Year 2022
March 2022

Army, air force, navy and soon, digital and intelligence: SAF to launch 4th service to deal with new threats

March 02, 2022
By Aqil Haziq Mahmud

The cyber NSF scheme, launched in 2018 to let full-time national servicemen be deployed in cyber roles critical for Singapore’s defence, will come under the Digital and Intelligence Service. (Photo: MINDEF)

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will launch a fourth service by the last quarter of this year to more tightly integrate its capabilities in dealing with a spectrum of security threats, including those from the digital domain.

The Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS) will continue to provide accurate, relevant and timely early warning and operational intelligence, as well as advance C4 (command, control, communications, computers) connectivity for the SAF to operate as a “networked” force.

“It will also be responsible for digital defence of the SAF through cyber defence and electronic protection of our networks and systems, and psychological defence to strengthen our servicemen’s commitment and resilience in operations,” the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said in a factsheet on Wednesday (Mar 2).

“At the same time, the DIS will have the dedicated focus to realise the full potential of emerging digital technology such as cloud, data science and artificial intelligence. This will accelerate the SAF’s next-generation transformation efforts.”

The formation of DIS is in line with the SAF’s vision of being a next-generation defence force by 2040, which MINDEF said will be stronger, leaner, more flexible and digitally transformed.

“The digital domain has grown into a full-fledged arena of conflict and contestation. Digital threats that emanate in the digital domain can readily impact events in the physical world,” MINDEF said.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament on Wednesday that physical and virtual security are “intricately interwoven”, pointing to how Ukraine has been fighting cyberattacks even before the invasion by Russia.

“Fortunately, our intelligence sources have not identified such orchestrated attempts to subvert or subjugate Singapore using hybrid means,” he said during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate.

“But that does not mean the threat will never come, so I think we best prepare now with a longer runway.”

The DIS is an evolution of the SAF’s C4I community – including C4 experts, military intelligence experts, and those under the cyber full-time national servicemen (NSF) scheme – combined with its Defence Cyber Organisation.

Since its inauguration in 2012, the C4I community has been involved in a number of SAF operations, including the deployment of imagery analysis teams to the Middle East in 2015.

In 2017, the Defence Cyber Organisation was formed to lead and coordinate MINDEF’s and SAF’s cybersecurity efforts across the defence clusters.

To further bolster efforts to develop a world-class cyber C4I workforce, the cyber NSF scheme and C4 expert vocation were later introduced in 2018 and 2019 respectively, MINDEF said.

“The formation of a new service for the C4I community will greatly faciliitate their mission focus, sharpen direct responsibility and accountability, and capability development,” Dr Ng said.

“The human resource is particularly important for the intelligence services, and having a service status, just like army, navy and air force will enhance recruitment and career prospects considerably.”

Dr Ng said the SAF envisages that the type of soldier who will be recruited for DIS, including their training and force structure, will be different, although these soldiers must also adhere to SAF’s core values and the commitment to enhance Singapore’s peace and security.

“Technology, especially related to IT and communications, will play a big role for the DIS,” he added.

“But it will also require a force with specialisations not only in core IT areas and comms, but in diverse areas including data science, psychology, linguistics, anthropology and geography, that will help them understand the motivation and means in which orchestrated state and non-state groups aim to harm Singapore.”

The DIS will have NSFs, but there are no details yet on potentially new uniforms or insignia.


MINDEF also revealed on Wednesday that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has bought the Orbiter 4 Close-Range Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (CR-UAV) to boost SAF’s air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The new CR-UAV improves operational flexibility with its lower “logistical footprint”, as well as its ability to take off without a runway and be deployed and set up in a shorter span of time, MINDEF said.

The CR-UAV is manufactured by Israel-based drone specialist Aeronautics Group, and can simultaneously carry multiple payloads including electro-optical and infrared sensors or laser target designators.

RSAF has bought the Orbiter 4 unmanned aerial vehicle to improve air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. (Photo: MINDEF)

This comes after RSAF chief Major-General Kelvin Khong said in a written interview on Feb 14 that the air force will provide more information on its UAV renewal plan when ready.

He said the RSAF has validated the concept of pairing smaller UAVs with its larger Heron-1 UAVs to improve situational awareness on the battlefield.

MINDEF said on Wednesday that the new CR-UAV will complement RSAF’s existing fleet of UAVs, and provide the SAF and security forces with improved ground situational awareness to better protect Singapore from threats across peacetime to wartime operations.

“With its smaller size, capable sensor and increased portability, the Orbiter 4 CR-UAV can operate within a wide range of operating environments, including urbanised and confined areas, to support security operations such as counter-terrorism and peacetime contingencies,” it said.

“The Orbiter 4 can be employed independently or collaboratively with the existing fleet of larger UAVs for scanning of the battlefield from different altitudes, providing both a bird’s eye view of the battlefield from a higher altitude and conducting in-depth surveillance of specific areas from a lower altitude.”

Also as part of SAF’s 2040 vision, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) will upgrade its six Formidable-class frigates to ensure they retain the capability and flexibility to meet evolving operational demands.

The stealth warships have been in service for the past 15 years, and there is no timeline yet on when their mid-life upgrades will be completed.

“Since the commissioning of the first frigate in 2007, the frigates have pushed the operating envelope for the RSN across all dimensions – air, surface and underwater – in the maritime domain,” MINDEF said.

The frigates’ command and control system will be upgraded to use improved sensors and latest developments in advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to detect and react faster to potential threats.

Their weapons systems will also be made more lethal and accurate, while their communication systems will be refreshed to increase the networking capacity between the frigates and the rest of the SAF.

The upgraded frigates will also have a fleet management system. “Information collected on the ships’ platform and combat systems health status will be collated and used for pre-emptive engineering actions, to enhance the frigates’ operational readiness,” MINDEF said.


Dr Ng also said MINDEF will increase its spending relative to the past two years, due to the resumption of acquisition projects, training and exercises that were disrupted by COVID-19.

For training, the SAF expects to increase numbers both locally and overseas to reach pre-COVID levels later this year, he said.

“In the coming financial year, we are projecting an expenditure of S$16.3 billion,” Dr Ng said, adding that this translates to an increase of 6.5 per cent. The increase is expected to be one-off and a catch-up for the reduced spending in financial years 2020 and 2021, he added.

“COVID-19 resulted in sharp dips and spikes but over the next five years, MINDEF’s budget is expected to keep pace with inflation, or 3 to 4 per cent nominal growth each year, which I have assured this House previously,” he stated.

Source: CNA/hz
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