Earlier this week, the Workers’ Party (WP) posed several questions in Parliament pertaining to the Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF) attempts to maximize Singapore’s defence dollars by purchasing only items it needs and retrofitting existing assets.
Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim asked, “Could Minister for Defence elaborate also on its acquisition decisions – how MINDEF assesses the reasonableness of the prices quoted by vendors and ensures that it receives fair value for money on its purchases”.
Ms Lim reasoned that these are important questions to be asked as the decisions involve hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars, which are stake. More than that, she stressed that this involves also the lives of Singaporeans and especially the safety of our men and women in uniform at the forefront, as well as the nation’s security.
In parliament, Ms Lim acknowledged that unlike other products and services in government procurement, defence articles may not be freely market-tested due to the confidentiality of specifications or its dependence on specialist vendors.
On the other hand, she alluded that such systems sold at a certain price points may be subjected to expensive after-sales maintenance and upgrade packages with proprietary and protected information.
These defence platforms can also be highly tailored as they involve the integration of multiple systems overseen by large numbers of vendors and sub-contractors, said Ms Lim.
As an example, Ms Lim referred to the crucial defects of the US F-35 programme. She noted that the said programme has been dogged by cost overruns and questions about reliability, adding that there were also issues regarding the leak of confidential data that later required costly redesigns and retrofits from various vendors and subcontractors.
Ms Lim pointed out that as of January, Singapore’s purchase of 12 such aircrafts for an estimated cost of US$2.75 billion was undergoing the US Congressional approval process. She stressed that these need to be configured into the overall cost.
Therefore, Ms Lim raised the question, “Can MINDEF elaborate on how it injects rigour into its procurement decisions to ensure value for money?”
Additionally, Ms Lim had also touched on the subject of East Asia becoming a site of intense power contestation with many of its regional actors adopting overt militarised stances, such as the purchasing of arms and taking on muscular positions over the disputes therein.
While acknowledging the fact that tensions in East Asia do not directly challenge the stability and freedom of access for Singapore, the MP queried, “Could the Minister for Defence update the House on the government’s strategy for navigating this increasingly complicated security landscape?”
She had also asked regarding the extent of Singapore’s spending in defence and the role to be played by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on a routine basis and during contingencies as well as to how the SAF was working towards meeting these objectives.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen’s statement in Parliament early this week
Separately, earlier this week, the Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced that the SAF would increase the scale and complexity of some of its overseas training.
The Defense Minister had also shared a tweet on Singapore’s purchase of four F-35B fighter jets, with an option to buy eight more, for training and in-depth evaluation.
“The F-35B performed in the recent Singapore Airshow and its ability to swivel 360 degrees was simply, as some people said, awesome,” he said. “But it can have a full suite of sensors and fighting capabilities.”
The Minister also noted that MINDEF is in the final stages of the purchase after getting the green light from the US government and Congress, adding that he hopes to take delivery of the jets around 2026.