spent on R&D, compared to about 1% ten years ago. And this excludes the money spent on development of upgrade programmes and indigenous systems. DSO has more than 600 scientists and engineers, making it the single largest R&D organisation in Singapore. Clearly with more sophisticated weapon systems being introduced into the SAF, and the demands of modern warfare increasing in sophistication and complexity, the SAF's needs have grown beyond what DSO and our local defence industry can independently support. We increasingly have to depend on partnerships, locally and overseas, to meet our needs in defence technology.
Currently, we have collaborative R&D programmes with countries like Australia, France, Israel, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Reflecting the importance of these collaborative activities, we have established joint technology funds with France, Israel and Sweden.
Let me cite a few examples to illustrate the close partnership that we have established with our overseas friends.
Sweden helped us establish our capability in chemical defence R&D. In the late 80's and early 90's, our scientists worked in the Swedish Defence Research Establishment, or FOA, to gain experience and confidence in this new field. Today, DSO has a reputable chemical defence laboratory that participates in international inter-laboratory testing and undertakes research in detection, protection and decontamination of chemical agents. It is a vital foundation for developing a national chemical defence capability for Singapore.
We have collaborated with the US Navy in explosive storage technology, with the US Army and the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency in large-scale explosive testing, and with Sandia National Laboratories in the surety of underground ammunition storage. These separate efforts have collectively contributed to the design and development of our ammunition facilities at the new Changi Naval Base and underground at Mandai. By storing ammunition underground at Mandai, we will not only enhance survivability but also release valuable land for national development. Indeed, a lot of the work done in this area is pioneering, and today, NATO has adopted underground shock codes developed by the DSTA.
Our collaboration with France has increased significantly over the last few years. We are now their 3rd largest defence R&D partner after Germany and the UK. One key technology that we are collaborating with France is in stealth - the art and science of making military platforms less detectable by radars and sonars.
Our defence industry collaboration with our Israeli counterparts has enabled us to leapfrog into technologies such as electro-optics, training simulators and anti-tank missiles. In anti-tank missile technology for example, we collaborated with Israel to develop state-of-the-art anti-tank guided missile systems. These missile systems allow both fire-and-forget and fire-and-observe modes of operation. The fire-and-forget mode of operation employs sophisticated TV guidance technology and significantly increases the range of the missile. Designed to meet the SAF's requirements, these highly accurate missiles will provide SAF soldiers with the best possible all weather, day and night anti-tank protection.
As our defence technology needs increase, we will need to find new ways to strengthen our links with existing partners as well as to develop new partnerships. To facilitate this effort, we have established Defence Technology Offices in Paris and Washington to cover Europe and North America respectively.
But our own resource constraints dictate that we cannot collaborate with everyone. Our partners must possess complementary capabilities so that there is mutual benefit in the relationship. Although we cannot match our partners in the range and depth of their technological achievements, we have been able to contribute in niche areas where we have significant know-how and expertise.
Many of these collaborative projects are classified and so I cannot speak about them today. It is in the nature of defence technology that there will be many secrets. We and our collaborating partners both share and safeguard the technologies that we develop together in order to protect the strategic interests of both parties.
Temasek Laboratories: Even as we look abroad for sources of expertise, we also collaborate with our local universities and research institutes. Our local universities have provided a natural source of scientific and engineering talent and expertise. Our collaboration with the universities started as early as 1987. Many successful collaborative projects have been carried out with NUS, NTU and the Research Institutes.
In this regard, Temasek Laboratories is an important step in our drive to strengthen our linkages, and to develop new ones, with our global and local partners. Temasek Laboratories will bring together the many collaborative activities between MINDEF and NUS within a single organisational framework. It will give focus to defence technology R&D in NUS and will facilitate the broadening and deepening of the cooperation between the university and MINDEF.
The Laboratories' director, Professor Lim Hock, is no stranger to our efforts to develop a strong defence technology capability. He headed the first laboratory that did defence-related work for MINDEF. Under his leadership, I am confident that Temasek Laboratories will evolve into a third pillar of our national defence technology infrastructure, complementing the work of DSO and the defence industry in harnessing the potential of science and technology to enhance the security and defence of Singapore.
It is thus with great pleasure that I congratulate NUS and DSTA on achieving this milestone event of establishing the Temasek Laboratories. Temasek Laboratories will be an important symbol of how we are going about building a national capability in defence technology through global and local partnerships.