Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Parliament passes laws to establish SAF’s Digital and Intelligence Service

SINGAPORE — The Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), the fourth service wing of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), will aim to compete with other major organisations for talent, so that it is “on par with the army, navy and air force” and provides an attractive workplace, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said.

 

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Aug 2, 2022.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Aug 2, 2022.

  • The DIS was set up after amendments to the Singapore Armed Forces and Other Matters Bill was passed in Parliament
  • It will be the fourth service that defends the digital domain after the three armed forces of land, sea and air
  • MPs raised issues such as recruitment in the face of fierce competition from tech firms and startups, measures to prevent abuse of the law and inter-agency cooperation
  • WP MPs voted in favour of the main enabling legislation, but voted against the related Constitution Amendment Bill “as a matter of principle”

SINGAPORE — The Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), the fourth service wing of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), will aim to compete with other major organisations for talent, so that it is “on par with the army, navy and air force” and provides an attractive workplace, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said.

But beyond providing job security, a good working environment and advancement opportunities, Dr Ng noted that working for this fourth service wing "serves a higher calling, and it must also bring in people with the right values and commitment and a mission mindset".

Acknowledging that manpower is “a serious challenge” for the DIS, the minister said in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 2) that he will also study proposals raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) seriously. 

The new service, which will defend the digital domain, was set up after amendments to the Singapore Armed Forces and Other Matters Bill were passed by the House on Tuesday. 

It was passed alongside the Constitution Amendment Bill, which allows the president of Singapore to exercise her discretionary powers in the appointment of the new chief of the DIS. 

Mr Alex Yam, a Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP, was among those to raise questions about how SAF will tackle manpower issues. 

He questioned if SAF can compete with the benefits and remuneration offered by major technology firms. 

Similarly, Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo said that the key difference between joining the DIS and private firms would be the mission of serving the nation, but wages are a key factor that must be addressed given the intense competition from big tech firms and startups. 

Responding to their concerns, Dr Ng said that forming a formal fourth service “is the best footing” for the DIS to attract the right type of people it needs, by providing new entrants and existing employees with career paths and progression on par with the other three traditional services. 

Dr Ng said that there will also be a dedicated digital vocation that will develop experts in competencies such as software engineering and data science. Compensation will also be benchmarked against industry norms and reviewed regularly.

PREVENTION OF ABUSE

Some MPs asked whether the DIS would have sufficient safeguards against abuses of its powers and capabilities. 

Mr Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon GRC, wondered how the DIS might intrude on civilian life. 

“Because its powers are so extensive, there will be concerns that in its mission to defend Singapore’s national security, the DIS may track the lives and activities of average Singaporeans, even when there is no clear and significant security purpose,” he said. 

In response, Dr Ng said that there will be “rules of engagement” for the new service, which the SAF also applies to its troops in civilian settings, and that the DIS will be “primarily external-facing”.

Citing the example of troops being deployed to Changi Airport and Jurong Island to deal with terrorist attacks, the rules are spelt out “ex ante”, which refers to preparation before an event, to reduce risk of abuse. 

WORKING WITH OTHER AGENCIES

Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, said that the DIS cannot operate in a silo and must “integrate in the whole-of-nation approach” to combat digital and information threats.  

Similarly, Mr Henry Kwek, MP for Kebun Baru, cited the example of how the United States National Security Agency was unwilling to share its expertise and full knowledge with the US Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of cyber defence. 

He said: “Singapore is too small a country to afford the luxury of turf wars. So I hope we bear that in mind as we have a fourth service.” 

Referring to other agencies working with each other to counter terrorism or digital threats, Dr Ng said that inter-agency coordination already exists and DIS is not starting “on a blank sheet”.

The Digital Ops-Tech Centre, which is the command centre for the DIS, will provide an environment for digital training and host bilateral and multilateral exercises to bring together militaries, industry and academia to share best practices and insights. 

The centre, as well as a new digital training and simulation range, will provide the foundation for the DIS to hone and contribute its digital defence capabilities alongside the Home Team and Cyber Security Agency, he added.

SAF TRAINING

The amendments to the Bill also permit SAF to carry out military manoeuvres in catchment areas with the approval of PUB, the national water agency. 

Some MPs, including Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang) expressed concern over the environmental impact that military manoeuvres could have on the biodiversity in catchment areas. They asked if there were ways that SAF could minimise the impact of its activities on the environment.

Dr Ng said that there are “strict guidelines” that protect the water and biodiversity in these areas.

However, he also asked the House to “bear in mind” that SAF has very limited land on which to train, even as MPs push to protect biodiversity in catchment areas. 

WP OPPOSES CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT BILL

While MPs from the Workers' Party (WP) voted in favour of the Singapore Armed Forces and Other Matters Bill, they voted against the Constitution Amendment Bill “as a matter of principle”. 

The law allows Singapore's president to exercise discretionary powers in the appointment of the new chief of the DIS, in the same way that the president does in the appointment of the chiefs of the air force, army and navy. 

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said that WP has “no fundamental objection” to this newly established role of DIS chief, but did not agree on the president having the discretionary powers to veto such an appointment. 

He said that the opposition party had in 2016 “advocated returning the elected presidency to its original form to an appointed office without blocking powers”.

“This would enable the president to focus on being a unifying figure for the nation, rather than having any confrontational role, vis a vis the elected government,” he added.

“In view of the Workers' Party's position on the elected presidency, we will vote against the Constitution Amendment Bill as a matter of principle.” 

This thus led to a division in Parliament, where a vote had to be taken to ascertain that the Bill was supported by the requisite level of at least two-thirds of the elected and Non-Constituency MPs should the Bill involve changes to the Constitution. 

After the vote was taken, 75 MPs had voted in favour of the Bill, and eight MPs had voted against it. As the Bill was supported by more than two-thirds of Parliament, it was passed. 

Related topics

SAF digital security DIS Ng Eng Hen Mindef defence manpower Parliament WP

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.