PM Lee Hsien Loong at the DSO50 Jubilee Dinner

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 14 October 2022

Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for DSO50 Jubilee Dinner on 14 October 2022.


Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very happy this evening to join everyone here for DSO National Laboratories’ Golden Jubilee celebration. Reaching 50 is a significant milestone, so congratulations to the DSO team!


In 1965, following our separation from Malaysia, Singapore found itself virtually defenceless. Building up the SAF from scratch became one of the Government’s most urgent tasks. Dr Goh Keng Swee and our pioneer leaders implemented National Service, brought in advisors from the Israeli Defence Forces to train our officers and to develop the SAF. But they knew that soldiers and conventional forces alone would not be enough.

As a small island state, we lacked geographical depth. Our financial and manpower resources were limited. Even with conscription, we could be outnumbered by potential adversaries. We therefore had to make full use of technology to overcome our manpower limitations and to be a force multiplier for the SAF.

Many defence technologies were available commercially, even off-the-shelf. But what we could buy, so could others. Sometimes critical technologies were not available to us, for reasons other than price, or they did not yet exist in a form that met our unique requirements. Often, we preferred not to buy so as to keep our secrets secret. The moment the SAF revealed what it had, potential adversaries would start searching for ways to defeat it, and we would lose the important element of surprise. And this made it important for us to develop our own secret-edge technologies ourselves indigenously.

DSO’s Progress

And that was why Dr Goh started DSO 50 years ago (in 1972). He gave the new outfit a bland name – the Electronics Testing Centre, or ETC. But actually, as some of you know, especially if you have seen the exhibition, ETC stood for something else. It was named after the first three pioneers of DSO: Mr Er Kwong Wah; Mr Toh Kim Huat; and Mr Benny Chan — ETC. I am very glad they can join us here today, together with other pioneers such as Prof Su Guaning, who was the 4th to join DSO, so welcome to them all. Over the years, DSO systematically built up its team and the local defence tech eco-system: recruiting and nurturing bright minds, strengthening its R&D capabilities in different areas, working in close partnership with the SAF and defence tech companies.

I was privileged to be involved in some parts of DSO’s journey. In the late 1970s, I personally worked with DSO engineers on some of their early projects: then I was a user, when I was in the General Staff and the Joint Staff; and later on as a minister in MINDEF, I helped to oversee DSO’s direction and development.

Nowadays, I no longer follow DSO’s projects as closely, but I get regular briefings on them. And I am very glad to see the enormous progress that DSO has made. Most of DSO’s projects are hush-hush, or as the engineers say, “under the radar”. But I have DSO’s permission to mention just a few projects, briefly and vaguely, tonight.

Some early projects literally involved the “radar”, for example, Electronic Warfare. In the 1980s, DSO worked with the Navy to develop and operationalise electronic warfare capabilities for our Missile Gun Boats. And this gave our ships a tactical advantage, to be able to detect and identify hostile combatants and incoming missiles. DSO built up expertise in guided weapons technology. One of its early forays into precision-guided weapons was to develop a television-guided bomb. I remember the tremendous pride and satisfaction we all felt when the project team showed us the telemetry video of the first live test, as the bomb flew straight and true to penetrate the target. Not all DSO’s projects involved hardware. As minicomputers and microcomputers became available, DSO made full use of them, amongst other things, for cryptography: to keep our own communications secret from would-be eavesdroppers, while understanding the strengths and weaknesses of various schemes and devices sold by vendors. By today’s standards, the technology was not very sophisticated, but it got us started on an important field of research.

DSO built on these early efforts, to develop strong capabilities in these areas, which remain important. At the same time, it expanded into new domains. Some of DSO’s work has also served the nation in other ways.

For example, its chem-bio-defence capability is crucial for the SAF in the event of a chemical or biological attack. In 2003, DSO achieved its first Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Designated Laboratory status. The OPCW is a UN organisation. And on occasion, DSO has in the past been asked to help analyse and verify suspected chemical agents, which it has done. It reflects international recognition that DSO’s chemical verification capabilities are on par with the world’s best. DSO’s bio-defence capability, including being able to develop diagnostic kits to identify different types of pathogens, proved to be invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly early on, before vaccines became available, when we needed to rapidly identify and isolate positive cases to limit the spread of the virus, DSO quickly developed our own PCR test kits. Instead of depending on proprietary ingredients from commercial kit makers, expensive and in short supply, it used test reagents that were commonly available, and it yielded results in half the time (within 90 minutes instead of 3 hours) compared to other products in the market. And it freed us from worrying about obtaining sufficient testing capabilities in our fight against the virus, and helped to save many lives.

Another new domain is satellite technology. DSO recently developed and launched a satellite in June, called “NeuSAR”. It carries a Synthetic Aperture Radar, hence the name SAR – this is not three person’s initials. It can take images any time of day or night, and see through cloud cover, rainfall or haze. NeuSAR also has a high imaging resolution that allows it to see small objects like boats from space and makes it very useful for disaster monitoring and maritime security. DSO’s work in satellite development has also accelerated the growth of our local space industry, for example, NeuSAR was developed with support from EDB, and will be commercialised by ST Engineering, and we now have over 50 local and international space companies in Singapore, employing over 1,800 professionals.

So whether in more established areas like EW, guided weapons and cryptography, or in newer domains like chem-bio-defence and satellite technology, DSO has indeed come a very long way.

DSO’s Mission – More Relevant than Ever

Today, DSO is a major R&D organisation with over 1,600 scientists and engineers. Its mission – to develop and deliver secret-edge technologies to the SAF, to help safeguard Singapore’s security and sovereignty – remains unchanged, and has become more relevant than ever.

Warfare is becoming ever more tech-intensive. Armed forces increasingly rely on cutting-edge technologies like robotics and AI. But, in the current troubled strategic landscape, countries are restricting exports of sensitive technologies more and more tightly, and this will affect our access to components and advanced products. At the same time, the cyber domain has become a new arena of battle. Cyber security threats are growing in scale and sophistication, as societies become more connected and more dependent on digital technologies.

To stay in the game, the SAF needs to maintain its technological edge, and to integrate cutting-edge technologies into its formations and its operations, for better sense-making, command and control, and strike. Year by year, SAF and its officers have become more knowledgeable and discerning users of technology. They are better able to define operational requirements, to understand and make design decisions and trade-offs. To be full partners with DSO to deploy science and technology for our national defence, the creation of the 4th service of the SAF – the Digital and Intelligence Service – reflects and continues this long process of maturation, and the SAF’s growing mastery of modern information and technological warfare.

This has made the link between frontline fighters and backroom boffins and engineers even tighter than before. DSO’s challenge is never-ending. You must continuously innovate and adapt to stay relevant. Even as you work out solutions to a problem, the technology moves forward and you must come up with new tweaks and breakthroughs to stay ahead. So there will be plenty to keep DSO busy for another 50 years.

DSO’s People – Its Most Important Asset

Tonight I have talked much about DSO’s good work.

Accomplishing it depends on DSO’s most important asset – its people. A team with not just the best minds and the right know-how, but also the passion for your task and commitment to the mission. Everyone in the organisation, from the scientists and engineers to HR and procurement, coming together as a team, working closely with SAF units, understanding operational requirements, doing the R&D, and providing valuable capabilities to our forces, enhancing the combat power of our troops on the ground, at sea and in the air.

I am proud that DSO officers have this dedication and commitment. I talked about the NeuSAR satellite project earlier. Many of the testing activities had to be conducted overseas, and DSO’s engineers made multiple trips abroad. This was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so team members were separated from their families for extended periods. One engineer, Vincent Cai, spent twelve months away from his family, including two months in quarantine! But he was not the only one. Many more officers – on this and other projects – also stepped up to the call of duty and beyond. A big thank you to all the people in DSO, as well as your families, for your sacrifices and contributions towards our defence and national security.

The competition for science and technology talent will only become more intense over time. DSO must be able to interest, inspire, and induct a continuing flow of high-quality people. Much of what you do will be highly classified, and kept out of the public eye. But if you have done something outstanding at DSO, we will make sure that you know it, and that your achievement is properly recognised, secretly if necessary. More importantly, you can take pride that you have contributed to the defence and security of Singapore. To all our budding scientists and engineers out there, if you are fascinated by science and technology, I strongly encourage you to consider DSO as a career choice. DSO offers many challenging, exciting and rewarding opportunities to stretch your abilities and develop your talents. I have given you a glimpse of them this evening. If you are intrigued, do come to explore career possibilities in DSO.


I am very happy that DSO is celebrating its Golden Jubilee. You have delivered many generations of impressive capabilities to the SAF, and now it is up to current and future generations of DSO scientists to drive defence R&D for many more years to come. And I am confident that you will continue to surprise us, as well as others, and provide the technology edge for our nation’s defence.

I wish you all a very happy Golden Jubilee!

Thank you very much.