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PM Lee launches new Home Team science and tech agency

SINGAPORE: A new Home Team agency that develops cutting-edge technology to keep Singapore safe was officially launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Dec 2).

Mr Lee said he looks forward to the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) becoming the leading science and technology agency for homeland security and a force multiplier for Singapore.

READ: New science and tech agency for Home Team due this December after passing of Bill

Some technologies it is developing include advanced fingerprint testing that determines more than identity, life-saving robotic dogs and a mobile counter-drone vehicle.

“HTX will help take the Home Team to the next level,” Mr Lee said at the launch event on Monday.

Mr Lee pointed out that HTX has an “ambitious mandate” to conduct research in areas like biometrics and robotics, bring together capabilities from different Home Team departments, and build partnerships with external players.

But to achieve this, Mr Lee said HTX has to overcome two challenges: Attract top engineering talent and produce solutions that serve real operational needs.

ATTRACTING TALENT

While Mr Lee said HTX as a statutory board will have more flexibility to hire, develop and reward staff, he cautioned that attracting top engineering talent is not easy.

He said HTX plans to expand to around 2,000 officers. It currently has 1,300 staff.

“To attract top tier talent, they must feel there is something worthwhile that they can achieve,” he said.

“So we are structuring engineering jobs and responsibilities to enable engineers to do valuable work and make an impact in the public service.”

Mr Lee said this is something HTX can offer, especially as it aims to protect lives and property, maintain law and order, and safeguard Singapore thriving the use of science and technology.

“It’s a noble cause which I hope will inspire our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent to join HTX,” he added.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the HTX’s official launch on Dec 2, 2019. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

BEING ON THE GROUND

Beyond that, Mr Lee said HTX must maintain “ops-tech interface” with ground operations, adding that its officers must walk the ground and talk with uniformed counterparts to understand their operating conditions and needs.

He said he is glad that HTX will deploy some of its officers in the Home Team departments alongside uniformed officers.

For instance, HTX forensic analysts will comb crime scenes to gather evidence, while its engineers will be stationed at major security deployments.

“This will provide you with the frontline experience and feedback, to help you stay attuned to the operational tempo of the Home Team, and equip you to build solutions to meet their needs,” Mr Lee said.

Likewise, Mr Lee said the entire Home Team must see technology as integral to operations – even if it disrupts existing routines – for HTX to succeed.

The use of tech must not be an “add-on, not as something exotic, not something to be left to HTX, or to the techies or boffins, to manage on their own”, he said.

Mr Lee said the Home Team has made progress in the last decade or so, by developing forensics capabilities, trialling unmanned surface vessels to patrol waters and automating immigration clearance at checkpoints.

“Beyond the Home Team, HTX can be a centre of excellence within Government, sharing your experiences and solutions with other agencies that have similar needs, for instance in enforcement or regulatory work,” he said.

WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT EFFORT

Mr Lee said the entire Government is making an effort to hold tech capabilities, use resources more efficiently and recruit high-calibre officers who can provide technical solutions for operational requirements.

“We must understand technology intimately, have a good feel of its possibilities and limitations, and be able to make judgments which take full account of engineering possibilities and also operational requirements,” he added.

“And for some of our most vital and sensitive projects like those in the Home Team, we must be able to build the tech solutions ourselves – solutions which are on par with, if not better than, what our partners and vendors can do.”

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