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An interesting and meaningful career: What made this naval officer choose the military
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) David Kan
Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) David Kan, Head of the Naval Intelligence Department at the Republic of Singapore Navy, believes a cool head and quick thinking are necessary traits of a naval officer. PHOTO: MINDEF

Not only must every naval officer protect the lives of their fellow sailors, but they also need to ensure the peace and stability of the nation, says this SAF Scholarship recipient

Schoolyard squabbles are largely inconsequential affairs. Sometimes children want to play in the same area and end up in conflict. 

But what if children are replaced with 3,000-tonne warships, bristling with high-tech weaponry, and the stakes become orders of magnitude higher.

The correct way to handle such a situation, says Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) David Kan, is to take a principled stance: Calmly but firmly state that you have the rights and it is in accordance with international law.

“The truth is, nobody actually really wants to escalate the situation too far,” says the 35-year-old, who is currently the Head of the Naval Intelligence Department. 

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Being a naval officer in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is not just about tending to the day-to-day running of a ship, says LTC Kan. It is just as much about being able to think quickly while keeping a cool head in tense situations like these, and making the right calls under immense pressure. So much is at stake – not just the lives of the men aboard one’s ship but also the peace and stability of the nation.

A job that makes an active difference

As the Head of the Naval Intelligence Department, LTC Kan says it is paramount for every naval officer to have an intimate understanding of the geopolitical landscape – or rather, seascape. His department is in charge of providing intelligence support for RSN strategic planning and operations as well as leading the RSN in forging defence relations with partner navies and agencies to safeguard Singapore’s maritime interests.

LTC Kan (far right, first row) as a young midshipman back in 2007 when he and his fellow officer cadets received the scholarship from then-Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean. PHOTO: ST FILE

Filling such a geopolitically important role means a lot to LTC Kan, who was awarded The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Scholarship in 2007. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in Engineering, followed by a master’s degree in the same major at the University of Cambridge in Britain.

Upon his return to the RSN, LTC Kan served as the Navigation Officer aboard the RSS Valiant and was the Commanding Officer of RSS Justice, before taking on his current position. 

Yet, joining the military was never really on his mind as an 18-year-old. He admits: “I was not sure if I could cope in a regimented and hierarchical environment. My personality was not accustomed to an authoritarian style.” 

Thankfully, his fears were unfounded. “The SAF today encourages different leadership styles. Each individual can adopt the leadership method and approach that best fits his or her personality and the context of the situation,” he says. 

“Finding out more about what the Navy does and how important it is to Singapore made me realise that this was something that I wanted to do.”

Lieutenant-Colonel David Kan, recipient of The SAF Scholarship

Grateful for the opportunities he has been given in his career, LTC Kan says: “The scholarship and the career in the RSN has helped me to grow in multiple aspects, as well as allowed me to be involved in projects and roles that exposed me to the wider strategic importance of the RSN and Singapore. It’s a career that is both interesting and meaningful.”

He adds that his job has also allowed him to understand the key considerations behind major decisions that Singapore’s leaders take so that the country can thrive today, and more importantly, continue to do so in tomorrow’s world.

In 2022, LTC Kan was the top graduate from the 53rd Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College’s Command and Staff Course and also the valedictorian at the graduation ceremony. PHOTO: RSN

Few other careers allow you to so actively make a difference, he says, citing this as one of the factors that eventually swayed his decision to choose the RSN over a career in medicine. 

“Fundamentally I wanted a career that enabled me to make a difference in people’s lives. That was why medicine was the initial primary choice,” he says.

“Finding out more about what the RSN does and how important it is to Singapore made me realise that this was something that I wanted to do.”

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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