The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is considering buying a Joint Multi-Mission Ship (JMMS) — a larger ship compared with the Land Ship Tanks (LSTs) on the SAF’s books — that will enable it to send more helicopters to crisis-hit areas.
Revealing this in a media interview last week to mark SAF Day today, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen noted an increasing recognition by militaries around the world, including the SAF, that “in specific circumstances, the military is an organisation which, if it can, can step forward to help”.
Citing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as clear examples, he said: “We know that the responsibility falls squarely on the SAF to protect Singapore, that we are very clear. But beyond that, we recognise that there are increasing demands for what we call expanded operations … During the haze, the SAF also stepped forward to distribute masks.”
He said the SAF’s experience in helping with relief efforts for Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in November last year and reportedly killed thousands of people, underscored the need for a JMMS, which has greater capacity and longer range than the LST. The latter can carry two Super Puma helicopters or one Chinook.
“The typhoon was so devastating that … communications were knocked out. There was no centralised ability for command and control for the air space. And in that context, a ship such as the JMMS would be very useful,” said Dr Ng.
The Ministry of Defence is in the final legs of evaluating what is required for such a ship, said Dr Ng.
In April, Singapore offered to host a regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief coordination centre at its Changi Command and Control (C2) Centre. Dr Ng said that since then, several countries have expressed support for the proposal.
“A number of military chiefs have visited our Changi Command and Control Centre. They feel that it’s an idea that meets the needs of the times and I would say we are working out the mechanics,” he said.
In the meantime, the Republic is actively seeking to build networks with other militaries and also civilian groups such as voluntary welfare organisations and United Nations agencies.
Stressing that no single country will have all the resources to cope with a catastrophe, Dr Ng said: “Part of building the networks is cultivation of relationships, knowing where your resources can be or where they can be pre-positioned, and who is available to be activated … Obviously, the affected country must agree to the help but once it does, then we can move.”
Another area that the SAF is working on is beefing up cyber defence, which will have an increasingly large impact on the Republic’s defence operations, Dr Ng said.
The SAF is ramping up its hiring, training and deployment of officers in this area.
“I would say that all countries are grappling with this because we recognise that it is a new frontier that can have an impact sometimes equivalent, sometimes even more than, the physical terrain. So if your networks are knocked out, for example, it can have security implications and that is something that we take very seriously,” said Dr Ng.