Is everything around us real, or are we trapped in a simulation? This befuddling question was first proposed in 2003 by philosopher Nick Bostrom, and has since become the topic of debate by physicists and the likes of Elon Musk.

While scientists figure out the answer, Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) is using how closely simulations can mimic reality to its advantage. It’s using AI to train soldiers in a simulated environment without having to actually deploy tanks or be on the battlefield.

Victor Huang, Deputy Future Systems and Technology Architect (Concepts) at MINDEF, shares how Singapore is innovating with defence.

More than meets the eye

MINDEF is testing “new fighting concepts” with its latest armoured fighting vehicles at the Singapore Armed Forces’ Centre for Military Experimentation, Huang says. In a simulated battlefield, two teams of armour operators play the role of the enemy.

This way, soldiers can practice new concepts, assess their effectiveness, and further refine them, he explains.

This work is carried out with the Defence Technology Community, which comprises several teams within MINDEF, such as the Future Systems & Technology Directorate, the Defence Science and Technology Agency, and DSO National Laboratories.

DSO National Laboratories has also used AI to create a tactical thinking training programme for tank commanders and pilots, he says. The programme simulates different scenarios and outcomes to train commanders in challenging situations, and helps them adapt and learn from each session to improve their battlefield tactics.

Image from Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen’s Facebook 

Enhancing soldier training

The Singapore Armed Forces has also been trialling the use of wearables that monitor the health of soldiers during training, Huang shares. This ensures any activities are safe and conducted “within the physiological limits of each soldier”.

The data collected from these wearables will also be analysed to help the Army proactively identify and manage injury risks, MINDEF wrote.

The Ministry is looking to enhance the pre-enlistment process for the two-year National Service. It’s integrating IoT into a central manpower database so pre-enlistees can complete their permit applications in a single online transaction, instead of the current separate applications.

Once the system is fully implemented, pre-enlistees will be notified of their application outcomes up to 40 per cent more quickly, Huang says.

SAF needs to stay ahead of new tech developments, he adds. “When new technologies emerge, it is often unclear how to fully exploit them or fully anticipate what their development trajectory might be.”

MINDEF has created multidisciplinary ops-tech teams to overcome this, Huang says. The teams explore how emerging technologies can be used to best meet officers’ requirements and needs.

Staying one step ahead

Technologies such as AI and IoT bring new cyber risks. MINDEF’s cyber defence units work closely with the Defence Technology Community to protect sensitive systems, Huang says.

It uses AI-based technologies to help security teams detect, analyse, and hunt for malicious cyber activity. It is also automating cybersecurity responses so staff can focus on “higher-value areas” such as assessing vulnerabilities and building cyber capabilities, he explains.

MINDEF has conducted “bug bounty programmes” in 2018 and 2019, where it invited ethical hackers to test its systems and websites for vulnerabilities. 20 vulnerability reports were found to be valid in the most recent exercise, and a total of US$16,00 was distributed as monetary rewards.

Singapore is turning to innovative technologies to up its defences. It’ll certainly be useful, whether we’re living in a simulation or not.

Lead image by MINDEF