SINGAPORE: The recent Trump-Kim summit was a real test that validated Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) capabilities, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said, as he praised the military for passing with flying colours.
“Short of a real war or terror attack, this is a real threat that the SAF can respond to,” Dr Ng told reporters on Friday (Jun 29) ahead of SAF Day. “I guess in exam terms, this is the prelim test which I think we scored an ‘A’.”
About 2,000 personnel and a wide array of assets, including fighter jets, surface-to-air missiles and a landing ship tank, were deployed for the Jun 12 summit.
Dr Ng said the mission was clear: Provide “absolute security” for the two high-profile leaders. “Pictures showed manicured gardens but around them there was a hive of activity,” he added. “There was no margin for error, the consequences are unthinkable.”
With only two weeks to prepare, the SAF spared no detail.
Even before US President Donald Trump landed at Paya Lebar on Jun 10, it deployed hundreds of soldiers around the air base, ensuring no-one could target Air Force One. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s arrival before him was no different.
And throughout the summit period, security operations continued.
In the air, fighter jets carrying live missiles – rare for local operations – were scrambled. At sea, security teams checking for malicious intent boarded every ship passing through the Singapore Strait. On land, special forces took up discreet positions on Sentosa.
Sentosa’s proximity to busy shipping links proved challenging, Dr Ng said, as vessels passing by its exposed shorefront could make a sudden turn and break land in a matter of minutes.
Singapore also coordinated maritime security with Indonesia, which only last year jailed militants who planned to fire a rocket at Marina Bay from nearby Batam.
The ever-present terrorist threat in the region meant intelligence agencies were on high alert, Dr Ng said, as they screened chatter to sniff out potential plots.
“You’re publicising to the world where you’re going to be and what time,” he added. “The situation lends itself to mischief makers who want to draw world attention.”
While Dr Ng said there eventually was no direct proof of malicious intent, it did not mean there was no danger.
“Let me just say that sophisticated networks or terror elements can hide threats quite well,” he said. “We had to deal with scenarios like 9/11 where some determined terrorist cell would want to attack by air, or munitions from offshore islands south of Sentosa.”
The SAF only stood down after Mr Trump left Singapore on the evening of Jun 12. It was a “sigh of relief”, then mission accomplished.
“It was a very clear sign that the SAF means business,” Dr Ng said, calling it a strong show of deterrence. “It’s a reassurance that all these years of stable investments into defence, building up unit by unit, tells us that when the test comes we can perform.”
In addition, Dr Ng said it was a “measure of strength” that authorities managed to keep Singapore running throughout the summit.
“The more you secure your systems, and yes there were inconveniences, but by no means that Singapore has to shut down airports or highways for the whole duration of the summit,” he added. “All that we have invested, these are our payoffs, that we can function even if there is no margin for error.”
But the minister was not entirely pleased with the performance.
“I will give it an ‘A’ grade, not ‘A+’, because we identified some gaps which we are closing,” he said. “Sometimes an even greater success is learning gaps in your system, and that’s very valuable.
“Obviously, I’m not going to share with you because I’m going to plug those gaps.”
Nevertheless, Dr Ng said SAF’s showing was a “very strong confidence booster”. “Singaporeans can take heart that when we need to defend Singapore, the SAF can do it.”