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Defence in Singapore is a long-term commitment amid uncertain global climate: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister says more capabilities will be added in the coming decade, such as more F-35B fifth-generation fighter jets

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (left) said the Mindef will exercise its option to acquire a second tranche of eight F-35B fighter jets (right) by the end of the decade. (PHOTOS: YouTube/Mindef)
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (left) said the Mindef will exercise its option to acquire a second tranche of eight F-35B fighter jets (right) by the end of the decade. (PHOTOS: YouTube/Mindef)

SINGAPORE — Amid the uncertain global climate of rising protectionism and geopolitical conflicts and tensions, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Friday (24 February) that defence in Singapore is a long-term commitment that requires steady investment during goods times and peace.

Speaking in Parliament during his ministry's Committee of Supply debate, Dr Ng said that with Singapore being so reliant on external trade, the city-state will inevitably feel the effects of the current forces impeding globalisation - the increased vulnerability of supply chains, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the China-United States tensions.

"As Mr Lee Kuan Yew reminded us even in his later years, 'Without a strong SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), there is no economic future, there is no security'. That’s a hard truth that remains constant," he added.

"We need to remind ourselves constantly that investing steadily in defence is the more prudent and cost-effective strategy, especially during good times and peace. It’s not just the dollars spent, but the know-how, human capital, culture, and most important of all, the psychology and mental build-up of commanders and soldiers."

INFOGRAPHIC: Mindef
INFOGRAPHIC: Mindef

Mindef expenditure at just under $18 billion

In the coming financial year, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) projects an expenditure of just under $18 billion - an increase of 5.6 per cent from FY22.

Dr Ng said this is due to three reasons: inflationary pressures, catching up of projects deferred or disrupted due to COVID-19. and spending more on digital and other non-kinetic capabilities.

He added that his ministry will strive to keep the growth of Singapore’s defence budget to be in line with inflation for the next decade. with year-on-year growth to stabilise at 3 to 4 per cent.

More defence platforms and capabilities will be added in the next decade:

  • Mindef will exercise the option to acquire a second tranche of eight F-35B fifth-generation fighter jets, growing its incoming fleet to 12 by the end of the decade. This acquisition will support the progressive drawdown of the ageing F-16s, which are due to retire from the mid-2030s onwards. "Mindef and the SAF have concluded that the F-35 is the best choice to meet our defence needs now and in the future," said Dr Ng.

  • For the Navy, the first of its Invincible-class submarines is expected to return to home base after it completes sea trials. By the end of the decade, all four submarines will be operational around Singapore waters.

  • For the Army, the next-generation Howitzer and Armoured Tracked Carrier will be introduced, as well as more unmanned aerial and ground vehicles in the combat units.

  • For the newly set up Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), a new SAF digital range is set to be complete in 2026, and will contain virtual replicas of networks and systems to simulate a wider range of cyber-attacks.

Enhanced training capabilities

Dr Ng said the resolve of the Ukrainian people to protect their country against Russia's invasion shows that, while weaponry and fighting platforms are important, it is ultimately the fighting spirit of the people that will decide if they end up subjugated or sovereign.

To produce well-trained soldiers, Mindef has invested heavily in building the SAFTI City, with Phase One of the training infrastructure set to be completed next year, with a mix of high-rise buildings, low-rise residences, a bus interchange, and an underground MRT station. Buildings and roads can be re-configured such that soldiers can encounter a different layout each time they train at SAFTI City.

Surrounding SAFTI City will be three new Instrumented Battle Circuits (iBACs), which will simulate enemy fires such as artillery bombardment and air strikes to test operational instincts and tactical fundamentals.

The first circuit will be ready by this year, and the other two will be ready by early 2024. When they begin operation, up to 22,000 active and NS soldiers will use them every year as part of their training.

"The SAF is not large relatively, but all our Services operate modern, state-of-the-art platforms," Dr Ng said. "Together, they can prosecute campaigns to address a spectrum of security challenges."

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