SINGAPORE — The Singapore Armed Forces will establish a new Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS) by the fourth quarter of this year to address emerging threats in the digital domain.
The service will be the SAF’s fourth service alongside the existing Army, Navy and Air Force.
“The digital terrain has become as real as the land, air and sea domains for which we have raised the Army, the Air Force and the Navy,” said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday (March 2) during the parliamentary debate of his ministry’s budget.
Dr Ng said that there have been clear examples of countries or non-state entities such as terrorist groups which use a combination of attacks through both digital and physical domains.
“Even now, we are witnessing with our own eyes that kind of campaign in Ukraine,” he added, referring to Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) explained that the DIS will be tasked with providing “accurate, relevant and timely early warning and operational intelligence” as well as to advance command connectivity for the SAF to operate as a “networked force”.
“It will also be responsible for digital defence of the SAF through cyberdefence and electronic protection of our networks and systems, and psychological defence to strengthen our servicemen’s commitment and resilience in operations,” Mindef said.
The creation of the new service comes as the digital domain has grown into a full-fledged arena of conflict and contestation, with digital threats against Singapore’s defence continuing to grow in scale, sophistication and organisation, the ministry said.
It described the DIS as a “logical next step” to consolidate its digital capabilities and better train and fight as a networked and integrated force.
The DIS will also have the dedicated focus to realise the full potential of emerging digital technologies such as cloud, data science and artificial intelligence, said Mindef.
Having the status as a service on par with the land, sea and air services will also allow DIS to grow its workforce by enhancing professional development, recruitment and career prospects considerably, Mindef added.
Over the past decade, Mindef and the SAF have been building up their capacities in C4I (command, control, communications and computers and intelligence) and the digital realm.
In April 2012, it inaugurated the C4I community to bring together units and personnel from across the SAF, including image analysts, unmanned aerial vehicle operators, communications operators and naval intelligence analysts.
This community has since become involved in various SAF operations, including the deployment of imagery analysis teams to the Middle East in 2015 as part of the counter-Isis (Islamic State) coalition.
In 2017, the Defence Cyber Organisation (DCO) was formed to lead and coordinate Mindef and the SAF’s cybersecurity efforts, working closely with the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore to provide cyberexpertise and resources to support response and recovery operations in the event of a national crisis.
Later that year, a C4 Command was inaugurated to coordinate and implement C4 and cyberdefence operations and capabilities.
In 2018, the Cyber NSF scheme was launched to tap full-time national servicemen as cyberoperators and cyberspecialists.
The C4 Expert vocation was launched in 2019 to attract and develop both military and non-uniformed cybersecurity professionals to take up roles in the SAF’s cyberentities.
Dr Ng said that the DCO has been building up a force to deal with digital threats from external aggressors, but that is not enough for the SAF’s expanding needs.
“Figuratively, if the digital force is now a battalion force, we actually need a few brigades, perhaps even a division-size force.”