Speech by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Defence Technology Community 50 Dinner on 7 November 2016

Mr Goh Chok Tong

Emeritus Senior Minister

Dr Ng Eng Hen

Minister for Defence

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening.

In May last year, my wife and I joined you to honour pioneer members of the Defence Technology Community (DTC).  I am delighted to join you again tonight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the DTC. 

Over the past 50 years, the DTC has been a resolute partner of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), working hand-in-hand with the SAF to build a strong defence to underpin Singapore’s security. Through determination and innovation, the DTC has supported the creation of a modern armed force by providing the SAF with a technological fighting edge and ensuring that our defence capabilities are up to date.  

Today, the DTC stands at the forefront of scientific and engineering discovery. It is pushing the boundaries of exciting new fields, including advanced electronic systems, unmanned systems, robotics, sensors and information systems. This 5,000-strong community also contributes to the wider Government, innovating in areas such as transport, telecommunications, power supply systems, and even our cityscape in the iconic Marina Bay floating platform.

To have achieved so much in a short span of 50 years reflects the passion, abilities and enterprising spirit of our defence engineers and scientists. I congratulate the DTC for the significant contributions you have made to our nation’s defence.

DTC’s Journey:  From Early Years to the Present

The DTC journey is a mirror of the modernisation of the SAF. There are many notable milestones in this shared journey which are worth recounting, as they characterise the challenges we faced and the enterprising spirit of the DTC pioneers who overcame them.

When National Service (NS) was introduced in 1967, conscripts needed to be equipped with the most suitable and cost effective equipment. Our first defence engineers, the earliest members of the DTC, were from the Test, Evaluation and Acceptance Section of the Logistics Division in the Ministry of Interior and Defence. 

They had the difficult but important task of procuring equipment while balancing the need for operational effectiveness with financial prudence. Beyond basic equipping, the DTC needed to build a technological edge that would keep the SAF ahead of the curve.

Electronic warfare was where that edge began. The Defence Science Organisation (DSO) invested in research and development to develop the “secret edge”. They learnt from every platform available and translated those lessons into new capabilities. For example, learning from their experiences in developing the defence systems of the Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) missile gunboats in the earlier days, DSO was able to significantly improve the capabilities of the AGM-65A Maverick Missiles of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

In the early 80s to 90s as the SAF modernised, defence technology organisations of the early DTC, such as the Defence Material Organisation and the Defence Procurement Division worked closely with the SAF on the technological front. The combined efforts of these organisations and the SAF helped realise significant capability milestones, such as the RSN’s first squadron of missile corvettes with anti-submarine capabilities and the F-16 Fighting Falcons.

As the SAF embarked on a third Generation transformation journey, there was a shift towards networked systems, advanced sensors, precision munitions and electronic systems. In 2000, the various defence technology organisations were brought together to form the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), which has since delivered advanced platforms including the F-15SG multi-role aircraft, Leopard 2 main battle tanks and Littoral Mission Vessels.

Defence Technology Community in the Whole-of-Government

As leaders of science and technology in Singapore, the DTC has always set an example by supporting national initiatives where engineering and scientific expertise are needed. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, DSTA helped implement the Infrared Fever Sensing System, while DSO National Laboratories validated SARS diagnostic kits and conducted diagnosis of blood samples to facilitate detection. As Singapore looked for ways to make the most of our limited space, DTC also contributed to new frontiers in land use in Singapore. Our defence engineers and scientists pioneered new engineering methods to build the SAF Underground Ammunition Facility and subsequently shared their expertise in national projects like the Jurong Rock Caverns and the URA’s underground masterplan.

The National Maritime Security System, established in 2011, is one example of how DTC’s infrastructure and support bring national maritime security agencies together to detect, deter and respond effectively to maritime-based threats as early as possible.

DSTA’s National Security Programme Centre is another meaningful initiative that will coordinate counter-terrorism efforts for homeland security. To develop solutions that complement agencies such as the Smart Nation Programme Office, DSTA will also set up the National Engineering Programme Centre.

I am heartened that the DTC is looking at different ways to protect our critical defence systems against cyber threats, given the growing magnitude of this evolving security threat.  I am confident that the DTC will find broader applications for its cyber defence innovations, to support national initiatives. 

Launch of “Engineering Singapore’s Defence” – The Early Years

This evening, I am delighted to launch the commemorative book series, “Engineering Singapore’s Defence – The Early Years”, to commemorate the jubilee year of the DTC. The books trace the development of Singapore’s defence capabilities from its early days, and contains many stories of innovation and tenacity. I hope that these stories will bring back fond memories for many of you, and inspire new generations of engineers and scientists.

As we recount the numerous milestones in the DTC journey, we see how the DTC rose to the challenge, going above and beyond to serve the nation. The enterprising, “dare-to-do” spirit of our community is the core of the DTC’s enduring strength. I am confident that the DTC will continue to be a steadfast partner to the SAF and a pillar of Singapore’s science and engineering capability.  

I congratulate the DTC on 50 excellent years, and look forward to the innovations and contributions of the next generation of the DTC.

I wish everyone a pleasant evening. Thank you.