Eng Huiling, Director (Technology Development), Simulation & Training Systems Hub, Defence Science and Technology Agency, Singapore
By Sean Nolan
Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.
The Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) harnesses science and technology to enhance the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) capabilities as a formidable fighting force. DSTA also contributes its multidisciplinary expertise in areas ranging from cybersecurity, systems engineering to procurement and protective technology, in support of national-level developments.
In the Simulation and Training Systems Hub (STSH), we tap the latest technologies such as modelling and simulation, extended reality, data analytics and artificial intelligence to experiment and develop new training concepts and capabilities for the SAF. For example, defence engineers from STSH tapped simulation technology to conceptualise the Littoral Mission Vessel Simulation Centre, a one-stop integrated environment for realistic training scenarios. With the simulation centre, the ship crew can train on shore without the need to sail and in a diverse range of challenging scenarios, complementing live training.
I lead a team of passionate engineers and system architects to explore new technologies and innovations, and in doing so develop strategies to realise training capabilities for the SAF. I also spearhead efforts to establish partnerships and collaborations in key technology areas within the training and simulation ecosystem.
What was the most impactful project you worked on recently?
The most impactful project has got to be developing a command and control (C2) system to support the nation’s fight against Covid-19. Back in May 2020 at the peak of the pandemic, testing needs had to be ramped up quickly. Therefore, the Ministry of Health set up the Testing Operations Centre (TOC) to aggregate national testing demands and centrally manage the allocation of testing capacity.
Collaborating closely with other agencies, I led a team of DSTA engineers to develop a C2 system which enhanced the TOC’s capabilities in managing large-scale testing operations. The system provided an overview of testing demands and laboratory capacities, optimised demand-supply allocations and also reduced the turnaround time to receive test results.
This project really showed how diverse and adaptable defence engineers are, and that we are always ready to lend our expertise. I am also honoured and glad that the team’s efforts and contributions have been recognised through multiple awards – the prestigious Defence Technology Prize 2021, the IT Leaders Award 2021, and the Public Sector Transformation Agility Awards 2021.
What is one unexpected learning from 2021?
I would say it’s the accelerated pace of digital transformation. Since Covid-19 emerged, some overseas training was deferred and as a result, there has been an increased adoption of simulation training to maintain our soldiers’ competencies and force readiness. At the workplace, we have also embraced workplace IT transformation in our stride, as work from home was established as the new norm and tele-conferencing tools became our primary mode of communicating with our colleagues and stakeholders at work.
What’s your favourite memory from the past year?
The memories working on the TOC C2 project hold an important place in my professional life. We may have come from different agencies with different experiences and backgrounds, but we shared a common goal and a clear mission. That kept us going through the intense, exciting, and fulfilling journey, as we pooled our respective expertise for the system’s design, development and solutioning. Through this process, we forged new friendships and bonds that allowed us to continue to connect after the completion of this project.
What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?
I am interested to explore the concept of a “Virtual Instructor”, which is to use data to reshape the way our soldiers train today. Data insights coupled with machine learning have the potential to enable us to train and evaluate performance in a more targeted and objective way, which realises an enhanced training experience. I hope that this can enable us to customise training for individual needs rather than a one-size-fits-all training regime, hence realising an enhanced training experience.
What are your priorities for 2022?
I hope to dedicate more time to technology scanning and experimentation. This is especially important given the fast-moving pace of technology evolutions and the new dimensions of risks and challenges that come along with it. The future battlespace will be a hybrid of kinetic and non-kinetic domains, and in Singapore’s context, technology has been and will always be a force multiplier.
Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?
In the technology field, I am a fan of Dr. Fei-Fei Li, co-director of Stanford University’s Human-Centered AI Institute, who is known for her work in artificial intelligence and in particular the ImageNet project. I recalled an interesting liner from her TED talk where she said, “Little by little, we are giving sight to the machines. First, we teach them to see. Then, they help us to see better.” I found it to be a very succinct way to explain complex artificial intelligence concepts that also alludes to the technology’s vast potential.
In DSTA, I am inspired and grateful for the mentorship received from many of the female engineers holding senior leadership positions, such as Ms Ngiam Le Na, Deputy Chief Executive (Strategic Development) and Ms Gayle Chan, Deputy Chief Executive (Information). In fact, both were recognised in the Singapore Computer Society’s “Singapore 100 Women in Tech List” for their significant contributions to the technology industry.
What gets you up in the morning?
I am motivated each day by the learning opportunities available to me – whether it is to grasp a new technology concept, or to hear refreshing perspectives on how technologies can be gamechangers for defence. Also, teamwork is important to me, and I value the interactions with many dedicated teams to resolve challenges and find ways to do things better. I set tiny goals for myself each day, and fulfilling them gives me the personal satisfaction to press on.
Photo courtesy of DSTA.