Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Defence how is the SAF adding anti-terror operations to their priority, in addition to securing Singapore's sovereignty.

Dr Ng Eng Hen: Madam Speaker, the terrorism threat to Singapore remains the highest in recent times. While we do not have any specific intelligence on any impending plot targeted at Singapore, the number of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-related attacks in surrounding Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) cities and other regions, since 2013, has increased three-fold in the last four years. Both Al-Qaeda and ISIS-related terrorists have identified Singapore as a target, along with Malaysia and Indonesia. The ongoing Marawi crisis in southern Philippines indicates that extremist terrorism is now endemic in this region and it may take many years before that security problem is rooted out. Foreign fighters from countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Chechnya were reported to be fighting in Marawi and more are expected to join them, including return fighters from this region who are now in Iraq and Syria. Their stated goal is to establish a wilayat, or a province of the caliphate supported by global terrorist financing and networks. Stashes of weapons, ammunition and large amounts of cash amounting to millions of dollars have reportedly been discovered during raids of terrorist camps in Marawi. If these terrorist cells entrench deeper in Mindanao or any part of ASEAN, they will launch attacks against our people in Singapore and other cities in the region. We must do all we can to prevent this from happening, to keep Singaporeans safe.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) take this threat, this extremist threat, to Singapore and Singaporeans very seriously and we have been making changes to deal with it decisively at various levels. Let me elaborate. First, to counter the terrorism threat at its source. This requires an international effort and the SAF has been part of the coalition against jihadi terrorism. The SAF was in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2013 against Al-Qaeda, our longest overseas deployment to date, with close to 500 personnel deployed. Since 2015, the SAF has also deployed units as part of the multinational coalition efforts against ISIS. These deployments included Intelligence Fusion Officers, Imagery Analysts, (and) air-to-air refuelling tanker aircraft to various parts of the Middle East. Right now, we have an SAF medical team in Iraq as an on-going part of this effort.

Second, we need to deal with geographically proximate threats in our region. If we wait till the problem comes on our shores, for terrorists to attack us here before we respond, it will be too little, too late. For this reason, Singapore encouraged strongly the three littoral states - Malaysia, Indonesia, and (the) Philippines - to initiate the Trilateral Maritime Patrol in the Sulu Seas and offered the help of the Republic of Singapore Navy's Information Fusion Centre to facilitate information-sharing. The SAF stands ready to assist in these patrols when invited.

I visited the Philippines two weeks ago, where I thanked Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for their decisive action in Mindanao and Marawi. We discussed ways in which the SAF could help the AFP concretely, and Secretary Lorenzana has accepted in principle our offers of: one, humanitarian supplies for the evacuees from Marawi, this will be flown (in) via the Republic of Singapore Air Force's C-130 transport aircraft; two, the use of the SAF's urban training villages for AFP troops to be trained in counter-terror; and three, a detachment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to enhance the AFP's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. MINDEF has been informed that President (Rodrigo) Duterte has accepted in principle Singapore's offer of assistance. Details of the implementation are now being worked out.

Third, we must strengthen our defences at home. Not only to respond to terrorist attacks but to prevent radicalisation of our own people and deal with the social consequences in the aftermath of attacks. After 9/11, the SAF re-organised its capabilities. We set up four task forces dedicated to homeland security - the Special Operations Task Force, the Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF), the Air Defence Task Force (ADTF) and the Island Defence Task Force. Our sailors, soldiers and airmen in these task forces conduct 24/7 operations to keep our air, land and seas secure. In recent years, in responding to the evolving threat from ISIS-related terrorists, further changes have been made to equip and train many more SAF personnel to deal with these threats effectively.

The Island Defence Training Institute (IDTI) was opened yesterday, by Second Minister (for Defence Mr) Ong Ye Kung. And the IDTI will prepare active and National Service (NS) units to undertake Homeland Defence and Security Operations. It will equip soldiers with the necessary competencies to be deployed alongside their counterparts from the Ministry of Home Affairs. From July this year, the IDTI will train approximately 18,000 soldiers from active and NS units yearly in homeland security operations. Soldiers will go through video simulation training to hone their thinking processes and applications of Rules of Engagement, which includes scenarios such as coastal patrols, security checkpoints and the like.

Beyond these organisational changes, the SAF has also systematically updated its tactics, techniques and procedures for counter-terrorism operations. We are now purchasing more new equipment that will provide SAF forces better mobility, more accurate situational assessments and precise capabilities to neutralise terrorists in urban settings when they strike there. Our soldiers will use more unmanned systems to improve surveillance and responses.

The SAF will also enhance our air and sea defences. The ADTF stays sharp with regular Exercise Vigilance exercises and drills. The Singapore Navy's MSTF will lead Exercise Highcrest in October this year, with the participation of Whole-of-Government agencies.

The SAF and (the) Home Team are working well together and closer to deal with the terrorism threat. We have instituted a regular exercise framework to test and validate our joint operations. One example is the joint counter-terrorism exercise which aims to validate joint counter-terrorism plans in October last year.

Lastly, the Defence Technology Community has set up a dedicated Counter-Terrorism office in the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) in October last year. That effort is already bearing fruit. Joint operations between the SAF and the Home Team are now enabled by a common Command and Control Information System, which provides situational awareness and interoperability. Engineers from DSTA and DSO National Laboratories are using data analytics technologies to pick up specific threats and provide early warning.

Thank you, Madam.

Source: Ministry Of Defence