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‘Wars can be won and lost on intelligence’: He's protecting S’pore in the digital domain
ME4A Florian Ableitner Digital and Intelligence Service
Wanting to contribute to keeping Singapore safe and secure and armed with an interest in the digital and information space, Military Expert 4 Apprentice Florian Ableitner signed on with the Digital and Intelligence Service. PHOTO: MINDEF

This SAF Merit scholar joined the Digital and Intelligence Service to work on game-changing innovations for future battlefields

As a member of the Singapore Youth Flying Club, young Florian Ableitner was captivated by the stories of his instructors and seniors, many of whom previously served in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

He would listen with rapt attention to the veterans sharing advice and wisdom from their years in service and these stories would come to have an influence on his career decision.

While his father is a well-established entrepreneur in the food and beverage industry, he was less interested in following in his footsteps.

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“Entrepreneurship definitely was an alternative I could have chosen, but I wanted to contribute even more to the country,” says the 24-year-old, who is born to a German father and an Indian-Singaporean mother. 

Reading about Singapore’s history made the diploma holder in aeronautical engineering from Singapore Polytechnic realise how military defence played an important role in the country’s success in nation-building. 

“The defence sector forms part of the foundation of everything that Singapore is built on,” he says. “With a good defence, we can then go on to build our economic and financial sectors without worry. 

“I thought it would be more meaningful to join the defence sector, especially in the digital and information space. I believe that there is much room for growth and I want to be a part of this development.” 

That is why he signed on as a military intelligence expert in the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS). 

Inaugurated as the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) fourth service in 2022, DIS serves to defend and dominate in the digital domain.

Military Expert 4 Apprentice (ME4A) Ableitner was awarded the SAF Merit Scholarship in 2022.

“The SAF not only gives its people the opportunity to learn new skills but it also provides servicemen the resources to develop their knowledge.”

Military Expert 4 Apprentice Florian Ableitner, recipient of the SAF Merit Scholarship

He is currently pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering – an area he calls “a passion of mine” – at Nanyang Technological University. When he graduates from university, ME4A Ableitner will wear the pixelated grey No. 4 fatigues of a DIS personnel. 

“When I was looking at the DIS, I realised that as a new service, there was just so much potential there,” he says. “It is a much bigger playing field. The digital domain is constantly evolving and I really wanted to be part of that process.”

Of course, becoming one of the commanders in a newly inaugurated service can be highly intimidating. There’s an expectation for you to be able to lead people, and steer the organisation in the right direction,” admits ME4A Ableitner.

“Every decision you make affects not just you but all the people around you, and they are trusting you to lead them forward.”

However, ME4A Ableitner knows he is not doing it entirely alone.

“It’s nice to know that I am not navigating this unknown territory by myself,” he says. “It’s always good to have senior commanders to learn from.”

Staying open and receptive

As much as ME4A Ableitner has much to learn from his senior commanders, he has just as much to learn from the men he is in charge of, many of whom are full-time national servicemen (NSFs).

“The commanders may have the leadership and management experience, but the NSFs could be the ones with superior technical knowledge,” he says.

Whether they are programmers, data analysts or cyber security experts, many of the NSFs have studied for years in their areas of expertise, even if in a civilian context, he explains.

Recognising this, DIS commanders are receptive to ideas when it comes to solving problems. “We’re very open when it comes to learning and taking on suggestions,” says ME4 Ableitner. “We recognise the capabilities and competencies of our men.”

This point was driven home when he was posted to the SAF Computer Vision Unit, a unit tasked to enhance the effectiveness of the SAF’s operations and training through exploiting emerging technologies. 

“I didn’t even know that these things were possible when I was first posted there,” he says, explaining that computer vision allows systems to derive meaningful information from digital images, videos and other visual inputs. 

For instance, unmanned systems equipped with computer vision models will enable ground forces to detect, identify, and locate potential objects of interest, which allows the SAF to sense and strike faster, when necessary.

Computer vision has the potential to be a game-changer on the battlefield, says ME4A Ableitner. However, as an aerospace engineering student, he had, in his words, almost zero knowledge of coding.

He owes everything he currently knows about computer vision to the NSFs in his team, who helped him every step of the way. 

Understanding that ME4A Ableitner did not come from a programming background, his superiors also sent him on a number of courses and workshops to broaden his coding knowledge.

ME4A Ableitner (second from far left) is now pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering at the Nanyang Technological University. PHOTO: MINDEF

His posting also reaffirmed ME4A Ableitner’s belief that the SAF is an organisation fully committed to investing in its personnel. 

“The SAF not only gives its people the opportunity to learn new skills but it also provides servicemen the resources to develop their knowledge,” he says. 

The positive experience has only fuelled his enthusiasm to help others grow within his own area of expertise. His background in aerospace engineering, particularly his academic research on mini satellites, allows him to help the DIS push limits in the applications of sensor technology.

This would enhance the SAF’s overall multi-domain smart warfighting capability – not just in the conventional air, sea and land combat but also in cyberspace, where useful intelligence can be gathered while fortifying defences against emerging threats.

“To me, wars can be won and lost on intelligence,” says ME4A Ableitner. “This is why we must ensure that our people are competent and capable in whatever they do. In a space that is always growing and always changing, our people must also constantly evolve to remain relevant.”

About MINDEF/SAF Scholarships
The mission of MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is to enhance Singapore’s peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor. MINDEF/SAF continually seeks talent who are willing to take up the challenge of defending our nation. Taking up a MINDEF/SAF scholarship is a lifelong mission to contribute to the peace and security of Singapore. Answer the higher calling. Defend what matters.

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

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