Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2020 on “Transforming the Home Team to Safeguard Singapore” - Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 02 March 2020

1. Mr Chairman, I will focus on the Home Team’s increasing use of science and technology.


Building a Stronger Home Team, Enabled by Science and Technology


2. MHA established the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, or “HTX”, in December 2019.


3. Mr Christopher de Souza, Ms Jessica Tan, Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Patrick Tay asked how the Home Team will tap HTX’s expertise and leverage technology to mitigate emerging threats and manpower constraints.


4. HTX will house fourteen Centres of Expertise to develop deep tech capabilities to support a range of Home Team operations.


5. I will talk about three Centres of Expertise today.


Robotics, Automation, and Unmanned Systems


6. First, robotics, automation and unmanned systems.


7. Over the past few months, HTX has developed customised solutions to augment our Police and Civil Defence operations. These solutions allow us to optimise our scarce manpower, and increase operational capacity and agility.


8. For example, HTX worked with the Police to develop the Multi-Purpose All Terrain Autonomous Robot 3.0 (M.A.T.A.R3.0). M.A.T.A.R. 3.0 is a fully autonomous patrol robot. Compared with its previous models, M.A.T.A.R 3.0 has added features such as a tethered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for aerial surveillance, and enhanced cameras for long-range surveillance. You can imagine how useful such a device is in terms of sense-making and redeploying resources appropriately.


9. Another application of robotics is to save lives in disaster rescue efforts. Urban search and rescue missions are extremely dangerous, particularly at sites where no terrain information is available, such as collapsed buildings or post-disaster sites. Therefore, HTX is studying the use of robots designed to mimic animals in their functions. One such robot is ROVER-X, which can move and manoeuvre like a dog.


10. By customising ROVER-X with navigational capabilities, thermal cameras and sensors, we can deploy it in hazardous terrains that are unsafe for humans, and reduce the time required to find and rescue victims.


11. Later this year, HTX will be testing additional use cases for ROVER-X, such as monitoring hazardous materials, inspecting chemical plants, and supporting the security of key installations.


12. The use of automation and unmanned systems can also alleviate resource-intensive operations, like the ongoing fight against COVID-19.


13. With the support of HTX, the Police is progressively deploying CCTVs equipped with video analytics and motion sensors at some Government Quarantine Facilities, to enhance the security of the premises.


Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE)


14. Our Second Centre of Expertise targets chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats, or “CBRNE” for short.


15. CBRNE threats can pose significant risks to public safety. Over the last ten years, MHA has set up a network of CBRNE detection laboratories and a Bio-Surveillance Programme along our borders. These are our first lines of defence against CBRNE threats.


16. The labs enable frontline units to detect and intercept dangerous materials at our checkpoints, and support investigations and intelligence gathering by the Home Team Departments. On average, the labs conduct about 125,000 screenings for dangerous materials every year.


17. There are plans to expand the detection labs to more checkpoints. By 2023, we will build a new lab at Changi Airfreight Centre, and more CBRNE facilities at the future Tuas Mega Port and Changi Airport Terminal 5 are also in the pipeline.


18. The Bio-Surveillance Programme, which was set up to detect bio-terrorism threats at our checkpoints, is also able to detect other agents such as influenza and health-concerning pathogens. Using a state-of-the-art system, which integrates laboratory functions on a small chip, our scientists can quickly adapt the system to detect new biological agents.


19. This capability was demonstrated in the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. HTX stepped up by designing a kit to rapidly screen and detect the virus immediately after its genome sequence was made public in mid-January. MHA has deployed this kit as part of our Bio-Surveillance Programme at our land, sea and air checkpoints.


Digital Forensics  


20. The third Centre of Expertise focuses on digital forensics. While technology has its benefits, it also provides tools for criminals to commit crimes.


21. This year, HTX and Police will implement the DIGital Evidence Search Tool, or DIGEST for short, to automate the forensic processing of voluminous digital data. DIGEST will relieve the workload of Police Investigation Officers, so that they can focus on other aspects of investigative work. It will also be extended to other Home Team Departments, such as the Central Narcotics Bureau.


22. The fast-growing ecosystem for the Internet Of Things means that everyday devices, such as smart watches, home appliances, and vehicles, can contain important evidence to support investigations. HTX is developing capabilities to harness data from Internet Of Things devices to support investigations.


23. The above examples illustrate how HTX works closely with the Home Team to develop solutions to protect our safety and security. Moving forward, HTX will play a master-planning role to identify and develop cross-cutting capabilities across the Home Team. This will facilitate greater co-operation and synergy, so that we adopt a unified One Home Team approach in keeping Singapore safe.


No Fuss, No Visit, No Waiting


24. The Home Team Departments are also constantly refining their operations by tapping on technology. For example, ICA has been digitalising its services to achieve its customer-service vision of “No Fuss, No Visit, No Waiting”, and this will be for Singapore residents and travellers. ICA has already embarked on several initiatives in line with this service vision.


25. For example, Singaporeans can look forward to a more hassle-free and efficient immigration clearance experience. Through the use of cutting-edge biometrics technology, ICA will soon allow Singaporeans to verify their identities and breeze through immigration checkpoints without the need to produce their passports or provide their thumbprints. I know of course that during this period, no one is thinking of travelling very much. So the idea of breezing through Customs and border control is not that exciting. But the time will come when our airport will be very busy again and so will the other checkpoints. This is something that we can deploy to effectively manage the voluminous flow of passengers in and out of Singapore. In 2019, ICA conducted a six-month trial of this contactless clearance concept at the Tuas Checkpoint for about 22,000 Singaporeans. The results of the trial were successful, and ICA has since extended the trial to Changi Airport Terminal 4.


Building up Talent in the Home Team: HTX and Ops-Tech Track


26. I agree with Mr Patrick Tay and Ms Jessica Tan that it is important that the Home Team prepare and equip our officers to adapt to technological transformations. A key priority is to grow our talent pool of engineers and scientists. We have ambitious plans to grow HTX from 1,300 officers today to around 2,000 officers.


27. Given the wide spectrum of capabilities the Home Team requires, HTX will recruit talent across practically all disciplines of science and engineering. We will need scientists trained in life and physical sciences for the development of crime forensics and CBRNE detection capabilities. We will need electrical, mechanical and software engineers who can work in blended teams to realise operational systems such as advanced video sensors and robotics. Last but not least, we will need computer scientists and engineers to tackle the challenges posed by data and digital technologies. They will be deployed in various roles, from cybersecurity to developing algorithms, to augment the Home Team’s frontline response.


28. We have already seen strong interest in HTX as a career. In 2019 alone, about 170 officers joined HTX.They were a good mix of fresh graduates and mid-career professionals. This year, we will ramp up recruitment even more.


29. As we build deep science and technology capabilities within HTX, we will concurrently build up a cadre of uniformed officers who are grounded in operational experience and proficient in technology.


30. To nurture such officers, we are progressively introducing an “Ops-Tech Career Track” for Home Affairs Uniformed Services officers across the Home Team Departments.There will be structured pathways to enhance these officers’ operational experience and exposure to technology. These officers can also embark on further studies to develop technical knowledge.


31. As a start, over 200 such Ops-Tech posts, with redesigned job scopes, will be identified within key Police and Civil Defence departments and frontline units.


32. Together, the HTX and Ops-Tech officers will work together with the larger Home Team workforce to innovate and deliver solutions to support the Home Team’s mission.


33. Thank you Mr Chairman.


Science and Technology