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The fourth service: Defending S'pore in the cyberspace
Mindef SAF Scholarship Cyberdefence
ME4 Alvin Leong signed on to the SAF as a sign on as a Senior Military Intelligence Expert and received the SAF Merit Scholarship to read finance and economics in New York University. PHOTO: MINDEF

This SAF Merit Scholarship recipient crunches data and analyses information to protect the country

If Singapore were to ever enter into conflict, Military Expert 4 (ME4) Alvin Leong would be among those on the front line.

The 28-year-old, however, would not necessarily be carrying a rifle or shouldering his field pack — rather, he would be manning the defences of Singapore’s cyber infrastructure. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Merit Scholarship recipient is part of the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), the SAF’s fourth service inaugurated in October 2022.

The DIS is entrusted with the mission of defending the peace and security of Singapore from evolving and increasingly complex threats in the digital domain.

More on this topic: These military soldiers play a big role in strengthening the nation’s defence

A long-time enthusiast of current affairs and military technology, ME4 Leong decided to sign on as a Senior Military Intelligence Expert (MIE) during his National Service training in Officer Cadet School in 2014. The vocation was a perfect synthesis of his interests and academic strengths, he shares.

About the DIS
The Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS) is set up to defend Singapore against threats in the digital domain. It will also consolidate and integrate the existing Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) as well as cyber capabilities of the SAF.
Under the Military Domain Expert Scheme, there are three vocations for DIS regular servicemen. C4I Experts develop cutting-edge digital products and solutions to give the SAF the technological edge.

Military Intelligence Experts collect intelligence and identify existing vulnerabilities in the SAF’s digital capabilities.

Finally, Digital and Intelligence Systems Engineers monitor the service’s day-to-day operations and work with the SAF’s partners to integrate new technologies effectively. 

Two other vocations, namely the Defence Cyber Expert and Defence Executive Officer (DXO – Research, Mapping and Connectivity), also exist under the DXO scheme.

“To provide useful analysis, senior MIEs must possess a good understanding of the strategic environment, such as the region’s political, economic and socio-cultural situation. This breadth of competencies required was challenging yet enjoyable to me,” he says.

While training to be a MIE, he received the SAF Merit Scholarship. He left for New York University in 2015 to major in finance and economics.

To keep himself abreast with trends and happenings related to cyber warfare, he endeavoured to increase his knowledge in New York, on top of his regular studies.  

“I actively sought to deepen my interests in current affairs and military technology during my bachelor’s in New York, such as attending relevant talks organised by think-tanks and conferences organised by West Point and US Air Force Academy,” he says.

“After spending three years in the US, I realised that my understanding of Europe and China could be enhanced if I studied there.”

This led him to pursue a double masters’ degree programme in 2018. He spent the first year at Sciences Po studying international security, with a focus on European studies, before going on to the second year at Peking University in Beijing, specialising in international relations.

“Having the opportunity to study, live and travel with work independently is certainly the biggest takeaway!” says ME4 Leong on his time away from home. “I also developed a greater empathy towards and understanding of hot-button social issues in the countries I studied in, which made me immensely aware of the privilege I have here in Singapore.”

After completing his studies, he was assigned to a lead analyst role within the then-SAF Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) community.

There, his primary role was to use data science and computing skills to process and analyse information to support the SAF and Ministry of Defence in decision-making. 

“As a young military expert, I never expected to wield such sophisticated technological capabilities to fulfil my mission, nor did I expect my products to reach such a wide audience among SAF senior leadership,” he says. 

He was later promoted to the position of Officer Commanding in his current DIS intelligence unit, where he is responsible for planning the unit’s scope in its operations. 

His key responsibilities include developing a human resource strategy in the intelligence community, capability development and leading his men. 

He conducts lessons for the servicemen under his charge, the most recent of which was a seminar on the Russia-Ukraine War and how it continues to affect the rest of the world. 

“In our discussions, I’m glad that they understand the important role that digital defence plays today, with many relating it to the recent inauguration of DIS as SAF’s 4th Service,” says ME4 Leong.

And naturally, as Officer Commanding, the learning process never stops for him either. As members of the intelligence community, DIS personnel are expected to continually hone their data science and computing skills, as these skills are fundamental to their technical expertise. 

In the past year alone, he has attended courses in cloud computing, agile project management, and two separate data analytics courses in local institutes of higher education – with several more qualifications in the pipeline as his responsibilities in the DIS continue to grow.

He says: “What motivates me every day is the understanding that doing my responsibilities well and building the structures and processes to facilitate my men to do the same will directly contribute to the safety and security of our country.”

About MINDEF/SAF scholarships
There are various scholarships offered by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). These include The SAF Scholarship (formerly known as SAF Overseas Scholarship) and the SAF Merit Scholarship. Open to application from both men and women, it allows scholarship recipients to receive sponsorship for up to four years of studies, inclusive of master’s degree if applicable, either locally or overseas. Through a series of command, instructional and staff appointments, scholarship holders will hone their skills as a leader, manager, planner and strategist.

This article is brought to you by the Ministry of Defence.

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