SINGAPORE — With technological advances changing the face of warfare, militaries need to seek out new partnerships with commercial firms that have expertise in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, data science and cognitive computing, said Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary Ng Chee Khern yesterday.
Speaking at the International Naval Engineering Conference, Mr Ng, who oversees defence development, noted that warfare is no longer limited by geography or hardware.
A cyber attack, for instance, can simultaneously impact systems across land, sea, air and space, and ad-versaries can come from anywhere.
He added that battle dominance has shifted from one that is hardware-based to one that is likely software-based, and companies such as Google, Amazon and Tesla have driven the foray into these technologies “at a fervent pace”.
Rather than keep within the silos of the defence eco-system in developing defence solutions, Mr Ng said militaries need to build new relationships with commercial firms “to keep a good pulse of these technologies”.
One way could be for the military to provide test-beds for their technologies, similar to how nuTonomy is testing out driverless technology at one-north under a partnership with the Land Transport Authority.
He cited the Navy’s Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) programme as an example of how test-beds were used to work out new operating concepts. The System of Systems Integration Laboratory pioneered the use of cognitive task analysis, and modelling and simulation to test out new concepts in bridge operations, integrating automation with workflow arrangements in order to figure out the optimal level of crew manning, Mr Ng pointed out.
The first of eight LMVs was commissioned earlier this month by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The Defence Science Organisation National Laboratories also recently launched a complex for experimental laboratories, which has dedicated facilities to experiment artificial intelligence and robotics, Mr Ng cited.
Small groups of scientists and engineers from different domain expertise work together at these labs to form ideas to shape the next generation Singapore Armed Forces, he noted.
“Equipped with the right tools and infrastructure, having such small group set-ups are ideal as they build on the nimbleness required to facilitate quick exchange of ideas and co-development of solutions,” he added.
But Mr Ng acknowledged that the military’s “rigorous but often slow and lengthy capability development processes” may be a turnoff for companies to co-develop defence solutions. He stressed that it is important for militaries to “accept failures as a necessary condition for success”.
He added: “It is important to create a ‘fail-fast, learn-fast’ environment for the defence community to learn from past failures, and quickly build on them to shake out the right solutions sets.”
Mr Ng also said that militaries should be looking for local small and medium enterprises that could be developing the next big thing.
“Here we could quickly latch on to their ready expertise to co-develop solutions, particularly in non-sensitive areas,” said Mr Ng.