SAF to set up fourth arm to deal with cyber and other threats: Ng Eng Hen

·Senior Editor
·3-min read
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SINGAPORE — A fourth arm of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), alongside the army, navy and air force, will be established to enable the SAF to deal with a spectrum of security threats, including those from the digital domain.

The Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS) will consolidate the SAF's cyber defence and Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) assets, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Wednesday (2 March). It is expected to be set up by the fourth quarter of 2022.

The DIS will retain and continue to provide early warning and operational intelligence, and advance C4 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 networks and systems, and psychological defence to strengthen servicemen’s commitment and resilience in operations.

Speaking during the Committee of Supply (COS) debate, Dr Ng told the House that the DIS should not and cannot be just like the army, air force and navy, with similar troops operating in the digital domain, instead of the physical domain.

He added that the training and force structure in the DIS will be different. "The nature of the digital domain and threats therein require different skill sets, missions, mindsets - what we call tactics, techniques and procedures."

Different and varied skill sets needed

The move to set up DIS will allow the SAF to better train and fight as a networked and integrated force to deal with the spectrum of external threats that will continue to increase over time, said a Mindef statement.

At the same time, the new service 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.

Having a Service status for DIS will also enhance professional development, recruitment and career prospects considerably, said Dr Ng.

Technology, especially related to IT and communications, will play a big role for the DIS. But Dr Ng added that it will also require a force with specialisations not only in core IT areas and comms but in diverse areas.

These include data science, psychology, linguistics, anthropology and geography that will help them understand the motivation and means in which orchestrators state and non-state groups aim to harm Singapore.

Evolution of digital capabilities

Since its establishment in 2012, the C4I community has gradually evolved and participated in a myriad of SAF operations, such as the deployment of imagery analysis teams to the Middle East in 2015.

In 2017, the Defence Cyber Organisation (DCO) was formed to lead and coordinate Mindef and SAF’s cybersecurity efforts across the defence clusters. DCO also worked closely with the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) to provide cyber expertise and resources to support response and recovery operations in the event of a national crisis.

In 2018, the Cyber NSF scheme, which trains full-time National Servicemen to deal with cyber threats, was also introduced. This was followed a year later by the C4 Expert vocation, which recruits regulars to specialise in military cyber operations.

Meanwhile, Dr Ng revealed that with a planned resumption of both projects and training to pre-COVID levels in the coming financial year, Mindef is projecting an expenditure of $16.3 billion.

This translates to an increase of 6.5 per cent, which is expected to be one-off and a catch up for the reduced spending for FY 2020.

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