Pushing the Boundaries of Defence Technology

National defence is not just about securing our borders. It also means to be well-equipped with cutting-edge technologies to ensure a safer Singapore. Two DSTA scholars share with us their fulfilling experiences keeping our nation at the forefront of defence technology.

By Renee Seow

Years ago at the height of the Gulf War, an eight-year-old boy gazed, wide-eyed, at the intense battle scenes played out on his television screen.

Although he is grown up now, 29-year-old Wong Luhai still vividly recalls those memories. “I remember myself marvelling at the tanks rumbling across the desert, bombs being dropped with pinpoint precision through windows or ventilation shafts, and even the aerial duel between the Iraqi Scud missiles and the US Patriot Surface-to-Air missiles!”

Impressed by the way technology could allow a numerically inferior force to overcome the odds, Luhai developed a deep interest in military technology. “I knew then that I wanted to work on cutting-edge weapon systems and leave my own imprint on them,” explains Luhai.

Similarly, 27-year-old fellow DSTA scholar Jeremy Leow has been intrigued by engineering ever since a junior college project on magnetic levitation trains in partial vacuum tubes sparked his interest. “In the process, I realised how engineering can improve and affect our society and this made me want to pursue engineering,” he explains.

The DSTA Scholarship opens the door to varied career opportunities in the Defence Technology Community (DTC), comprising the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), DSO National Laboratories (DSO), Centre for Strategic Infocomm Technologies (CSIT), Air Logistics Organisation (ALO), Naval Logistics Organisation (NLO) and Headquarters, Maintenance and Engineering Support (Army) (HQ MES).

It is no wonder then why students like Luhai and Jeremy chose the DSTA Scholarship as the ideal starting point to pursue their career.

Think Tanks
When he first began his career, Luhai was attached to HQ MES and was responsible for ensuring the overall health of the SAF Combat Engineers’ fleet of bridging equipment. There, he sharpened both his technical and management skills, which stood him in good stead for his current role in DSTA enhancing the Leopard 2A4 main battle tank.

An avid tank lover, Luhai was elated to be given the opportunity to work on his favourite military vehicle. As a Senior Engineer, he is part of a team that upgrades the Leopard into a cutting-edge weapon system.

He recalls fondly the rush of emotions he felt upon touching a tank for the first time.

“I’ll always remember the first occasion I had the chance to get up close and personal with the Leopard tank. I had remarked to one of my colleagues that I‘ve always wanted to work on a tank since I was young. He immediately brought me down to one of the Army camps, took my hand and placed it on the tank. It was really a wow moment!” recalls Luhai, beaming at the memory.

Since then, watching the Leopard tank in action has become part of every day’s work for Luhai, and he is enjoying every minute of it.

“My job often requires me to visit test facilities and camps to assess the Leopard tank in action, interact with the users and obtain feedback from them, as well as provide engineering advice. I particularly relish such visits as these are occasions when theory becomes action.

I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of hearing the roar of the 1500hp engine and the ear-splitting boom when the massive 120mm gun goes off. It’s really a thrilling experience to remember!” he enthuses.

Pushing the Technological Frontier
Working on the Leopard tank presents a challenge as it is very different in terms of size and capability as compared to the SM-1 tank the Army was using. Despite the steep learning curve for those who work on the Leopard tank, Luhai finds it meaningful and satisfying in upgrading it and turning it into a cutting-edge weapon system.

One of the improvements his team made was to install a crew compartment cooling system, which allowed the tank crew to operate more comfortably.

Unlike Luhai, Jeremy chose to pursue his career with DSO. A Research Engineer in the Sensors Division, his work involves developing radar algorithms, system design and conducting field trials.

When asked how his past few years in DSO have been, Jeremy earnestly replies, “The working environment is very fast-paced and challenging as we constantly seek to push the technological frontier. Due to Singapore’s environment, there are no existing technologies in the market that cater to our unique needs. This presents an exciting opportunity for us to develop our own robust engineering solutions.”

Lest anyone thinks it means being confined to a desk all day, Jeremy continues, “A typical day at work is never just desk-bound. Sometimes I’m not even in Singapore, as I have the chance to visit overseas partners to explore collaboration opportunities. This global exposure is something I appreciate.”

Boundless Learning
Indeed, a DSTA scholar can expect ample opportunities to learn and grow at work, both professionally and personally.

“In an R&D organisation such as DSO, it is common to see open discussions and constant sharing of knowledge. Besides the in-house training that DSO provides to sharpen our technical skills, we’re also given opportunities to attend overseas conferences and seminars,” Jeremy reveals. “In fact, I’ll be going to Germany later this year to attend a conference on radar and remote sensing."

For Luhai, every day is a learning experience. “I get to interact with a diverse network of professionals. There is plenty of cross-pollination of ideas so that best practices and lessons learnt are shared among all in DSTA,” he says.

As a statutory board tasked to provide leading-edge solutions to the SAF, DSTA embraces a working culture of innovation and creativity. DSTA also empowers staff to chart their own professional path through a personalised career development plan.

For example, as a researcher working in DSO, Jeremy has a choice of either a technical or management track.

“All staff start on the technical career ladder to gain valuable experience while conducting research,” he explains. “Once you have this, you can switch to the management career ladder where you will be given more managerial responsibilities, or remain on the technical ladder, the pinnacle of which will see you being recognised as an expert in your research specialty. Either ladder will enable you to excel in DSO.”

Keeping an Open Mind
Be it enhancing a tank’s capabilities or conducting research on radar systems, keeping an open mind is important, as both engineers attest to. “As DSTA engineers often work at the technological frontier, they must be innovative and willing to find and try new ways of doing things,” says Luhai.

To students considering the DSTA Scholarship and a subsequent career in the DTC, passion and perseverance are other must-haves to excel.

“If you have a passion for science and technology, and would like to contribute to our nation’s defence and security, the DSTA Scholarship is definitely something you should consider,” Luhai concludes.

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