Hosting Global Dialogues for a More Secure World

27 Mar 2023

The Singapore Defence Technology Summit returned with a bang for its fourth iteration, gathering a record number of thought leaders around the world to exchange insights and collaborate in the development of defence and security capabilities.

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Held from 22 to 24 March 2023 in a hybrid format, over 1,400 top minds from the government, commercial sector, academia, and think-tanks dived into rich discussions surrounding this year’s theme ‘Digital and Dual-Use Technologies – Opportunities and Threats’.

In his opening speech, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong highlighted a major change that has occurred in the tech landscape: commercial enterprises are innovating at a faster pace than governments, giving rise to more dual-use technologies such as those with both civilian and military applications.

While emphasising the need for defence establishments to leverage new opportunities presented by these shifts, DPM Wong also stressed the importance of dealing with the threats and challenges unleashed effectively. Some considerations included how defence establishments can guide the development of technologies such that they contribute to our collective security instead of undermining it, as well as how asymmetric threats, such as those launched in cyberspace, can be managed.

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“They involve complex issues which no single organisation or country can fully solve by themselves… I hope this conference will enable all of you to share your experiences and best practices, to spark new ideas, and ultimately, to help us deal with our shared challenges together,” DPM Wong said.

Echoing his sentiments was Senior Minister of State for Defence Zaqy Mohamad, who noted in his welcome remarks that digital and dual-use technologies – ranging from artificial intelligence to robotics and nanotechnology – could go on to shape conflicts and transform the way wars are fought.

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Citing the Russia-Ukraine war as an example of how such technologies have been deployed in modern warfare, he added: “The implications of these shifts in technology and changes in the nature of warfare are no small matter, especially for all of us who have an interest in making the world a safer place.”

Over 40 eminent speakers led thought-provoking discussions on the most pressing topics facing defence and security today, the latest technology trends, and their implications for defence. This included Bill McDermott, President and Chief Executive Officer of ServiceNow, who beamed in live from San Francisco via hologram, as well as General Paul M. Nakasone, United States Army, Commander, United States Cyber Command, Director, National Security Agency / Chief, Central Security Service, who joined for a fireside chat.

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Two recurrent key themes stood out in the conversations. One focused on how digitalisation and the adoption of dual-use technologies in the military realm are not matters of ‘if’ but ‘how’ as they are imperative for maintaining technological superiority. Closely entwined was the human factor, which involves not just the inventors, engineers, and scientists developing the capabilities, but also the well-trained solders and highly-skilled operators who must be able to wield them creatively.

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These points were highlighted by many of the speakers, including Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine and National Armaments Director Volodymyr Havrylov. In a live virtual address from Kyiv, he shared Ukraine’s learnings on the co-dependence of people and technology in the ongoing conflict.

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The Tech Summit was also a most opportune platform for establishing new partnerships, which was also something many speakers felt strongly for, given the increasing adoption of commercial technologies for defence.

That was aligned with DSTA’s own approach in forging a strong network of military and commercial partners. More than nine partnerships were established – including those with small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups – at the sidelines of the summit. The new collaborations spanned a wide range of areas, from data analytics to cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

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To inspire the next generation of bright minds to pursue careers in defence science and technology, close to 200 students were given the opportunity to participate in summit activities including pre-event workshops and hackathons. They also got first-hand experiences with the latest technologies we work on through tech showcases, and interacted with summit speakers founder and CEO of Primer Sean Gourley and Executive Chairman of HOPE Technik Peter Ho at specially curated tech talks.

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As the summit drew to a successful close for yet another year, participants related their experiences from the event.

Prof Martial Hebert, Dean and University Professor, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, shared that “technology is developing at an accelerated pace with new ideas coming on very quickly.” He added: “Therefore, it is timely to convene to discuss how those recent developments will affect us in the future.”

LG Michael Vetter, Director General Cyber/IT and Chief Information Officer of the German Federal Ministry of Defence, said: “The level of discussion is very profound, and we have a good quality of speakers, moderators, and panellists here, so it’s really a worthwhile experience.”