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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Singapore Shows Off Its Arsenal, But ‘Secret’ Weapons Under Wraps

Wed, 9 Aug 2006, 01:44

Singapore will mount a major display of its military arsenal when it celebrates the 41st anniversary of its independence on Aug. 9, but defense officials say not all its lethal firepower is visible.

The rich city-state has for decades spent billions of dollars on hardware and imposed mandatory military training for all able-bodied young men to make its armed forces the most modern and well-equipped in Southeast Asia.

While much of the technology and hardware comes from overseas — including fighters, frigates and attack helicopters — Singapore also has its own “secret” conventional weapons under development, according to a senior defense ministry official.

”This is really the sharp end of our technology edge. This is important because Singapore is a very small country,” Quek Tong Boon, deputy secretary for technology and transformation at the ministry of defense, tells AFP in an exclusive interview.

While the defense ministry has publicized some of its locally-made armaments such as drone surveillance aircraft, artillery and robots designed for urban warfare, it is the fruits of confidential homegrown research that will keep potential enemies guessing.

”We lack strategic depth. We also lack natural resources. We can never take our defense and security for granted,” Quek says.

”We not only want to use technology as a force multiplier in terms of being able to do things more efficiently and more effectively, but we also want to build some secret system to offset our disadvantage.”

Technology’s value in ensuring battlefield superiority was displayed convincingly during the two Gulf Wars in which U.S. forces showcased a range of precision-guided weapons.

With just 697 square kilometers (279 square miles) of land area and a population of 3.6 million citizens and permanent residents, Singapore was once dismissed by the former Indonesian president B.J. Habibie as a “little red dot” on the map, although ties with Jakarta have since improved.

Southeast Asia’s most economically advanced nation has not disputed the moniker, but made it clear that any aggressor will pay a heavy price.
Quek declines to discuss the undisclosed homegrown weapons in detail, saying “it has to remain a secret”, and will not say how powerful they are.

”These are things we think we can’t even get from the open market. Nobody would want to sell to U.S. ... We’ve been undertaking defense research and development for more than 30 years already. It’s something that takes a long, long time,” Quek says.

Singapore has adopted a pragmatic approach in meeting its defense needs.

In addition to regular purchases from the international market, it upgrades existing equipment and uses local talent, through a network of autonomous research laboratories and industry partners, to develop what it cannot buy.

”We are too small to be self-sufficient,” Quek says. “So we look at the market. If nobody else could sell U.S. what we want, we don’t have a choice but do local development.”
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