Defence to Singapore

Trends and opportunities

The Market

Singapore's defence philosophy is not predicated on an existing external threat, instead, defence expenditure is designed to enhance deterrence capability.

Singapore's defence budget (approx. $A13.86 billion for 2017/18 financial year, which is an increase of 2.7 per cent from previous FY) is capped at 6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually. Of these, $A13.28 billion or 95.8 per cent is for operating expenditure and the balance of $580 million or 4.2 per cent is for development expenditure.

Investments are made in:

  1. technology
  2. capital acquisition
  3. realistic training exercises

In these areas, defence technology is highly emphasised, and priority is given to this to offset Singapore's smaller population and geographical depth. The clear direction of Singapore's defence capability is towards advanced technology.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), under the purview of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), is structured to maximise firepower and sustainability, and is highly integrated e.g the army, navy and air force are linked via advanced data-links and networks to enable coordinated attacks and support for various units and forces. This is known in Singapore parlance as third generation network-centric warfare. MINDEF has a directorate known as the Future Systems Directorate, which is tasked to develop and implement future network-centric warfare capabilities and enhancing future battlefield command and control. Presently, the country has a standing force of approximately 71,000 active servicemen and women, and 1,386,000 million reservists.

For the SAF to fulfil its operational mission, it deploys the latest state-of-the-art defence systems, where feasible and cost-effective. However, new and sophisticated equipment is not always acquired. Where possible, old equipment is upgraded. The SAF is also developing new capabilities e.g heavy airlift support and high mobility all terrain infantry and logistics support capabilities. This has resulted in the acquisitions of the Boeing Chinook CH-47D helicopters and the indigenous development of the armoured infantry fighting vehicle, codenamed Terrex, for example.

The SAF has acquired in recent years the following platforms and weapons systems:

  1. Army – indigenous armoured infantry fighting vehicle (Terrex), land battle simulator, indigenous-built low recoil 120mm Super Rapid Advanced Mortar System, advanced combat man system (soldier of the future), remote weapons station and advanced weapon locating radar.
  2. Navy – stealth frigate, underwater mine disposal vehicle, landing ship tanker, littoral mission vessels.
  3. Air force – A330 Multi-role tanker transport, F-15 fighter aircraft, advanced lead-in jet trainers, airborne early warning surveillance aircraft.

The acquisition of these new systems by the SAF is supported by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and SGX-listed Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd (STE). DSTA was corporatised in April 2000 and its activities include:

  • acquisition of weapon systems
  • advising SAF on all defence science and technology matters
  • managing defence research and development
  • developing defence infrastructure
  • implementing defence technology policies and plans

DSTA is continually identifying promising technologies in line with SAF's long-term planning of their operational needs. Once the options are selected and are found to be feasible, this is then expanded into technical specifications, which leads to new systems or capabilities, either developed in-house or contracted out to external suppliers. It should be noted that the SAF is increasingly moving towards commercial-off-the-shelf products/systems for better cost management/control and for longer through-life support.

STE is a highly diversified government-owned company established to provide an in-country defence industrial capability, so that the SAF can be self-reliant in essential defence materials and facilities. Through industrial co-operation or joint ventures with overseas defence contractors, STE has developed a credible defence industrial base, covering air engineering products and services, shipbuilding and repairs, automotive/munitions and weapons manufacturing, and electronics/communications engineering.

Declining birth rates will result in the reduction of Singapore's national service intake. To counter the impact of this decline, the SAF focuses on:

  1. Leveraging technology to transform the SAF into the third generation networked-centric fighting force to enable ‘multiplier effect’ to its firepower.
  2. Being a more tightly integrated fighting force, comprising of smaller units but better equipped with enhanced firepower.
  3. Having increasingly better educated service personnel who will be able to handle more technologically-advanced weapon systems.
  4. Contracting out support capabilities such as catering and maintenance.
  5. Having an accelerated program of computerisation and automation.

The SAF will also have to adjust further to reduced operational areas, as land is diverted to other national development priorities. For example, the army's training area has shrunk from 200 square kilometers to about 70 square kilometers over the last decade.


As Singapore has limited labour resources, land, sea and air space, high technology systems and equipment are required to act as a ‘force-multiplier’ (ie. increase the firepower/personal protection) for the SAF. Emphasis is placed on developing or acquiring the following technologies to enhance this:

  • stand-off precision technology
  • protection technology
  • stealth technology
  • unmanned technology
  • superiority through information and communications
  • enhanced lift and endurance technology

Besides these, the SAF is also looking into harnessing higher firepower/personal protection per soldier. Simulators, advanced computer modelling, and computer-assisted wargame systems will be extensively used to compensate for the lack of training space.

The SAF is also looking into other areas such as:

Sensors, in particular:

  • low cost networked sensors
  • high fidelity location tracking (indoor/outdoor)
  • gunshot detection and localisation
  • lightweight and portable sensors

Energy, in particular:

  • Portable power systems
  • Advanced photovoltaic fuel cells and energy storage systems
  • Micro power sources
  • Self-sustaining energy systems

Communications, in particular:

  • Robust wireless communications
  • Cognitive radios
  • Secure and directed techniques
  • High bit-rate and low-bit error techniques

Technologies to enhance survivability, in particular:

  • Lightweight, flexible materials and designs
  • Signature and heat management techniques and materials

Robotics and unmanned technologies, in particular:

  • Guidance, navigation and control systems
  • Co-operative network-centric operations
  • Innovative and low cost systems

Information technologies, in particular:

  • Network security, efficiency and robustness
  • Data mining, cognitive computing and sense making
  • Planning and decision support
  • Modelling and information visualisation
  • 3D simulation and war gaming

Competitive environment

Singapore’s traditional defence sources for major assets e.g. missile systems, aircraft such as F-16/F-15 fighters, are mainly from USA, Europe and Israel.

Australia’s defence supply capabilities lies within niche technologies/services. Some of the ‘smart’ technologies include ship-launched Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), specialised services for military vehicles, remote weapons systems, ruggerdised field controllers for UAVs, military training infrastructure.

A strong Australia-Singapore defence relationship via numerous bilateral training arrangements and also expansion of the training base facilities in Australia through the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership helps provide visibility to Australian services and technology capabilities, which can give Australian providers the edge in a highly competitive industry sector.

Tariffs, regulations and customs

Singapore is virtually a free port, with no or very low tariffs on imported goods.

The only dutiable items are petroleum products, intoxicating liquors, motor vehicles and tobacco.

Defence-related products for use by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), or other related security organisations, are exempted from dutiable tax.

A Goods and Services Tax (GST) is imposed on imported goods. The tax is calculated on the CIF value of the goods, plus commission and other incidental charges and all customs duties payable, if applicable.

Industry Standards

MINDEF is increasingly moving towards commercial-off-the-shelf products/systems for better cost management/control and for longer through life support.

MINDEF requires all tenderers to exclude the GST from their quotation rates and prices. However, if a successful tenderer is registered as a taxable person with the comptroller of GST, MINDEF will then reimburse the successful tenderer any GST charges on articles or services provided. Similarly, the tenderer must declare their GST status in their tender.

The tenderer is also required to provide end-user certificates and/or export approvals from their relevant government to satisfy export requirements, especially for sensitive military goods.

Marketing your products and services

Market entry

As the government-linked organisation, STE is viewed as a strategic partner of MINDEF/SAF, co-operation with STE companies is advantageous.

STE has a depth of financial strength and management expertise. STE companies actively work with MINDEF to compete and source the best technological and cost-effective systems. They act as distributors/agents or go into a joint venture with potential suppliers to bid for MINDEF tenders or even overseas projects.

Besides the STE Group, the main player in the defence business, there are about more than 20 privately owned companies also supplying defence-related products to MINDEF. The products marketed by these companies are normally non-security sensitive in nature, such as trucks, apparel, combat boots, etc.

All MINDEF projects are gazette on either public or closed tender basis or by sole-source procurement.

Getting into the defence market

  • Register with GEBIZ to pre-qualify as a government supplier
  • Overseas companies can tender directly under the SAFTA agreement provided they meet registration/tendering criterias
  • Success is not always dependent on lowest price
  • In-country support is preferred, either via local partnership or own subsidiary
  • Identifying appropriate contacts within MINDEF/DSTA can be a challenge
  • Austrade can assist/facilitate access to market and identify local partners and can help put you on a faster track into the market

Distribution channels

MINDEF does not publicly announce or publish their capital acquisition plans in advanced, due to regional sensitivities and security considerations. However, non-sensitive requirements are publicly announced for open tenders in the Government Business Information website.

Knowledge of impending capital projects is sourced through contacts within MINDEF and the defence industry.


Transportation by road of military ordnance and munitions must be carried out by Singapore Police Force-approved contractors and must be escorted by at all times by armed security personnel.

Movement of these items are usually made in the middle of the night to minimise disruption to public and exposure.

Links and industry contacts

Defence and security-related resources

Please note: this list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only.

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.

Contact details

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