Addenda to President's Address: Defence and Home Affairs ministries to boost capabilities for longer term while tackling Covid-19

SINGAPORE – Even as they spend significant resources on battling the coronavirus, the ministries in charge of Singapore’s security will press on with building up capabilities for the longer term, including tapping technology and investing in servicemen.

And while the welfare of Singaporeans overseas continues to be one of the priorities, strengthening the country’s ties with foreign partners will maintain critical supply links and secure access to Covid-19 vaccines when they become available.

These priorities were outlined by the ministries of Defence, Home and Foreign Affairs on Thursday (Aug 27) in their addenda to the President’s Address.

The Defence and Home Affairs ministries pointed to significant threats and challenges ahead, such as cyber attacks, terrorism, foreign interference in domestic politics, and transnational crimes.

“The geopolitical environment and security landscape which we face is becoming more complex, and further exacerbated by disruptions and differences brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

The Singapore Armed Forces has not compromised on operational readiness despite Covid-19, and has resumed more training activities, as well as restarted overseas exercises, to sharpen its capability edge, he added.

Looking ahead, the next-generation SAF will make use of digitalisation, autonomous and unmanned systems, big data and artificial intelligence, he said.

But he stressed that national service remains the crucial backbone of Singapore’s defence.

The national service system will be enhanced to support the needs of a new generation of servicemen, and the National Service Review Committee established this year will look at ways to better match skills and experience to vocations and deployment.

Meanwhile, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam announced that a Safe Travel Office has been set up under the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to provide “a single touchpoint” for all travellers.

It was prompted by the steps the Government has been taking to reopen Singapore’s borders through various travel schemes.

The Safe Travel Office will provide coordination across the agencies involved in the various travel schemes, and make for an easier and smoother travel experience, he said in his ministry’s addendum.

The ministry will also strengthen capabilities to deal with emerging and evolving threats.

In terms of technology, it will develop more digital forensics capabilities to tackle technology crimes, and intensify the role of robots and unmanned aerial vehicles in search-and-rescue, fire-fighting and hazardous materials operations.

Mr Shanmugam also pledged to equip Home Team officers with skills and knowledge to meet future challenges.

Simulation training with realistic scenarios will be used to develop competencies in a safe environment, and there will be a career track to nurture uniformed officers grounded in operations and proficient in technology.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, in his ministry’s addendum, said Covid-19 has deeply affected overseas Singaporeans and their families. The ministry remains committed to helping them and doing its part to bring peace of mind to their families at home.

Other than looking after overseas Singaporeans, it has two other priorities.

One is to manage and strengthen ties with immediate neighbours, Asean and key regional and international partners. The other is to maintain Singapore’s relevance on the global stage and engage international partners in the collective fight against Covid-19.

“Maintaining and strengthening our relations with our immediate neighbours, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, is more critical than ever as we work to maintain supply chains for essential trade and overcome the longer-term socio-economic impact of the pandemic.”

Beyond South-east Asia, his ministry will explore new areas of cooperation, particularly to help Singapore secure early and adequate access to Covid-19 vaccines.

It is cooperating with the United States on areas such as cyber security and infrastructure funding, and working with China to expand cooperation in various areas, including public health.

As the country navigates through the choppy waters ahead, Dr Balakrishnan called on Singaporeans to stay strong and united.

“This will strengthen our credibility when we work with external partners to strengthen our bilateral relations, regional standing and international presence,” he said.

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