DPM Heng Swee Keat at Thales Singapore's 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 5 October 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at Thales Singapore's 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner on 5 October 2023.


Mr. Patrice Caine, Chairman and CEO of Thales,
Ambassador Minh-di Tang,
SMS Amy Khor
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you this evening to celebrate Thales’ 50th anniversary in Singapore.

Singapore and Thales have a longstanding partnership that has deepened over the decades.

When Thales began operations here in 1973, we were still operating out of Paya Lebar Airport. Thales’ avionics operations supported airlines in region, including Singapore Airlines.

Today, Changi Airport is one of the world’s top 10 busiest international airports, while Thales’ footprint in Singapore has grown significantly. 

Singapore is home to some 2,000 Thales employees across regional headquarters, innovation and manufacturing activities. 

Thales’ technology is also present in our day-to-day lives. 

Our commuters pass through the contactless fare gates made by Thales on the North-South, East-West, and Circle Lines. 

The safe and efficient management of flights into and out of our busy Changi Airport is enabled by Thales’ air traffic management systems, which have been used by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) since the 1990s.

And as Patrice mentioned, Singapore is Thales’ Centre of Excellence for avionics manufacturing, and the largest centre for avionic maintenance. 

The banking cards that most of us use are produced out of Singapore, which is the largest and only multi-product manufacturing site for Thales’ Digital Identity and Security business globally. 

Singapore’s partnership with Thales is built on strong mutual trust and a shared long-term view. We value this partnership greatly. Now today, we are facing a more challenging and uncertain global environment.

Besides high interest rates, inflation, and energy prices, we are observing more structural shifts such as the fragmentation of supply chains and growing protectionism, underpinned by geopolitical tensions.

The operating environment for companies is now more complex, as they have to balance different considerations carefully, and navigate a more fraught landscape.

Against this backdrop, Singapore strives to strengthen our fundamentals in three ways, so that we can continue to bring value to, and create value with our partners.

Openness and connections

Firstly, we must remain open and strengthen our connections with international partners.

Our relations with France is a good example how we have continuously strengthened ties across the political, defence, business, cultural and scientific domains.

Besides the frequent exchange of high-level visits and political interactions, our economic ties are also robust.

Today, there are over 2,500 French companies registered in Singapore, spanning from aerospace to finance to consumer goods.

We have expanded cooperation into new growth areas.

Last year, we signed the France-Singapore Digital and Green Partnership to forge closer collaborations in digital and green growth.

At the same time, we are finding new ways to deepen cooperation in established domains.

The Singapore and France Advanced Research Initiative (or SAFARI) has enabled defence technology and research collaborations since 1997.

In April 2023, the Singapore Ministry of Defence and France’s Ministry of the Armed Forces agreed to establish a Joint Lab – the first such initiative that MINDEF has established with an overseas country and partner.

Science, technology, and innovation

This brings me to my second point – we must continue to invest in science, technology, and innovation.

As a city-state without natural resources, Singapore anchors our competitiveness through research, innovation, and enterprise (RIE).

We invest around 1% of our GDP and our agencies, universities and research institutes work with companies and partners to strengthen our RIE ecosystem for mutual benefit.

In this regard, our partnership with France is robust and longstanding.

French research institutes, such as CNRS, have an established presence in Singapore. In fact, CNRS’ first foreign subsidiary is its campus at our Campus for Research and Technological Enterprise (or CREATE).

Stemming from the France-Singapore Year of Innovation in 2018, we have deepened scientific and innovation collaboration in areas such as Circular Economy, Artificial Intelligence and Quantum.

I look forward to hosting Higher Education, Research and Innovation Minister Sylvie Retailleau when she visits Singapore for the Joint Committee on Science and Innovation in a few weeks’ time.

Public-private partnerships play an important role in advancing our RIE agenda, by bringing together the best minds and capabilities across the public sector and companies. In this regard, Thales has been an exemplary partner for Singapore.

Besides your strong in-house R&D capabilities, Thales has formed close partnerships with our institutions and agencies to push the boundaries of innovation together.

The CINTRA joint lab – a collaboration between CNRS, NTU, and Thales – recently renewed its partnership for a fourth tenure.

Over the past 15 years, CINTRA has advanced nano-materials research, with a focus on application in electronics, photonics and renewable energy.

The lab has trained over 50 PhDs to date, including two Industrial Postgraduate Programme (or IPP) trainees with Thales.

Through its Digital Factory, Thales worked with SBS Transit to co-develop a digital solution for real-time passenger density insights, to enable effective crowd management at our MRT stations.

Thales also partners our public agencies in a range of areas.

As a member of A*STAR’s Singapore Aerospace Programme, Thales works with our public sector researchers on pre-competitive research topics such as material development for aircraft electrification and system development for enhanced safety.

The Thales-CAAS Aviation Innovation Research Lab (or AIR Lab) is exploring new and innovative air traffic management (ATM) solutions to enhance the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of air travel. This will facilitate Singapore’s efforts to remain at the forefront of ATM.

Thales also has a joint lab with our Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), to co-innovate new technologies that enhance Singapore’s safety and security.

Talent development

This brings me to my final point. To power our ecosystem and anchor Singapore’s position as a Global-Asia node for technology, innovation and enterprise, we must continue to partner with the industry to build deep capabilities and fully develop our talent.

We want to work hand-in-hand with like-minded companies like Thales, to invest in and equip our people with the relevant skills, so that they can in turn support industry growth.

One example is Dunlin Tan. An electrical engineer by training, Dunlin first joined the CINTRA joint lab as a researcher, then completed a PhD degree under the IPP, which was supported by EDB. 

Dunlin researched novel carbon nanotubes techniques for electronic packaging, while receiving guidance from Thales.

Today, Dunlin is the Director of Thales’ Research and Technology centre in Singapore, leading a team of engineers and researchers working on topics across hardware, material science and algorithms. 

Another example is Lim Peng Chye. He is currently the longest-serving employee in Thales’ Digital Identity and Security manufacturing site here, with 41 years of experience!

Peng Chye started out as a Printing Assistant and is now a Senior Print Material Specialist – a role which requires attention to detail in ink mixing and colour matching of the card products.

As an experienced member of the team, he also plays a key role in imparting skills and knowledge to younger members.

The Thales examples I’ve mentioned highlight the symbiotic relationship that Singapore seeks to build with companies here.

Your commitment to developing the local workforce and capabilities, coupled with your innovative business, makes Thales an attractive employer in Singapore.

In turn, you can continue to attract the right talent, including global talent with complementary skillsets to our local workforce, to drive your work in Singapore.


Let me conclude. With the strong and multifaceted foundation that we have built up over the past 50 years, I echo Patrice’s confidence that our next 50 years of partnership with Thales will be even more fruitful.

I am delighted to hear Chairman Patrice Caine’s announcements on Thales’s plans to further grow your presence here in the coming years, which will create new job opportunities for our people.

The Defence Hub, the Air Traffic Management Centre of Excellence, and the Scaleflyt Remote ID will take our longstanding collaboration to the next level.

It will enable us to deepen capabilities, create exciting opportunities for our people, and contribute to Thale’s capabilities to serve existing and new customers.

I thank Thales for your continued expansion in Singapore, and offer my warmest congratulations on your 50th anniversary. Let us deepen our partnership, and continue to break new ground together.

Thank you.