A number of MPs asked about the size of our defense budget : Pritam Singh, Dr. Lim Wee Kiat, Ms Ellen Lee, Mr Ong Teng Koon and Denise Phua. There were also suggestions in parliament to re-allocate some of the defense for social expediture.
"To finance the increasing social expenditure, Ms Phua suggested reviewing the budget allocation to defence expenditure" - Today[Link].
Dr. Ng's full reply to the MPs is found here.
Dr. Ng answered the question in 2 parts WHY we need to spend so much and HOW we decide what to spend on and how much to spend:
"No one, no country, wants to be violated. Dr Lim rightly pointed out that we remain vulnerable. He and Mr Pritam Singh have asked the right questions. How does Singapore, a small country with little natural resources, defend itself against traditional and non-traditional threats? What kind of SAF do we need? How will we know when we have achieved it? Sir, these immutable constraints force us to leverage on technology, innovation and unflinching human will to overcome our limitations. Translated to stark military terms, we have to know more, see first, and respond sharply and decisively to disable, if not destroy, would-be aggressors. That kind of capability is hard to come by, even if we are willing to pay for it. But we have made considerable progress over the years. The questions that you today asked indicate that we have made considerable progress. How are we changing our SAF? Can we afford to relax a little? Can we now reduce NS commitments? The very fact that you are asking this is a reflection that we have succeeded."
Basically Dr. Ng is saying that we need to leverage on technology, build up capabilities and transform the SAF into a 3rd Generation (3G) fighting force. One example of an advanced capability he gave was that of an "integrated strike" in which the SAF can respond rapidly to threats and targets by linking various sensors and weapons platforms such as HIMARS and fighters. An impressive video of such an operation was shown in parliament. According to Dr. Ng, once such advanced capabilities are attained, it is necessary to maintain it.
Dr. Ng on HOW we decide on how much and what to spend on:
"I want to assure MPs that MINDEF is mindful of our responsibility to spend carefully and wisely. We are acutely aware that we are a major share of the government budget. We buy only what we need, scrutinise available options for the most cost-effective solution. Our first instinct is to upgrade existing platforms to extend their lifespan, instead of purchasing new ones. So for example, the Navy's corvettes - some of you may have served on it - are 21 years old, but instead of being replaced immediately, will be upgraded to add many more years of operations. Our two Archer-class submarines were bought second-hand and upgraded to be stealthier, with longer endurance, and extended reach. "
I would like to thank all the MPs who brought up this issue and Dr. Ng for his reply. However, I'm not convinced that we have struck a balance between social spending and defense. Today 25% of our govt budget goes to defense and this proportion is even larger that Israel's defense spending as a % of govt budget. At the same time, we have the lowest % govt expenditure on health care among all OECD countries. Singaporeans shoulder the highest % of health care cost among developing countries. For a govt that pledge change, it cannot leave this imbalance unaddressed. Minister Tharman's maths on the "$1000 income can own flat" and $400K subsidy for the poor is fuzzy to say the least. All we need to do is look at the budget allocation to tell if govt has struck a balance between ocial spending and defense spending - the current allocation tells us that much more change is needed....